Spring is a verb and a noun

The irony of a blog is, when you have lots to say, you’re too busy to write it up, and when you’re slow, you don’t know what to write. That said, I’m busy, but I’m not able to work on my novel so I thought a blog post is in order.

I have a second short story called “Bits & Pieces” that will be published by Luna Quarterly in June. I’ll have more about that later, right now I’m still signing paperwork. It’s lovely to have been chosen.

Another thing coming up is that I may be featured in a podcast, but until I get something a little more concrete I won’t post any details yet. I am so excited about the possibility!

In the lineup, I’m also going out with my developer editor; this time not to talk about my book, but to talk about ALL THE BOOKS. I want to discuss the best path to learn how to be an editor myself. I think it will help me develop my craft, but also will help me to help others who are learning how hard it is to sit and write something good.

My friends are growing right alongside me. We have a great core writer’s group and an extended writer’s group who are proving to be just as on point as our original trio. To see everyone’s feedback improve stories that are already great. It takes time but it’s like watching a garden in spring. One day the ground is bare; the next its green.

There’s been a lot of personal growth coming in to play with this challenge, which was a bonus round I wasn’t expecting. It’s harder to encapsulate personal growth in a blog post without sounding like an after school special or a crystal lovin’ sun worshiper, so those are things I hope to show in my work instead.

My next challenge is Norwescon, which will be when four author panelists will read my draft and give me pointers. I’m both excited and terrified. I figure as long as I remember to breathe, I’ll be fine. After all, if I’m going to be a writer, I need strangers to read my work all the time!

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The Saga of the Editor Search, Part 2

…continued from previous post

Unexpected Turn

When I sent my inquiry letter to my referral of a referral of a referral of a referral, I knew things were getting out of hand. I had solid leads. An editor from Seattle asked for 2 chapters. I had a ballpark estimate from Tammy. Then, I got another suggestion. Leigh came in towards the end of my search, recommended by a fellow writer IIRC. She was local, and in a fun turn of events, had taught a class I’d attended a couple of years prior… an editing class, as it were. I remember thinking that I’d be excited to have her as an editor. I didn’t want to let that be the reason I decided to do it, though. I sent her an inquiry letter, like everyone else.

She got back to me relatively quickly, and wanted to meet by the end of the week. I thought, that was a good argument for a local editor. You can have face-to-face meetings when it mattered. We met and exchanged pleasantries. Then we got down to cases. She was professional. She was focused. She edited speculative fiction. Her rates are per hour, and she said it wouldn’t exceed 30 hours to do what I was asking. At it’s most expensive, she came in about $100 more for the project than Tammy, but what that $100 gets me is face to face meetings, an opportunity to ask questions after her report, and a speculative fiction editor.

When I asked Tammy if she edited speculative fiction, she answered, “Not often.. but isn’t that better, that I can ask questions that a genre editor wouldn’t even consider?”

My personal answer to that question is no. It is the voice of experience; it was purchased at the expense of $400 and a trunk novel that will probably not see the light of day.

When I went out to coffee with Leigh, I had a vibe that I could work with her, that she would be tough on me but only to improve my novel.

 

Conclusions

I believe I summed up my experience to a fellow writer nicely when I said, “I can’t believe I’m going to pay this woman a grand to tell me how much my novel sucks.”

Yes, I do struggle with feeling like I am throwing good money after bad. Despite the fact that I learned a lot and seriously improved my writing with my initial experience with a professional editor, because that novel isn’t online, bringing in revenue, it feels… well, like a failure. Doubtless there are several optimists out there who would argue that it’s not a failure if it got me to publish my third novel. When my third novel is up online, perhaps I will feel differently.

I’m also paying *more* than the first time… but developmental editing is expensive. Having price shopped around, I would definitely say what I’m paying is industry average. Not long after signing with Leigh, I found an article that talked about “What does it cost to self-publish?” Four authors were asked, and the only one who paid a significant amount on editing is the only one I’d heard of.

