Archive for the 'Tips/Advice' Category

Monday, December 19th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Talking it Through

Happy holidays!  I’ve had a good writing week, getting started on a new novel that I wasn’t expecting to work on right now, but inspiration struck, and since I don’t have any serious deadlines looming, I’ve grabbed the opportunity.  Being in the groove like this feels so wonderful!

And when I fall out of the groove. . .  I have another trick for getting unstuck:  talk it out.  Having trouble with the plot, or some other aspect of your manuscript?  Try explaining it out loud.  If you have writer friends, you can bring out the coffee or beer or other drink of choice, and have a big brainstorming session.  Explaining your work out loud can help you articulate the problem in a way you hadn’t been able to before.  By coming at the problem from a new direction, you may discover some excellent solutions.  What you say doesn’t have to end up in the story, but it may help you clarify things in your own mind.

Don’t have an audience?  You can still talk through your story, to yourself.  I’ve done it.  Imagine yourself in the future, when the book is all written, published, out in the world, and you’re doing a publicity tour for it.  You’re being interviewed on radio or on TV, or you’re on a panel discussion, and someone asks a question about the plot (maybe that section you’re having trouble with), or wants you to discuss the themes of the book, or why you wrote the book.  What do you say?  How do you explain it, as articulately and briefly as you can?  This isn’t meant to be a stressful exercise (it helps not to think about an audience hanging on your every word).  Think of it as a different form of brainstorming.  Switching to the verbal part of your brain might spark the idea you need to move forward on your draft.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 by Sasha White
Away we go.

“You are a better writer today than you were yesterday. ” – J.A. Pitts

On Saturday J.A. Pitts did a guest blog and I highly recommend everyone go read it. Go now, I’ll wait. Okay, you back? feeling refreshed, confident, perhaps ready to tackle a new project? I am.

It’s funny how J.A’s post was geared toward new writers, yet, his advice is very much what I got out of my week in Florida at the 2011 Novelist Inc. conference. Sure, I got a boatload of information on all the changes going on in the publishing industry right now. I also gained some more knowledge about copyright laws, marketing strategies, and promotions. But even more important than any marketing/legal, promotional tips I could’ve gained from this conference was the overall message…the best way to find success in this business is still to write a damn good story.

Myself, and two of the authors I really connected with last year decided to do a two day writing retreat at the end if this years conference. While we planned to do a ton of writing, what we ended up getting done was even better, for me. We talked.

To set this up a bit I’ll tell you that Jordan is a paranormal/urban fantasy/YA author, and JoAnn is used to be an inspirational author who is venturing into paranormal. Then there’s me, the erotica author. So as you can imagine, we have various POV’s here when we talk writing. After discussing everything covered during the conference, we each spent time talking about various plans we had and brainstorming ideas and story lines. This was the most valuable thing for me. I can only hope that Jordan and JoAnn got as much out of these talks as I did.

You see, the thing I got out of these talks is a solid multi-pronged plan that I hope will help me continue to build the career I want. And in this fast-changing industry that’s harder to do than you’d think. It’s also easier, because I really do think what J.A. said is solid advice for writers of all levels. What I write tomorrow will be better than what I wrote yesterday, because I am learning, and I’m always striving to be better. The fact is, that as a reader I do get bored, even with my favorite authors, if they don’t continue to push the limits with their storytelling, so as a writer I need to never forget to do that, and brainstorming ideas with people I trust, who also happen to want to push their own limits, reminded me of that.

Be confident, and adventurous, and persistent. 😎

Monday, September 12th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
The Power of File Names

I did something last week I haven’t done in a while, writing wise.

I’m in the messy middle of Kitty 11, and it’s really messy this time.  (I say that every time, I have to remind myself.)  I finally got to where I couldn’t move forward anymore.  I had to go back and fix the broken bits.  I knew how I wanted to fix them, I’ve got a new outline for how everything fits together.  I just had to buckle down and do it, however much I dreaded it.  Boy, did I dread it.  I worked on another project that isn’t due until November rather than tackle this one.

