Category Archives: Hows & Whys

The Things I’m Learning: Working With a Cover Artist (and a call for help with a cover reveal!)

For anyone just now joining us for this series, I’m occasionally posting about things that I’ve learned as I’ve struggled through the process of writing, editing, and publishing my books. It’s a big project with a huge learning curve, and I wish I’d been able to find some of this information when I was starting out.

So I’m sharing my experiences now. As in all things, your mileage may vary, and my way is not going to be the best way for everyone.

Here’s how the process went:

After I decided I was going to publish the Bound trilogy myself, I started looking at book covers I liked. There was one on my Kobo that I loved the look of. Actually, I had bought the book based entirely on that cover. I checked the acknowledgements page, and looked the artist up. Not the cutest “date with destiny/how I met my _____” story, but it’s not a bad method.

The artist was Ravven, and hiring her turned out to be a fantastic decision.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the process. I knew she did photo manipulation, and that her work was beautiful. I knew what I liked, and could point to a handful of her covers I truly adored, and to covers I loved in other genres, and by other artists.

The problem was that I didn’t have any idea what I wanted for my book.

I was pretty sure I didn’t want a character on the cover, but rather something symbolic. I liked covers like that: Twilight, the Hunger Games, Divergent. Even if I didn’t always like the books, I knew that the covers grabbed me.

I sent off the information Ravven requested: full synopsis, character descriptions, my ideas, imagery, mood/tone, genre, links to covers I liked on a Pinterest board… everything. I knew I wanted a sort of ethereal feel. Fantasy, but not Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy. That wasn’t my audience. I wanted it softer, and wanted no chance that readers would think this was going to be a battle-and-body-strewn bloodbath, or a bunch of dudes on a quest. It’s Fantasy, but also YA, with a solid dose of romance, and a lot of it driven by a female character.

So, hey, there’s the mood, right? Kind of?

Problem was, we didn’t have a clear symbol that was eye-catching and said anything about the story. There was no MacGuffin, unless you count a cure (or, like, “not dying”). Nobody wore a special piece of jewelry, and even if they had, covers featuring pretty chins with necklaces have been done a lot in YA. We tried a few things. Feathers. A knife. A ball thing with power trapped within it, symbolizing… well, you know.

Nothing worked. Some of them were nice, but they looked pretty generic. Or, as a friend said about one design, “It looks like the book should be medieval porn.”

And with that comment, any thoughts of showing a woman’s hands bound behind her (symbolically, of course) went out the window, too.

So the ever-patient Ravven and I talked about trying a character cover. She pointed me to this article, which made a convincing argument for giving it a shot.

There were a few things I knew I didn’t want. No heads-cut-off torsos. No giant faces that take up the whole cover. No scantily-clad warrior types.

Rowan seemed like the obvious choice for the cover, so we started there. Ravven (bless her) came up with a few ideas based on my synopsis.

There’s a scene where she wears a lovely dress, but “young woman in pretty dress” is everywhere. Also, Rowan’s usually more the “pants and cotton shirt” type.

“Give me flat-heeled boots or give me death” could be this girl’s motto.

We played with having her looking out a window, framed by snow.

Still seemed too familiar.

(And just to be clear, by “played with,” I mean that Ravven whipped up un-finished designs with stock photos, just to give me an idea of what was possible. She’s a rock star, that one. So patient.)

And then Ravven hit on the current design. We incorporated a certain eagle, because he deserved to be included, and it made for an interesting element.

Ravven sent me about half a dozen stock images of attractive young ladies. There was one with her hand held dramatically across her forehead, and we played with the idea of making it… like… magical, somehow. It didn’t work out. There were others who seemed too disinterested, or too glam-gorgeous.

And then there was Rowan, or as close as we could have hoped to find: pretty but not flawless, strong yet vulnerable. I sent my choice back, and we had our central cover image.

There were still plenty of changes ahead. The model needed her eye colour changed to grey, her hair to dark auburn and totally re-styled, her clothing changed. The background changed a few times, too, from a lake with a boat to the current meadow/river thing. Ravven had to put everything together and then work her magic to give it the soft, artistic finish that it has. No hard, photographic lines. No obvious elements photoshopped together. More like a painting.

And then there was the font choice. That was a rough one. I loved what we have now. It looked appropriately fantastical, and the almost frost-like tendrils reminded me of someone’s scar. I just wasn’t sure it would stand out in thumbnail as well as others. In the end, I had to choose it. It fit so much better than something harder, and no one has complained so far.

So what did we end up with?

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Not too shabby.

Actually, the full wrap-around cover had to wait until I knew how many pages the formatted paperback had, and until I had my cover copy written. Ravven was really on the ball with that. It seemed like she had the finished cover back to me before I’d even sent the information.

So what did I learn?

I learned that sometimes it pays to trust someone else’s instincts, especially when she has more experience than me.

I learned that the impact can be more important than the details. To be totally book-accurate, Rowan’s hair would be a little darker, and she’d be wearing a white shirt under that cloak (which would also be a little darker, technically). Her nose would be more freckly, if you looked closely. But this image, as it is, has sold the book, and no one is complaining about the details.

I’ve learned that a character image on the cover doesn’t necessarily mean that this will be how readers picture the character. Rowan lives in people’s imaginations as they choose to see her. The cover might shape that, or it might not. I’m good either way.

I learned that you get what you pay for… to a point. If I’d tried to create the cover myself, without Ravven’s talent and expertise, it would have completely flopped. I know some people have success with stock covers, but I never found one that would have worked as well. Going the other direction, I could have paid $2000 for custom art, but I don’t think it would have sold the book any better, or captured the feel of it more perfectly. This was a great balance for me.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who said they clicked through to read the book description/sample because the cover caught their eye. Money well spent? You bet.

And I learned that even though I know more about a project than anyone, even though it’s kind of my baby… there’s always room for another person’s input.

Oh, and that Ravven is amazing. Obviously.

And I used her services again. How did that go?

Well, it was easier the second time around. We had our “look,” we knew there would be a character on the cover. Who it would be was a question mark, but I think we made the right choice. We went through the same process, except that this time I went to the stock photo site and picked out a few models myself.

That’s a funny story for another day.

The character choice did make things hard for me. I know exactly what this person looks like in my mind, and it’s impossible to translate that perfectly. Also, readers already have a vision of this person in their minds, and there’s no way one cover image will fit all of them. In the end, I hope people will continue to see this character as they choose to, and enjoy the cover even if it’s a little different. I know I do.

*drools over cover*

*looks again, drools more*

And what was the outcome?

torn_promo copy

You’re just going to have to wait for the cover reveal next week to find out.

If you’d like to help out with that by hosting the reveal on your blog on the 23rd (my birthday, yay!), please send me an email at kate.sparkes (at) live.ca. The more, the merrier!

Oh, and newsletter subscribers see it before we post here. VIP club, baby!

Here’s the link to Ravven’s site again, and to her helpful posts on cover design.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found something that was helpful to you.

 


Trusting My Instincts (And Where They Took Me This Year)

Some people choose a word at the beginning of the year to be their theme, keep their goals on-track, and direct their work. I think that’s a fantastic idea. I might even try it for 2015.

Again.

See, I have a hard time remembering my word, which makes it somewhat ineffective. But one thing I can do right now is look back at 2014 and spot the One Thing. The lesson I learned. The progress in my personal character arc that this section of my story pulled out of me.

2014 was the year I learned to trust my instincts.

(This is going to be a writing/publishing/sales post. You’re excused if this topic bores you. No hard feelings. We’ll talk about future projects next time, which should be more exciting for most of us. WHEE, FUN!)

