Getting What You Ask For

The biggest problem with feedback is following it, especially when it might entail a mountain of work.

Yesterday I received the Magic City Writers’ Group edits for the final chapter in my first novel. There are always problems, and I expected incorporating the group’s suggestions would take a week or two. 

But the extended discussion, which I recorded so I can study it more closely, revealed systemic problems that require substantial time and effort to address.  If I am lucky and clever the needed changes might delay my plans by only a few weeks, but it could easily turn into a months long slog if I’m not careful.

It is moments like this that builds frustration with the writing process; when you think you are near the end of one leg of the journey only to see the road stretch on farther than you imagined.  You can see your destination, but realize getting there will be longer and harder than you fancied a day ago.

What Kind of Editing is Needed

Repeating my habit of leaping then looking, I recently began interviewing professional editors with the idea of hiring one to perform a developmental edit of my first book; an expensive and thorough examination of the novel that wrings out unaddressed problems and strengthens the final product.  (Another symptom of my “leap then look” tendency is that I didn’t bother to create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript before contacting a slew of editors.  Yet an0ther task to heap on a full plate.)

But getting a developmental edit assumes I have already self-edited the novel to the best of my ability.  I thought I was close to that point, only to now realize I am not.

I need to continue interviewing professional editors, but have decided to wait on the developmental edit.  Instead I will request manuscript assessments from a few editors; professional reviews of the work as a whole; less expensive and less thorough than a developmental edit, but excellent for identifying a manuscripts weakest and strongest areas. 

Such professional reviews of the completed work might be useful now, or perhaps it would be better to wait until I address some of the problems raised by the writers’ group.  I am on the fence as to whether I should plow ahead with manuscript assessments or perform yet another self-editing pass first. 

In either event, once I have worked my way through those professional critiques I will  determine which editor to use for a developmental edit and later a copy edit. 

The Long Haul

My general plan is to self-publish sometime next year.  A reasonable goal, but one requiring considerable work to accomplish.  The list of things I must do is long and intimidating: incorporate edits from my writers group, create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript, get a few manuscript assessments and address their comments, decide on which editor to use going forward, get a developmental edit and address the problems it reveals, get a copy edit and clean up the grammar and style problems it uncovers, learn about the publishing industry in a deep way, legally create my publishing house and deal with the headaches managing it brings, create a website for my publishing house, hire designers for the interior and exterior of my novel, replace my author web-site with a more professional (i.e. less ugly) one, have the book typeset and galley proofs created, hire a proofreader and fix any last minute problems they spot, make arrangements with print on demand vendors,  try to get my novel reviewed prior to publication, make my book available on Amazon and other retail sites, and so on. 

And that doesn’t even mention marketing, working on the second book, my day job, or a lot of other unavoidable, and time consuming, issues.

Transitioning from amateur writer to professional author requires turning a hobby into a small business.  Producing a quality manuscript takes money, time, and hard work with no guarantee of any reward other than seeing a professional finished book with your name on it.  It is worth the cost and effort only if you love the story you are trying to tell, and I do.  That love keeps me going through the long nights as I stumble through the convoluted process and scale obstacles in my path.

Getting What You Ask For

The biggest problem with feedback is following it, especially when it might entail a mountain of work.

Yesterday I received the Magic City Writers’ Group edits for the final chapter in my first novel. There are always problems, and I expected incorporating the group’s suggestions would take a week or two. 

But the extended discussion, which I recorded so I can study it more closely, revealed systemic problems that require substantial time and effort to address.  If I am lucky and clever the needed changes might delay my plans by only a few weeks, but it could easily turn into a months long slog if I’m not careful.

It is moments like this that builds frustration with the writing process; when you think you are near the end of one leg of the journey only to see the road stretch on farther than you imagined.  You can see your destination, but realize getting there will be longer and harder than you fancied a day ago.

What Kind of Editing is Needed

Repeating my habit of leaping then looking, I recently began interviewing professional editors with the idea of hiring one to perform a developmental edit of my first book; an expensive and thorough examination of the novel that wrings out unaddressed problems and strengthens the final product.  (Another symptom of my “leap then look” tendency is that I didn’t bother to create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript before contacting a slew of editors.  Yet an0ther task to heap on a full plate.)