Finally, I pulled out an old trick:  I saved the file under a new name (or a new number version, at least).  Then, I started hacking with impunity.  Scenes I thought I needed but turned out to be red herrings — gone.  Superfluous information that had to make way for new, more tightly written transitions — chopped.  It’s frustrating, working for several hours and ending up with the same word count I started with.  But I can see that the story’s getting better, coming together in a way it wasn’t before.

I’ve always gone through this stage of pre-rough draft revision, but it’s been awhile since I did it with a new file, preserving the old version.  For the last few books, I think I was under tight enough deadlines that I didn’t have time to dither.  I didn’t wait around to start cutting, and wasn’t as attached to the earlier drafts.  I knew what needed to be fixed and just did it.  This time, I have a looser deadline, more time to ponder, and I didn’t look at the manuscript much at all through the last month of traveling.  I dreaded what I would find when I got back to it.  So I pulled out the old “save as” trick, and it seems to work.  I’ve got some of that forward momentum back.

It’s a purely psychological trick — by working on a new file, I can tell myself that if the new scenes and revisions don’t work, I can always go back to the old version.  I’m not really deleting anything, I’m just trying something new.  Giving myself permission to play around, rather than telling myself I have to rewrite.  That seems to free up some creative muscle.  It’s important to note:  after saving the manuscript as a new file, I’ve never, ever gone back to the old one.  I might double check a line or detail.  But the new file always becomes the working draft.  As usual, my subconscious knows what it’s doing.

So there it is, another trick for the tool box.  If you’re having trouble seriously revising a manuscript, try saving it as a new file and see if that shakes things up.

Saturday, July 9th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
So You Wanna Write Your First Novel, Part 6: Post-Revision

Happy Saturday!  As you read this, I’m off in the Columbia Gorge, child-free and wine-tasting to celebrate my anniversary with the formidable, fierce and fair Jen West Scholes.  Having an amazing, supportive partner who believes in my writing has been probably the most important key to the success I’ve had so far.  Her hands on the behind-the-scenes parts of my career and her eyes on my stories have been invaluable over the years.  Thanks, Jen, for being such a  wonderful partner and friend.  And for giving me two amazing daughters.  

Today, we’re wrapping up six weeks spent on the topic of writing the first novel.  Last week, we talked about revision.  What next?

Well, first and foremost, if you’ve finished your revisions you’ve just hit another milestone and you know what that means:  Time to celebrate and fill the tank back up with Story again.

So set the file aside and take a few weeks off from it.  Do something fun to celebrate the accomplishment much like when you finished the draft.  Because, really, this is a big deal.  A LOT of people are working on their first novels.  Not a lot can say they’ve finished, but you have.  So celebrate.  And after celebrating, do whatever you do to replenish the story tank.

This is also a good time to send it out to a few final pairs of eyes — people who haven’t read the book yet who can take a pass through it as readers.  Send it over to them and give them a few weeks to read it and get back to you on how it flows, story-wise.

After you’ve let it sit those few weeks, it’s time for you to put together your synopsis.  It’s not always necessary (I’ve seen three novels into print without ever having written a synopsis) but under most circumstances you’ll want to have one.  Do your homework — there are lots of good articles on the web about synopses.

Ideally, your last eyes on the story will be getting back to you as you finish up the synopsis.  Check out their feedback and decide whether or not you’re going to take another pass through the manuscript.  If you do, make it your last until you have feedback from an editor who could buy the book from you.  As I’ve said earlier, too many writers get bogged down into eternal revision of their first novel.  You will learn more by writing and revising your second, third, fourth, fifth novels rather than spending the next five years working on your first.

Next up, it’s time to figure out what to do with your novel.  Letting it sit isn’t an option.  Working on it for years and years and years should also be taken off the table.  I have a great idea!  Let’s submit it for professional publication!

You have some choices here, too, and I recommend starting where you have the best chance of success.  If you’ve been out in the world meeting agents and editors at conventions,  you may have some business cards and some invitations to submit something.  Look over the contacts you have and their submission guidelines (usually posted online somewhere)  and see if anything lines up.

It doesn’t matter which you send to first.  If you had good conversation with an agent who seemed interested, submit there.  If you spent two hours talking in the bar to an editor with one of the major houses and they asked if you had a novel, start there.  If you land an offer from the publisher before you’re represented it’ll make finding representation rather simple.  But pick someone and follow the steps to submit your work to them.

