The Fine Line

I spent a lot of time working on my best selling high fantasy novel.  A year or so ago I thought I was ready to publish.  I went looking for an agent.  Well, at least I thought it would be a best selling high fantasy novel.  I have learned I still have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do on my manuscript before it is ready to be my debut novel, and hopefully a best seller.

I made several mistakes, I wrote alone.  I had close family and friends read my work and tell me how great my writing was.  So I was surprised at all the rejection letters I received.  However, I was (and am) very determined to publish my book.

I ran across a wonderful website Agent Query Connect.  This is a fantastic forum full of knowledgeable writers and other writing industry insiders. Here I learned my mistakes.

180,000 word book is way too long especially for a debut novel.  Next my book was not a stand alone story, I had written over 400,000 words in three books!  No one is going to touch that!

I got educated on this web site.  I’ve learned you need critique partners.  People who are honest about your work, unlike family who think you are the next best seller.  You also need some good beta readers who can pick out plot holes, or grammar errors.

I say that because I want to relate an experience I just had and give a word of caution to the aspiring writers reading this.

Finding an agent/publisher/editor to publish your work is a very tough job.  Once someone agrees to publish your work, there is more effort to go through and several years before you hold your book in your hands.

Another route is self publishing.  It has a lot of advantages, but there are some hidden dangers there.

So a few months ago I saw an online ad about formatting for an e-reader.  I thought that would be great so I clicked on the ad, thinking I was going to get a program that would format my ms into something I could put onto my nook.

I have printed my entire ms and bound them to look just a published book, page numbers, chapters, front and back, etc.  I love seeing what the book would look like.   So I was excited about taking it to the e-book.

However, the ad was for a publishing outfit.  They called and wanted to sign me up to publish my work.  They were persistent and persuasive.  I know my writing isn’t ready for publication.  I am in the process of rewriting my first book to make it a stand alone book.  I am not sure how well that project is going, my critique partners have given me a lot to digest on my first two chapters, and I am writing a new chapter to send to them.  It is slow going.  The publishing company called again wanting me to sign up.  The Representative was so busy selling me my dream about seeing my work in print they were not listening to me explain the technical issues and writing problems my book(s) have.  They just heard trilogy and three books, with another one written!  Lets get it signed up now!

I almost had to get rude on the phone when I said, “My manuscript is not ready for publication.”

Sure, I could send it out.  It will bomb the way it stands now.  I know that, but only because I’ve been working with some very talented people at AQC.  If I had clicked on that link a few years ago I would be a published author, but I would have ruined my reputation before I had a chance to make a positive impact.

So yes, lets get published!  Make sure you are ready to publish before you submit to agents, or go the self publishing route.  Be true to your craft.  Be true to yourself.  There is a fine line between being ready and waiting because of doubts, and publishing before being ready.  Know which side of the line you are on and make the needed adjustments.  If you are ready and keep tinkering with the synopsis and query letter, there is a time to just jump in and make it happen.

If your beta readers and crit partners are giving you more advice on what is needed, listen to them and keep working.  You are not ready to publish.

It is a journey, but remember, this is an industry and a business.  Learn your craft, and know when to put up the artistic side and put on your business hat.  Good luck.

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Murder For Fun and Profit

No, I’m not promoting a hit-person service. I refer to the well-worn adage concerning self-editing, a topic that surfaces as often as its familial admonition:  murder your darlings. Credit to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch for the oft-repeated advice.

In certain types of speculative fiction, the advice applies as well in a different, more literal sense.  We build evil characters and kill them off, always remembering, of course, that a villain is the hero of his own story. Even in the foulest character, there should be aspects that you empathize with. Something that makes you, the writer, and you, the reader care. And then…Blam! Squish!

Or, in demonstrating the extent of evil your beloved villain is capable of, you might show the threat to your protagonist, or his girlfriend/her boyfriend/husband/wife/dog by first having him (you) murder one or two lesser characters. Would anyone care, if they didn’t first care for the characters? No. So you create someone to love, and then…

I created a character in a novel and had her killed off. But I’d grown so attached to her, I rewrote so that she hadn’t really died. She walked through the rest of the story like a zombie with nothing to add except her presence. Guess what. She had to die a second time. I had to murder her twice. Better off dead, poor woman.

So I should have learned, right? But no. In the same book, I did it again with a major character. I and my characters loved him too much to let him go. In the end, he had to, though. Tough decision, but putting them both back into their graves made the story stronger.

But first I had to see, clearly, that my love for them added nothing to the tale, and, in fact, lessened its impact.

A post by another of our writers, T.J., recently reminded me of an aspect of this, be it in storytelling or in self-editing. It was a post on editing, but something I learned in gardening and landscaping grabbed me from reading her post.

BE RUTHLESS.

In creating and maintaining a good landscape (which we do with words when we write), you have to cultivate ruthlessness. If a plant isn’t performing or has overgrown its space (poor planning on the gardener’s part), you can’t coddle it, or spend your life pruning it to a shape that fits but that isn’t right for the plant. You’ve got to dig it up, plant it somewhere else (in writing, I keep folders for “outtakes”) or just dump the poor thing.

People are going to spend more time and closer attention to your writing than your garden, so taking out (or moving) anything that doesn’t work is critical. Not timidly. Ruthlessly (as in cutting too many –ly adverbs.)

In the first pass, this isn’t so difficult. We cut huge chunks of absolutely brilliant prose with self-satisfaction. We didn’t need a page to describe the room. We didn’t even need a long paragraph. Ah, there now. I feel so much better, and so virtuous.

It’s that second or third pass. The fine-tuning. Everyone edits differently, but we all get to a place where we have to make some really hard decisions. A few lines that have held on. A short scene that is so tight and well-written. (Or a character or two who didn’t want to be dead.)

Oh, murder most foul!

Kill the suckers! No mercy. And if you did your job and made them characters (yes, even your bad guys), or scenes, paragraphs, even phrases that you and we love (or love to hate), it’s that much harder to do. And that much more rewarding to have done it, when you step back and view the finished work.

And there’s the fun. The satisfaction of doing the hard work. The profit? Not royalties (wonderful as they may be.) It’s how the work profits from our merciless killing sprees. And how we, as writers, profit in honing our craft, sharpening our eyes and the skill with which we deploy the sharp blade of the delete key.

It’s what we do, after all. Build worlds, people them, and then torment, torture, sometimes destroy. Our craft requires us to do it regularly. With vigor. With precision.

So, fellow hit-persons. Garrote? Scalpel? Other than great CPs and beta readers, what are your most useful tools and techniques?