When I asked my husband what he thought of paying this much for editing my book, his answer was, “Well, do you want to be a writer, or do you need to be a writer?”

Lastly, I’ll just say that there are other ways to do this – other ways to get editing, other ways to get your book published. I’m just sharing what I went through because I had to make sense of my experience anyway, may as well share it too.

Full Disclosure – The Saga of the Editor Search

Writing a book is hard. First you slug through a rough draft, then you give it to beta readers, and see what they say. Then you (hopefully) find a writer’s group, and give your New And Improved draft a roll. But now who do you give it to? You’ve reached the end of your resources. And you know the book isn’t the best it can be.

Chances are, if you’re avid about your manuscript becoming a book, you’ve read about editors. You know that you need one, but you’re not sure why. What do editors do? How do they do it? The rest seems shrouded in mystery.

I jumped into the pool, head first, looking penetrate the mystery surrounding editors. I found out that there are multiple kinds of editing, generally from the broad demands of the developmental editor, to the fine detail work of a proofreader. For my purposes, I felt that a full blown developmental edit was what I needed. I’m going to share with you what I experienced.

 

The Backstory

I worked with an editor for Best Served Cold, my first ‘trunk’ novel. I met her through her husband, who was my co-worker. She taught me a lot about how to improve my writing, and we enjoyed a good relationship during the course of the project. However, her specialty for editing was memoirs, which I didn’t think to ask and she didn’t think to mention. She did a great job editing my urban fantasy, but there were things she absolutely did not understand because she wasn’t a fan of the genre. When it came time for me to decide what to do for a developmental editor the next time, I decided I would shop around and find someone who was better suited towards my stories.

 

The Search

My previous editor essentially fell in my lap. I didn’t expect lightning to strike twice, so I had to go out and hunt. Where to look? Lots of people have websites, but that’s definitely a needle in a haystack mentality. My search started with LinkedIn, unexpectedly. I received an email from them about something unrelated, but I thought to myself, “Of course!”

I emailed a developmental editor from San Francisco. Tammy had it all. A website, a great LinkedIn profile, I was excited. I emailed two more editors as well.

Nothing.

Crickets.

I went to another website, the Pacific Northwest Editors Guild. (Which, is a great resource, by the way.) I emailed three people off of that.

Nothing.

I went to a website called Thumbtack, and put in a request. (I do not recommend Thumbtack, and you’ll find out why in a minute.)

And then, Tammy wrote me back! She was professional and well spoken and I liked her immediately. I started talking to her about my book. Which lead to…

The Money and the Manuscript

Tammy and I had a long conversation over email. She wanted to know what I was looking for, and then she dropped the hammer. Edits would cost $3,000!

My heart sank. I think I may have even felt dizzy. I certainly felt overwhelmed. How did other indie authors do it?

I sent Tammy my first chapter. She saw that my book wasn’t in too bad of shape, and worked with me to reduce the cost of her estimate. She was planning to do my book soup-to-nuts, from developmental edit through proofreads. She scaled way back, and kindly offered to do my job for $1000. It was twice as much as I budgeted, but a third of her original offer. I thought we could work a deal.

Meanwhile, I was suddenly inundated with replies! Jordan emailed me back, to tell me his schedule was full until July, and he would charge $1400. Another editor emailed me back to introduce herself and ask for a sample chapter. I discovered the Thumbtack website had offers, all of which routed to an email address I forgot to check. I had five offers from Thumbtack, and the first one began with, “Dear Tona,” which helped me determine the quality of the website. The rates for the editors were posted hourly and $10 cheaper than the other editors I had talked to, but there were obvious reasons why. Another editor said that he sent writers to Hollywood. It was snake oil and smoke. I was not sorry to abandon that attempt.

I asked my ex-editor if she had any references. She told me to try the college. I emailed the college, and Samantha emailed me in response. She told me she edited books for $500, but she was not a genre fiction editor. Privately I had a good cry, but I soldiered on.

..to be continued…

Learning

The CEO of my company called a meeting in which I was required to attend. What I learned while I was there had nothing to do with software. It had to do with decision making speeds and failure recovery times.