The voices in your head will likely tell you your book isn’t ready.  And they may be right  but you have to learn to let go at some point and let the editor or agent do her job.  Our head voices are often skewed.  Submitting your work for publication is every bit a critical step (in my opinion) as drafting and revising that work.  It’s a package deal.

So put that work out to market, create a log for tracking it, and then keep that novel out in front of editors and/or agents until you have an offer, until you’ve exhausted all of the professional markets for it, or until you’ve been given sufficient  and compelling pro-level editorial feedback to improve the book.  And even that last bit makes me a bit nervous.  But if an editor were to offer a revision idea that would make them want to see the book again it may make sense.  But I say it with hesitation because if, after every bit editorial feedback, you were to overhaul the manuscript again I do not think you would be very well served.

Again, as much as anything, this is a numbers game.  The more you write, the more you practice.  The more you practice, the better you get.  Which means your next novel should ideally be better than the last one.   And the next one better still.  And so on.

So create your list of places to submit, based on publishers who publish and agents who represent writers who are writing what you enjoy writing, put that first query letter or synopsis or batch of chapters out into the mail and then forget about your first novel until you have compelling reason not to.

And what next? 

Sit down to your computer and journal out everything you learned about yourself in this process.  When did you get your best work done?  How many words did you average in a day?  What things helped or didn’t help you meet your goals?  What would you like to try differently next time?  You never know when that journaling might turn into a blog post to help someone else along the way.

And after that?

Yep, you guessed it.  Go write your second novel.  Continue your learning curve and stay so focused on your current project that you’re not sitting around fixated and nail-biting over your last project.  Let it stay out to market; you go get busy on the next book.

I hope these last six weeks have given you something to work with.  And I hope you’ll let me know about other topics you’d like to see me tackle here in more depth.  I’ve had fun exploring this one with you.

Now, don’t you have a book to go write?

Next week, my pal John “J.A.” Pitts, author of the Sara Beauhall books (Black Blade Blues and the recently released sequel Honeyed Words) will be guest blogging for me on the topic “How Do I End This Crazy Thing?”  And for those of you in the Portland area, John will be reading and signing at the Beaverton Powell’s on Wednesday 7/13 at 7pm.  Show up and give him some book signing love!  I’ll be there doing the same.

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 by Ken Scholes
So You Wanna Write Your First Novel, Part 5: Revision

Happy Saturday Folks!

We’ve been spending the last month looking at writing your first novel.  Last week, we talked about getting ready for revision — deciding if you need to take an initial pass before your readers and deciding just who you want to read your book.  You’ve sent your book over to them with a deadline as to when you need comments back.

At this point, hopefully, you have several manuscripts in your inbox.  You’ve gotten some rest.  You’ve cleared your head with some short stories.  And now, it’s time to read your own book.

Once again, you have some choices.  You can read it straight up without everyone else’s comments, making your own changes (using track changes ideally unless working with a paper copy and a red pen works better for you.)  It really comes down to how many passes you need to make the story the best it can be…without taking so many passes at revision that you’re never actually done.  With my first novel, I did a bit of both.  One of my readers gave me back a paper copy manuscript with handwritten notes and the others gave me MS Word .docs marked up with the track changes feature.

I decided first to read the paper document that was already marked, making notes and changes as I went and reviewing the recommended changes my reader had written on the manuscript.  Then, after I’d gone through with just his input and marked my own changes, I merged the .docs from my other readers into one document and went through that file with the paper copy in front of me, page by page.

I think the hardest thing with revision when you’re new is knowing which suggestions to accept and which to reject.  I was fortunate — I had written a lot of  short stories and practiced revision with a team of readers.  I came to my first novel having some understanding of what did and didn’t work for me.  But my first time out with the suggested revisions of others…well, it wasn’t pretty.

I had gone to a writing critique group in Seattle, near where I was living at the time.  I brought a story called “Blakely in His Heart” and came back the following week with no small amount of trepidation to hear the comments of the fifteen or twenty people in the group.  The critiques were wildly different and when I went home, I had a stack of marked up manuscripts that I bravely sat down to go through.

