The Easy Cut: Editing Tips Part 2

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Editing is a skill that you need as a writer, regardless of whether you intend to self-publish or not. The first draft will never be your best (it certainly isn’t for most great writers) because it’s the editing that makes it great. In this three-part series we’re looking at three keys elements of fiction editing, with some simple guidelines that will help you hone your work from first draft to final.

The Easy Cut is a simple first step you can take to tidy up your work. You’re looking specifically to cut bits out in order to streamline the text and make it flow more smoothly. The word I like to use is tight – you’re tightening up the writing.

So what kind of things should make the Easy Cut?

Cut the Unnecessary

A good rule of thumb is to remove words that are unnecessary, or redundant. See that sentence you just read? That’s a prime example. The words ‘unnecessary’ and ‘redundant’ essentially mean the same, why do I need both?

You don’t need to apply this rule to everything, but you’ll find most paragraphs read better once you have. A couple more examples:

Try saying ‘they gathered’ instead of ‘they gathered together.’
Because the ‘together’ is already implied by the verb of having gathered.

Try cutting words like ‘quite’. Eg: ‘He quite liked the look of it . . .’; ‘She was quite artistic . . .’
Ask yourself, why are you qualifying your statement with ‘quite’? Is your character artistic, or is she not?

I am so guilty of having too many ‘quites’ in my writing. I could argue that it’s part of my character’s voice, but really it’s my own creeping in. You can (quite!) often remove this word and end up with a punchier sentence.

Cut the Repetitive

Pay attention to where you may have repeated the same kind of word within a short space. Read the paragraph below and think about how easily you could improve it by changing the repeated word:

The wind was howling outside the bedroom windrow. Melissa shivered and pulled the covers up to her chest, stealing a glance at the clock. Almost time. When would he arrive? Would he come at all? Finally the clock struck midnight, and the wind howled louder. She couldn’t remember when the town had last been struck by such a howling gale.

That’s a very exaggerated example, but not uncommon: the writer is overly intent on creating atmosphere with the howling wind and can’t let go of the word. Do we need all those howls? If you are certain you have to describe the wind at those three points, perhaps you could vary your description? Instead of howling, perhaps the second time it roars. Instead of sound, perhaps you can show us the chill it pushes through the window. Maybe the shadows of tree branches clawing at the walls.

This is one of the easy jobs you can give your Beta Readers – ask them to highlight words they think you’ve used too often, or too close together.

Cut the Weak Action

Another way to make the Easy Cut is to get rid of some of your adverbs. Adverbs are often rather weak descriptors and can be replaced by a much more expressive verb. For example:

‘He walked slowly . . .’ could become ‘He ambled . . .’
‘She said quietly . . .’ might be better as ‘She murmured . . .’
‘He leaned forward quickly . . .’ becomes way more assertive as ‘He lunged . . .’

Here’s a nice little resource that might help you find the active verb you’re looking for to replace some of your duller adverbs.

And if in doubt, pick up a thesaurus! (Or search for synonyms on Google.)

Cut the Weak Description

Similar to above, look out for where your adjectives have words like ‘very’ in front of them. Is there a better, stronger adjective you could use – one that punches harder?

‘very hot’ could become ‘scorching’
‘very small’ could be ‘minuscule’
‘very angry’ could be ‘fuming’

There is a certain satisfaction to be gained from being precise with your phrasing. Why just be close to what you mean, when you could say exactly what you mean?

Cut the Dialogue Tags

Sometimes less is more, especially where dialogue is concerned – at least, where your dialogue tags are concerned. A dialogue tag is a word that attaches to dialogue primarily to identify the speaker, and sometimes to convey tone of voice. Words like: remarked, demanded, exclaimed, muttered . . . you know, all the ones your English teachers drilled into you to replace boring old ‘said’.

Thing is, there’s nothing wrong with ‘said’. Go pick up a book and flick to some dialogue. Read a page or so. I’ll wait.

Bets are that the section you just read included more ‘said’s than any other kind of tag. Also likely that it didn’t include many tags at all. There’s a simple reason for this: dialogue tags are distracting and can break up a nice flow of speech. Your eye is trained to slide right over ‘said’; it gets stuck on words like ‘shouted’. So this means that if you spend every other line telling the reader how she shouted then he exclaimed then she raged then he groused then she screamed . . . you don’t get an intense argument, you get a string of lumbering, clunky verbs.

An expressive tag carries a hell of a lot more weight if it occurs in isolation. Use them wisely to add impact at key moments in your characters’ conversations.