See, independent publishing is a wonderful thing, or at least it can be under the right circumstances. But it is a business as much as it is a creative endeavour, and it requires a LOT of decision-making.

And me? I suck at decisions.

Publishing

I find it hard to believe how much happened this year. As of early 2014 I was firmly prepared to get Bound out to the world by publishing it myself. I had considered the options and decided not to seek out an agent and publishing contract for this project. I’d booked an editor, paid my deposit, and was… actually, I was still tearing my hair out over the decision. I knew I had the right editor, I’d picked an amazing cover designer, and I felt confident that I had a solid story even if I knew it still needed work.

But I had doubts. I read success stories, but I read more about people who were excited to be earning coffee money from their books. This is not to say that that’s not an achievement. Reaching even one reader and giving them a story they fall in love with is the goal. To change one person, to have an impact on her… it’s mind-blowing. It’s why I do this.

But when you’re paying several thousand dollars for production costs and want to maintain the same standards on book two, you want to make that back ASAP. And there are no guarantees. None. Amazing books do poorly and crap rises to the top as often as it goes the other way.

And on top of that, there are the well-meaning friends who have gone ahead with publishing their work who tell you, “Yeah, have fun with your book getting ignored. You can’t do it without an agent and a publisher. Trust me.”

It can become difficult to have confidence in your plans, you know? But my instincts told me this was the way to go (emphasis on me–this is not for everyone). My gut said I could do it myself, but I couldn’t go it alone. I couldn’t do my own editing and cover design. But I was starting a business, and those things were the expenses I’d have to handle if I wanted it to have a chance at success. I made the decision, and it felt right.

And yet I still hesitated.

For a real example of how uncertain I was, look no further than the fact that I didn’t officially announce Bound’s upcoming release until after I got edits back and realized that though the manuscript bled red from every page, I could handle the changes.

It’s like not really committing to a relationship until you’re walking down the aisle.

But I digress.

 

The Other Stuff

It wasn’t all about the method of publication, though that was absolutely the biggest decision I had to trust my gut on in 2014.

There were the decisions I had to make about which developmental suggestions to take from my editor. All were good suggestions; not all fit my vision for the story and the direction I wanted to take the series. I stuck to my guns on one huge aspect of the love story, the end of the book, and… actually, I took almost every other suggestion, including re-working the back-story for the entire world.

And it worked. It’s not a perfect book (I don’t believe such a thing exists), but it’s the one I wanted to write.

There was the cover art, and on this I had to trust someone else’s experience and instincts. I wanted something symbolic, but nothing we came up with had the impact a book needs to sell. We talked about a cover with a character on it–an idea I instinctively balked at, but that turned into a cover that has gained a lot of attention from readers. Ravven knows book covers. I don’t. Even when I wasn’t 100% sure on the finished product, I trusted the part of me that said to trust her.

And it worked.

There was the question of going with Amazon’s KDP Select and gaining extra promo opportunities, or distributing more widely. That’s its own post, and we’ve talked about it before. I stayed out of Select, and have only occasionally and temporarily regretted that decision. Have I missed some opportunities to promote? Yes. Has Amazon punished me for it? Absolutely not. I sell over 90% of my books there. They’ve been amazing.

So yeah, that seems to be working for me. Whew!

I had to decide whether to heavily promote Bound when it was my only book, or put that time and energy into working on the next one. I chose the latter.

No regrets there.

There were lovely e-mails from people at companies I won’t name here asking about audio rights or publication opportunities. I accepted one offer and regretfully declined discussion on another that I’d have jumped at a year ago, but that didn’t fit my plan for this series at this time.

That was a tough one. I do hope to work with those people on another project some day. But I followed my instincts again, and I feel good about my decision.

There was the pricing issue. There’s some pressure to release a first novel at 99 cents to try to get more impulse purchases, or to make it free just on the off chance that people might read it if it’s in their Kindles. I struggled with this for a long time. I had invested a lot into this book, both in time and money. I had an eye-catching cover, a blurb that I thought worked, and a sample that I trusted to draw readers in. My gut told me to let those things to do their job and let the sales come as they may.

There’s nothing wrong with 99 cent sales, or 99 cent releases, or perma-free first books in series. You have to do what works for you, and I’ll do occasional sales in the future. But I knew that three bucks was a hell of a deal for this book. Heck, $4.99 is a bargain. Amazon says I should price it higher, but I don’t.**

I’m doing what feels right for me when it comes to pricing, price changes, and sales. I’m not dropping the price just to chase Amazon ranking. I’m gathering honest review. I’m trying to really connect with people through social media instead of spamming.

Everything is about long-term strategy, and so far, it’s working.

 

The results of trusting my instincts

How well is it working?

Ugh. I hate to talk about it, but I do find it helpful when other authors share results, so here goes.

Thanks to a combination of factors***, Bound stayed in the top 10 of several sub-category Best Seller lists all summer, and sat at #1 on two of them for quite a while. It’s still in two top 50’s, and in the top 100 of a third six months after release.

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^Back in June. Aah, memories!

 

At its best day, it was in the top 500 overall on Amazon.com. At its lowest, it’s hovered around 10,000. I expect this to keep dropping, and that’s fine. Really. Juuuust fine.

*anxiety explosion*

As of the six month mark (Christmas Eve), it had sold over 15,000 copies in e-book.

It’s not NYT Bestseller stuff by any stretch, but not at all bad for a debut from an unknown indie author with no massive social media following, no industry connections, no money for promotion, no offering the book for free (except as advance review copies) and thus far no 99 cent sales.

I put the number here simply to add another entry to the “Yeah, this is possible” column. You hear a lot about how “the wild west land of indie publishing opportunity is over,” but it’s still possible for readers to discover your book. There is hope. Always.

Have I made mistakes and missed opportunities? Absolutely. And I will continue to make them, and miss them. But I will also continue to read as much as I can on the industry, on what people are doing that works, and what doesn’t. I find that my instincts only work if I feed them with information.

That’s why I’m posting this for you to read. I don’t care to talk about money. I hesitated to even post sales numbers. But it’s time for me to give back to the author community that has supported me, and as I’m not comfortable offering advice, I’ll share experience. I hope my experiences will help feed your instincts.

This isn’t a road map, though.

There’s no one right way to do this, and I mistrust anyone who says there is. For me, the key is being informed, staying flexible, making decisions I’m comfortable with, never taking advantage of others for my own gain, being grateful for everything, and above all maintaining my commitment to producing quality work.

Your mileage may, of course, vary.

You know what? I’m calling my word for next year. It’s going to be Flexibility.

There’s an 80% chance that this is the same word I chose last year, but that’s fine. It’s working. It means learning, it means shaking off the negative and steering for the positive. It means trying new things that might not work out, but that I also might learn from.

Next post, we’ll set some goals and talk about upcoming releases. YAY!

 

So tell me: What did you learn this year, either in your personal or professional life? Anything that might help the rest of us out?

 

**Mostly because I almost never pay more than $5 for an e-book myself, unless it’s a box set, something that I’m desperate to have, or occasionally to support author friends. I like e-books, but their limitations mean I won’t pay paperback prices for them. $5 for something I’m only licensing for personal use seems reasonable to me.^

^That said, never say never. As the industry changes, so will my opinions and tactics. This is a faintly-drawn line in the sand, not a stone wall. Flexibility!

***We can talk about this in another post, if anyone cares to. I have theories. But this post is already way too long.

 


Revision Time, Baby! *cracks knuckles*

Yessir, it’s time to get back to work on Book 3 of the Bound Trilogy.