 My CEO is a charming, intelligent, intense man. He led the meeting, taking control of the whiteboard at once. He started giving us scenario rundowns. As soon as he concluded that the scenario was no longer pertinent, he discarded it, changed gears, and picked up the next case. Not one moment lost to the fact that he worked it out to that point, not even an explanation behind his motivations, just an about face, forward march.

 His decisions were just as lightning fast, and unforgiving. It was quite scientific, for being so ad hoc. He split down ideas to their tiniest parts, unrelenting in his direction.

 I have been agonizing over a manuscript since 2009. I have rewritten it eleven times. I spent money on a professional editor to clean up and improve the quality of my work. And I then last night, I sat down and talked to her about my story.

 Nothing about my stories is particularly well thought out. I’m a pantser – I ride the waves of my imagination and fill in everything as I need it. This doesn’t allow for certain basic tricks – foreshadowing foremost among them.

 I have a good story, I believe that. However, to make it a great story, would require me to bust back down to scraps and rewrite it AGAIN. This time, with a goddamn plan.

 Now, here’s my decision. Go forward and spend around a year once again reworking a story that has eluded my grasp for almost four years? Or abandon a work that I’ve invested a few hundred dollars and a lot of hours into?

 My decision came to this: I’m going to walk away. I have been working on this work for a long time, and it was my practice run. It’s a fun story, I feel it can be something. But, if I choose to put it down today, I can come back to it in a year or two, and look at it with fresh eyes. I can take what I’ve learned and apply it to fresh stories that haven’t worn grooves in my head, and keep it moving.

 My editor gave me something that I never had before – her undivided attention and professional know-how. I have had my work edited before, by friends with talent of their own, but they were doing the work for free, and consequently everything had priority over what I’d written. Working with her went far beyond me handing her money. She gave me feedback, perspective, and an education. A one-on-one teacher just for me.

 Now, though, I feel the pressure to produce; pressure from myself, pressure from my friends, and from my readers. I want to put out a book a year, but I don’t have the skills quite yet to churn out that kind of product. I feel the loss of this work, even though I have a get-out-of-jail free card and can change my mind at any time, and it makes me sad.

 This was a big step for me, deciding to step away from the sheltering arms of my talent and walk into the light of learning a skill. The stories will always be mine, but I’m ready to take them as far as they need to go.

My final thought here is that I am learning from my CEO. Today I’m dropping my manuscript, tomorrow I’m picking up the pen again for a new project.

 

 

Writing Comes from Within. Like the Spleen.

Writing is a superpower. It’s a tricky superpower, though. There are tons of people who can write. There are significantly less people who want to write. There are even fewer people who will write.

I’m a writer, so naturally I think that everyone is. It has taken me years to accept that what seems effortless to me doesn’t to others. And to tell the truth, it’s not effortless for me, either.              

The truth is, everyone is inundated with great ideas for stories. A thought strikes them, and they ponder it for a moment before moving on.

Or, if you’re like me, you get caught up in the thoughts and suddenly find yourself hip deep in scattered chapters.

Editing, on the other hand, is the (one might say joyless) task of creating order out of chaos. Of realizing that your main character wakes up in a new time and shrugs it off effortlessly, when it should be at least a momentary concern. Or that your villain is the most boring character in the story. It’s finding the weakness and weeding it out. It’s criticism. It’s killing your (ideological) children. Editing is hell.

Now I run into the dilemma of being hip deep in my first professional editing session, and looking at my Ideas folder. It’s the shiny place where I record all of my infant ideas. The ideas gleam like gold, beckoning me away from the doldrums of deciding whether or not I can save the damsel in a way that will make sense to my readers.

I am choosing virtue. Partially because I’m paying for it, but also because I want this novel to be so much more than my first novel was. I want to show growth, and build an audience that can see there’s improvement, and want to know more.

The writing in me is so purely chaotic, so unrefined, so beautiful, it’s hard to exert this discipline. I’m not a patient person, and the winnowing out of ideas and refining of sentences is anathema to my previous way of writing.