Cut the Stalling

If up to now you’ve been staring at your first draft wondering how you could possibly improve it, start with the simple cuts I’ve suggested here. By all means, don’t cut everything that falls under these guidelines – you have to learn to trust your gut, after all. But this should help you recognise the places where you can tighten up your writing, and hopefully I’ve helped you understand why some things will read more smoothly than others.

So what are you waiting for? While your Beta Readers are still plowing through your work, you can be getting on with your Easy Cut.

Save your tears for Part 3: The Hard Cut.

 


 

Are there any tips you’d like to add for other writers going through the Easy Cut? Share them in the comments!

Click here to read Editing Tips Part 1.

If you want to be notified when Jack Hansard episodes have been updated with their final edits, you can follow the AIM Facebook Page to receive these updates, or check the An Inspired Mess homepage each Monday for a link to the most recent one. =)

 

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Ch-ch-changes! Editing Tips Part 1

What’s the key to good writing?

Good editing.

I thoroughly believe this. The first draft from even the best of writers is likely to be a pile of crap – and that’s because they know the important thing is to get that first draft finished, not perfect. If you are constantly polishing and editing as you write, you run the risk of never being satisfied with what you’ve created, and in the end you create nothing.

You may have seen this video by Jake Parker doing the rounds; if not, watch it and get pumped.

 

This is why I think the second key to good writing is to let the first draft be crap. Just get it out there, in the open, onto that blank page. This is why exercises like NaNoWriMo are brilliant: it encourages you to pour your soul out and get something finished in a set time-frame, to a deadline.

That’s what I set out to do with the Jack Hansard Series, and I’ve now completed that first crucial step. Season 1 is finished, exposed, and ready for stage two. The Big Edit.

If you’re a regular reader or you follow my Facebook Page, you may have noticed that I’ve already begun this process. Every Monday I re-upload an episode with its final, truly polished edit: I’ve gone through four episodes so far, and Episode 5 will receive its facelift on Monday 19th. Over the next few blog posts I’d like to share some editing tips and observations which might help guide your own editing process, especially if you feel at a loss as to where to start. In this article we’ll be looking at what is possibly the single most important step towards editing your work: finding Beta Readers.

 

What should you look for in a Beta Reader?

Finding a group of Beta Readers to give feedback may sound like an eyebrow-raisingly obvious tip, but it might be harder to achieve than you think.  What you need is a group – I suggest a minimum of four, but aim as high as you can – that will read your work in its entirety and provide meaningful feedback. Where do you find the people who will make up this select group?

First, Find An Author

A good way to do this is to join a writing community and find someone to exchange work with. You’ll (hopefully) get knowledgeable criticism from a fellow writer who understands the craft and can help you with sentence structure, grammar, tone and voice and so on. They will also be able to provide a totally detached viewpoint: they don’t know you personally, and they have no reason to hold back on the constructive criticism.

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By reading their work in exchange, you’re likely to pick up editing skills you didn’t know you had. Evaluating someone else’s writing style is an easy way to learn what does and doesn’t work – and why. And because you have to explain that why to your fellow author, you end up with a deeper understanding of it. They say that to teach is the best way to learn.

What’s the downside? This internet stranger might not actually be enjoying your story – they may be more interested in what you have to say on their work, rather than providing meaningful input on yours. Furthermore, if they are not enjoying your story then you won’t get a true reader’s reaction from them, and it will lack the emotive response – they won’t be able to tell you how it makes them feel, and why – that a truly interested reader can provide. Thus I feel a read-for-read deal like this is best for picking up on technical issues in the writing, but might not inform well on how the actual story is received. I’d certainly suggest taking the time to find a fellow writer who is on a similar wavelength to yourself: make sure you are both clear as to what you are getting out of the arrangement, and that you are both genuinely interested in reading each other’s work (at the very least interested in the genre you write!).

If you can’t find someone to exchange work with, then participate publicly in a writing forum or similar community. Critique lots of people’s writing, learn how to evaluate a range of styles and voices, and occasionally offer up your own work for collective criticism.

However, be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort if this is your only group of Beta Readers, and remember that skill level and effort from others will vary. From my own point of view, I dabble in writing forums here and there but often find I don’t get out the same as I put in: where I might take two hours to write a thoughtful review spanning five hundred to a thousand words, in return I’d receive a short paragraph telling me to change a piece of phrasing and remove a comma. I don’t mean to gripe – I believe it still helps me to understand and improve my own writing techniques. By picking out the flaws of others, you begin to identify those same flaws in your own work, and you can heed the same advice you’ve given people before you.

Now, Find A Reader

So you’ve got your outside perspective from someone completely detached from your writing; good job. Now you need an inside perspective.

