The Dangers of thinking about Publishing too soon

I watched the last episode of season five of Supernatural last night. (Again!) A character called Chuck, who is a prophet and writes what he sees, that being the adventures of Dean and Sam, talks about endings. He says-

‘Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible.’

Ending my first book was easy. I don’t know what a ‘chapped-ass’ monkey is, but, whatever it is, I must be a lesser creature. I can’t poop out a beginning that I’m fully happy with. Even marginally happy with.

But endings? I find endings easy. In fact, the last page of my first book has never and will never be edited. It doesn’t need to be. It arrived on the page in a ray of perfection. For those of you who know I’m writing a series, two of them actually, you might be thinking ‘yeah, but that’s not really the end, is it?’

No, it’s not. But I have written the end of the entire series too.

See? I’m good with endings.

So when I reached the end of my first book, and a full stop was sitting at the end of that perfect ending, well, naturally I was feeling pretty damn epic. I’m going to go ahead and say godly. Or goddessly…

Of course, it’s really thousands of words before the end that thoughts of what’s next creep in. When you can see the end in the distance, who can help look beyond? And who knows, when it’s their first book, that they shouldn’t peak past the finish line?

Writing is a rainbow, and publishing is the pot of gold that might be at the end. The problem is that pot is back on the ground. The rainbow is up in the air, away from the world. It’s colourful and beautiful and truly miraculous. It’s basked in sunlight and bordered by rainclouds at the same time. But once you look at that pot, you begin to descend. You leave that writing heaven. You’re on the downward slope, and the world pours back in.

But a rainbow is a curve, isn’t it? So you start at the bottom and scene after scene carries you up and over. Surely the last chapters are on the downward slope, and the end is at the end?

The end is not the end.

You think you’re finished your book? Think again. There are several hundred types of ‘finished’ in writing. First draft, rewrite, edit number one, edit number two…

Writing the book, beginning to end, is the easy part. Finishing it is easy. Especially when perfect endings line the page. But having it be finished?

Finished, as in nothing else to do?

Finished, as in ‘here you go, Mr. Agent, three chapters, and the rest is waiting.’

Finished, as in a request for the full manuscript is like waiting for the results of an exam you know you aced.

Finished, as in you think about your book and your mind sighs with happy, proud, relief.

Would knowing just how hard it is to get published help you get there? Would knowing the statistics, the facts, the hard truths, really propel you towards that ultimate finishing line? Would knowing what is and is not wanted, what’s hot in the market, what’s commercial, be of any benefit at all?

Would knowing just how amazing your book has to be help you reach your potential?

I don’t think so.

Lines that were once so clear get twisted. Suddenly you’re half trying to mould your book to what the market wants. Even though, really, who knows what the market is going to want in the future? Is the market predictable? I mean, who saw Harry Potter and Twilight coming? Wizards and vampires? Really?

By the time you’d be ready to hop on the ‘what’s hot’ train, it would have passed. And you’d be left, standing alone in a wasteland, clutching your out-of-date ticket. Or not alone. Surrounded in isolation by the thousands who missed it too.

For me, my stories were set. I snubbed all manner of trains. But what happened to me, when I thought about publishing too soon, is the words dried up. You learn rules you didn’t want to know. Like adjectives are the devil, description is death and ‘telling’ is torture. Between the odds and the rules there’s no room left for writing.

And here’s the kicker.

You weren’t finished writing. You really weren’t. There was so much more to do. Parts to flesh out, sections to cut, scenes to write in. There were knots to untangle, holes to fill, new depths to be dug. So right after the first writing of your book is a terrible time to lose the ability, or dare I say the will, to write.

There is a time to explore the publishing world. Time to eye-up that pot of gold, throw it wink and eyebrow waggle. That time is after your first full edit. After the rewrite, if you need one. After you’ve made your book everything you wanted it to be.

 

 

 

 

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The not so Weird and Wonderful

You know when you do something and you feel it’s a little… “out there”?