And then, I proceeded to make every recommended change.

I met this big fella from Kentucky at the group.  He and his wife had just had a baby and I knew he was busy but we’d also really clicked at the group.  He’d also had really good comments about my story and when I asked if he’d take another look at it, he agreed.  So after I completely turned my story inside out by Frankensteining everyone’s Very Divergent comments together, I sent it over.  It’s the first time I got the “We Need To Talk” call from John Pitts.  It wasn’t the last…but it was the last time I took everyone’s advice at once.

I learned an important lesson there.  Ultimately, it’s YOUR story as the writer.  And the opinions of others — whether good or bad for the story — are just that:  Their opinions.

Still, there’s a balance to find.  My guidelines are pretty simple.

First, know your reader’s strengths and weaknesses.  If Reader A is great at plot and not so great at character, I may lean more on their advice around plot than I do character and pay close attention to what Reader B has to say about my characters if they’re stronger there.

Second, if three out of five of your beta readers think that your novel’s climax lacks oomph, they are probably right.  I keep an eye out for when more than one reader identifies the same problem and, if they’ve suggested fixes, I consider them.  But ultimately, I keep in mind that different writers work differently and it’s my story to figure out.

I’ve learned in my case that I can work under very different circumstances when it comes to revision.  For drafting, I need my music and a sense of detachment from my surroundings or the solitude of the Den of Ken.  For revision (or drafting non-fiction) I can work in a room with other people, with other things going on.  (Even as I write this, my toddler twins are fussing and fighting and playing with one another.)  So find out what your own process requires.  You may need utter quiet and complete detachment from the universe, but find out and then give yourself what you need to get through the process.

Do you see my recurring themes?  Learn your process and then do your process.  Don’t give yourself time to fall into the Second Guessing Pond.  Climbing out, once you’re in, takes a long time.  And every year you spend writing and revising your first novel is a year you’re not spending to continue that education on novels two, three, four, five, six.  This is a numbers game as much as anything else is — under most circumstances,  you have to write, revise and submit a lot of words in order to perfect your writing, revision and submission processes to the point of being publishable.

Eschew multiple passes of revision.  Set a limit and stick to it.  Because here’s another secret:  You’re going to be a better writer next year than you were last year if you grow as a person and practice as a writer.  You can either spend all that growth trying to fix the novel you wrote three years or five years ago…or you can roll all of it up into a new project.  I’m nearly always going to be in favor of that second option because I think you’re nearly always going to get a better return on your investment.

I think that point’s been hammered home now.  Heh.

So, you’ve taken your feedback and everyone else’s, you’ve done at least one really good, solid pass through your manuscript.  What next?

Well, we’ll talk about that next week when I wrap up this series.  For now, this is your ole pal Trailer Boy signing off.

Monday, June 27th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Evolution of an Ongoing Series Part 2: Lessons Learned

Last week in Part 1, I talked specifically about the Kitty books, and how they evolved from the first book that I pessimistically assumed would be the only one, to the nine-volume series, with several more on deck, that it is today.  (The ninth book, Kitty’s Big Trouble, is out tomorrow!)

This week, I’m talking about general lessons I’ve learned over the course of writing the series.  Keep in mind, I’m specifically addressing ongoing, open-ended series here, which is different than a series that tells a story over multiple volumes.

I think the most important thing to remember about writing an ongoing series:  the guidelines for how to write a good book don’t change.  Each novel needs to be a novel, with a plot, characters who grow and change, interesting writing, and a cohesive narrative.  You don’t get a free pass just because you’ve written about these characters eight or ten previous times.  You can’t assume your readers will be sympathetic and let you get away with sloppy writing, plotting, characterization, etc., just because they love you and your characters.  Some of them might.  But the chances are too good that this eighth or tenth book will be someone’s first introduction to your world — to your writing, period.  What then?  Do what we all should be striving to do, all the time:  write a good book.