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This is the section of your Beta Reading group that should be made up of people who have a genuine interest in what you write. I’m going to say something controversial here: Don’t automatically pass off friends and family as being unable to give honest critiques.

I know the standard line is that ‘your friends will lie to make you feel good’, but if that’s always true then I feel you have shitty friends. The thing to remember is that they need guidance: you need to start by teaching them how to be  good Beta Reader. As with anything, you need to invest a little time in them in order to expect a good return.

You should be able to explain to your Beta Readers the sheer importance of honest feedback, that they shouldn’t feel obligated to only mention the good stuff, and that criticism is generally the most helpful kind of feedback – challenge them to find the flaws, to search for the things they’re unsure of. If they point out something in a vague way, question them until they make it specific.

And . . . allow them to give you good feedback too! Good feedback isn’t bad, and it can equally inform you how to improve. Instruct your readers to think deeply about why they might like a particular part of the story; why they are responding so well to this character; why they smiled at that sentence. It will help you understand what you are doing right, and what elements you should pay more attention to.

So reach out to friends and family who genuinely want to support you, and reach out to current fans of your work – if you explain things properly, they should be able to find something to criticise. In fact, I believe they are more likely to go out of their way to help you improve, because they are already invested in you and your writing. The key is helping them understand what they need to identify, and that you aren’t going to get all teary-eyed over an ill-received chapter. They are likely to surprise you with the things they pick up, and the additional knowledge they can provide.

Every one of my Jack Hansard episodes went through a single, reliable Beta Reader before being published for the first time on An Inspired Mess: my husband (did I mention I got married last week? News! =D) He’s great at pointing out plot holes and errors in my reasoning, and isn’t afraid to tell me he doesn’t like some of the more surreal aspects of my story-telling. Here’s a great example of where a Beta reader can pick up on something the writer missed:

In Episode 12: Shadows, Hansard’s car suffers from a flat tire at a dangerous time. In the unpublished draft, I wrote that they had been driving on the flat for some time without noticing it, until suddenly the car couldn’t effectively drive any more and that was that.

“How could they not notice it?” said Husband, in response to this. “You bloody well know if you’re driving on a flat tire. And even if Jack has realised and was trying to keep it quiet, there’s no way that his passenger wouldn’t notice it as well. The wheel would make a sort of thumping noise. You’d be an idiot to keep going.”

“Oh,” said I. “Oops.”

That outside perspective is truly crucial for picking up on little details like this. Someone simply asking: “But why did he do that, if it would have been simpler to go the other way?” can make you totally re-think part of the story. It might not change the plot, but it might add a motivation you hadn’t considered, or define more accurate details.

Now that I’m on Round Two: The Big Edit, I reached out to friends and readers of the series to act as my main Beta group. There is an interesting variety in the feedback I’ve received. One reader tends to splurge enthusiastic praise for virtually everything – but she’s brilliant in expanding on the reasoning of why she likes things, and the criticisms she does point out tend to make me pause for thought. Another has very little to say, but what is said is always poignant and useful, and will pick up on character traits I hadn’t considered. Yet another likes to make comparisons with other works in the urban fantasy genre, and has helped me think about the bigger picture where my little world is concerned.

The one thing they all have in common is that they enjoy reading the series – they are a part of my actual reader base, and that makes their reactions the truest reflections of my audience. Think of it as a kind of market research: you focus on gathering information from the audience you are trying to sell to. I’m not trying to impress a fellow writer who prefers sci-fi and knows a lot about sentence composition (though they were very helpful in my early growth as a writer) – I’m writing for the people who want to read this kind of story, therefore their feedback is now the most valuable to me.

 

This concludes my advice for searching out and utilising your Beta Reading group. Stay tuned for Editing Tips Part Two: The Easy Cut, where we take a look at some quick and simple techniques for editing your work, and Part Three: The Hard Cut, where the soul-wrenching edits happen. Take care y’all!

 


 

Was this helpful to you? Do you agree or disagree with how I approach Beta Reading? Let me know in the comments!

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So what IS episodic writing?

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Since my last blog post I’ve been doing a lot of reading into how one goes about reaching an audience for their episodic stories . . . and I’ve learned that there are no clear-cut search terms to help navigate the topic, and no clear definition of what this form of writing actually is. And part of the reason, I think, is due to the digital age we live in, where eBooks and self-publishing have expanded the possibilities open to authors today.

At its simplest, episodic or serial fiction is a narrative presented in separate installments over a period of time. But that’s about as specific as defining a novel as a book with words in, and this vagueness of meaning seems to be frustrating readers in various corners of the internet who perhaps didn’t know exactly what they were buying into when the author described their work as ‘episodic’.