Wait, you say. What about book two?

Well, that will be off to my editor soon. I hope. In any case, trying to do more to it right now would be a waste of time. It needs a new set of eyes on it. My time is better spent revising the next one, making big cuts and changes and adjustments and WHAT THE HECK HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO AGAIN.

It’s okay. This is always a scary time for me. For a lot of us, actually, so I thought it might be interesting for writer types to talk a bit about how we approach this. I don’t usually do “how I write” posts (because who cares, right?), but this is what’s happening right now, so here we go.

Let’s take a look at what I have here.

Um… It’s 126,000 words, for a start. And I need to add a few scenes, plus throw in some more description all over the place. It’s a fairly big book, is what I’m saying.* What else is it? Well, I think it’s a good story. It needs work. There are places where I didn’t quite have character motivations nailed down, where I missed out on crazy good opportunities for character or plot development, or where something just doesn’t quite fit yet.

But honestly, I think it’s my favourite story of the trilogy. I think Bound is a great story, and that Torn is better… but yeah, this might be my favourite. I pushed characters further and harder than ever before, and… well, no spoilers.

So how do I approach revising something like this? Like so:

1) Read through and take notes. Squee a little at the great moments, note what’s not working, and what can be cut. Make notes on lined paper. Good lined paper, because I’m spoiled. Mead Five-Star or bust.

2) Add these notes to the ones I made while I was drafting re: things to go back and change. I don’t revise while I’m drafting, for two reasons. One, it costs me momentum. Two, until the story is drafted, I can’t see how all of the pieces fit. I might go back and change something, and then need to change it again later. Big waste of time for me.

2) Make a plan. This consists of looking back over what I’ve read, making notes on character arcs, plot, subplots, character interactions and tensions, timelines, and anything else that I need to keep an eye on while revising. I make notes on what these things SHOULD look like so that I can easily see where they’re not working. This is still all on paper. I just brainstorm better that way.

3) Go through, scene by scene, and fix what’s broken. This pass is about the story and characters, not about making it pretty (though I can’t help fixing the writing sometimes). This is the stage I’m at now. I’ve re-written the opening, because as written in draft one it just picked up where Torn ends, and wasn’t particularly compelling. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s better. I will do this for every scene, using my notes. I will cut scenes and completely re-write if I have to. Scary, but worth it if it makes the story better.

4) Go through each POV character’s scenes individually to check for consistency of voice and characterization. Make sure they’re not acting in chapter 2 the way they should be in chapter 22. Now is also the time to make the writing shine a little brighter, add descriptions that I missed before, chase down character observations/feelings/etc. that really get us into their heads.

5) Send to beta readers. Pray they don’t think it sucks and needs to be completely re-written. Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s always a fear.

6) Fix based on their notes.

And after this, it’s all editing, not big revisions. Or at least that’s the hope. I might have to make big changes and re-write scenes post-editing, but hopefully won’t have to change the story.

Is it more work than some writers do? You bet. But every pass gets me deeper into the story and the characters and shows me things I missed before. For me, it’s totally worth the extra work because this is how I make my stories the best they can be. Others have their own methods, and that’s great. In fact, I want to hear about them.

So… yeah. We’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to get through revisions quickly for reasons we’ll talk about in another post. For now, I guess I’d better get back at it.

Pictured: Revision fuel

Pictured: Revision fuel

So tell me, writerfolk: What’s your revision process like? How do you know what works and what doesn’t? What’s the hardest part for you, and your favourite?

 

 

 

*For perspective, Bound was about 118K, making this one a little less than 10% longer. Not so bad, when you look at it that way.


How I Learned to Love Being a Time-Traveller

Writing is fun, isn’t it? I mean, usually. Sure, there are long slogs through the swamps of “I have no idea where this is going” and jump-scares from characters who just won’t behave, but really? Bringing a story to life is a pretty amazing experience.

I don’t do a lot of “how to” type posts on writing, because who the heck am I to tell anyone what to do? I have one measly book out. I can’t even call it one and a half, even though Torn is now as good as I can make it, and is waiting to go to my editor. But as I was working through this round of edits, I had several opportunities to use the best piece of advice he gave me last time, and I enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d share it with you guys.

If you’re not so much interested in the nuts-and-bolts of the writing process, I won’t be offended if you want to go grab a coffee or something. We’ll be back with Bound Trilogy-related shenanigans soon.

*waits*

Okay.

It’s something that I knew before, but never realized just how useful it can be.

Guys… when you’re a writer, you’re allowed to travel through time. You get to go back and change the past, altering the course of history to reach a more desirable outcome.

Cool, right?

You write the story. Stuff happens. Maybe you’ve planned it out in advance, as I like to do. Maybe you’re a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser. You just set your characters up, throw an inciting incident at them, and see what happens. Unless you’re literally planning every detail out in advance, you’re going to have problems to solve along the way. Your hero will be backed into a corner, and she won’t have any way out. What are you gonna do, HOT SHOT?

Well, on your first draft you can always rely on deus ex machina*. Give her a knife she didn’t have before. Let him suddenly develop a magical skill that you’d never even considered. Have a friend drop by unexpectedly for tea… a friend who JUST HAPPENS TO BE A NINJA but who you’ve never mentioned before.

That’s cool in a first draft. But if you don’t want readers to feel ripped off, you need to be a little smoother. And you can. Easily.

So you go back in time and change the past. It’s an amazing ability! You show her using that knife to pick her fingernails clean that morning, her roommate telling her how gross that is, and her laying the knife on the bookcase where it will be waiting for the villain’s unexpected arrival. You get to have the magical master… guy… thing… show your hero a new magic spell that by golly gee he remembers at just the right moment (or however your magic system works). You can nave that NINJA FRIEND introduced earlier in the story, perhaps at the grocery store where she works as a NINJA FRUIT-STACKER.

Okay, it’s best if you can work this in unobtrusively. You don’t want it to be obvious that you’re only setting it up to be used later. That fingernail picking scene should also be building character (she’s such a slob!) and saying something about this person’s relationship with her roommate, which is another obstacle/subplot. The spell should be part of another experience or lesson (see Harry Potter for a thousand examples). The NINJA FRUIT-STACKER should be… I don’t know, something to do with really important cantaloupes that your hero needed in order to solve another problem.

The point is, it doesn’t seem like deus ex machina if you’ve already mentioned this item/skill/friend and made it a natural part of the story. It’s sort of Chekhov’s gun, but backwards. If you’re going to fire a rifle in the final act, it had better be there in the first.

This works for ideas, too. Instead of interrupting your climax for an info-dump to bring the audience up to speed on some important concept, you can go back to some logical place earlier in the story and plant the information. If that logical place doesn’t exist, create it.

See also: logical inconsistencies. Instead of explaining them away later, you can make them make sense earlier on.

Even better, if you’re writing a series, you can draft later books and go back and plant seeds in earlier ones, assuming you’re not publishing before you’ve drafted the next book.

You get to travel through time. Change the past so the future makes sense. GUYS, YOU GET TO BE BILL AND TED.

…Except less ridiculous, and you probably don’t look like Keanu. Sorry.

I’d give you an example from my own work, but I hate to expose the gears and wires to the light.

*cough*

Okay, fine. Just this once, I’ll admit to something that I screwed up and my editor told me to improve. Minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Bound, and COMPLETE DISILLUSIONMENT if you like to believe that stories spring whole and perfect from an author’s mind, never to be altered.

Still with me?