That is; “out there in the world of slightly strange, but still on the right side of socially acceptable”.

This action makes perfect sense to you. Compete, beautiful, beaming sense. And the thing is, you don’t want someone to tell you that it’s perfectly normal; nay, rational. Because somehow, the world thinking it’s weird (and we do know what the world thinks) makes it special. It’s special in its weirdness.

But then, like a wet leaf blown into your face on a windy day (it has happened) you tell someone  about this little morsel of prised weirdness. And they nod, finding it reasonable.

Poo. Reasonable is boring. Not the work of an eccentric closet-genius.

How disappointing.

Basically, I did something that makes perfect sense.  It really isn’t that singular…I wish it was!

All I did was pop all writing files onto a hard drive and then restored my Dell laptop to factory settings.

I installed only Microsoft Word, the rest of Office got left out. I rearranged the start menu, pinned word to the taskbar, then returned my writing files and placed them in optimal places. Voila!

Dedicated writing laptop.

It is beautiful. And not that weird right? Especially since it’s not my sole computer.

But I don’t feel fully complete.

I want to go further. You see, factory settings=a lot of things already installed. So that you can turn on your new laptop, maybe install Microsoft Office, and behold! Ready to go. Ready to go to do a bunch of very basic things. So that people like me, who don’t use their laptops to hack nasa, who only work on Windows (unless it’s a mac, though sometimes even then), can actually use it.

That’s all well and good.

Or at least it was. I bought my laptop for writing. I bought my netbook for writing too. And they both got a little cluttered. In fact, they came cluttered. Filled with things I don’t need. At least not on two.

So how much can I remove? At what point it the laptop crippled? See, I don’t want constant updates. I don’t want to download and install this, that, and the other. I don’t want a hundred processes happening or dozens of programs. I know I sound like an old lady, but I’m craving a little simplicity here. Isolated simplicity; I can do all non-writing things on the Mac or the netbook.

How far can I go? Is it even possible to remove something your laptop really needs?

Wouldn’t it be glorious to open your laptop and be sucked into your writing world? Firstly because you want to be there, but secondly because, really, there is nowhere else to go.

I have decided that it would indeed beglorious.

So if anyone can advise me about further laptop clear-outs, go wild!

And if anyone has done something to aid their writing that actually is weird and wonderful, do share!

 

 

 

Taking the first step

Need to write a scene filled with heart-clenching fear? Want to feel that shivery sweat and shaking breath?

No problem!

Here’s what you do- think about taking the first step.

And what is the first step? Well obviously writing the…precious creation? Sum of all imaginative works? Epitome of literary wonders? Doesn’t ‘book’ sound a little too drab now? People are writing books left right and centre. Once you peek into the circle they all float about in the word ‘book’ suddenly seems a little less grandiose.

Nonsense. You wrote, or are writing, a book.

This is big. Even if it’s big for a scary number of other people too.

Back to coming at my point from the side…

Living vicariously through our writing is either totally sad or totally awesome. Sad because, come on, get a real life. Awesome because your own scene has you in a twist.

Could it have someone else in a twist too?

(See how I crept up on that?)

But that’s how it happens. That outside-of-your-personal-writing-bubble thought sneaks in. And you think, you wonder, you almost sort of hope- is it just me? Am I the only one who likes this? Could mammy dearest like it? What about harsh best friend? What about the world?

The first step, the first toe-dip, into the world of publishing is letting someone read your work.

Your heart’s beating a little faster, isn’t it?

When it’s just you, there’s no censor. Sure you already know you’re half cracked. You know you have convoluted corridors leading to dark corners. You know you can be diehardedly romantic, deliciously sinister and unashamedly steamy. You’re not judging you.

But having the inner workings of your mind exposed? Gah.

The thing is, a book containing only what the author feels safe having the world read is going to be one hell of a bore. It would be nice and polite.