Below I’ve attempted to collate my own understanding of the two main types of serial fiction, and the challenges faced by both readers and writers using the form.

 

The Serialised Novel

With the availability of e-publishing, a lot of authors are now experimenting with serialising their novels. This means the author has written (or is in the process of writing) one complete story which can be broken up and sold as stand-alone segments. Sometimes these segments have been designed with serialisation in mind, ending on a cliff-hanger to keep the reader hooked waiting for the next installment; sometimes the installments are just normal chapters released for sale separately over time. This means the author can charge a small amount, say 99p, for each individual segment or chapter, potentially making more money than if they’d just sold the complete novel on its own. As a plus, readers might be persuaded to also buy the completed novel in order to have the story sections collected together.

Ultimately, a serialised novel can be presented equally well as a novel or as a series. But it has a relatively short run, to the length of an average novel in its genre.

From my Googling efforts and conversations with friends and family, I get the impression that most people, when talking about ‘serialised fiction’, are referring specifically to serialised novels. This frustrated me no end when I was trying to find advice tailored to the kind of serial I like to write, which is:

 

The Episodic Series

I would liken this form to a television series. The individual installments are more likely to stand up on their own within an episodic series, much like how you can watch a single episode of Supernatural or Game of Thrones without having seen the rest – you might not get to grips with all the character background and world lore, but you’ll be able to follow the plot that’s presented directly in front of you for the course of that episode. (You won’t understand why it was important that so-and-so’s dad killed so-and-so’s aunty five years ago, but you’ll understand why the character you only just fell in love with was horrifically murdered in this episode with nary a warning. And then you’ll curse George R. R. Martin and resign yourself to watching the series from the beginning.)

George R.R. Martin

In this sense an episodic series is often longer and more likely to be without a fixed end. It might be composed of wildly disparate settings and characters, but be tied together by an underlying motif or intertwined plot. An episodic series also has the potential to be divided into seasons, where a set of episodes are bound by one overarching plot arc. E.g. There are twenty episodes that make up Season 1 of the Jack Hansard Series.

Whereas a serialised novel is a complete story that has been broken up, an episodic series is a story that is constantly unfolding with each episode and could (potentially) continue unfolding infinitely. Y’know, just like a beloved TV series that jumps the shark and goes on way, way too long. (Lookin’ at you, Supernatural.)

Here I feel it makes sense to call the installments ‘episodes’, whereas the installments in a serialised novel could sensibly be called ‘chapters’ or ‘segments’. Crucially, I feel the key thing about an episodic series is that it would not work as a novel. I’m not saying you couldn’t edit and adapt it into novel form. I mean that if you collected a season’s worth of episodes together, it would still read as a season of individual (though connected) stories, rather than as one story where all the segments run seamlessly into each other.

I don’t claim to be a pro, and the definitions I’ve given are hardly rigid. Even my Jack Hansard only loosely fits, as not every story can be consumed separately from the rest: because I’ve restricted myself to very compact installments (4000-5000 words a piece) some stories spill over into several episodes, so that the overall series contains mini-arcs of three to five episodes long. But again, I’d liken it to a TV series, where script-writers will often create two-part episode arcs to build suspense.

 

Do People Read Serials?

Short answer: YES, and then some.

Nowadays it’s easier than ever to access serial stories: you can buy them easily through Amazon and other e-publishing services; read them on your phone, tablet or Kindle. Websites like Wattpad offer a free platform for readers and writers of all types of serialised fiction, and the idea seems to be pretty successful: with an audience of 45 million readers a month on Wattpad, it suggests there’s plenty of demand for this form of writing. But whether serial fiction is a good or bad idea varies from reader to reader, and probably depends on how much you enjoy the anticipation of waiting for the next installment to arrive – and how effectively authors present their work.

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Image attribution: Wattpad

For instance, the self-publishing platform Smashwords has been decidedly lukewarm to the concept of serial fiction, and although serials are recognised as a viable form in their Terms of Service, there’s a handy section that declares a publication must not be an “unfinished work-in-progress”. Y’know, a definition you could easily apply to an episodic series if you didn’t want them hanging around, cluttering up your webpages.

I can understand why. In the past some authors have abused the system and annoyed readers by flooding an online shop front with images of their multiple ‘serial’ works, instead of a solitary entry for a novel. A cheap trick to get attention. Readers have also explained their dislike of having to pay for separate installments, seeing it as a tacky device to make them pay more for each chapter. Sometimes this negativity is because the reader didn’t understand they weren’t buying a finished story at point of purchase, or because they jumped in halfway through a series by accident.

