Editing Is Writing

I am willing to bet that editing is what stands between most writers and their dreams.

The act of writing is romanticized at length in writerly circles, while talk of editing is typically met with derision, or at best, patience.

Editing is where the magic happens, people. Not all great writers follow this rule, but most of the writers that I hold in high regard are known to take significant time editing and perfecting everything they produce. Rothfuss, GRRM, Robert Jordan all fall into this category (at least I assume that’s what they are doing with all that time in between books). Even a writing-production freak like Sanderson has admitted that mastering the art of editing and revising is what propelled him from anonymity to the enormous success he is today.

Editing is where plot is perfected. It is the process by which characters of convenience become paper people with lives of their own. Pace can be fixed, molded to fit your narrative.

Here are a few things I include in my editing process that you may want to consider in yours:

  1. Cut >= 10% of your word count: many authors have vouched for this trick. I tried to cut on several of my previous edits, only to add more words in the name of clarity. Clarity in writing is of utmost importance and deserves an edit all its own, but when I did an edit pass with the sole purpose of cutting word count to improve pace, unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs started to jump out at me. I recently finished an edit pass and cut 17,500 words (12%) from my book! It took a great deal of work, but was a great experience. Precision is beautiful.
  2. Fill your plot holes: This is likely more of a problem for those who wing their books like I did with Ire. I ended up having to put A LOT of work into the book to correct plot issues and holes, and will likely never do that again. I recommend having at least some idea ahead of time of what your major plot points will be, where and how you’d like to build up to them and foreshadow, etc. But, even the best plot plan often changes, and making it bullet-proof is an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. This is also where smart Beta readers come in handy. Anything that any significant amount of beta readers come back with (or a particularly trusted reader) as a point of confusion, fix it.
  3. World Building and Character Elements: Writing characters is something I really enjoy and strive to do well. The danger of “knowing” your characters is that you (hopefully) write them well, but many of the endearing traits that make your characters interesting and lovable live only in your head or in your notes. Take the time to build character elements into the scenes that already exist, and to make sure that your character actions, dialogue, etc are all consistent. Similarly, this should be an opportunity to introduce any world building elements that are pertinent to your story.
  4. Read-throughs to improve flow, clarity, and continuity: The most time consuming edits for me are read-throughs, but they are also some of the most important. If your prose isn’t clear and doesn’t flow well, it’s frankly not worth reading. Everything is fair game here: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, paragraph breaks, making your statements “active”, etc.

 

-SD

The Second Book

I’ve heard people say that the “sophomore novel”, particularly the second in a series, can be the most difficult book an author will ever write. Until I started writing mine, I thought that those claims were exaggerated. To some extent, I still do, but the second book does present some unique challenges.

The writing itself isn’t any harder. The process is the same, or at least very similar. I am a much better writer than when I started my first book, so in fact this book should be easier to write. I believe that it will be much easier, faster, and a better product when it’s done, but there are a few challenges that I didn’t anticipate.

The first challenge is motivation. I write because I love to create with words, I’m making progress, and I’ll likely finish at least three books in this series regardless of the outcome of any submission to publishers. But I’m a results-oriented man, and I can’t wait to get a contract and be able to see my publishing future clearly. Until that point, which will hopefully happen sometime in the relatively near future, I’ll likely spend as much time dreaming up my next project as I do writing the second installment of this one (Scandinavian/Native American Mythology themed contemporary fantasy, anyone?). Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I would like my focus back 100%. The “Infusion” world that I’m currently writing in is awesome, and deserves my undivided attention.

The second challenge I’ve come up against is indecision. Do I structure the book in the same way that I did the first to deliver a similar reading experience while furthering the overarching plot and character arcs? Do I let my characters take the book over and allow the series to devolve into a GRRM/Wheel of Time-esque monstrosity? Somewhere in the middle? My current plan is to use roughly the same structure as the first book to keep the writing tight and deliver another fast-paced, engaging story. But I am going to give other characters more screen time and explore the world slightly more than I allowed myself in the first book. Hopefully as time and my writing career progress, I don’t fall into the trap of letting my world take over the story. Keep me honest on this, people.

So, what do you think? What are some of your favorite sophomore novels, particularly that fall in a series? I’d love to hear about them and why they worked for you. I’d also love to hear what you’d be interested to read about on my blog…without a book out for you to read (or even a sample…hopefully I can provide that much before the book is out), I often struggle to come up with a blog topic that I think people will be interested in. I love to write these, though, so if you’d like to see a blog post on something specific, please comment or message me.

Agent Success – Matt Bialer

Mr. Matt Bialer from SJGA will be representing my first novel, IRE. I am elated to be working with him, as he’s the agent I’ve targeted from the very beginning.

An awkward 2 minute conversation back in 2013 was the turning point that led me here.