It would be-

‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine!’

Instead of-

‘How are you?’

‘I’ve just been reliving last night in my head, so I’m a bit turned on right now.’

That brings me to my first point- if you’re embarrassed about the content, it’s probably a good thing.

(If you’re dim-witted enough to scrawl truly embarrassing stuff, then you’re too dim-witted to know about it.)

The next thing is the writing.

Chances are you know your book is not ready.  It’s not done or finished or any other absolute that I don’t think can ever truly be applied to a book.

You hope that the reader will see past the not quite there yet straight to the masterpiece beneath. You’re afraid they won’t.

So, how do you press send?

Somehow you’ve moved from ‘would someone else like this?’ to ‘will you give this a read for me?’

You’re freaking out now. How do you prepare? You want a perfection brush that you can varnish every sentence with. Because as you panic, even though you were good enough to write the book, you sudden think that you just don’t cut it. You think you can’t make it good enough.

What do you do?

Read it. Read it out loud. Read it for things that don’t sound right. Read it to make sure that what you think you wrote is the same as what you actually did write. Read it for heart-gripping blunders. Read it for yourself, because you might be afraid to look at it for a while once it goes out.

And then shut your eyes.

You won’t have caught everything. It doesn’t matter. So you sometimes screw up and say’ threw’ instead of ‘through’. I’ve said ‘right’ instead of ‘write’ twice in this blog already. Whoever you’ve asked to read your work, be it someone you know or an online community, will not judge you on the odd slip. If you can’t write worth a damn it will be clear in every sentence. One wrong word won’t sway the verdict. But if you can write, if you really do know that ‘your’ is not ‘you are’, it will show. It will show in the work as a whole. A handful of mistakes will not throw your skill as a writer into doubt. If the person who is going to read your work is a writer too then they know how often those mistakes happen. And they’ll know how easily they hide from your searching eyes. They screw up too.

Now this is something I really want to stress.

Making excuses for your work. Lying. Just don’t, ok?

Like ‘it’s just the first draft’ (ahem, been over it six times.) Or ‘rough draft, just want to know if it’s worth the bother’ (it’s my beating heart; I’ve poured over it for days.)

Don’t.

Don’t say that you didn’t read over what you’ve sent them to read over. Don’t say it’s unedited. Don’t say it’s fresh from your fingers or hot off the printing press. (Unless of course it’s being sent to a friend and is the absolute truth).

You’re expecting them to read it and give you feedback. Don’t let them think you didn’t bother spending time on it.

Be brave. Be honest.

Don’t give excuses alongside your work.

What you should give alongside your work is anything you want them to look out for. Guide their feedback.

Feedback? How exciting! Or terrifying. Or both. That’s the next step- dealing with feedback. So if you have a suspense scene to write, save it for just before you open their reply!

For more posts about writing go here -> http://nomadnovelist.wordpress.com/

How to take the Publishing Plunge

 

This is quite fun really.

Pretend you don’t want it. Pretend it’s not your life’s ambition and that your existence will not come crashing down around your skinny ankles if you fail.

Stop rereading your first three chapters. They’re not getting any better. You can’t actually see the words that are on the page anymore. So just stop. They’re fine. Will you be rejected because of a typo? Maybe. Would you want an agent who rejected you because of one anyway? Don’t say yes. The answer is no. Because, let’s face it, spell-check and eagle-eyes be damned, your manuscript is riddled with them.

Pick people who don’t want you. Get a taste for the ole form rejection. Build up a resistance. Send it to agents who specifically say they don’t want what you’re writing. If they have a dragon with a line through it, they are perfect. Send it to publishers who take commercial women’s fiction. If they publish books with watercolour covers and shiny titles that look like enlarged versions of pretty handwriting, they are beyond perfect.