However, my previous way of writing never got me published, either. So, at least for now, I’m going to rein in my imagination and keep on the harder path.

No Rest for the Wicked

I am writing my second novel.

In an interesting twist of coincidence, I started both The Corsican and my untitled second work within months of each other, back in 2009. I don’t have specific dates anymore, but I know I started the second story after The Corsican, for NanoWrimo. (For the uninitiated, NanoWrimo is National Novel Writing Month.) I burned through the first draft, until I hit the climax, and then I stopped and thought, “Not so much.”

I have attempted this story more times than I care to admit. Always something changed. Characters developed, aged from high schoolers to twenty-somethings, main characters became supporting cast as more appropriate characters stepped forward, all the time tweaking the story to improve it. As is typical with these kinds of things, it took an outside perspective to put me on the path to correcting what it was that I just wasn’t happy with. The climax of the story, which was always my breaking point before, came easily this time around.

After three years of battling it, the story is flowing. Despite the amount of work I’m still doing for The Corsican, despite having all the other stuff I have to do, I can still sit down and churn out two thousand words in a day. This is just the first draft, though. Once I conclude it, there’s still acres of work that require doing. Editing, rewrites, polishing.

I can’t say this book has been easier to write because I published The Corsican. However, what I can say is that publishing The Corsican let me behind the curtain, to see what happens once the final ‘i’ is dotted and the final ‘t’ is crossed. Publishing has helped me to develop my process. I’ve gained confidence and trust my instincts as a writer. This draft has been easier to write, partially because I’ve become very clear on the characters over the years, partially because my husband is a genius and pointed out the book’s major flaw, and partially because I’ve learned from finishing my first book. It turns out, the best way to have a process for finishing books is to finish a book. The first one is the hardest, but after that you have a course of action.

I won’t be posting about writing a book in a linear fashion on this blog. I have many projects in various levels of completion, and I will share my insights as they come, from whichever project is providing me insight at the time. I welcome questions, and I will try to be clear on which project I mean, for clarity’s sake.

The world is full of stories. I’m glad that I’ve been able to add to the collective.

300

I had never finished a story.

Technically untrue, there were little short stories I’d pounded out, but I’d never finished a novel. Novel length stories are a considerable undertaking. It’s not just the major plot arc, which is easy to plot out, it’s the details. When you’re writing a story, your only goal is to get from a to b, hopefully by a route that makes sense. But what you wrote on page 40 isn’t in your head when you write the climax on page 350. That one detail can bedevil you, either by missing it completely and having your readership point it out, or by having to backtrack over 310 pages and clean up the mistake.

Naturally, never having achieved this goal before, I had never entered into the land beyond, the land of formatting and proofing and printing and selling. It is a foreign land, with strange sensibilities and arcane vocabulary.

Now that I have seen beyond the curtain somewhat, I understand why publishing is a separate business. My first proofs were rife with errors. The software somehow ate upwards of 300 indents through the story. The cover was overdone. Oh, and the last quotation mark on the last sentence of the book was missing.

My husband was over the moon that he was holding a book in his hand, but I, on the other hand, was horrified. I contacted my publisher and advised them of all the print errors in the proof. This is where I found out about the software issue.

Looking back now, I’m not as horrified by the proof. It exemplified the point of the proof. Of having good communication with the publisher, and the patience to remember that rarely is anything perfect the first time. My first draft of The Corsican wasn’t perfect, it’s not perfect now, and the proof is that reminder. It also reminds me of how far I have come.

I could have been more prepared, but I think only slightly more so, even if I’d reserached. The Publishing Conglom keeps their system under wraps, to maintain their niche. It’s not a good strategy when indie publishers are racing in to scoop up the e-book share of the market. Having spoken with a friend of mine who published about a year before me, I know that the indie publishers lack in poise, but make up for it in chutzpah.

It is a changing world that we enter when we step onto the publishing stage, but if there is anything that remains true, the written word is not going anywhere any time soon.