The story begins way back in 2012 when I got serious about writing my perfect book, and making it a bestselling novel/series. Being the obsessive optimist that I am, as I wrote I also researched the process of getting published. And if one wants to be published by a traditional publisher (the books you see at Barnes and Noble, for example), you need an agent. Preferably an agent who knows what they are doing.

I compiled a short A-list and a longer B-list of agents to query when ready. I have another post about general characteristics I looked for in an agent. And then in 2013, I found out that the World Fantasy Convention 2013 was going to be held in England, and a few of my A list agents were planning to attend. On a whim, I told my wife that it might be nice to go to the conference and visit her extended family in England. To my surprise, she agreed.

In October of 2013, Kailey and I arrived in Brighton, England after much lugging of luggage in “the tube” and a train. I was very much looking forward to meeting Mr. Bialer, but didn’t know how or when I’d have that opportunity because the conference didn’t have pitch sessions or many official opportunities to meet agents. Luckily, one of his clients (Patrick Rothfuss) happens to be a favorite author of mine, and was at the conference as well.

Kailey and I attended every event Rothfuss was involved in (and even ran into him on the street), and we got lucky. Matt was loitering about outside of Pat’s reading session with a few other people. I ambushed him. Though he surely had more important people to talk to, Matt was kind enough to talk to me for a moment, and he gave me his card when I asked if I needed to win the Writers of the Future contest (like Pat did) for him to be interested in representing the book I was writing.

At that point I thought I was a few months away from submitting to agents. Well, 18 months or so later, I did submit. I sent my book to Matt as an exclusive query because I was so set on him. To my surprise, he responded immediately, asking me to contact him again if I didn’t hear from him. Most agents, including Matt, have an 8-week period during which they’ll consider your work, and if they are interested, will contact you; if not, silence is to be interpreted as a ‘no’. So I waited approximately 8 weeks (a little longer, because my wife and I had a little girl during that period), and contacted him again. Matt allowed me to send my full manuscript at that point, and approximately 2 weeks later, he responded again.

I was just about to enter an important meeting at work when I saw his response saying that he wanted to represent my book. I don’t think I heard a single word in that meeting, because my mind was racing with excitement and ideas born from Matt’s analysis of my book.

This is a good spot to point out that Matt’s email was a solid indication that he is everything I have hoped. He gave me some insight that will prove to be very valuable and will make my novel a much more enjoyable read. And when I had a follow up call with him, I was further convinced that he is a person who not only knows his business, but will be great to work with.

And so it is that I will be working with Mr. Bialer.

It’s happening.

-Scott

Literary Agents and Why I Want One

At a very basic level, literary agents take a 15% cut of the amount their authors make in exchange for selling your book to a publisher. They should have the contacts to make that happen. Essentially, they are gate keepers for the publishers. But that’s not all! They’ll typically handle the funds coming from a publisher, negotiate contracts, and the good ones will even help you edit your book.

Whether to acquire a literary agent is a debate I’ve seen circling among writers on the interwebs for a few years now.

One side of the spectrum would seemingly give a precious body part just to have ANY agent. It seems to be a mark of validation for these people, a sign to themselves and others that they are legitimate writers. I get it. It can be hard to justify thousands of hours spent writing, especially to loved ones who have to put up with you sitting in front of a computer all the time. Having official representation (validation) would feel great.

The other side of the spectrum not only balks at giving up 15%, but does not see any value added by an agent (and usually they don’t see any value in establishing a relationship with a publisher in this era of Amazon e-publishing). I also understand where this camp is coming from. I’m very entrepreneurial by nature, and being able to control my own future has a lot of appeal.

However, I fall somewhere in the middle. I realize that my 15% will be well spent if I get the right agent. But I don’t want just any old agent. Some pretty standard criteria to look for are things like past sales in your genre and experience with publishing in general. The things that I am specifically looking for in an agent are:

  • Willingness and ability to help edit a book into elite shape
    • Ever read a book with more than 5 typos in the first chapter? I haven’t. You know why? Because they suck. I put them down and typically refuse to read anything from that author again. If an “author” can’t take the time to catch glaring grammatical errors, I know they won’t have put work into crafting engaging characters or story arcs. Editing is usually associated with publishers, but many of my favorite authors seem to have agents who also aid with editing. The typo example is only a small part of what a good agent should be able to help you catch. Story lines, characters, consistency, style, and flow should all be part of the deal. I look forward to working with a knowledgeable agent who can help my book be the best version of itself.
  •  Legal and financial expertise
    • These guys will be negotiating my contracts and handling all of my money. They had better have their shit together.
  •  Approachability/people skills
    • I have only met a few literary agents, most of them at the World Fantasy Convention 2013. Even with just a few days to meet and observe them, however, it quickly became clear that not all agents are created equal. I think the skill set of a good agent is a pretty diverse one, and that’s why certain successful ones are in such high demand. Some may excel at editing and the creative portion of the writing process, but not have the business acumen to secure great contracts. A serious author should demand both from an agent.
  • Selectivity
    • I want an agent who is extremely selective. These agents are likely to spend the time and effort on each of their authors necessary to make them a success. It’s a quality over quantity mindset, and that benefits the author as well as the agent.