There’s a scene in Bound where Aren and Rowan need a place to hide, and she locates a hidden closet. In early drafts, it was explained that she knew about this sort of closet because the house she grew up in had them, and she’d once got stuck in there while playing hide-and-seek. Simple enough explanation, right? Logical, considering what we already knew about her character and her past.

Two problems: One, those few sentences of explanation took away from the forward momentum of the scene. It’s a tense moment, and here she is explaining some old memory to the reader? Not optimal. Secondly, it felt like the author had just gone, “Crap, I need a hiding spot… DING DING DING closet!” The explanation was far better than her just happening to find it in the nick of time, but it could have been better.

So I zipped back in time to when she was actually at the house she grew up in. One of these hidden closets popped open at an inconvenient time, she used it for something completely unrelated to hiding, and we moved on. Unobtrusive, and it seemed necessary at the time–she got something she needed from the hidden closet, so it wasn’t like, READER, REMEMBER THIS FOR LATER BECAUSE IT’S TOTALLY A THING. It was a detail that could easily not have come up again, as it had played its part in the story.

At least, that’s the idea.

Ideally, the story flows organically. The reader experiences it as it unfolds, without seeing events as something the author planted for later. This is part of our job. We don’t always nail it, but we do try.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to back myself into a whole bunch of corners on a fresh first draft.

Most excellent.

PS– don’t steal the knife thing. I’m totally using that. But feel free to use the ninja fruit-stacker in your own story. I’m feeling generous. Also, “Really Important Cantaloupes” is definitely going to be a working title for something, some day.

 

 

*Deus ex machina: a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. (Wikipedia)


WIPpet Wednesday: That’s… Disgusting

Yes, kids, I’m back with a REAL WIP snippet this week. And I hope I’ll actually get to comment on everyone’s posts this week, rather than the reading-and-drive-by-likings that were all I had time for last week. Sorry about that. I did read them, though!

Fun as last week’s THE END was, I’m hard at work again. We’re back to Torn, making small-yet-essential changes and cleaning up fun things like over-used words before my wonderful editor gets his hands on this one.

It’s hard work, but interesting.

Actually, that’s a lie. It’s completely tedious, but it has to be done.

One of the things I’ve worked on in recent drafts is adding more depth to the world, specifically in terms of history and mythology. Not big things, but more glimpses of the larger world than we had room for in Bound. This exchange went into the book on my last pass through, and since I just worked on this scene again this week, we’ll take from this section for WIPpet Wednesday.

12 (short) paragraphs for the 12th, from Aren’s POV (plus one to grow on). He and Rowan have been discussing his travel plans. She tends to worry… (**Bound spoilers, if you haven’t read it and plan to**)

“Good.” She picked up an iron poker and nudged the logs in the fireplace. “Could you just stay that way? Aquila would be less conspicuous. As a human, you’re recognizable. Even people who have never met you can’t help seeing that you’re not like other people.”

It still made me smile when she called my eagle form by the name she gave it before she knew who I was. How things had changed since then. “It would make basic survival easier, too. But I can’t. Sorcerers who have animal forms and stay in them too long get strange in the head.”

“How?”

“They take on more animal characteristics, even when they return to their proper bodies. There are stories about Lyloch, a Sorcerer who lived in Luid during my grandmother’s time. He learned to change into a wolf-dog, and by all accounts he used his skill well in the queen’s service, spying for her, travelling through the winter and finding his way into enemies’ homes when compassionate servants let the sweet dog in. They say he would go weeks at a time before changing back. He became mean as a human, began to prefer the company of dogs, snarled at people who got in his way.”

“And what happened to him?”

“They caught him ripping a whore’s throat out with his teeth.”

“You mean—”

“In human form, yes.”

She paled. “Okay, so don’t try that. But I’m still glad you have the option. Will you promise me one more thing?”

“I might.”

“Don’t be afraid to accept help.”

“I’m not afraid.”

Rowan rolled her eyes. “Fine. Don’t be stubborn about it, then.”

 

For more WIPpet Wednesday fun (where we share a snippet from a work in progress that relates in some way to the day’s date), click here to see everyone’s link-ups. Be sure to say hello to our host KL Schwengel, who does a bang-up job of it even when life is crazy.

ROW80 UPDATE

I’m making progress on my editing goals. They’re harder to measure than drafting was, and I have no impressive word counts to share. Still, I think I’ve finished making changes and planting seeds for things that will happen in book three, and I’m on to doing a search for words I tend to over-use to see where they can be left out or replaced.

“Was/were” is the last one I have to do, and I left it for the end because it’s a big one. I don’t think it’s as much of a problem word as some do, but it is a good way to search out passive voice and descriptions that could be a bit more dynamic (“His eyes were green” isn’t passive voice, but it’s also not all that interesting). That means it’s going to take a bit longer to get through this one, but it’s worth doing. Better writing on my part = better reading for my lovely, wonderful, stupendous readers.

I’m hoping to have these edits (and maybe the read-through) done by the end of this week. And then we’ll see about getting something started for NaNoWriMo…

For more ROW80 (a round of words in 80 days), click here.

Thanks for stopping by and listening to me yammer. I’ll get something more interesting up soon, I promise!

 


Welcome To First-Draftsville, Population: Me

*shoves cabin door open with shoulder, coughs at dust*

Sorry, I still have a lot of cleaning up to do.

It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I wrote the first draft of Bound in 2010, the first draft of Torn in 2012, the first draft of my Urban Fantasy novella Resurrection over a year ago (and that in two very separate parts). Sure, there have been drafts of blog posts since then. Short stories. Flash fiction, just to keep me on my toes. But this? The big stuff?

*whips dust cover off of decrepit sofa*

This is big time.

Have a seat. I don’t think the dust bunnies will bite. Or the plot bunnies, for that matter. Mind the spiders, though.

I’m 18,000 words into the first draft of book #3 in the Bound trilogy. It has a name, but that’s top secret for now. If you need a working title, I was going with “Creepy Uncle Pantaloon’s Circus of Fun.”

Probably best to just go with “book 3.”

My point is… this is kind of a weird place to be. I know some people love drafting. Me? I love revising. I don’t like filling the sandbox, I like playing in it. I like taking the words that are there and improving them, pruning the stray branches off of an unruly story, re-shaping character motivations that aren’t helping them or me, finding the problems and fixing them.

The blank screen is intimidating, I’m not going to lie.

Now, I have done a few things to make it less so, and I’m going to share them with you. I’m always experimenting with technique. This is by no means a permanent battle plan, or right for everyone, but here’s how I’m doing it this time around:

  • This is the end of a trilogy, which means lots of loose ends to tie up (if not all of them, then at least the major ones). I’ve also dealt myself a whole lot of wild cards in books one and two. All of this went into a pair of lists that we’ll come back to later.
  • I’ve known the ending since before I started drafting book one, but until a few weeks ago, the first half of book three was… let’s be generous and say “nebulous.” I knew the answers were there, but I couldn’t see them no matter how hard I tried. Scary stuff. This is where those lists came in. Those were the blueprints and tools that helped me build the bridge to the second half of the book.
  • I planned more this time than I ever have before. Every scene I knew I wanted to use and every one I thought I might use went onto an index card in Scrivener. I added to them, rearranged them, figured out who would be the POV character for each scene. As I made those notes, the holes became clear, and I started to fill them in.
  • I took a fresh look at how the characters have developed so far, where they need to end up, and what internal and external pressures would logically lead them there. They’ve already surprised me a few times, and this could all change, but it gave me ideas for those missing scenes.
  • Having those scenes laid out meant I had no excuse to not start drafting.