So what can we do, as writers, to help readers enjoy the serialised story form? More than anything, I think we need to be clear about what we’re selling. If you’re selling chapters of a book that you’re eventually going to release as a completed novel, be upfront about it: readers may prefer to wait and pay for the finished deal. Letting them know they have a choice matters, and hopefully curbs feelings of ‘I’ve been cheated’ from those that don’t enjoy cliff-hangers or the anticipation of waiting.

If you’re selling an episodic series, I think you need to start by explaining exactly what that is, in relation to the story you’re presenting. It’s going to suck balls if the reader thinks they’re subscribing to a series of novels and then receives short stories for their money. Will you be releasing a collected ‘season’ of your episodes, so that readers don’t have to buy them separately if they don’t want to?

In particular, we need to avoid the temptation to abuse the episodic form for attention. Don’t upload all your episodes at once to spam a reader’s page. If you promise to update to a schedule, meet your deadlines. Even if you are charging a pittance for each installment, make sure it’s still worth the price, and if you use cliff-hangers keep them inventive and thoughtfully planned – not thrown in at the last second to keep your reader dangled on the line.

Now more than ever I think episodic storytelling is coming into its own. With our busy, frantic lifestyles and device-addiction, it makes sense to present stories in easily-digested chunks that can be served up during a long train commute or snatched during a coffee break. When people are finding they have less time to read, we can try to make the reading easier for them.

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Was this helpful? Do you agree with my definitions of serial fiction? Perhaps you have a completely different understanding of how it works, or a better idea of how to classify it – let me know in the comments! =)

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Lessons Learned: 5 Tips for Episodic Writing

Now that Season 1 of Jack Hansard is complete, this seems like a good time to take a step back and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a bit. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and the beautiful thing about mistakes is that they cause you to evaluate the way you work and the way you write. And, crucially, they make you figure out how to do it better next time.

So I present to you the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned from them. Although Jack Hansard is only a free series I publish for fun, these same lessons are applicable to all kinds of serial or episodic writing. Whether you’re publishing webcomics, writing weekly articles for an online magazine, maintaining a daily blog, serialising your novel or working on a short story series, I hope you find some useful pointers here.

 

Give yourself enough time to write.

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I gave myself two weeks to write each Jack Hansard episode. It was just enough time to fit in around my job. I know there are writers out there who seem to be able to churn out a thousand words a day on top of working 40 hours a week, but I’m not one of them. And that’s okay. The important thing is to know your limits, and my limit is one Jack Hansard episode – or about 4000 words – per fortnight. Any more than your limit, and you run the risk of burning out.

You should also consider the quality of your work. Two weeks is the minimum I needed to write an episode, with full proof read and some minimal editing before it was published. And no matter how hard I tried, it was never, ever perfect. Because of course it’s not. For a perfect short story, ideally you want to leave it a few days, and then come back and re-do the whole shebang. The question is how important ‘perfect’ is to you.

At first, I was okay with imperfect – Hansard’s journey was intended as more of a training exercise from my perspective, a challenge to write consistently and meet deadlines. But as the story and characters grew, I grew endlessly attached to them and wanted to do them greater justice. I have made countless edits to the Jack Hansard stories – cleaning up the little niggles, polishing here and there – but it still frustrates me that I can’t pull it all down and piece it back together so that’s it becomes even better. If I were to rewind, I would give myself at least a month to write each episode, and I’d spend more time working out how they all intertwined in the wider scheme of things.

So before you set off on your episodic journey, before you publish anything and set the clock ticking, take some time to work out how long each episode, article, or strip will take you to produce – and make peace with the schedule you set yourself, because later on you’re gunna have a lot of fights with that bastard.

 

Once you’ve worked out your time-table, stick to it.

deadlinesI’m quite proud that I met my fortnightly deadline most of the time, even if it did result in a few episodes I wished I’d spent more time on. It proved to me that I really could work under pressure and still produce something of a decent quality.

I found my biggest set-backs came when I took some time off. Now, sometimes this is very necessary – in my case there was a funeral to attend, there was a massive adventure in Belgium, and there was Christmas reserved for friends and family. There’s no reason not to take these times off – if anything, I’d recommend that you build a holiday into your timetable so that you don’t burn out during periods you know you’ll be too busy to fully commit. But where I went wrong was in not setting a proper ‘return-to-work’ date. Particularly after Christmas, this was a deep holiday hole I fell down where a long stint away from writing the series left me very complacent and lacking enthusiasm.