But getting a developmental edit assumes I have already self-edited the novel to the best of my ability.  I thought I was close to that point, only to now realize I am not.

I need to continue interviewing professional editors, but have decided to wait on the developmental edit.  Instead I will request manuscript assessments from a few editors; professional reviews of the work as a whole; less expensive and less thorough than a developmental edit, but excellent for identifying a manuscripts weakest and strongest areas. 

Such professional reviews of the completed work might be useful now, or perhaps it would be better to wait until I address some of the problems raised by the writers’ group.  I am on the fence as to whether I should plow ahead with manuscript assessments or perform yet another self-editing pass first. 

In either event, once I have worked my way through those professional critiques I will  determine which editor to use for a developmental edit and later a copy edit. 

The Long Haul

My general plan is to self-publish sometime next year.  A reasonable goal, but one requiring considerable work to accomplish.  The list of things I must do is long and intimidating: incorporate edits from my writers group, create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript, get a few manuscript assessments and address their comments, decide on which editor to use going forward, get a developmental edit and address the problems it reveals, get a copy edit and clean up the grammar and style problems it uncovers, learn about the publishing industry in a deep way, legally create my publishing house and deal with the headaches managing it brings, create a website for my publishing house, hire designers for the interior and exterior of my novel, replace my author web-site with a more professional (i.e. less ugly) one, have the book typeset and galley proofs created, hire a proofreader and fix any last minute problems they spot, make arrangements with print on demand vendors,  try to get my novel reviewed prior to publication, make my book available on Amazon and other retail sites, and so on. 

And that doesn’t even mention marketing, working on the second book, my day job, or a lot of other unavoidable, and time consuming, issues.

Transitioning from amateur writer to professional author requires turning a hobby into a small business.  Producing a quality manuscript takes money, time, and hard work with no guarantee of any reward other than seeing a professional finished book with your name on it.  It is worth the cost and effort only if you love the story you are trying to tell, and I do.  That love keeps me going through the long nights as I stumble through the convoluted process and scale obstacles in my path.

To Post, Or Not To Post: That is the Question

Last time I dithered about whether or not I should post parts of my story, Gods Among Men, on a blog.  Either this one or another one devoted solely to my story.  I concluded by asking for other people’s opinions. 

Since no one was forthcoming with their opinions, I cornered various people, shot them with tranquilizer darts, and then water-boarded them until they were willing to say anything to make me stop.  Naturally, I took what they said as honest advice freely given.

I was able to determine that either A) no one cares if I post parts of my story on this blog or on another one, or B) people are deathly afraid of me and will say whatever they think I want to hear.  In either case, no one specifically objected to me posting parts of my story on this blog, but neither did they encourage me to do so.

One person did, however, raise a substantive point about whether it was a good idea for me to be posting my story online at all.  There are two good reason I can think of to be wary of doing so: 1) running afoul of copyright laws, and 2) ticking off potential publishers.

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers

Copyright laws protect the creator/owner of content, such as the text of a book.  If someone tries to steal, copy, plagiarize, or otherwise appropriate material that is not theirs, the owner of the copyright can sue the dirty rotten thief with fair odds of winning the case.

So what would it take to ensure my story is covered by copyright laws?  It would appear that I need do nothing at all.  Apparently, creating an original work is, by itself, sufficient to have it covered by national and international copyright laws.  You don’t even have to put up a notice saying the work is copyrighted.  All you need is reasonable evidence that you are the creator of the work.

Enforcing the copyright, however, is another matter.  Enforcement means being paranoid, sending letters to those who violated the copyright, and paying lawyers when your copyright is infringed. 

All this assumes someone would be interested enough in my story to bother stealing it.  At this stage, I think that is the least of my worries.

Don’t Anger Those Who Buy Ink By The Barrel

Ticking-Off off traditional publishers is a different matter.  It is entirely possible that posting a substantial amount of my story in a blog would make traditional publishers extremely reluctant to work with me.