That’s it. Nothing fancy. But it’s a big leap from having ideas for events in my head and just trying to get to them, or scribbling notes on paper, as I’ve done in the past.

What I’m really trying to do here is streamline the process. Might save on revisions. We’ll see.

Now, this isn’t to say that everything is planned out and writing is just a matter of finding the right words to express what I already decided on. After ten scenes, things have already happened that I hadn’t anticipated. Bright little moments have popped up and made me smile, new scenes have turned up, internal conflicts have come to light*, past relationships have… well, you’ll see. Plotting doesn’t mean taking the surprises out of writing, as I always thought it would. It just means that with the big things taken care of, I can turn my attention to teasing out the little ones that make a story rich and satisfying. In the past, those moments didn’t come to light until draft two.

It’s still hard. I haven’t had a day yet where the words flowed and my fingers couldn’t keep up with my brain. But I’m hitting a steady pace, and I like what’s happening in the story, even if getting words out of my brain is like pulling taffy.

Taffy. Out of my brain.

Terrible image, sorry. I used up all of my good ones this morning.

This is all I can ask for, really. I’m working. I’m actually enjoying the first draft this time through, even if part of me still just wants to have it DONE.

I’m happy. And I think readers will be, too.

*I now need to go back and make adjustments to Torn because of this–and this is exactly why I draft the next book before I publish the previous one. That, and so I can release more than one book a year.

 

 

 


WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?!

There are authors who can put out a book in a month.

Spoiler alert: I’m not one of them.

I know that a lot of people are waiting for Torn to come out, some rather impatiently. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s wonderful to know that people enjoyed Bound enough that they’re excited to read more of the story. Amazing. A little shocking, as there are more of them than I expected, but wonderful.

I thought it would be a good time to explain why I don’t get a book out a month, why it takes a while for me to do this, and why it’s best I don’t rush things.

But first: In case anyone missed the note before, the release date for Torn will probably be late March/early April, with February pre-orders, not December 2015. I know, “Winter 2015” could have meant either, but I really couldn’t be more specific than that when I released Bound. But hey, sooner is better than later, right? Yaaaaaay.

But still, this is 8-9 months after Bound came out. What gives, WRITER PERSON?

A few things.

I started Bound in November 2010 (yes, it’s a NaNoWriMo novel. Officially). That means it took me 3.5 years to get it ready for publication, most of it spent finding the story, improving it, and developing the characters that many people seem to be somewhat fond of. I was also learning about the craft of writing. This wasn’t my first story (I’ve been writing for years), but it was my first completed novel.

A big part of the reason all of this took so long is that writing is not my full-time job. During 2.5 of those years, I had a kid at home full-time and one in school during the day. Last year the younger guy went to school half days, and I finally got time to work. A whole hour or two a day! WOOHOO! But still, writing was a hobby. I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it without ticking the family off.

The point is, I’ve had to fit writing in around my family’s schedule, because they’re kind of my main job. My husband works shifts and is on-call a lot, so that factors into it, too. I can’t spent six, or eight, or twelve hours a day cranking out books, as some indie authors say they do. I hope I’ll get at least a few solid hours in a day now that the kids are both in school full-time (though home for lunch), but until now it’s been hit-or-miss.

Second thing: I do a lot of revisions. I know some people say not to do that, but I do. Why? Because the story, the characters, and the world get better with every draft and every scene re-write. If I had released Bound when it was “good enough,” it would have looked nothing like it does today, and I’d be wishing for a do-over now. It takes time for my ideas to evolve, for the puzzle pieces to fall into place, for little details to appear that make the story richer. My first drafts aren’t the worst in the world, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. If I waited for perfection I’d never release anything, and there comes a time when I have to let go. But when there are still big issues, I can’t. You all deserve better (and so do my beta readers).

So I do two drafts before anything goes to my first readers (three in the case of Bound and Torn, because they just weren’t ready after two). I have to let the stories rest for at least a month between drafts so I can gain some perspective, so that adds time, though I am working on other things while those are festering. Then beta readers get time with them, and I revise again based on their critique. Then I have to wait until my editor is ready, and he gets the book for about two weeks, and then… yes, scene rewrites, edits, all that fun stuff.

And then someone has to read it again.

It is a long process, but I’m committed to only releasing the best-quality books I’m capable of. That takes a lot of help, and a bit of time.

Maybe now that I have time during the day, I’ll get on a roll and be able to produce a 30,000 word novella in six months. But with rewrites, off-times, and waits for editing, I can’t see a big story taking much less than a year, at least in the near future. (For reference, Bound was 118,000 words, and Torn is almost as long.) Maybe as I become more comfortable with crafting longer and more complex stories, those puzzle pieces will start falling into place in earlier drafts. That would be fantastic, and they did for my unreleased Urban Fantasy novella. But at this point I’m not going to sacrifice quality for speed.

Good thing I started Torn in November 2012, right? Did the first draft through December that year, and did the second draft last year. And that’s how it goes: It’s a long process, but I try to have several things on the go at once so you all don’t have to wait so long.

So there you go. Reasonable best-case scenario (as of right now) for a long book: 3 months for draft one, 1 month to settle, 2 months for draft 2, another quiet month, another run-through before beta readers see it (probably at least 1 month), 1 month for them to read, 1 month (conservative) to fix that, 2 weeks with the editor (if I can get him at that time; scheduling can be an issue), 2+ more months to make things shine. Then proofreading, formatting, advance copies, etc., and LAUNCH.

And through that there are birthday parties, Christmas, summer vacation (two months when things slow to a crawl), a dog to walk, dentist appointments, teacher meetings, and those oh-so-irritating and frequent migraine days when it’s all I can do to keep the household running, never mind stringing a sentence together. I know, other parents manage to work at home just fine, and some writers with full-time jobs crank out a book a week.

I’m not them. My point is, it takes me some time, but I promise you’re not going to get anything less than my best. I respect readers enough to offer only that, even if it means a semi-frustrating wait between books. I wish I was one of those amazing writers who can offer both (and some of those fast writers really do), but right now I have to choose between more books and better books.

I choose better.

 


The Things I Did Wrong

Here’s another post that’s mostly of interest to fellow writers. Several people have asked me about how I launched the book, how I get reviews, how it got noticed by Amazon… often my response is a blank stare, but here’s what I did. Hope it helps! Just remember that you have to do what’s right for YOUR book.

 

There’s a lot of advice out there for self-publishers. I’m not going to add to it. I don’t have enough experience to advise anyone on anything, though I’m happy to point you to resources that have helped me (see end of this post).

Actually… according to the advice I’ve read, I’m doing a lot of things wrong. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked out for me. Bound has had a decent run at the top of a few sub-category best-seller lists, and has sold more e-books in its first few months than I projected for its first few years (Don’t be too impressed– I’m a conservative estimator). But according to a lot of people*, I did all of this wrong:

  • I didn’t launch the book at free or 99 cents.
  • I didn’t go exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select. Because of that, my book is not available through Kindle Lending Library or Kindle Universe.
  • I invested a not-small chunk of change in editing my first book, before I knew I had an audience and before I knew I could make the money back.
  • I released at the beginning of the summer sales slump.
  • I didn’t pay for a blog tour, get into the big e-mail newsletters, spam Twitter, do follow-backs to gain followers on Twitter or Facebook, or pay for any advertising outside of a $6 Fussy Librarian spot (which didn’t seem to do anything, but hey. $6 for exposure, right?)
  • I didn’t have several books ready to go all at once.
  • I didn’t contact a lot of book bloggers.

