Wednesday, March 24, 2010

For Susannah

[And anyone else in early stages: finishing first book or taking first steps after that]

Before I believed I really could FINISH a book, back in the day I was debating how Half Blood Prince and then Deathly Hallows would go, I met a relatively large group of people that, like me, had writing aspirations. We had varying degrees of confidence in whether we could do it, and varying degrees of skill (stages where we were in our writing, mostly—most people called to write can develop the skill).

When one of THOSE people (my early aspiring writer friends) tells me now that they have finished, or are approaching the end of that first book, I am THRILLED for them. It is stepping stone that is hard enough to make, that once up, there is no turning back—a person who has written a book and has the call to write is truly a writer.  And we've made this journey together.

So yesterday I saw a status message on Facebook from one such friend (one I met trying to prove JK Rowling was a Monty Python Fan), a woman on a VERY short list of women sassier than I am (the only one I know of running a competing Total World Domination Plan, though hers lacks the nudity, so I'm sure you'll stick with mine) but she is nearing the end of that first book. I thought maybe I'd offer some unsolicited advice, cuz you know... I like to tell people what to do.


You can be 'almost done' for a LONG time. It can linger and hover. I suggest looking at time periods you felt very productive in writing—whatever they are TO YOU. Is it a thousand words a day? A chapter a week? A scene a day? Different people think of their writing differently. But figure out your PACE at that time when you were already productive, and apply it forward.  Choose when you intend to be done by and try to keep on pace to making it.

With CONFLUENCE, that pace for me was two chapters a month. I wasn't thinking in word count (probably because of that writing long-hand thing) but I figured if I could finish two chapters (about 30 pages) a month then I could finish by XYZ date. I had to change it once, because I spent August of that year traveling, but the last 7 or so chapters actually went FASTER. Whatever the case, a deadline helps most people keep on track—it will push you to write every time you are debating between writing and some other activity. Set a deadline.


Susannah asked me specifically about the blog. She'd put hers on hold because she felt it was distracting her from book-writing time. For book #1, I think that was the smartest thing she could have done. ANY distraction is like a giant wall in your way and you just need to concentrate on the book for now.

Some of the social media you can dapple in and not harm yourself if you don't really do much for a while. I think an author profile on Facebook is a GREAT idea early (I know she has one)--but it is time to start friending and fanning authors, publishers and agents now, then just check in on what they do now and again. They might be offended by you friending them with your PERSONAL profile if you have a lot of updates about family (and your friends and family will eventually be annoyed by the writing updates), but NOBODY is going to be offended if you start building up a network of writers to keep an eye on well before you intend to contribute (same with Twitter)--so both of these are things you can start already—looking for writers and seeing what you like and what you don't from what they do.

(Believe me, there will be things that bug the hell out of you—it's probably personal, but there are some super-marketers offering advice that are WAY too 'in your face' for me—I don't want a daily facebook message in my inbox (status update, fine—THOSE are easy to scroll, filling my inbox for perpetuity? No thanks. I'd appreciate saving it for when there is a BOOK RELEASE or Call to ACTION, and help is needed, or MAYBE a once a week report. THIS IS NOT WHERE BLOG UPDATES GO *cough* can you tell I have issues with this one?  It is why I most often 'unfan')

But back to the blog... THIS is something, that when you want to get blogging AS A WRITER (whether it is about writing, about your content, or a mix of stuff) you want to commit to doing it right.

I blogged about this last month and think the advice on HOW to do it well is still good (Be A Blog Slut). Until you are ready to do it right, I would hold off.  Though I think when it can be committed to, it is VERY important.

First Readers and EDITING

I don't want to be the evil person to break this to you, but there will be SEVERAL rounds of this. I would identify or ASK first readers what their specialty is AS A READER. I would then divide them up.

Your FIRST first readers PLOT READERS should be the ones who spot places you need MORE or that seem INCONSISTENT, or that you're UNCLEAR. They are meta-readers looking at the big picture and the things they identify need to be done before the other stuff can really even be LOOKED at. (I am good at this, possibly because of my psych, so I spot places where motivation is unclear or behavior seems inconsistent)

It is REALLY NICE if you have experienced writers who can do 'scene by scene' letting you know what works, what needs work, and what should be dropped--but only let people do this who have either published, or read REALLY WIDELY IN YOUR GENRE—the people who know what they're talking about.

Some readers are good at things like PACING or STYLE—spotting where things slow down (the style of writing needs to shift a little, depending on the action, and it isn't necessarily easy as a writer to see than in progress.)

And finally, you need a Leanne... The Grammar Police is one way to put this... somebody happy to go through line by line with a red pen, but do this LAST, or you will need to do it AGAIN.


I apparently don't know what the hell I'm doing here, as I've only had limited success, but there is a LOT of help to be had.  Take advantage of it.  Read the AGENT blogs on the matter--the Nathan Bransford, Kirsten Nelson, Janet Reid variety.  They have great advice--sometimes their preferences are different, which is helpful in that you see it is not a one size fits all thing, but on MANY things they agree--those things should ALWAYS be followed.

