More Editing: Cutting the Flab, etc…

I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since I last posted on the blog. Not much of consequence has happened in that time, however, so I suppose the lack of activity here is justified. I’m not going to write a blog post just to write a blog post. But now I’ve re-submitted my book to my agent (Matt Bialer), so I’ll tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to.

I’ve spent nights and weekends for the last five months editing my book more. Much of the editing was spurred by Matt’s suggestions, and I’m very pleased with how things have turned out. I’ll try to hit on the major points that I’ve taken into consideration when editing through this last pass. Perhaps any writers reading this will find my approach and/or Matt’s advice useful.

  • Deepen the story – My agent called this “dropping more breadcrumbs” and this was one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. With my first several drafts, I was so excited about the story surrounding my main character(s), that I missed the opportunity to build a deeper, fuller story by giving a peek into what other characters, particularly the “bad guys” are doing.
  • Cut the flab – My original manuscript was 684 pages long in standard manuscript format. My goal was to cut that down to 625 or even 600 manuscript pages. The primary reason was to improve the pace of the story, as this series (and particularly this book) are meant to be very action oriented, exciting books. The secondary reason for cutting is that apparently, publishers are more open to shorter books from first time authors. As a general rule this makes sense – fewer pages to edit/print, less money that goes into producing an uncertain product. But the strength of the work is my primary concern, and I hope that it will speak for itself.

It was very difficult for me to balance the need to cut scenes that didn’t advance the plot whilst retaining insights into the world and characters, but in the end I believe I succeeded, and it was the best thing I could have done for this book. My story-deepening (see bullet point above) bulked my story up to 720 pages or so, but from there I managed to cut the manuscript down to 669 pages. Not quite my goal of 600, but it was a net cut of over 50 pages after my additional scenes were written, and what’s left behind is a great story told with strong writing. (Though I may be a bit biased)

  • Development of secondary characters – This is an area that gave me a bit of heartache with Book 1. I really like my cast of characters, and each serves a purpose in the first book and in the story arc I have planned for the series/trilogy/however long this ends up being. However, in an action oriented book where I’m trying REALLY hard to allow readers to get to know and love my main character, Emrael, I find it difficult to develop secondary characters without giving them their own POV and page time, which would only serve to make my book even longer and slow down the pace. In the second book that I’m writing right now, I’ll be introducing more robust POVs for secondary characters and secondary story lines just because of the nature of the story progression as currently outlined, so I’ll be battling to keep the pace of the story strong while juggling multiple story lines. I’m shooting for about a 75% share of page time for Emrael in Book 2. I’d estimate his page time at around 85-90% in Book 1, so it’s not much of a reduction in his page time.

Last thoughts:

I continually evolve as a person and as a writer: my environment changes, my emotions change, the seasons change, etc. Consequently, I could hang onto this book forever, making changes and believing that I’m improving the book. Therefore, I won’t be upset when I get a contract with a publisher and they have their own feedback that will set me up for more editing. I want this book, and every book I write, to be the best it possibly can be.

That said, I’m very pleased with the state of the book as it currently exists, and I think you’ll like it too. I’m hoping to get it into your hands before too long. And by “before too long” I mean sometime around 2017. I still don’t know exactly what publishing timelines look like or when my book will be ready for that step. Fingers crossed.

-Scott Drakeford

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

Review: The Emperor’s Blades – Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #1)The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

True Rating: 4.45 – Brian, if you read this (and you won’t, because what kind of lunatic reads all of his reviews on the interwebs?), I’m sorry for not rounding that 4.45 up to a 5. But I really try to reserve a 5 rating for those books that really blow me away. Not many come to mind, but Rothfuss’s books and a few of the Wheel of Time books come to mind for me. And maybe some of the Dresden Files books.

One can learn a great deal by looking at a person’s goodreads book collection. What people could/would/should learn from skimming through mine is that I’m a huge Fantasy nerd. It’s almost sad how many Fantasy books I have read compared to any other genre or category. What’s even sadder is that when you’ve read that many great Fantasy books, it becomes difficult to find the next book that really enthralls you. Most recommendations floating around the world of geekdom either aren’t up to par, already live on the “read” list”, or just aren’t my cup of tea.

Enter, “The Emperor’s Blades”. I received a copy of this book at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, England 2013. I don’t think it’s an ARC, but rather an early proof copy of some kind.

The first point I’d like to make is that I think it’s AWESOME that TOR put the money and effort into printing copies to give away to fantasy fanatics at WFC.

The second is that I should have read this book much sooner. I have recently been wallowing through a few books that were mildly interesting at best, and decided to give this book a try after looking it up on goodreads and finding a large number of favorable reviews.

