Thoughts on Self-Publishing & First Drafts

Wow, it’s almost been 2 months since I last posted on my blog! I’ve been pretty busy with not just trying to wrap up my current round of revisions on TEROH but also learning as much as I can about (author) marketing. Particularly email marketing. I’ve even invested in a thorough course on the matter! (I was also struggling with some challenges at work that were affecting my mental and emotional health and making it difficult to give my story my full attention. I just didn’t have the energy.)

There was a time, not long ago, that the idea of self-publishing wasn’t even an option in my mind. I completely wrote it off. I thought it would just be too much work that I wouldn’t enjoy or be capable of doing. And then…I really started to research more about it.

Now, I still believe that becoming a self-published author will be a lot of work, but everything I’ve learned about it so far has been so utterly fascinating that I just have to give it a try. There isn’t a single aspect of this process so far that has me thinking, “Nah, I can’t do that.”

Because I know I can. So guess what? I’m going to. (More on that another day, I’m sure.)

First Draft Writing Shenanigans

When it comes to writing, my biggest challenge will be refining my personal process so that things go a bit smoother (and lots faster!) with my second novel in the series. (The cool thing about self-publishing is that I can work at my own pace and adjust my marketing efforts accordingly.) At the moment, I already have 4 scenes written for Book II—not to mention all of the main plot figured out! but more on that another day—because they were just so vivid in my mind that I had to get them on paper before that clarity eluded me. I stopped after that so I could focus on finishing revisions and edits on Book I—an ongoing process if there ever was one. But back to Book II.

One of my problems with Book I is that it began very heavy with information (which isn’t entirely avoidable when your story is set in a new world or unfamiliar time/place but can be mitigated), so this time, with the early scenes I wrote for Book II, I started with the things that came clear to me: actions, dialogue, pivotal moments. I wrote them en media res from the perspective of what was most relevant to the POV characters at the time. Then I layered in small hints of contextual information that would help the reader get a better understanding of what was going on—relevant worldbuilding details, character history…

Already, I feel a million times more confident in the quality of these initial scenes’ drafts than I ever did writing the first drafts of Book I! (I say “first drafts” plural because, if you know anything about this project, then you’ll know that TEROH has kind of seen a few “first drafts” over time.) In the past, I pretty much approached the first draft(s) from the perspective of a worldbuilder and layered in anything I thought might matter eventually, which is a common beginner’s mistake. (You just have so much to share about your new world that you literally don’t even know where to begin!)

Assessing one scene at a time as its own independent unit really helps me stay focused when I’m writing, I’ve realized.

Oh, the things you learn…

Revisions & Editing

In other news, I’ve found an editor to work with on TEROH!

After reviewing his work with past clients and sending a 2,000-word excerpt of my story to him for a free sample edit then snagging a sweet deal on his editing services, I decided to work with someone who has edited books (especially indies) that have seen decent success (on Amazon, at least) and had experience with multiple genres but fantasy in particular, since my story is essentially an eclectic fantasy. I felt he gave some great advice in my sample edit and has some good insight and an eye for the things I lack, so hopefully, it works out pretty well!

Even though I won’t be ready to work with him until another month or so, I went ahead and reached out to him a little early because I was really concerned about pricing and trying to figure out what to budget. I’m extremely grateful that he was able to lock me in for a deal that makes it super affordable for a first-time indie author with a sizeable manuscript on her hands. (Editors typically charge per word—usually under $0.10, depending on the type of edit—which really adds up if your story isn’t already on the shorter side.)

Anyway, I won’t go into specifics about who I’m working with yet and whatnot; I’m funny about these kinds of things until we’ve gone the distance a bit (chalk it up to my dating experiences?), but I’m pretty sure I’ll talk more about it later! In the meantime…

Yup, revisions.

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Writing Endings is Hard

Writing endings is hard for me—not because I have to decide what happens but also how and why it happens. Endings are more than just the who, what, when, and where. That stuff is basic storytelling logistics. The hard part, in my opinion, is the emotion behind the words. Engineering a specific feeling or, at the very least, a combination of storytelling mechanics that gives readers the space to feel a certain way.

You know when you read a story that just “feels” right and makes you feel…something? Yeah, well my ending doesn’t have the “feels right” thing yet—not all of it, anyway—and I’ve rewritten it many times. The best part? Chances are if I don’t feel it (whatever “it” is), then neither will the reader.

Parts of my ending I am happy with. I edited and sliced things that weren’t working with my updates on the rest of the story. I even added an epilogue with content I originally thought would work well as an opening to Book II though, after further thought, I decided it would feel out-of-place there and instead would be a better end cap to Book I. (It’s told from a secondary character’s perspective in a place that the protagonist can’t physically be, but it helps to add a sense of resolution after the protagonist’s story ends.) Also, during my rewriting slog in this very narrow—yet highly important—section of my novel, I came up with some more material to use in the second book.