This is a skill worth developing because unless you know somebody you can sleep with to get in, 95% of unknown authors get their first work read this way (maybe 4% through a pitch session at a conference, which is even HARDER) and 1% through flukey things (this last appears to be the route I'm on... never have done things the normal way)


This is a marathon. I laugh when I think about how I thought things would go... query, get CONFLUENCE sold, and suddenly I'd have to quit my day job. I was actually worried about things like insurance and such. BAH! I am now a year after my first Query Submissions and have had 3 rounds where I was DEAD SERIOUS in thinking it was ready—I am back to thinking it isn't quite ready (book nor query).

So you HAVE TO in between, be working on that next book, but periodically there will be rewrite/query rounds built in. You will become a MASTER at multi-tasking (or serial tasking) I recommend thinking about things like Amazon because there are people HAPPY to give feedback on things like pitches and that first chapter or so (great people, for the most part)--and they are people who have DONE this.

When you are in this CYCLE though, you need to also be building your network and blogging is part of that. It helps because there is a ton of great advice, and it helps your name and voice get out there. I happen to think this is NOT a normal route, but my BLOG voice is why Elizabeth thought of me when her agent had a cozy project and she didn't have time for it. There are people looking all over, so every little bit helps, but I think every little bit ALSO requires some give. I wouldn't have my following if I didn't follow, comment... all that slutty stuff.

So I wish you (any of you in this early achievement stage) a HUGE amount of luck. It's a very long road, but it can be traversed


Sugar said...

That is awesome advice! Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with us :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great thoughts on this.I think one of the hardest things is knowing when something is ready to submit. Sometimes we're TOO hard on our WIP and feel it's *never* good enough and sometimes we submit it before it's ready.

Great tips on first readers and blogging/soc media. I'm hating it that I'm getting so close to deadline these days that I don't have much time for first readers (I'm really imposing, time-wise on the one I'm using now--because I need the whole book back right away!) Really makes me wince. Makes my agent wince, too. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Sugar, thank you!

Elizabeth-I cycle--overconfident, then it's crap again... but in ONE of those confident cycles I always manage to send it out, and I STILL don't think it's ready (3 rounds later)
I wondered if you still used first readers! I can imagine it gets tight with deadlines. i try to pad the deadline--work backward enough that I can fit the first readers in there) but it is the SAME padding for live upheavals, so at some point, there is bound to be a scramble.

Liz said...

I assume that you mean The Wench's own WDP is on par with yours. . .

Watery Tart said...

I figure you're on board with the Naked World Domination Plan, ET... there is plenty of room for like-minded women to have their parts of it, and I have no issues at all sharing authority with a reasonable governing board (provided meetings include VERY good beer and Cabana Boys giving massages)

B. Miller said...

My goal for finishing the novel (or reaching 100,000 words) is the first of May. Right now I'm averaging about 5,000 words a week, and that puts me right on track to finish when I want to. Of course, you never know what might come up - in real life, or in the book (maybe it's longer than 100K words, who knows?), but that's my goal.

I started blogging and working on my writer's platform when I realized I was going to have to prove to an editor or agent that I am consistent, dedicated, and already have people besides my parents who're ready and willing to listen to my words. It's gone well so far, and the more I work on it, the more I feel like (flourish of trumpets, please) a REAL WRITER. So, I think it's helping me along to my goal.

This was a great an informative post. Thanks, Hart.

Watery Tart said...

B. Excellent deadline setting!

I think 3/4 of the books I've finished all SEEMED like they were going longer than I thought, then suddenly wound up right about at plan, though my planning is at a chapter level, not a wordcount level. And I definitely think the writer platform helps--if you have a system down, DON'T mess with it. I only suggest setting the book aside if it is interfering. You've been a short story writer for a while, so have the writing as part of your routine DOWN.

(fun to feel like we're moving along, isn't it?)

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Ugh, so much to do and think about...all captured in one post. Makes me want to cry. Most of these things just wear me down. Blogging for example...I dislike it. I have to really struggle to find something to say. And that's only three times per week. I've abandoned Facebook and Twitter altogether. I still have the accounts, but never post of tweet. Just not me. Too...reclusive. I'll have a new release out soon, but I'd rather give them away then try to sell them. I'm in violation of all the writerly-correct conventions.

Best, Galen.

M.J. Nicholls said...

Excellent advice once again from the most dedicated blogger in the universe. There isn't enough time in the week for me to read all your blogs, but when I do, I'm swimming in wisdom.

Happy Easter in Tartland.

Watery Tart said...

Galen-I love your blogs! You don't seem so reclusive! But I can see how it would all seem intimidating when you have to be on your game all the time for several weeks to really launch a book properly!

Mark-you crack me up. Are you saying I'm wordy *snort* Maybe I should throw a raft out to just float on the TOP of the wisdom... *snarfle* Okay, now I'm getting punchy.

Easter in Tartland! That ought to be a game! maybe I will design one.

Leanne said...

Tami, you should charge me for your advertising of my nitpicky skills. ;-) Tell you what, hey, writer-types, if you want punctuation policing, send it here, and I'll give Tami a cut of the fee. *is broke* :-P

Watery Tart said...

*snickersnort* Oh, Leanne, You SHOULD be charging! You've been so helpful! (or you could finish YOUR book and I could return the favor...)

Leanne said...

I don't charge YOU; not only are you Burrow, you put up with my mad self all over the UK. Sheesh. Other people, we'll see. How's 8% sound for your commission? ;-)

Watery Tart said...

*snicker* Whatever you think is fair. That WOULD be a pretty good side gig... did I not need a FULL gig, but I think I will stick with my trading favors schtik...