Photo credit: Mary Brack ~ www.mewithmyheadintheclouds.blogspot. / Source /CC BY-NC-SA
I recently finished my first book, the first in what I intend to make into a series. Having received my first professional critique from my very capable editor, I thought I might share some insights that I’ve gleaned about your first time.
I’m still a few laps away from being published, so any advice here applies to me as much as any other first-timers out there. This is stuff I’ve learned from my own tribulations and from the advice of others.
…but you already knew that, didn’t you? I mean, you wouldn’t have sent it off to all those beta readers and friends and family members and then coughed up some good money for a professional editor if you thought it was perfect, would you?
You did send it to beta readers and had an editor look at it, didn’t you?
You really should. It doesn’t matter if you think that you’re the exception that proves the rule, the one writer that can knock out a print-ready masterpiece after two or three drafts. Chances are, you’re not. You missed something.
Photo credit: Official U.S. Air Force / Source / CC BY-NC
In my case, the guts of the writing was done in a feverish month known to you as November. Writers around the world know it as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, even though it’s international now. I guess InNoWriMo doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Anyway, after I reached what could tentatively be called “The End”, and after a few rearrangements and reorderings and chops and changes, I couldn’t see past the words on the page anymore. I had dreams of white paper and black letters, and woke up with lines from the manuscript in my head. I did what all the blogs and books told me, and I left it alone for a while. Then I came back to it and went over it again. Even with this gap, I was still so close to the forest I couldn’t see the trees. The poor little trees that I massacred indirectly to print out the manuscript, as well as the metaphorical ones.
Aside from all the typos, repeated words and redundant phrases, you have been living this story. You know what’s happening, or what’s supposed to happen, but it might not be as clear to the reader. That’s fine if you never intend to publish or distribute the book, but if you ever hope to charge people money to look at the words that fell out of your head, you better have it in some semblance of order. Otherwise, even if it’s the most revolutionary tale this side of Fight Club: The War And Peace Edition, you will be slammed in reviews. Readers feel like they’ve been cheated or sold a dud if there’s typos or plot holes that any editor (or beta reader) could have spotted. With hundreds of thousands of competitors out there, that’s something you can’t afford.
After you pull the greatest story ever told out of your
ass head, you sharpen up your autograph quill, get your one suit cleaned and buy a folding table to set up in front of the bookshops. You’re only a few steps away from getting your book out there under peoples’ noses, right?
It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing (like me) or going the traditional route (not like me), the amount of work needed is still sizeable. That’s why all the real writers you love and follow put down Author in the box that says Profession when the tax man calleth. It’s work. It’s time. Unless you’re “lucky” enough to get picked up by a real publisher (who will give you somewhere between 50% and 8% royalties) it’s also money.
You have to figure out what goes where, why and how. That’s not only applicable to the writing, but to the other things I just mentioned (e.g. time and money). You have to research the market, test out formatting, see what made other books in your genre successful. You have to find a cover designer, a good one. You have to figure out how you’re going to launch the book, and where. Are you going to limit yourself to just Amazon in an attempt to reach a certain audience, or will you be a shameless hussy and pimp your book all over town with the other ebook distributors in order to cast as wide a net as possible?
While you’re finding all this out, you just got the latest revision back from your editor. Surprise! You’ve got to rewrite some major scenes in Act 2 because the last round of alterations you made have changed the outcome. Say goodbye to another couple of weeks, because unless you’re fortunate enough to be doing this full-time on your first go, you’re going to have to squeeze those rewrites around work, study, family if that applies, and the thing that used to be your social life.
Photo credit: hsuanwei / Source / CC BY-NC-SA
It will be tempting to take that heavy bundle of papers (or weightless computer file) and throw it at the guy upstairs who loves to play the Spice Girls at five in the morning while he jumps up and down on the floor. You can imagine the satisfaction you would feel on hearing thick, meaty sound as the bundle of dead trees hits his head and he collapses, only to wake up a few days later as a better person. Surely this is a more altruistic use of your talents, no?
Maybe. If you give up, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Chances are, you wouldn’t have stuck it out for the long haul anyway. If you don’t, if you break on through like Val said, you might just make it. Who knows? You won’t find out until you get there.
Photo credit: JD Hancock / Foter / CC BY
They say the first time is the hardest, that it hurts, and there’ll probably be a little blood. People with more experience will tell you that it gets better, and after a while it’s all you’ll think about doing. Eventually, you’ll be able to please not only yourself, but plenty of other people too. It’s worth a shot, and you already started. You might as well finish, and finish it as best as you possibly can. That’s what people remember.
The Blue Ridge Project: A Novel
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