How likely is it that would happen?  How the heck should I know?  I’m an amateur writer, I don’t really know how professional publishing works. 

Perhaps posting the bulk of Gods Among Men online wouldn’t be a big deal to some publishers.  Or if I actually gained a sizeable following it might be considered proof that there is a market for my story, which would increase my odds of being published 

But it is entirely possible that it would convince most publishers that I am not worth spending time and money on.  That I am an amateur writer with no serious intention of transitioning into a professional author.

I feel it is important here to emphasize the difference between writer and author, a distinction I have written about before

In brief a writer has a need to put a story down in words, but may not desire to share that work with anyone else.  For a writer it may be sufficient to express their imagination just for their own enjoyment. 

But an author craves an audience.  Is in not sufficient for an author to tell their story to themselves; they desire, even need, others to experience the story with them.

Neither author nor writer is better than the other.  But it is important to decide which you wish to be.  This decision establishes your ultimate goal, determines the choices you must make to achieve that goal, and establishes the compromises you must be willing to consider.

So Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

I want to be an author.  It is not sufficient for me to write my story and be the only one who reads it.  I do not crave adulation, but I do feel the need to share with others the world I see so clearly in my imagination.

That said, I have talked with professional writers and editors on occasion.  Based on the little I have learned from those conversations, I already know my odds of being published are not good.   

Publishers rarely accept new novels that are over 80,000 words long, or roughly 300 pages.

In addition, publishers like new novels to be self-contained.  That is, they want the novel to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  It’s fine, even desirable, to leave room for later novels to pick up where the first leaves off.  That’s how series of novels starring recurring characters come about.  But the publisher wants proof that there is an audience for the first novel before they risk investing in later novels by the same author or in the same series.

Care to Play A Game of Chance

I don’t blame publishers for adopting that attitude.  New authors are unproven quantities, as are new novels.  The cost of printing and promoting new books is extremely expensive.  Taking on an untried author who proposes writing a lengthy series of  long books is taking a riverboat gamble with a lot of money on the table.

And that is what I would be presenting to to them. 

Currently the first book in Gods Among Men is 231,000 words long, more than 700 pages.   As I edit the various chapters the length will shrink, but I cannot imagine this first novel ever being close to their desired 80,000 word limit.   I expect the later novels will be of similar length.  Gods Among Men will take seven books to tell in its entirety, which means I must write approximately 5000 pages, or about 1.5 million words.

Moreover, the first book in the series, At the Lady’s Behest comes…, ends not on one cliffhanger, but on several.  Potential publishers would likely want me to radically change how it ends, and that is not possible without destroying the overall arc of the story I want to tell.

This is not to say it is impossible for me to have Gods Among Men published, merely that the odds are seriously stacked against me. 

I would have better odds of success if I were to write several self-contained novels first, establish myself as a professional writer, then try to have my epic published.  

Of course that plan requires years of effort, with no guarantee of success.  There is no reason to believe that I would be published if I wrote self-contained stories. Nor is there reason to expect those other works would sell well enough to establish me as a reliable writer in the eyes of publishers.  In the end, such efforts might well be wasted time.  Time that I could have spent crafting the story I actually care about.

Put Your Money Down and Roll the Dice

Which brings me back to the idea of posting my story online.  It is another riverboat gamble, but this time the risks are on me. 

Do I post Gods Among Men online so that a small number of people might read it?  Doing so risks alienating publishers, possibly restricting me to only those people who know of my work by word of mouth.

Or do I avoid publishing online and try to beat the odds?  Dare I hope that Gods Among Men is picked up by a publisher that would provide me with a much wider audience?  Doing so carries the distinct possibility that no one would ever read my story.

To Post, Or Not To Post: That is the Question

And since the decision does not need to made immediately, the safest course of action is to make no decision.  Which brings to mind a quote from Hamlet, part of the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy in Act three, scene one.   Hamlet refers to what lies beyond death as “the undiscovered country”, but you can just as well take his words to be about the future.

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Or in simpler words, the fear of unknown future consequences can stifle the ability to make a decision in the here and now.  Indecision leads to delay and dithering, until the moment is lost and the consequences of inaction are upon us.