I consistently get two questions about writing series, and both of those I think are critical issues to consider:  how to make sure each book has a stand-alone story, and how to deliver backstory.  As I mentioned, I’m working on the 11th Kitty novel.  How do I bring new readers up to speed, or remind old readers of what came before? (Since not everyone can do what the really obsessive fans do, which is reread every book when the new one comes out.)  And how do I make each book interesting in its own right?

First Issue:  Making sure each book stands alone.

This one’s very important to me, because I’m sensitive to the plight of the person who habitually picks up a series in the middle.  Because I’m one of them.  Plus, I really want readers to feel like each book is a satisfying experience.  How to do this:  I pull in stories from outside the characters or ongoing storylines.  I’m always, always looking for new ideas to bring in.  I can’t keep going over the same internal and relationship plots over and over again.  It’s one of the things that drives me crazy with other series, and I try not to do things that drive me crazy.  Love triangles, endless on-again off-again relationships — I get bored.  I get to a point where I just want the characters to get over themselves.  This doesn’t mean neglecting the characters’ personal stories and arcs entirely.  I have to stay true to the characters, no matter what happens.  But I can explore the personal stories through a variety of external conflicts.

You might have noticed, this is how TV drama and thrillers do it.  American TV series episodes often have an A plot and a B plot.  The A plot is the Enterprise meeting an all-powerful alien who Picard has to convince that humanity is worth saving, the B plot is Data learning how to paint.  On Castle, the A plot is the murder mystery, the B plot is Alexis’ secret admirer at school.  Sometimes the plots relate to each other, or the solution to one offers the solution to the other.  But having two tracks gives me a chance to tell different stories in the same book.  The relationships are always going to be there.  But I can better illustrate the relationships by having the characters respond to outside stories and conflicts, rather than focusing on them and inventing false-sounding conflicts.

I also follow The X-Files model to an extent:  some episodes are mythology episodes, some are monster of the week.  House of Horrors and Goes to War are essentially monster-of-the-week episodes — self contained stories that don’t really advance the over-arcing series plot, but were still fun, interesting, and advanced Kitty’s personal story.  Big Trouble and Steals the Show are more mythology episodes — I give away a lot of information about the big baddy and focus more on the series arc.  (I think The X-Files was brilliant for its first four seasons.  Definitely a model to follow on how to write a series.  But it lost its way about halfway through — it lost track of its own mythology, its own endpoint.  I stopped believing there was an ongoing story.  This is what I’m trying to avoid.)

Second Issue:  Backstory

In May I went to a writers workshop/retreat, and we held an informal lunchtime symposium on writing series (a good portion of the writing excerpts brought in for critique were chapters of second and third novels in series).  I want to share something participating author Paul Witcover said during this discussion:  Even first novels, or stand alone novels, have a backstory.  It’s just that we don’t worry about including it all.

I think this is incredibly important to remember:  When you’re writing subsequent books in a series, you don’t have to tell a new reader everything that came before.  You only need to tell them what they need to know to understand what’s happening right now, and you can do it in a sentence or two.  Don’t explain everything that happened in every previous book.  Don’t spend paragraphs explaining anything.  Remember — the same guidelines for writing a book, any book, apply here.  Keep the story moving, don’t get hung up on irrelevant details.  You may think the reader needs to know every detail of the back-and-forth in the epic love triangle.  But really, the reader doesn’t.  They’ll be able to figure it out.

Example:  Cormac is one of the most important secondary characters in my own series, and he and Kitty have a huge, complicated backstory.  But I try to limit his introduction in each book to a couple of sentences.  Here’s his introduction in Kitty Takes a Holiday, the third book:

A job.  With Cormac, that meant something nasty.  He hunted werewolves — only ones who caused trouble, he’d assured me — and bagged a few vampires on the side.  Just because he could.

Here’s his intro in Kitty Goes to War, the eighth book, after a lot more history has happened:

Cormac had saved our lives and ended up in prison for it. He’d had to put his life on hold; we hadn’t. Cormac and I had had a thing, once upon a time. Then he’d brought Ben, his cousin and victim of a recent werewolf attack, to me. I’d taken care of him, Cormac went to jail, and Ben and I got married.