I may write some future blog posts highlighting some of the literary agents I have found that seem to fit these criteria. They are some of the agents I’ll be querying relatively soon.

Book Progress…10 months Later. Revising/editing process, and so on.

Well. For the 20 or so of you who have read my previous posts and are reading this, I regret to inform you that didn’t meet my goal of having a manuscript sent to agents by the end of 2013.

I have a bunch of awesome excuses as to why, but the most relevant reason I use to defer accountability is that I didn’t stop Book 1 at 125,000 words. Draft 1 stopped at 170,000 words. Draft 1.5 is currently at 167,000 words after some editing.

That’s 670 pages in Word when using standard manuscript format. I don’t feel too bad about taking two years to write that much, time constraints considered. Remember complaining about a 20 page paper in college? Yeah. I win.

In fact, that’ s probably at least as long as most Dissertations…though to be fair, I did get to fabricate my entire novel. But let’s be honest, most crap coming out of Universities these days contains almost as much fiction as any fantasy novel. Cry-baby PhD candidates.

Anywho, revising a manuscript is a much more complicated process than I anticipated. I had talked myself into believing that I could just do one read-through, editing as I went, and I’d be good to go. But, the story keeps evolving, and now I have 3 or 4 pages of a bulleted list of edits to make. Before my read-through revision.

I’m loathe to even attempt a guess at when I’ll finally have my book into the hands of beta readers, much less when I’ll have sent queries out to my preferred literary agents. But, I can’t help myself, and ever the optimist, I’m going to set a goal of querying around the end of the year.

That means that most of the people who take the time to have read this far will likely read some form of my book this year, which is pretty cool.

Stories about World Fantasy Convention 2013 and ramblings about traditional vs. self publication to follow shortly.

-Scott

100,000 Words

This is a personal victory post, plain and simple. I’m patting my own back, and it feels great. This past week, I reached the 100,000 word (400 page) mark on my manuscript.

In the grand scheme of the publishing game, it’s a small victory, but perhaps the most important one to me as a writer. 100,000 is a good looking number, I tell you what, and it represents a lot of hard work, and a lot of personal breakthroughs. The only personal achievement that will feel better is finishing the novel. Everything else that I hope will follow will be an effect of my personal accomplishment.

For years, I sat in the group of dreamers. I was fascinated by the idea of writing my own book. I can remember trying to draw my own “fantasy world map” as far back as my early teens. I soon gave up, cursing my lack of creative abilities and resigning myself to pursuing “normal” disciplines like math and science.

Many years later, after completing a mechanical engineering degree and constructing a nice “normal life” for myself and my amazing wife, I returned to my dream of creating something fantastical. I brainstormed and daydreamed and researched for months, years, but again seemed to come up short on Golden Ideas. I struggled to discover an interesting character cast. I labored to draw up a plot that followed the appropriate form according to writing experts. I toiled, studying writing books, trying to read novels in a new light, hoping to glean the secrets of writing a bestseller. I wanted to learn all of the secrets before I invested enormous effort into writing a book.

December 26th 2012 was the day I gave up. I threw all of my tedious outlines, maps and character bios on the table and put my pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard. Whatever.

And today, I can proudly proclaim that I’ve written my first 100,000 words of cohesive work. I couldn’t be happier.

What I’ve discovered over the course of these past seven months in which I’ve dedicated myself to writing is that for me, the creation process is almost entirely composed of hard work and is manifested in a very different form than I had anticipated.

I’ve found that I am capable of profound creativity. More creativity than I had ever dreamed. My novel has taken shape as I’ve freed myself from formulas and tables. I’m in love with my characters. My plot is exciting. The world is soooo cool. None of it is perfect, but I’m damn proud of what I’ve done.

And you know what? My back-story and outlines haven’t gone to the trash. In breaking out of the cage of being strictly an “outline” writer, I not only opened myself up to some exciting discovery writing, but my outlining ability improved. What I failed to recognize before is that novels are a living thing, and mine needed the freedom to grow. I have changed my story and my characters more times than I can count, but they are real, meaningful changes with purpose and direction.

The point of this post, if there is one, is that each of us might benefit from liberating ourselves from any arbitrary label, stereotype or method. Try new things. Create something. Find that thing you love to do most and get to work changing your world.

-Scott