Write your synopsis. You’ve already researched. You’ve even written a few. Practice is good. Now stop looking for the key to your perfect summary. No one offering advice has or will read your book. They can’t tell you how to condense it. Just do it. Cut out all but the most important stuff and get it done. Ruin the story. Give away the ending. Man up. If you think they expect you to pull them through all the twists and turns and ups and downs of your story in one page…well maybe they do, but I can’t. So there.

Write the shortest cover letter ever. And state the obvious as little as possible. You’ve written a book you say? No shit. You’ve included the first three chapters? Go figure. You’d be happy to send them the whole whopping thing? Get out! Seriously, nothing in my life is relevant. So I shan’t waste their time.

Remember, they don’t want your book anyway. It’s not THAT pivotal.

You won’t send a less-than-ready submission. It’s not in you to send out something that’s shoddy and is all but tea-stained and curling up at the corners. It will be polite, grammatically sound, and to the point. It will be the first step.

And it’s happening TOMORROW. Eek!

Tomorrow is good. I like Tuesdays.

 

In case anyone is wondering, and I know they’re not, the daily blog commitment was suspended for the holidays. Don’t fret; writing and editing continued, naturally. But I didn’t want to rise out of my little fairy-light-filled bubble and speak to the world.

 

 

 

How not to edit

Turn on the tv

Stare at nothing

Prepare to do something

Do tiny plaits in your hair

Do more tiny plaits in your hair

Walk aimlessly around the kitchen singing

Empty and pack the dishwasher as slowly as possible

Take a magnifying mirror and study your face

-be horrified

Stare at social networking sites

Look up cheap shitty news

Nap

Think about doing what you’re supposed to be editing

Ponder why you’re not doing it

Philosophise

Eat

Make tea

Organise things

Look up the health benefits of coconut oil

But then!

I actually edited.

See, I enjoy editing really. It’s just, it takes me a while to get started. Once I start though, I’m in for the long haul. It’s 2.30am. What’s left of my early night is ever-decreasing, and the dark circles will not thank me for this.

Now you might think that this short blog is a cheat, thrown up quickly to satisfy my daily quota. You’d be wrong.

It took an embarrassingly long time to get that wordle picture there. But I had to have it. It’s proof of my editing you see.

Also, there seem to be words in there that I don’t recall typing…curiouser and curiouser!

When is ‘good enough’ good enough?

Perfectionism. The cliche ‘bad quality’ you say because you secretly think it’s a good thing.

It’s not.

I want to be perfect. I want to do everything perfectly, all the time, without any help.

The quest for perfection is like a bottomless pit. If you step too close to the edge, look too long and hard at it, you might fall in, never to be seen or heard from again.

It’s less than productive.

For things like blogs, I write them, glance over them quickly, then squeeze my eyes shut, back away from the pit, and click ‘Publish’. Then I quell the useless fretting over all the little imperfections I sent out into cyberspace and move on.

But for books, it’s infinitely trickier.

I don’t want them to be perfect in the way I want everything to be perfect. They’re not things I can simply let go off, wearing their imperfections like badges saying ‘I could care’.

Learning to accept that ‘good enough’ is good enough and to let go has been a long journey. Only when I look back do I see that I’ve taken it.

The road doesn’t reach all the way to my books though.

I want them to be perfect. Full stop. Period. End of line.

Focusing on the first book, the question is: Can I make it perfect myself?

Well? Can I?

I’m already in the pit with it. Do I battle on?

Or should I climb out, make it ‘good enough’, and get on with it? Send it to an editor. Get help. I mean, telling the story in the best way possible is what’s important. Not my pride in doing it alone.

But what if I don’t need a professional editor? I’ll never reach perfect, I don’t think, but what if ‘good enough’ is good enough?

The solution is simple. Try for perfect. Accept good enough. Send to agents. Get form rejects. Weep (kidding :P). Then get a professional edit.

Jolly good!

Expect maybe the accepting good enough part, but let’s not get bogged down…

So, about the deadline. What happened is…

I’m sticking to it, no excuses!