My goal with these short bits of backstory is to get as much information into as short a space as possible.  This reminds long-time readers what’s happened.  But new readers get only the basics:  Cormac has spent time in prison, he and Kitty have unresolved issues, these three characters have a complicated history.  That gives a new reader a basis for understanding what happens moving forward.  They don’t need a complete summary, just the foundation.  They’ll be able to see the details in how the characters behave with each other.  There it is again, show don’t tell.

A corollary to this:  make sure you’re starting the book in the right place.  I’ve read a couple of first-in-series urban fantasy novels recently that started late.  The first chapter showed me what the heroine’s life looked like after her traumatic introduction to the supernatural, and related that traumatic introduction in a paragraph or two long infodump.  This made me furious — that traumatic introduction should have been the first chapter, told in visceral terrifying immediate detail.  The mundane reality after should have been the second chapter.

Third Issue: Continuity

Keep a series bible.  I didn’t, because as I said I didn’t think this was going to be a series.  Since then, I’ve been slowly building one up.  I have files for the in-world chronology of the series so I can keep track of what happened when, I have a file listing everyone in Kitty’s pack, I have files to keep track of descriptions of people.  It’s the little things like that I have trouble remembering.  Continuity’s a bitch.   😉


I know that “write a good book” is a terrible piece of advice.  Of course we all want to write good books, that’s the point, isn’t it?  But if there’s one thing writing ten books in a series has taught me, it’s that this is the guiding principle I go back to time and again:  what makes a good book?  How can I make this book that I’m working on right now a good book?  Do that, and the series will take care of itself.

Saturday, June 25th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
So You Wanna Write Your First Novel, Part 4: Pre-Revision

Happy Saturday Folks!

I suspect I”m somewhere between Salt Lake City and Boise as you read this on my Impromptu Little Sister Road-trip Book Tour.  Hopefully, those of you in the area have come out to meet me.

Over the last several weeks we’ve been talking about writing that first novel.  I’ve broken the process up into the stages that make sense based on what I learned when I wrote my own first novel and the ones I’ve written since.  And again, what works for me may not work for you.  I think the most important thing about this (apart from pushing yourself to finish that novel and put it out to market) is that you try different things and figure out what works for you.

So last week, we wrapped up that post-draft rest break, talked a bit about getting some Story into you and being ready for that bit of post-drafting depression that many of us encounter.   And you finished cleansing your writing palate with a short story.

I closed by saying you had some decisions to make.  And you do.

It’s time to revise your novel and as with everything in the process, you have to figure out your process for revising a novel.   You can make some of these decisions in pre-draft if you’re the sort who really likes to know your path before you start walking it.  I often do that.

So you’ve just spent 50 to 100 days on this book.  All along the way, you’ve been telling yourself “It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be done.”  And you’ve been telling your internal editor “You’ll get your chance later” in an effort to stay on task with the drafting.

Well, it’s nearly time.

Your first decision is at hand.  Do you want to take a pass at revision yourself before it goes out to your readers?  A lot of writers do, especially if their first drafts are pretty rough.  And by rough, I mean large bits of the story out of order or looking more like stream-of-conciousness free-written material.   

Everyone’s draft quality is different.   Finding the balance between giving those readers a readable draft and using your time as efficiently as possible is sometimes tricky but again:  we learn by trying.

In my case, I have really solid first drafts.  And I have a life that’s stacked utterly full between my toddling twin daughters, my relationship with Jen, my dayjob and all of the other things that go along with being a writer.  So I actually do something that makes some writers’ heads spin and fall off.  I (are you hanging on?) send out my book to beta readers chapter by chapter as I draft it.  Some of them read as I write it, others store up chapters and read in chunks.  The cheerleading helps me stay on course and we have a rule:  Big fixes get identified if they impact where the stories going, but everything else waits until the draft is done.  Still, that wouldn’t work for anyone.  Most of my writing pals cringe at this approach.

So that’s your first decision.  If you do take a pass at it, I recommend trying to teach yourself (if you don’t know already) how to revise using Microsoft’s track changes feature (or whatever equivalent tool your word processing program offers).  And I recommend that you ask your readers to do the same.  It will make your life much easier.  Of course, if they can’t or won’t, you do what you need to do in order to get their feedback.