My key advice would be to keep your holidays short. And just because you’re having time away from the series, doesn’t mean you should have time away from writing altogether. Try using the time to pursue other projects, or enjoy writing just for the sake of it – anything to keep your eye in.

And how can you make your brief holidays easier on both yourself and your readers?

 

Get started before you start.

write the thingsBefore I launched An Inspired Mess and Jack Hansard, I’d already written the first two episodes to give myself a head start. And, even more cunningly, I’d written two future stories (which became Episodes 11 and 16, both sparking their own sub-plots lasting several very fun installments).

These future episodes were there to give me breathing space, to cover my ass if I couldn’t finish the time-tabled episode in time, in case a family emergency came up, and to provide content during my planned ‘holiday’ in the middle of the series.

All very good in theory. My mistake: I didn’t use my breathing space. I should have kept at least one episode ahead, but I didn’t. If I had, there wouldn’t have been month-long gaps in the summer and winter where nothing was uploaded.

So make sure you have several stories or articles written before you publish the first one, and save one or two for those unexpected gaps that will undoubtedly crop up.

On the subject of planning . . .

 

Keep notes.

notesOther people might say ‘make plans’, but I say that’s up to you. Best-laid plans work for some, and the advantages of knowing the plot in advance are obvious. But I’m someone who prefers to plan off the cuff – I’ve the rough plot for the next three episodes, and a vague sense of the overarching story, but I don’t want to be hemmed in by details. The brilliant thing about a short story series is that some very unexpected details can unfold if you just go with the flow and allow the series to take a different direction from time to time.

But if you don’t write plans, write notes. These are those unfolding details that might become very important later. So you just introduced a side-character who you whimsically gave a sense of humour that revolves entirely around fish puns . . . five stories later a joke about a haddock might end up the turning point of the whole plot. Or perhaps it’s the colour of his eyes? Her eyes? Damn, where did our main character meet this person again?

Going over these little details can also help you in times of Writer’s Block, as well as in tightening your overarching storyline. If you’d forgotten that one particular character loved fish puns, reading over the notes could spark that very turning point in the plot.

I was a lousy note-taker, and I wish I’d created a binder full of them for easy reference. Instead I found myself leafing through the hand-written drafts and scanning the published episodes for references to personality quirks and physical descriptions I couldn’t quite recall. In particular, the way Ang speaks – I was constantly referring to the Coblyn’s previous dialogue to refresh my memory. Character profiles: wish I’d bothered.

If your episodic writing is more non-fiction based, I would still suggest keeping notes of the subjects you’ve covered. Say you blog about a different 80s glam metal album cover each week – you probably want to keep a record of what you’ve featured so far, and a list of your favourite words for describing fabulous hair.

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Fabulous hair.

And finally . . .

 

Keep going!

don't quitRemember to believe in yourself, and the fact that your work isn’t as terrible as you sometimes think it is. Show it to your friends and family and believe them when they tell you they like it. If they don’t – take on board their advice, it’ll only make you stronger. And it’ll make them more invested in helping you; they’ll care about your work when you show that you care about their opinion.

I wouldn’t have got this far without my fiancé nagging me in the background. Even though my genre isn’t really his cup of tea, he’s dutifully proof read and mercilessly criticised all of the Jack Hansard series for me (and half of these blog posts, too). He gave me the push (shove) I needed to get that final episode done when I was suffering from prolonged Christmas/New Year’s/Springtime/GotANewJob blues (read: excuses).

So find someone, or a group of someones, who you can rely on to give you that extra little push when you’ve lost your mojo, and remember that a bit of tough love and self-discipline will get you further than you expect.

 

If you have any tips of your own I’d love to hear them – just leave a comment below. Take care y’all.

Why Rejection Makes Me Ecstatic

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A monumental event occurred in my life today. I was rejected by a leading Science Fiction magazine.

Wait, what?

You heard (read?) me right. At the top of my inbox, only three hours after I’d checked the online status of my short story (‘Under Review’), a nondescript email arrived with the news that my submission was not accepted.

And it made me happy.

“Dear Georgina,

Thank you very much for letting us see “Sleeping Mother.”  We appreciate your taking the time to send it in for our consideration.  Although it does not suit the needs of the magazine at this time, we wish you luck with placing it elsewhere.

Sincerely,

*******, Editor
Asimov’s Science Fiction”

Nothing special. Fairly impersonal, no critical advice offered; of course not, because editors don’t have that sort of time to spend on every budding would-be in their slush pile. So why did it strike such a chord?

This is the sort of news that’s meant to knock a writer to the floor with doubt and self-pity. It’s meant to rock your belief in yourself and the skills you thought you possessed. It’ll make you angry with yourself and question why you even bother writing this dumb shit anyway.

