Tag: newbie

Newbie Author Seeks Publishing Contract

In the world of authorial experience, I’m still a newbie. One published short story, an independently published novella and a contract for another short story: those are my publishing credits.

As for writing, though, I’ve had a long and arduous journey. And I’ve written close to a half-million words since doing this “writing thing” full-time. Some people say once I’ve written a million words, I’ll finally be through my apprenticeship.

Hopefully, I’ll have a few readers who love me by then, too.

I spent my first year polishing and perfecting the first novel in a young adult fantasy series. I wrote the entire trilogy at the suggestion of a writing teacher I regard highly. It helped to disgorge the full story.

DOW CoverIf you’ve written one novel, you know the exhilaration (or maybe utter exhaustion) of typing the final sentence. Since I started writing full-time in July of 2013, I’ve written four 70,000+ word novels (all young adult fantasies) and a 40,000-word historical fiction novella. Every time I finished the first draft, I wanted to sing and dance (and take a LONG nap).

My first novel made the rounds:

  • It attended a first ten pages workshop. The beginning got rewritten.
  • It went to another class about hooking a reader. Another new beginning.
  • The first twenty pages and a synopsis were submitted for critique by a published author of the fantasy genre. More work was needed.
  • After pitching the idea at a writer’s conference, I sent the first fifty pages to an agent.

Even before I heard back from her (“The story has potential but isn’t right for her needs”), I knew the story needed a complete overhaul. Why? I had been learning about structure, conflict, and character motivation.

The first novel was a novelty, but it wasn’t marketable. It needed to be rewritten.

doomsday1Meanwhile, I had birthed a new, exciting idea. There were dragons and volcanoes and a snarky teenage girl. Who could ask for more? So I wrote that novel.

The first third of this novel found its way to a professional editor for a developmental edit. Guess what I found out? The story was strong. The characters? Not so much.

I’m climbing the learning curve, but it’s a steep one. Writing a novel is no easy task. It’s complex. A brain surgeon probably needs fewer hours to learn how to remove a tumor than an author needs to perfect a novel-length story.

That novel is still in the process of being revised. My beta readers enjoyed it, but they found flaws. Namely: everything happens too easily. That’s right. I like these characters and I want something to go smoothly in their otherwise crappy lives. But smooth sailing doesn’t make a good story.

“We learn the world is at stake too early in the story.” When a volcano erupts in glorious splendor in the first scene and the seer envisions a dragon in the second scene, things are moving along. But not doomsday in the fourth chapter. Even if it’s in the title of the book.

And the characters don’t grow much. What? They save the world but seem unchanged? More. Development. Needed.

So, that’s what I’m working on this summer. The Willamette Writer’s Conference nears, and I’ll be pitching this new project to an agent and an editor.

Have I moved from the apprentice stage of writing? Will this novel be deemed “saleable”?

I hope so. But, if it gets rejected, I’ll send it to another group of critiquers, get more feedback, make more changes, and NEVER SURRENDER.

Why Every (Newbie) Author Needs an Editor

I’m a newbie novice when it comes to writing novels. Not an ounce of shame taints this admission. If I send sub-par work into the world of readers because I don’t see the need for an editor, that’s when I’ll be ashamed.

In the past fifteen months, I have completed five first drafts. This amounts to about 350,000 words. I should be getting the hang of this writing thing after all that, shouldn’t I?

If I compare the first novel with the last, the improvement is easily identifiable. To me, anyway. A professional editor might see things differently. This is the reason you should hire one before you publish your “masterpiece.”

Lucky me, I won a 25,000 word critique from the amazing Jami Gold. As full-time writer who has not sold a single story, I appreciated this windfall more than a winning Lotto ticket. After experiencing Jami’s professional white glove treatment, I can recommend her services.

What I expected

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript – written within the document so examples of the flaws were showcased
  • Advice about my characters
  • Analysis of my story structure: the first turning point at least
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes

What she delivered

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript. Besides lengthy notations within the manuscript, Jami provided four pages of explanation about the larger issues – good and bad – in the story
  • Advice about my characters. She analyzed the character arc of both protagonists, discussed their shortfalls, remarked about how to improve them. In short, I saw my characters in a different spotlight after reading her comments.
  • Analysis of my story structure. Jami identified the story problem but couldn’t pinpoint my character’s driving needs. Because of this, she didn’t see the first turning point the way I had when I wrote the story. Obviously, this is an issue – with my writing, not her editing.
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses. Do I really need to list these? Suffice it to say that I’m still doing more telling than showing. My descriptions are over the top (quite surprising) and often unrealistically delivered. Too many participles. Not enough strong verbs. Even a grammar issue (when to use ‘the’ rather than ‘a.’)
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness. My third person POV didn’t go deep enough. My characters could be heard loud and clear in only a few sentences. If I want my readers to buy in, I need to delve more deeply into the psyche of these people who tell this story.
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked. Right off the bat, Jami raved about how well I nailed this. My thanks to Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. I learned the importance of this from them. Looks like it penetrated my thick skull and became a part of my writing arsenal.
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes. Again, I managed to strike it rich. Of course, the lack in my characters rubs off on the overall story problem. Since their motivations are unclear, it holds readers at arm’s length.

My revised opinion

I have seen recommendations from authors who are traditionally published. They tell you not to spend the money on an editor for your manuscript before shopping it with agents and editors. I sighed hugely when I read this advice.

Now I’m going to refute it. Time to face facts: you won’t hook an agent or editor with a manuscript that doesn’t shine. No matter how great of a writer you are or how many degrees you possess, you aren’t the best critic for your written work.

I can slash in red with the best of them (ask my sons who have experienced my unforgiving editing for more than a decade). With a critical eye, I can spot plot holes, weak characterization, telling passages and other major flaws.

No matter how much I squint, I’m too close to my own story to recognize most of these shortcomings. I know what I meant. The characters are my intimate friends so I read between the lines. I see subtext that doesn’t exist. Caricatures are the invisible woman.

If you’ve shopped your story and no one is biting, take the plunge. Spend the money on a developmental edit to ensure your manuscript is sound of structure. Look at it as an investment in your career – like workshops, craft books and conferences.

In the end, your manuscript will shine. You will learn how to write a stronger story. Best of all, your name will appear on the cover of the book you’ve envisioned. And you’ll be proud to have people read your work.

Have I convinced you? Great.

One more thing. Do you have an extra $1000 I can borrow? Really, my friend. Help me get a much-needed developmental edit on my manuscript.

What are your thoughts on critique groups, beta readers and professional edits? Do they all serve the same purpose? Do you believe spending money on an editor is a waste if you’re a newbie seeking traditional publishing?