Okay, now to why I gave this book a 4 instead of rounding the 4.4 up to a 5 (which was not an easy decision, mind you). It all boils down to the 3 character arcs. I know what you’re thinking, the first time author must have had a hard time relating and tying the 3 arcs together. Nope, not it. Staveley actually did a really good job of foreshadowing and then tying the threads together (at least 2 of them literally converged).

The problem is that I only found Valyn’s thread truly engaging. He had a goal, believable motives, a romance interest, a heckler, a shadowy enemy/threat (who ended up fairly predictably being the heckler, one of my only knocks on this character thread), and he literally kicks ass. He’s a character who speaks to me personally, so I accept that others may have found the others delightful, but I found their (Kaden and Adare) plot lines fairly boring and their character arcs very predictable and vanilla. I found myself skimming those sections just to stay current on plot points.

The book really is very good, though. Staveley is a very solid writer. I was reading an uncorrected proof, and even still there were very few grammatical errors. I only noticed the writing when I came across a phrase that I liked, which for me is a powerful testament to Staveley’s skill. And his characterization is superb. He doesn’t have many truly “deep” characters, but give the guy a break, it’s only the first book. He is, however, very good at giving characters, even secondary or tertiary characters, a distinct on-page flavor. This is particularly impressive to me because I worry about it constantly in my own writing. I know each character and their motivations, but Staveley has succeeded in making me insecure about how each of my characters presents him/herself on page.

And that’s what I really liked about this book: It not only grabbed me by the eye sockets and pulled me along for the ride, it made me want to be a better writer and showed me something I can improve.

Many thanks to Brian for writing such a great book.

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Review: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage #3)

The Autumn Republic (The Powder Mage, #3)The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gave this book a 5 because I enjoyed reading it enough that I finished it within a few days, and because I think that the author did a very good job with his characters in this book. The characters were moderately interesting in the previous two volumes, but I felt a real attachment to them several times in the final volume, which is not easy to do. The magic system is very interesting, and the character actions and reactions are believable for the most part.

The Autumn Republic is also a good example of why I wish there were more resolution to the rating system. 3 stars may as well be zero as far as I’m concerned, which leaves very little room to differentiate between books that are various degrees of awesome.

If I could have, I would give this a 4.5 or so. The above positive points make this a very enjoyable book, but at times I felt that the author was in too much of a hurry to hit all of his plot points. I appreciate a fast-paced book as much as anyone, but it’s unfortunate to see the continuity of the prose suffer at times. One particular example is a scene in which a main character is stabbed, and the perpetrator is then seen “running down a hill” or some such, never to be heard from again. Furthermore, there were a few logical inconsistencies and/or improbabilities that keep this book and series from becoming a truly masterful compilation. And finally, the ending felt rushed. I mean come on, nobody reading fantasy books minds if you take another twenty or even fifty pages to put together the spectacular ending that this series deserved.

Overall, a great book and series. I recommend it to all. I’ll certainly be reading this author’s future works, as he does a great many things right and showed definite improvement even just through three books.

-Scott

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Beta Readers

This has been a very big month. Early this month, I finally sent my manuscript to a small group of beta readers who had expressed interest in reading my book and giving me feedback. I’ve only received detailed feedback from one beta reader, but the opinions so far from those who have finished the book has been positive. It’s a very good feeling to have other people enjoy something that took so much time to build and write.

I chose to use 7 or so beta readers, all people I trust to give me honest feedback. They are also people who are at least passingly familiar with the fantasy genre and can thus give a solid opinion on how my book will be received by fantasy readers. Perhaps most importantly, I’m lucky to have beta readers who are extremely intelligent people who will be able to offer detailed insight as to why they did or did not enjoy the book and it’s various aspects.

I’m now just continuing work on the second novel in the series as I wait for more feedback from my readers. I’m also working on perfecting my query letter that I’ll send out to literary agents as soon as I feel the manuscript is in top shape.

-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 Update 12/9/14

I’m doing my last read-through edit before sending to beta readers. I’m on page 260/684.

I’m willing to bet that at least some of you reading this are thinking something like, “Scott sucks at writing books. Why does it take him so long?”

Writing a book is quite interesting. And by interesting, I mean hard. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically, it’s a lot harder than I anticipated.

I’ve read of authors whose first draft is also their final draft. When I started writing five or so years ago, I thought that seemed doable. Now, however, I think that’s amazeballs. My book has gone through at least ten drafts already, though I don’t work linearly and keeping track of distinct drafts is therefore difficult.