Yeah, I was actually worried those things would happen. I knew, after all the online articles and advice columns I’ve read, that it would be highly unlikely for my very first submission to get accepted. I knew to expect a rejection. But I still kinda dreaded it.

Problem is, that kind of dread can lead to inaction, which can be even worse than self-pity. I’ve been writing since the age of at least ten, maybe younger. I’ve got these cute exercise books full of my ridiculous, badly-spelled, early fiction. By the age of fourteen I knew I wanted to be a published author, and I’ve had that goal in the back of my head ever since.

Funny how it’s stayed at the back for so long, where it’s safe and comfortable.

I made some small, tentative steps – short story competitions, writing forums, even the Jack Hansard series has been arguably tentative. Not once have I approached a professional market, taken myself seriously in a professional capacity… until now.

Ultimately, I feel happy with this rejection because it’s my very first one. First blood. A rite of passage. Proof that I’ve crossed some invisible barrier in my head. Proof that, actually, rejection isn’t all that bad. That rejection, if anything, should make you work even harder.

First thing I did was review my manuscript and make changes. Re-read formatting guidelines. Tightened sentence structure. And then I went to the next magazine on my list, and submitted to them. I feel it’s worth a second opinion.

But while I wait for a reply, I’m going to give the story an overhaul, and make it kick even more ass. It might take another ten, twenty rejections, but eventually I’m going to end up with a story that kicks so hard somebody is going to have to help pick the editor up off the floor.

I want to frame my first rejection and stick it on my wall, and it will sit there as a reminder that there’s no reason to be scared of taking that step, because literally the worst thing that can happen is that you make yourself a better writer.

Sure, I know that sounds easier said than done. It’s one of those things that can’t really be taught – only you can make the changes required by improvement, and only you can make yourself want to pursue that difficult road. But there are some small nuggets of advice and encouragement we can share among ourselves. For my money, after a rejection (and, in fact, before you consider submitting anything, anywhere) an easy first step is to check your manuscript has been formatted correctly. It won’t save a poorly written story, but it might stop a good one sliding out from under the editor’s gaze. They do a crap-ton of reading – so make it easier on the eye for them. For an excellent guide, I sincerely recommend William Shunn’s comprehensive, and above all illustrative guide to achieving the industry standard: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html I’d read descriptions of correct formatting elsewhere, but missed crucial elements until I saw it laid out clearly on the page like this.

I would then recommend reading this article by Sarah Olson for some seriously helpful and down-to-earth advice from slush readers. Even if you’ve heard all this advice before, it’s still incredibly interesting to get an insider perspective. I wouldn’t have guessed that cannibalism themes were apparently so prevalent. Or that starting sentences with ‘It was…’ can be a major turn-off for some editors. They’ve read it all before. Our job is to find the uncommon denominator.

And finally, keep writing, and don’t lose faith. A rejection doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It might mean you misjudged the market, or you landed the editor who has already read several alien invasion stories that day, or that your work was good, but not the best. So keep writing until you are the best, and don’t let dread get the better of you. And frame that rejection letter. Wear it as a point of pride.

Adventures in Self Publishing: Author Interview

While I’ve been over here in the corner umming and ahhing to myself over the challenge of attempting to become a paid, published author, a friend of mine has thrown caution to the wind and dived in headfirst. Gregory Satterford – fellow re-enactor; ex pro wrestler; fitness instructor – can now add ‘published science fiction author’ to his list of extravagant professions.

I suspect the thought of self-publishing will have crossed the minds of most writers. Who wouldn’t be tempted by the prospect of publishing on your own terms, without the hassle of submitting to multiple agents and publishers; without the gradual erosion of self-esteem as you deal with an inevitable influx of rejections; without the pressure of a publishing house bearing down on you with contracts and deadlines and obligations to fill.

On the flip side, it sounds like all of the above is replaced by the hassle of having to produce your book by yourself. All the proofreading, editing, and formatting is down to you, unless you want to pay extra to outsource those services. Then you’ve got to handle the distribution and marketing of your book, and that’s no task for the faint of heart. I’ve always been curious as to whether the effort required, and the money, to an extent, is worth the end result. What is involved in the process? What do you get for your money? I took the opportunity to grill my newly appointed author friend on his experiences starting out in the indie industry. Here’s what we talked about:

 

1. Obvious question first. Why did you choose to self-publish?

G. Satterford, author of The Normydia Crisis
G. Satterford, author of The Normydia Crisis

“No-one else would have me? Seriously though, I made some forays into various publishers but on discovering the benefits of a publisher were actually not great I decided I would try to go for myself. As far as I can tell I would be paying all the same charges, cover art, advertising, etc. and losing much of my income for the strength of a publisher’s name. In the balance I would rather be able to work my own time-frames and work with my own dreams without interference. In time I may come to regret this, but with the growth of self-publishing I’m hoping to the contrary.”