That’s… that’s a lot of stuff I did wrong. Okay, maybe not wrong, but it went against a lot of advice. I followed my gut on these things, and I know that I’m lucky it’s paid off so far. That’s why I’m not saying “DO THIS, DO IT NOW.” Your Mileage May Vary is a HUGE thing. But if you’re curious…

Here’s what I did instead:

  • I started with an intro sale price of $2.99 to thank friends, family, and blog readers who were already supporting me, and also to make it easier for readers to take a chance on an unknown author. This lasted two months, and then the price went up to $4.99. Both prices are great value. That’s not to say I’ll never do a low-price promotion in the future, but I’m glad I started out at 70% royalties with Amazon. The $2.99 price point paid for the next book.
  • I uploaded to Amazon through KDP, and to Kobo, B&N, and iBooks through Draft2Digital (because the Smashwords meatgrinder was intimidating, and D2D is super simple). Sales at the other stores are 1/50 to 1/100 of what they are at Amazon (yes, combined). There have been times when I considered going exclusive, but I know it takes time to gain traction at those other places. And Amazon has been amazing. They have not penalized my book in any way for being non-exclusive. They just want to make money, and even if my sales are a drop in the proverbial bucket for them, they’ve been good to me so far. Select is a fantastic tool, and can be really helpful for gaining visibility, so it’s the preference for many authors when a book first comes out. I just want to point out that it’s not an absolute necessity if you’re as uncomfortable with exclusivity as I am.
  • see here for more on the editing experience. It was amazing, and I have no regrets.
  • I have no idea how the book would have done if I’d waited to release in the autumn, or at Christmas. Maybe it would have done better. Maybe a lot worse. Maybe it would have been competing with bigger releases, or maybe there would have been more people buying when it was topping those little lists, and I would have made more sales. I’m not experienced enough to say. But I’m not complaining about how things have gone, and I hope I gave some people an enjoyable summer read.
  • As to the e-mail lists, they probably would have helped if I’d released at 99 cents, but above that I don’t know that subscribers pay much attention. Keeping this one in the arsenal for later, as I do think they’re a great way to get the word out about sales/promos. And blog tours… well, I didn’t have an official one, but I’ve had some amazing, kind, and helpful fellow writers offer to host me for interviews, and I think that helped get the word out. I am so grateful to everyone who has done that, or who helped out with the cover reveal and release announcements. You’re the best. Also, acquaintances/friends/blog followers who read the book early on and went out of your way to share it with friends… you’re superstars. /end sappiness
  • Oh, and those Twitter follow-backs, yadda yadda… I still don’t see the point of having 10,000 followers if no one is actually interested in what you have to say, and only follwed you to inflate their own numbers. I do try to follow people who follow me on Twitter, but if you’re only posting #promo #promo #buymybook, I’m not going to stick around to keep you as a follower. Sorry. (But hey, if you tweet real, original thoughts, make me think or laugh, or reply to my stuff in a non-promo way, I’ll stick around through whatever occasional promos you put out there. Well done. Let’s be friends!)
  • Book two is coming out sooner than it probably would with a big publisher (8-9 months after book one, probably), but I can’t put out a book every two months like some people can. Is that going to hurt me? Will readers forget about the series before book two comes out, or stop caring? Maybe. Time will tell. But I hope my most passionate readers will get the word out again when the time comes. And they say not to promote your first book because you don’t want to hit it big when you don’t have more to sell to new fans. Well… I didn’t promote, but things have gone pretty well, and I have nothing in the back to offer people right now. We’ll see what happens.
  • I do wish I’d contacted more bloggers for reviews, but I’m shy. I’m also polite, and won’t send form letters or mass e-mails, so researching and writing requests/offers is time-consuming. But I should do it. Book bloggers/reviewers are amazing people who put their personal time and effort into adding value to the reading community, and I want to get to know more of them.

So there it is. I didn’t do it all wrong, of course. I did some things right:

  • I used keywords to get the book into relevant sub-categories on Amazon so that it would come up on Best Sellers and Hot New Release lists sooner than it would in the big ones.
  • I put a (polite, no-pressure) note in the back of the book saying how important reviews and recommendations are to a new book/author, and asked those who loved the book to share it.
  • I sent out Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARCs). Not as many as most people do, I think, but they went out, and most people followed through with reviews.
  • I wrote the story I wanted to read, not the one I thought the market wanted. Actually… this would be considered wrong by some, but it was the right thing for me. And I made it a good book with the help of incredible beta readers and a good editor. It’s not a perfect book. There is no perfect book. But it’s the one I set out to write, and it delivers good value to readers, and that knowledge helps me shrug off bad reviews from people who find it’s not their cup of tea.
  • I paid for good cover art from an artist who knows what looks good and what sells. I listened to her advice when it went against my personal preferences, and it worked out beautifully. She let me help (cover model selection, font choice out of a few she liked), but I let her lead based on the book info I’d sent. I really need to to a post on that some day. There are beautiful, high-quality pre-made covers out there, but none of them fit my book. This does, and I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said they gave Bound a chance because of the cover.
  • I ripped my hair out for two weeks over writing a blurb (sales copy) that seems to be fairly effective, and I made sure the Amazon sample was both good AND representative of the entire book.

If you’re looking for indie publishing resources, I’ll list a few of the ones that helped me below**. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this has been helpful for someone. Just remember: I am not qualified to give advice. This is just what worked for me. I’m not an expert. A book does not a career make, yadda yadda. ‘kay? Good.

*Yes, according to some people I did these things right, too. Conflicting advice is conflicting. It’s just a fun way to frame the discussion of something people keep asking about. 🙂

**Please note that though none of these authors pay me for promotion, I am using Amazon affiliate links and receive an itty-bitty bit of money if you buy through them. Well… I will if I set it up right.  It costs you nothing extra, but does help me out. 🙂


The Things I’m Learning: Working With an Editor

In this series of posts, I’m sharing a few of the things that surprised me about publishing a book, as well as things I wish I’d known before I started. This is all personal experience and personal opinion, shared in case it helps someone. Your mileage may vary.

This is going to be a long post, and not of interest to everyone. Feel free to skip this one and join the party next week, or skip to the TL;DR version at the bottom. And again, this is about my choices and experiences. My way is not the only way. You can do it your way, and I respect that. We all cool?

I get a lot of questions about my editor: why I chose to use one, how I decided who to work with, how much it cost, what the process was like, and whether the decision has paid off. I think it was one of the best decisions I made for my book, so I thought I’d answer some of those questions today.

…And then I really need to get back to my real work, which means getting Torn ready for beta readers, who look at it before my editor does (more on that later).

So. Once I made the decision to publish independently*, I knew I wasn’t going to put out anything that was less than the best, most professional work I could produce. I know there’s a popular school of thought that says do your best, publish and move on, and then pay for editing later if there’s enough interest in the book. I can’t do that. My perfectionism will not allow do-overs, so it had to be right the first time.

In my case, that meant hiring an editor.

I had done my research already. I knew I wanted developmental editing, because though the story was as good as I could make it, and my beta readers were AMAZING, I knew it still had weak spots. I knew it needed line edits, because no one can catch all of his/her own errors. Also, the number one criticism I see on indie/self-pub books in reviews is “this could have used an editor,” and I didn’t want to put my readers through that.