I love lists, so that’s how I’ll summarize how my drafts have gone, and how I imagine the future ones will go:

  • Initial concept
    • This involved a lot of brainstorming, day dreaming, doodling, etc.
  • Outlining
    • I am not a fan of extensive outlining and support material. I have hundreds of pages of info on my world and characters, but they are not cohesive at all. I ended up with the equivalent of a five page outline of the plot lines, maybe a page or two on each character, and I went to town.
  • First Draft
    • Hooboy. This was actually a lot of fun. When I put fingers to keyboard, I found satisfaction. It’s really a neat thing to find something you love and unleash yourself.
  • About a thousand random changes
    • I killed characters. I deleted characters. I completely changed the setting of my story. I changed character relationships. Some changes were calculated, and some just felt right. But Jibbers Crabst, I changed a lot of things.
    • These changes slowed me down. A lot. It was kind of demoralizing, but in the end, I felt like I got it right.
  • Damn it, I still didn’t get it right
    • As I wrote, some things were bogging me down so badly that I “backlogged” things to a future-edit list. I had to go back and fix a lot of things.
    • This felt more or less like fixing up a favorite car. I knew it would be worth it, But hey, my engineering degree was basically five years of me doing hard things that I didn’t want to do, so I was well prepared.
  • Read-through edit (where I am right now)
    • At this point, I’ve edited most parts of my book several times. This is because the edits from my list (see above) were not minor, and generally consisted of me editing major elements that spanned the entire book. I’m still changing hundreds of things in each chapter that bother me as I read through. Style, grammar, flow, and consistency are the largest culprits.
  • Beta reader feedback edits
  • Agent feedback edits (post coming on why I feel an agent is in my best interest)
  • Editor feedback edits

There you have it. I’m sure my process will change over time. I sure as hell hope that I’ll get better at it with each book I write. But even though it was a ton of work with no sure payoff, it feels really good to have completed (mostly) my first book.

-Scott

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

Review of “Act of War” by Brad Thor

I’m going to – finally – get back into blogging about my book (Draft 1 is done, I’m editing and should submit to agents soon), but for now I’m re-christening the blog with a quick review of Act of War by Brad Thor that I posted on Goodreads.

I’ll stop back in a few days to recount the last year or so of writing that I haven’t blogged about, including: meeting Patrick Rothfuss and two of my dream agents last October in Brighton, England, finishing Draft 1, the editing process and much more.

 

Act of War (Scott Harvath, #13)Act of War by Brad Thor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like Brad Thor and his motivations for writing his thrillers. I love the plot of this book…every plot point is well thought out and realistic, not a “gimme” for his characters.

However: while this book still did its job and kept me reading all the way through, I’m not sure that would have been the case had it not been for the trust Thor had already built with the other Harvath books.

In this book (as in the last 1 or 2), action is often sacrificed for plot explanations or info dumps, and pacing takes a back seat to pages-long sermons. Though I agree with most of the libertarian patriotic leanings, it’s a little misplaced and obvious at times. And I felt that the POV drifted a few times, resulting in some confusion as a reader.

In brief, it’s still a great read for Thor fans, but I wish he would concentrate a bit more on his tradecraft or get his editor to actually look at the manuscript before publishing. Heck, I’ll edit it, Brad.

-Scott

500 Pages (125,000 Words)

Well, “Life” happened, and my writing pace has slowed down considerably. Not so long ago, I had hoped to be done with not only the first draft of my manuscript by now, but with my preliminary edits as well. I had hoped to have the manuscript in the hands of a few trusted alpha readers.

Alas, several factors have thwarted my plans. First and most importantly, my story didn’t like being held to the 450-500 page limit I had so foolishly tried to impose on it. My manuscript currently sits at 500 pages even, and I’d be optimistic to guess that a final page count would be near 550. A more realistic (albeit likely still naïve) guess would be somewhere between 550-600 manuscript pages.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Readers that will be buying my book in the future will be getting more story for their money. The story is more fully developed and has some cool scenes that I hadn’t planned on including.

However, “the powers that be” are supposedly looking for epic fantasy stories in the ballpark of 125,000 words or less, which translates into 500 pages or less of manuscript. I don’t blame them one bit for this guideline, either. They have very good reasons to ask for a smaller manuscript from a first time author, as longer books will generally need more work to become sale-able, meaning longer books as a general rule will net them less profit.

This will make it harder for me to convince a smart, business-minded agent that my book is one they want to represent. But the thing that matters most to me is that my book is the best it can be, and I believe that will speak much more strongly in my favor than “the right word count”.

The other “Real Life” factor that has slowed my writing is that I have recently found a new job. I am incredibly excited about the change, and as far as “jobs” that aren’t my dream job of being a career author go, it is probably as awesome as I’m going to find. But as many of you likely know, there is a considerable time and stress investment that comes with not only working full time but in finding a new, better job opportunity.

Here’s to chasing our dreams and to the struggles that happen in the background. I’m reinvesting myself in writing, and I promise I’ll have a book for you guys to read before too long. My new goal is to finish my first draft and preliminary edits by the time I go to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton England at the end of October. I’ll also do my best to keep you updated more frequently.

-SD