I am prone to introspection, to analyzing a situation over and over.  But I am also capable of quick, even radical decisions made with little evidence or thought of consequence.  Decisions not made based on logic or reason, but made based on spur of the moment gut instinct.  I am (metaphorically) capable of leaping off a cliff without knowing what lies below, trusting on good luck to provide a safe landing.

For the moment I shall wait, postpone making a final decision, but I will not wait long.  I will set my course of action soon.  Perhaps not this week or the next, but likely by the end of the years.  I will, of course keep those interested in the outcome informed. 

If anyone has advice or insight they care to share on this matter, please feel free to voice your opinion.  I am genuinely interested in hearing what others think about what I should do, especially the reasons you may have for or against me posting my story online.

Until next time, take care and have fun.

Blogging on Blogging

I have noticed a strange, positive, effect blogging has had upon me. When I began I wondered what I could write about once or twice a week. I decided to focus upon my epic, Gods Among Men, and the issues I deal with in trying to write, edit, and eventually publish it.

I discovered there was only so much I could say about editing before I began repeating myself. And since I haven’t tried to publish Gods Among Men yet there is nothing to say on that subject.

This left writing itself for me to blog about. Yes, I did post tidbits about the group meetings and such, but most of my posts became about my story. My ideas, goals, characters, plot, how Gods Among Men fits into literary genres and so forth.

Writing the blog forced me to put concrete words to amorphous ideas. To take ill-formed concepts and express them in a clear, concise fashion. At least, as clear and concise as my talent and verbose tendencies will allow.

As one of many possible examples, consider my protagonist and antagonist. I knew in my head, more or less, what I wanted from them as characters, but I had never clearly expressed those ideas aloud even to myself. In my story I had to write about them in an indirect, literary, fashion. When I wrote about them in the blog, however, I was required to state directly who they are, what they want, how they fit into the plot, and so forth.

As I blogged about these important characters I would write a sentence, reread it, and say, “No that’s not right.” So I would re-write it and say, “closer, but still not right.” And so on until I discovered the phrase that captured, for me, what I was doing and why. In this process the general, often non-specific, thoughts in my head gelled into strong central themes.

These themes were always in my work, but in an ad hoc, sometimes unintentional, fashion. Now I see them with better eyes and can craft the scenes to support and enhance those themes in a more rigorous way. Blogging about my writing made me a better writer.

I plan to continue this trend in future posts. To lay out more details about the characters, culture, and world in my story. It could be considered a huge writing exercise of sorts. The result may well be of interest to me alone, but since I am doing this primarily for my own benefit I can live with that. In any event, for those interested in improving their own writing I can recommend blogging about your writing. It certainly has helped me.

When Last We Met…

Yesterday’s writers group meeting may be our best to date.

We began with a review of the first chapter of Kathryn’s new story. For a first draft it was quite good. We didn’t get to finish our detailed comments, for reasons I will detail in just a bit. There were plenty of small problems; poor word choices, unclear sentences, off-key characterizations, and so forth. But the group did agree that she had no serious structural problems that would require a complete rewrite. The overall recommendation was that she should set aside our comments for now and forge ahead with writing the rest of the story.

We had two special guests at the meeting: William H. Drinkard, author of Elom; and Jeremy Lewis, author of Staked and ReVamped.

Their arrival kicked off a multi-hour rambling conversation. An abbreviated list of the subjects covered would include: writing and writing suggestions, pantzing versus plotting, editing, different types of editing, publishing, differences between publishing companies, conventions, grammar, corsets, how Jeremy is clueless with women, movies, television shows, favorite and least favorite books, religion, the roll of the Unitarian church in society, politics, food, allergies, the public school system, vouchers for private schools, children, having a movie night, and a few dozen other subjects.

It was a fun day and a great meeting. I hope Bill and Jeremy enjoyed the day as much as the rest of us. I have extended an open invite for either of them to come back anytime they want. I know I learned a lot, especially about what it’s like to be a working author and what is required of you by publishers and editors.

Thank you, Bill and Jeremy, for taking time out of your busy schedules to spend with us. It meant a lot to everyone in the group.