 

 

2. How did you decide which publishing tools to use?

“I chose Amazon Kindle Unlimited because I have been a satisfied user of Amazon Kindle for many years now and they have the most convenient way of publishing work to the widest audience, as far as I can see. Kindle publishing seems tailor made for the independent publisher as the editing is fairly simple for the computer savvy and there would be fewer charges to worry about, such as printing and delivery, so I decided to go the electronic route for my first foray into publishing. I had not planned to publish in paperback until I had released another few books and was more established and confident, but due to demand I located CreateSpace through Amazon as well and found them a helpful company for reformatting and cover work. It turned out paperback was also well catered for, the most difficult part being the page editing to fit their requirements and create a professional appearance.”

3. What can you tell us about your experience with Amazon Kindle Unlimited and CreateSpace?

“Publishing through Kindle has been remarkably stress free, they have an excellent review system to check the formatting and help topics covering most subjects with a responsive help team. It is excellent that I can adjust the manuscript at any time and it will filter through to the purchased copies and the deadline feature for publication really helped to motivate. Kindle Unlimited is a good feature for new authors as people do not need to buy the book and it is interesting to see how it is developing, but they do not allow usage of other ebook vendors such as Google. This is restrictive so people will need to decide which way they would rather go, but I felt I would experiment with them for a while as it seems a good option for a new name like myself in publishing.

Createspace is fairly easy to sign on to and use, and the staff are very helpful. The only issues I found were trying to adjust and match the formats from Word with their book layouts, requiring a few proofs before we got it right, but that is all just part of the learning experience. Cover art proved very different when printed in particular, with gloss and matte options and other similar things making it a bit more complicated. Once you get the hang of their system it’s a lot simpler, it just takes some patience.”

4. What costs were involved in the process?

“Aside from the writing software I also needed to spend money on my cover art (being an appalling artist myself), editing, proof-reading, and advertising mainly. The art was done through 99designs where I auctioned the image idea and discovered many fascinating interpretations from various artists, then selected the one I liked best. Then there are potential costs for editors and proof-readers but I was able to minimise these by enlisting the help of friends and family. I would recommend a professional if you have the funding available as no matter how devoted family and friends may be some errors will get through, whereas someone under contract has his payment hanging on his accuracy, which is an excellent motivator for scrutiny. Advertising is proving the easiest cost to run away with as there are so many methods of varying effectiveness around the web. The actual publishing is free to use through Amazon and CreateSpace: the companies take a percentage of your book sales only.”

5. Part of the appeal of traditional publishing is that the publisher handles a lot of the legwork, especially where it comes to distributing and marketing a book. Self-published authors seem to have to take on a lot of extra labour – how have you dealt with that workload?

“I’ve actually found publishers I checked do not help with advertising beyond a page on the website and some advice on book signings, etc. Most indie authors I’ve spoken to have the same legwork as traditional ones. I’d say the hardest to work on was editing my own work and making it good for publishing, requiring a strict timetable to hit my deadline.”

6. How do you support yourself while writing? I’m guessing the new book might not be drawing in $$$ straight away.

“At the moment I’ve only been published for a few months so I’m still putting the sales aside to pay fees. I am continuing to work as a fitness instructor for the majority of my income while writing when I can.”

7. Do you think the cost and overall effort has been worth it?

“Yes. No matter what the result I’ve enjoyed writing my work tremendously; creating a large universe of lore beyond anything I expected to do when I started. I’ve got a 5 star review that pleases me more than I can explain and I hope that it is received favourably in the future so I can continue to explore the galaxy with my readers.”

8. And finally, in 50 words, tell us what your book is about~

“It is based in a dark future where genetic engineering has created three castes of humankind: pure Lowborn, the enhanced Highborn, and the mysterious Bloodborn. Book One introduces this galaxy and prepares the four characters for a rebellion in a vassal world amid an alien invasion and great social upheaval.”

Normydia Crisis cover

If you want to find out more about Greg’s work you can follow him on social media, or check his website for some free short stories related to the Normydia series.

P.S. Are you an author in either traditional or indie publishing? I’d be interested in hearing how your legwork compares to Greg’s – is it true that big publishers don’t necessarily offer much support? How crucial is that big name to drive sales?