Still, I’ve got a few paragraphs (the last of the final chapter) that I’m just not sure how I want to swing.

Thing is…I don’t think this is something that can or should be forced. Since I’ve been stuck on this for a few weeks now, I decided to leave what I have and continue working on the rest of my rewrites and edits. That should give my subconscious enough space to work something out in the meantime. (It’s crazy what your brain can do while you sleep/eat/live or otherwise do stuff that has nothing to do with the thing you actually want it to do.)

I’ve already gotten some of my larger rewrites done during this slog, so that’s nice. Today, I’m just going to skim through and see which parts have the largest sections that still need rewrites so I can work on those over the next couple of weeks then print those out and scribble down any edits I might need to do on just those parts. (Anytime you change something, imo, it needs to be examined in the scope of the larger framework surrounding it to make sure it still flows.) Then I can work on all the other edits—the easier stuff like grammar, missing words, the order of words, sentence structure, word choice, etc.—from beginning to end. That way, the chronology of the story is fresh in my mind, and I’m seeing it as the reader does.

That’s the plan, anyway!

Blending Fantasy & Espionage + Revisions Update

The other day, I was Googling stuff about fantasy novels that have prominent espionage threads in them. (There really aren’t very many when compared to other genre mashups.) Anyway, I came upon this article entitled “An Uncoiled Spring: The Absence of Real-world Tensions,” which examines how some science fiction and fantasy stories go about incorporating “the devices and techniques of espionage fiction,” as put by author Chris Gerwel.

As a writer who’s been working on a novel that combines (science) fantasy conventions with espionage trappings, I find this highly interesting.Read More »

On Finding a Novel’s Target Audience & Understanding Reader Expectations (Part II)

Last week, I mused a bit about the importance of identifying your target audience as an author and understanding reader expectations within your genre(s). This week, I wanted to follow up with some more thoughts on this as it pertains to my WIP, TEROH.

Before I get too far, I’d like to point out that a lot of these thoughts are stemming from a few things: beta reader comments I received, reviews that I read on books that are similar to mine, and also things I’ve been learning recently about selling and publishing on Amazon. Some books from indie authors are more financially successful than others—and while I don’t think things like good cover designs, good book descriptions, and the use of well-researched keywords along with an apt selection of categories/genres are the only reasons for their success, they do tend to be a substantial part of it when you look a little closer.

With the right positioning, a book can get a decent amount of hits from organic searches over time and better reach its intended audience. But if you haven’t considered the market and don’t know and understand who your intended audience is or what they’re looking for, then how are you supposed to reach them? As a writer still weighing the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional, these are the reasons I’m considering all of this now.

As I see it, knowing the answers to these questions from a writing standpoint is just as important from a marketing one.Read More »

Using Beta Reader Feedback & Highlighters to Analyze & Shorten Your (Long-Ass Fantasy) Novel

If you’re like me and know you could probably shorten your novel but have no idea how to go about doing that because “OMG, I love/need everything—the feeeeelz!”…then you just might like this post.

Writers who are looking for agents hear it time and time again: word count matters. But that doesn’t make it easier to contend with—especially if you’re a fantasy writer and you decided to create your own world. Finding beta reader(s) to take a crack at your novel can help you find some of your story’s problems. However, they won’t necessarily tell you outright, “Hey, I really think you need to shorten this book,” or, “Hey, I think you should cut X, Y, and Z out.” You may hear something more like, “This part didn’t really do much for me,” or, “I feel like it took too long for such-n-such to happen.” Some of that might be pacing or lack of development…or the opposite: too much development (in the wrong places).

Regardless, if you know you’ve written a doorstopper, then y’already know things need to shrink to have the best chance at finding representation and selling your novel (if that’s the route you want to go). My story is currently hovering around the 216K mark. I’m not expecting miracles—I truly feel this is a big story that will lose something vital if I try to take it to something like 120K, so I will pitch to UK agents or self-publish if I have to—but I do want to challenge myself to cut a minimum of 40K words. The good news is I found a ridiculously easy way to cut 25% of that goal with little to no heartbreak; the bad news is I still need to find where the other 75% (or more) is hiding.

So how am I planning to do that?

Well, I’ve talked about some of this before on the blog, but if you’re more of a visual-audio person and more specific examples then check out my video! You can easily adapt the process I talk about for your own particular needs. It’s certainly helping me see my novel in a more objective light, and I’m barely getting started. (Not claiming to be the first to do this, by the way. I just go about it differently.)

Oh, and here’s a helpful hint: when the highlighters stop flowing largely in the color(s) that you need them to: you’ve definitely got some issues…

How do you find ways to shorten a lengthy novel?