(For anyone wondering, developmental editing = critiquing the story, finding plot holes/character inconsistencies, pointing out missed opportunities for kicking things up a notch… whatever. This can be done any time from the planning phase through edits. Line editing is fixing grammatical errors, changing sentence structure to be clearer or flow better, probably changing that string of three consecutive “ing” words up there, noting confusing sentences/blocking, etc. Some people call this copy editing, and define line editing differently, but this is what I was looking for.)

I had a list of a few editors to check out. There are a some whose blogs I follow who seem fantastic, and who are on my list for future projects, but I had one more item on my list: I wanted someone with experience in Fantasy. That narrowed the list down. While I would trust many professional, experienced editors to do line edits, I needed someone who knew world-building and magic systems.

Enter editor Joshua Essoe.

I’d been listening to the Hide and Create podcast for a few months, and knew that he knew his stuff. I liked what he said about those issues I mentioned above. I liked how he described his approach to editing. People seemed pleased with his work. I went to his website, looked things over, and decided to send my sample pages in and get an estimate.

I was so nervous. I hate sending my work out for critique, and this was the real thing. Someone was going to tell me how my work sucked so I could pay him money to tell me MORE about how my work sucked. Sweet deal, right?

Anyway, it was fine. He actually thought the first five pages were pretty good, but he made some line edits. I changed things, read it through, and knew I’d found my guy. He didn’t mess with my character’s voice, just made things smoother and clearer, and asked questions that helped me make the setting and character movements clearer.

The next question, of course, was money. I don’t like to talk about money. Monsieur Joshua Essoe charges an hourly rate (posted on his site if you’re THAT curious), and gives an estimate based on the sample and how long he thinks it will take to edit the full book. The estimate is subject to change, of course. If a mechanic gives you an estimate on changing your oil, then opens the hood to find the engine plastered in cat crap and roadkill (not to mention the parts that are falling off), your price is going to go up. Likewise for an editor who charges by the hour.** My estimate came in at something just north of 50 hours.

So yeah, it was a big decision. I had to talk it over with AJ, and explain that there was a good chance that this book wouldn’t earn that money back. Most books, especially first ones, don’t “earn out,” and any profits would need to go toward the next book’s production costs***. We’d have to think of it as an educational expense; I wanted an editor more than I wanted to take a few courses or try to go to a convention. More than just getting this one story fixed, I wanted to know where my writing needed to improve, and I knew I’d get that. It was an investment in me and my business, and (may all the gods of Tyrea bless him forever), AJ voted that I should go ahead with it.

I was shaking when I hit “send.” I may have barfed. Wait, maybe that was when I published. In any case, for the two weeks My Editor (yes, it’s fun to say that) had the book I was tense, jumpy, nervous… a joy to be around in all respects. He sent an updated estimate half-way through (not much change, but considerate of him nonetheless).

Was I nervous that I was wasting my our money? You bet. Terrified, in fact. What if it wasn’t worth it? What if Señor Joshua Essoe thought it was horrible and told me to change everything? What if he didn’t get what I was trying to do, and wanted to make the tone less modern and more TRADITIONAL, MEDIEVAL FANTASY? Ick. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I like to read or write. What if it turned out my work was so horrible that I couldn’t publish, and had to give up writing, and had wasted our tax refund, and…

Sometimes having an over-active imagination sucks.

So then, on an evening in April, my phone binged its e-mail notification as I was getting ready for bed. By that point I was jumping to the ceiling every time that happened.

And there it was: Bound Edit Complete! And an attachment!

Nausea. Excitement. It was like Christmas morning, if we’d had the turkey the night before and it gave me salmonella.**** Obviously I wasn’t going to wait until morning to peek. AJ was working, the kids were in bed. Screw sleep, I had reading to do!

The editorial critique letter came in around 20 pages. This was the developmental editing, the big picture stuff, the things that would lead to revisions and scene re-writes.

And it was FANTASTIC.

That’s not to say it was all positive. Nooooooo sir.

The first paragraph was kind and wonderful. He said I was a good writer, that my characters were well-drawn and engaging, that he enjoyed the story right through.

The second paragraph said this: “If you feel like throwing things as you continue to go through the edit, come back and read that first paragraph again.”

Cue my nerves.

It was a fair warning, actually.

  • He critiqued my magic system, which seemed too broad and open, and allowed problems to be solved too easily. It wasn’t well-defined enough; that was my fault, as I’d accidentally edited much of the explain-y stuff out when I was trying to get the word-count down to trad-pub acceptable levels.
  • He reminded me that I had the ability to time-travel, to go back and set up important details early in the story so that they didn’t seem a little too convenient when they showed up later, or slow pacing when I had to explain them during exciting moments.
  • There were big issues with Aren’s character and motivation. Not surprising, given that he wasn’t even supposed to be a viewpoint character when I first came up with the concept for the story, or through most of the first draft.
  • The climax needed to be re-written, as it was too melodramatic.
  • He thought I should change the ending, and **SPOILER** suggested I not let certain aspects of the romantic storyline reach a conclusion until the next book.

There were other things, but I won’t list them all here. The letter concluded with another lovely paragraph about the book. More importantly, the body of the letter gave suggestions about how to fix the problems. *insert choirs of angels singing* And not only that, he had respected the story that I wanted to tell and the way I wanted to tell it.

So yeah, it was hard to hear there was so much room for improvement, but it made me sure I’d made the right decision in hiring my editor. I fell asleep that night with a huge grin on my face. It was going to take a lot of work, but this thing was going to be goooooood.

I read through the line notes the next day. These were done using Track Changes in Word– not my favourite program, but effective for this. There were changes to wording that I would accept or reject later. SO many of those. But more importantly, there were notes EVERYWHERE. Why would he do this? This statement doesn’t make sense. That concept needs to be explained sooner. Redundant. She wouldn’t be this comfortable with him yet. Cut. These characters are too stereotypical. There were also little notes that indicated personal reactions to the story, and those made it easier to get through the tough stuff: **cool!  **nice **this is awesome

My personal favourite correction.

My personal favourite correction.

Maybe it’s silly that I needed them, but those little bits of encouragement really made the whole thing a lot more pleasant. Yes, there were times when I made faces at the screen. Yes, in my sleep-deprived immaturity I may have giggled at the phrase “needs deeper penetration.” Yes, I did occasionally want to throw things.

In fact, what came next was the hardest work I’ve ever done on anything. I took the advice. I planned changes. I accepted most suggestions, and rejected a few (see aforementioned romantic conclusion and ending– truth is, I hate cliffhangers and unresolved romance as a reader, and I didn’t want to use them in this book. Not bad advice, just a personal decision. This is one of the reasons I went indie, after all). And at the end, I had a book I was truly proud of.

Was there anything I would change about the experience? I guess doing developmental and line edits separately would have been nice, though it would have been a LOT more expensive to have him take the time to do two passes. It would have allowed me to make the big changes and address major issues before he fixed up the smaller things. But keeping costs down was important at the time, too. And Joshua was great with follow-up stuff. I asked for clarification on a few points, bounced a few ideas off of him in e-mails, was probably a little annoying, and he was great about answering everything. He offered a wrap-up phone call, but I don’t really do phone stuff. E-mail it was. And he took a quick look at by cover copy and corrected a couple of grammatical/punctuation errors there, too.

Was it easy? No. My skin’s not as thick as it should be, though it’s getting tougher. But it was absolutely worth every dollar and every minute.

Is it for everyone? Probably not. I know I was lucky to be able to afford to do this (see aforementioned tax refund), and not everyone can. Many authors get by just fine without developmental editing, and line edits are usually cheaper. Some writers don’t work with editors at all. I’m sure people will read this and tell me I spent too much. That’s fine, if that’s your opinion. But my book came out of that editing so much stronger than it went in. It’s not a perfect book, but I’m confident that it’s the best I could make it.