If you’re making that first pass without anyone else’s comments try to move at a quick pace.  Figure out how many words you can revise in an hour (on average).  I think I revise about 5,ooo words per hour (about one of my chapters) but it varies based on the quality of the draft.  And in my case, I do one pass.  I get all of my readers’ input along with my own thoughts and go through the document once.

The goal (as always) is to push through quickly and yet efficiently, then turn the book over to other eyes.  In my case, I read through Lamentation with a paper copy of the manuscript.  Some of my readers used track changes, others used manuscript.  I got good feedback.  The price I paid was a bit slower process because I was moving between paper and electronic documents.

And you have another pretty large decision (also, again, one that you can make in the pre-drafting stage).  Who is going to read it for you?

Well, my first and biggest suggestion is this:  Do not pay someone to read it and revise it.  There are people out there who will gladly take your money.  But it’s far better (IMHO) to learn how to do this yourself.  And to gain the experience of helping someone else with their book in exchange for their help on yours.

So find another writer or two to read your book.  But keep in mind, when you do, that writers often read differently than people who do not write.  For instance, if you were a dancer and you went to the ballet, your enjoyment of the show would not be the same as someone who simply loved dance but didn’t dance themselves.  When you do it  yourself, you bring a more critical eye to the performance because you understand everything that is happening up on stage.  And if you’re like a lot of people, you know just how you would do it differently.

This can be tricky.

So I recommend having a few writers on your reading team.  But I also recommend having a few people who just read the sort of books that you write.  I have an amazing team of first readers and in that crew, I have one writer who’s eye I trust completely, a reader who devours two or three genre books in a good week and then my editor (who decides if the story is ready for prime time and pushes the buttons that send checks) and my agent (who’s job is to help me sell said book if it’s not under contract already but she also brings a keen eye for story to the table and her comments are always useful.)

Of course, in those early days just after finishing Lamentation, I didn’t have an editor or agent.  But I was well-served by my other readers.

The writers who read your book will give you good perspective as writers.  The readers will approach it as a story that they’re reading.  Both bits of input are important so try to put together a balanced team.  And when looking for writers to read your book, try to find writers who write in your genre who are ahead of you on the curve.  You can often meet writers either through local workshop groups or by hanging out at the writing panels at your local SF/F conventions or by talking to the SF/F folks at your local bookstore.  You also may have local writing groups that hold events of some kind — those might be great places for making friends who eventually become part of your reading team.

Also, try to find experts to help with areas that fall outside of your own experience.  If your protagonist is a cop, you really should consider finding a cop to read your book with an eye toward his or her line of work.  Most people will gladly help you out and will be tickled by the notion of their name in the acknowledgements. 

Once you’ve identified your team, go asking for their help.  When you ask, make sure you are giving them an out and that they know it’s okay to pass.   People are busy and reading and commenting on an entire novel is a tremendous labor of love.  And not everyone likes the kind of novel you wrote so be sensitive to that.  Give them a timeframe — a month is probably long enough — with a date in mind for when you’re going to take everyone’s comments and start revising.

Ask them if they can make that deadline and then tell them you’ll check in at the two week and one week mark to see how they’re doing.  And be prepared to extend the deadline but…set a limit with yourself as to how long you’ll wait.  And then, when it’s time, take what you have and move on.  Try as much as possible to not look back.  If someone gets their comments to you after you’ve finished revising the book, set them aside if you can.  If you open the file and look at the comments, you run the risk of falling into the second guessing game and taking another pass at revisions. 

Again, I know people who’ve been revising the same book for years and years and years.  If they go on to win the Pulitzer prize for it that’s all well and good.  But they may have a short bibliography at the end of their career.  Which is fine, certainly, if that’s what they want.  But a lot of us get sidetracked out of our own lack of confidence.

I digress a bit.

Send your manuscript out to the readers and then, if you already took a pass before sending it along, go write more short stories.  Or go outline your second novel.  If you didn’t take a pass at it, sit down with your manuscript and read it.  Make notes as you go and if you make changes, make them with track changes so you can see them in the document.  That will become important later when you merge the documents your readers send back.

I’ll talk more about revision in Part 5 next week.  Until then, Trailer Boy signing out.