Chapter two is done. I used something I had written before. It was one of those moment when you suspect you have had a master plan all along. I do actually…*evil laugh* It had to be edited and trimmed and added-to, but that’s to be expected.

Also, I was wrong when I said I and to write chapters two and three. Chapter three is done.

So…The book is complete. Again. Hopefully for good this time.

Scissors! Come hither! It’s time to edit.

 

 

 

 

A cover letter! Eep!

Normally I would keep this to myself. I’d let my computer eat it, and it would sit in its belly. It would be regurgitated now and then, to be examined and tweaked, but ultimately it would be left there.

Did I just make my cover letters sound like vomit?

Why yes, yes I did.

My problem with cover letters is that I could write five different ones, telling *gasp!* showing different things, and I’d think they were all relevant.

How do you know what to include and what to leave out?

There are many ways to cut your way down to the best stuff. Here’s what I did.

I had a poke around this blog. http://queryshark.blogspot.com/It’s by a New York Literary Agent, and it’s where queries (cover letters) are sent to die and be reborn as better and brighter versions of their past selves.

I forgot about my book. Forgot that it is, in fact, over 100k words. Forgot the ins and outs, the secondary characters, the back-stories and the sub-plots. What’s left, the core that never fades from your mind, the fundamental part that you CAN’T forget, that’s what goes in the letter.

I focused on my main character. She is the point of my book. Every time I’m asked what it’s about, I’m tempted to say ‘It’s about Ara’.

I left out as many names as possible. The name of the country, the name of the main city, the name of the sanctuary, gone gone gone. Three names feature in the letter; the main character, the source of the conflict, and the ‘enemy’-the person ‘what’s at stake’ is tied to.

I thought ‘what am I trying to say’ and then I said it.

I wrote the letter the way I wrote the book; being bold and starting sentences with ‘but’ or ‘and’, single-word sentences, single-line paragraphs…It’s a taster of your writing; it should be polished, but not shined up so much that it doesn’t sound like you.

Does it do my book, my story, my main character justice? No idea.

Here it is…

Dear Agent

In a rebel sanctuary, hidden among thousands of creaking trees, Ara spearheads the fight against Kry Maladin; the country’s ruler.

The sanctuary is filled with people she snatched out of Kry’s crushing hands; people he wanted to work for him, people he’d make do what he wanted. Now those people watch her with frosty eyes and whisper about her when she shouldn’t be able to hear them. Ara isn’t like them, and even though she hides it, they know she’s different. Dangerous.

What they don’t know is that she’s the reason they were rescued; that she pitted her speed and strength against Kry’s defences so they could be saved. And no one in the sanctuary knows that she does it because, years ago, Kry’s crushing hands snatched her, and held on tight until she escaped.

On the two-year anniversary of her escape, Risk, Kry’s son, is brought to the sanctuary. And Risk, whose voice grips her heart, whose eyes arrest her breath and send phantom pains sweeping through her, came willingly.

He wants to join their fight. The council that runs the sanctuary, and resents Ara’s power, is eager to accept him.

A few words about the part he played in her past could keep him out forever. But Ara won’t speak about it. She won’t even think about it. And so he is allowed to stay.

When Risk discovers that Ara carries out rescue missions almost entirely alone, he is adamant that she have help. He doesn’t know the extent of her abilities; she didn’t have them before. He only knows what his father would do to her if he caught her again.

Ara knows too.

But help would be a hindrance; no one can keep up with her. Help could mean her return to the past. Still, she says nothing to stop it.

The council jump on the chance to dilute her control and she is forced to accept a team of rebels; a team which includes Risk.

When a rescue mission she wanted to do alone goes wrong, Ara stays back to hold off Kry’s soldiers so the team can escape. She’s hit with darts of a paralysing drug made just for her, and falls back into Kry’s hands.

ARA is the first book in a science-fiction series, and is complete at 108k words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Roisin Anna Murphy