Okay, there’s one typo. I need to fix that.

And yes, it has paid for itself already. I don’t like to talk money, but my fears about that were unfounded.

Before anyone asks, yes, Mr Essoe has agreed to work on Torn. If Bound hadn’t made enough money, I’d have had to find a cheaper route, but we’re good for now, and I’m thrilled about that. When my lovely, wonderful, and honest beta readers are done ripping it apart critiquing it, I’ll fix the problems they identify, and then send it off. Fewer problems = less for mister editor to fix = less expensive for me. I highly recommend doing it this way if you’re using an editor.

TL;DR VERSION

Why I decided to use an editor: The book was good, but I needed professional help if I wanted it to kick ass.

How I found mine: Heard him on a podcast, was blown away by the sample edit.

How much it cost: More than my first car, less than my current one.

Holy crap, really?: Yes.  This is a good post on what they do, and average rates. There’s another FANTASTIC post out there on why they charge as much as they do (taxes, business expenses, non-billable hours, etc), but I can’t find it. If anyone knows the one I’m talking about, please drop a link in the comments!

What the process was like: Amazing. Humbling. Uplifting. Inspiring. Confidence-boosting. Challenging. Grey-hair inducing. SWELL.

Has it paid off: In my case, absolutely. Your mileage may vary. This is all personal experience.

So I hope that helps someone, and now I have a post I can refer people to when they ask. WIN-WIN, guys.

*No, I don’t like the term self-published, because it has a stigma attached to it and because I don’t do it all myself. I operate like a micro-press that works with freelance editors, cover artists, and formatters. It just happens to only represent one author.

**Many do charge by word-count. I consider them brave souls!

*** General advice is to expect to release 3-5 books before you’re making much money, so that’s how I planned it.

****Sorry for that visual.


Writing Process Blog Hop: Evolution

I was tagged by the lovely, talented, blogtastic Melissa Janda (hello!) to participate in the writing process blog hop, where we write a post about our own process, then tag three other writers to participate. I admit, I have declined this one in the past because I worried I wouldn’t find anyone to tag who hadn’t done it yet. Thanks to a group I’m in on Facebook, I’ve met some more authors, and here we are.

YAY!

Interesting note: I picked my topic before I read Melissa’s. I pretty well could have copied and pasted hers for mine… but I won’t. 🙂

 

 MY WRITING PROCESS

I wonder whether I’ll ever get to a place where my process is stable, just a regular thing that happens. So far, it’s been all over the place.

There was the ideas-and-that’s-all phase, when I knew I had just the BEST ideas for books that would totally be best-sellers if only I could find the time to write them. I could daydream with the best of them, playing stories through my mind like movies. I thought I had writing talent (people had said so, hadn’t they?), but with depression and a job and a sleep disorder and… well, I never did it.

That was not a good phase. Sure, the imagination exercise was important, but I wish someone had told me that ideas are a dime a dozen, as common as cliches. It’s what you do with them that matters. And “talent” means absolutely nothing without hard work. I’d say the work is more important. Talent is highly overrated, and none of us are as talented as we think we are.

I kind of want to slap past me sometimes.

Then came the trying-to-get-it-right phase, in which I tried to write stories, but my perfectionism pulled up a chair beside me for every session and whispered horrible things to me. You can read more about that here. Essentially what was happening is that she (don’t ask why my perfectionism is a she) had me convinced that I had to get it right on the first try, or I wasn’t a good writer. There was no room for revision. The thought of someone critiquing my work horrified me. No, it had to be perfect before I showed it to anyone.

Maybe it’s obvious to you what happened, but I’ll say it anyway. I wrote first chapters. I wrote a few short stories. And I gave up when they weren’t perfect. I re-wrote those first chapters until I got sick of the stories or lost hope of ever finishing them. I tossed short stories in a drawer, never to be seen again.

Learning experiences, right?

Then came the children, and more (and worse) depression, and exhaustion like I’d never known before, and the writing stopped. I didn’t write anything for about three years save for fat journals that I’m a little scared to read over now.

Next stage: Salvation.

That might be putting it just a little dramatically, but that’s what it felt like at the time, and still does. I learned that the only way I can finish a book is to just write the damned thing without editing as I go, without second-guessing myself. Momentum is the key, and thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished writing a novel draft in… seven months.

Okay, it’s not exactly the “novel in a month” that we’re supposed to be aiming for, but I had found a method that worked. I mean, the first draft was shit, but it was something I could work with. I learned that you can’t revise what you haven’t written, and until the story is laid out on paper, I can’t see its flaws.

In the 3.5 years since that first NaNoWriMo, my writing process has evolved in great, confusing leaps. I plan more now, but still need three drafts before I’m comfortable sending a larger, more complex work to readers. Two for a novella, so far. Then more revisions. Then edits.

No, I’m not of the “just throw it out there and see if it sticks, and do better with the next book” school of thought. Only my best work makes it out there, and that’s something that’s not likely to change. So though I’ve learned to tell Perfectionism to shut up during early drafts, she still has work to do around the office.

THE BIG BUMP

A few weeks ago, my process got jostled just a little with the launch of Bound.

I told myself that releasing a book was not a big deal. Well, it was to me, and to my friends and family, and you lovely people who have been waiting for it. But I thought we’d party and go home, and things would be quiet, and I’d get right back to work on the second book. I didn’t have big plans for promotions, didn’t want to pimp this book until I had more to offer.

celebquote.com

Yeah, I got thrown off.

Things went a little better than I’d expected, and I found myself compulsively checking sales and Amazon rankings. I hid under the bed in fear instead of retreating to my editing cave like I should have.

BUT. I do have a deadline now, and I need to get back to work. For anyone interested, here’s what the process for my current WIP looks like:

  • Draft one: November and December 2012 (80K words, just getting the story out)
  • Draft two: November 2013 (find flaws, improve the story)
  • Draft three: July and August 2014 (approximately 105K words. Kick the story up SO MANY NOTCHES*. Rewrite/revise each character’s POV scenes separately to maintain flow and voice. Aren’s up next… Eek!)
  • To readers September 2014
  • Revisions October/November 2014
  • To Editor end of November
  • Edits: January
  • Proofing: Early February

After that, it’s publishing mechanics (formatting, cover art, etc). This is an ideal timeline, of course, and I’m sure something will come up to thwart my best-laid plans. But that’s what the process looks like for me right now.

So there you go. That was… lengthy. But maybe you found something that will inspire or encourage you.

LINKAGE

So now I have the pleasure of introducing you to the three writers I’m tagging for this blog hop. I met these fine humans through the Indie Author Group on Facebook (which is a fabulous resource, and blessedly promo-free). Stop by their blogs, say hello, make a new friend! They’ll be posting their writing process stuff on the 21st, but they all have blogs that are up and running right now.

Sabrina Giles is a Paranormal Romance author (expanding into other genres with her works in progress) who blogs at sabrinagiles.wordpress.com. Her novel Ensuing Darkness is available now at Amazon and Smashwords.

Mariella Hunt blogs at Baiting the Muse Trap (mariellahunt.com). She will be publishing her YA Urban Fantasy novel Dissonance and a collection of short stories this year.

Sabrina McClure is a new, indie author who writes paranormal & mystery novels. She blogs at authorsabrinamcclure.wordpress.com. Her debut novel Hades Sent is available now.

 

 

*This is why I don’t release early drafts. Even if they’re “good enough,” I know that they could by so much better.


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