The best thing I ever discovered about editing a novel

Assuming you survive the heart-wrenching, glorious process of writing a book, now you just need to destroy it.

Okay, perhaps I’m being a touch dramatic.

If you’ve gone through a developmental edit or you’re self-revising with a magenta marker, you know how hard it gets. Trying to look objectively at your lovely book feels like being forced to torture your loved ones with a rusty pitchfork.

Every change spawned additional changes, so I couldn’t get myself out of the maze. “But if this happens in chapter 2, then chapter 10 is all wrong and chapter 15 will break…” I was paralyzed by indecision and worry that I was ruining my book.

How I stopped losing my mind…

Make one change at a time. Make that change throughout the entire book. Resist the urge to fix everything at once.

When I changed my protagonist’s backstory, it meant she shouldn’t respond the same way in some situations. But the most important thing was to fix the actual backstory scenes first. Once that was done, then I could do a pass making sure her interactions with the killer were consistent. Then her interactions with the inspector, and so on.

How do you edit? Are you able to edit all the things at the same time as you move through the manuscript?

 

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Writing and sewing

My sister is an amazing sewer of vintage patterns. I was talking with her about how I’d just started the 4th draft of a short story. I had a great title, a great protagonist and a solid plot. So why was I on attempt #4?

Just like a sewing machine, it was the tension. If you’ve ever sewn, many times the problem is the tension–thread is too tight or too loose, so the fabric bunches up or gets stuck or the stitches won’t hold. 

With some digging, I realized what was wrong. The tension in my story was off because the murder took place in the heroine’s past, distancing the reader, and the victim wasn’t important enough to her. 

With some tinkering, I adjusted the plot and wrote it again–this time, the beta readers were delighted.

Here are some more great tips on upping and maintaining tension from Writer’s Digest: up the stakes, reduce backstory, more emotion.

Any other good tips to fix a story’s tension?

Rejection #3: Suffer in Happiness

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Today’s rejection feels a bit like this quote from Harry Potter. I was really excited about how responsive this agent has been. But she was awesome in rejection, at least. She gave me detailed feedback on major issues she saw with the manuscript.

One issue could be solved with some thorough editing of voice, but the other requires a potentially massive rewrite of the plot. I’ll certainly let the manuscript rest for a few weeks before starting.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing short stories. After the pacing of 75K word novels, a 4-7K short story seems to fly by! Hopefully it is good practice with plotting and characterization, a chance of publication and a quick-but-positive outcome.

What’s the tipping point for rewriting a novel?

A slow writing week

This week has been particularly slow on my plot study for NaNoWriMo 2016, I’ve only managed 6,500 words when I ought to have reached 20,000 per the schedule.

I did a bunch of novel related things like write a synopsis for my first book, research, editing and adding to my second book, but these only count morally.

I’ll keep writing, as even a fraction of the goal is better than giving up early. You know what they say about “slow and steady”… and who knows, perhaps I’ll magically catch up by the end of the month!

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Rejection #2: Moments of Concentration

Another kind set of words that the book is engaging but not right for them. Because I did a lot of research into the agents and editors, I know that they have chosen a lot of books like mine.

This is telling me I need to make the story more unique, my protagonist’s voice stronger. While I wait to hear back from all the agents and editors, I’m focusing on creating moments of concentration.

Haruki Murakami said: 

“The great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.

I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower.”

 

Rejection #1: Feedback is Gold

After just under 3 months, I’ve heard back from the first person out of 6 editors and agents I pitched. I’m deeply appreciative that they read the whole book and provided insight into why they’re passing on it.

They liked it, but didn’t think it was unique enough in a crowded market. I know my pitch worked enough to gain attention, but the manuscript didn’t follow through.

Getting feedback from an industry professional is like gold.

I hope that all my rejections come with something to help me learn.

Finished book #2 at last

 

In August, I sent book #1 of my 1920s mystery series to a few agents and editors. My fingers are crossed but I won’t hear back for at least another few months. And realistically, I’m likely to get a stack of polite rejections.

But who cares today?! Hurrah for finally finishing book #2! I’ve lost count of how many major and minor revisions I’ve done as I started it a few years ago.

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This 1920s photo is pretty much how I feel!

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But this sweet, crazy-eyed dog is probably how I look.

I hope everyone’s work is going well lately, any major milestones you’ve hit?

Converting a PDF to a Kindle compatible book (AMZ)

Having your book work on a Kindle is really nice for beta readers. It’s also handy for proofreading your own books, since it feels more like a finished book.

It took me some time to dig up old forum threads about how to convert a PDF into a MOBI or AMZ file. Most articles say to download Calibre or other software, but I hate downloading software. Others say to use a PDF file directly, but the formatting is rigid and never looks right on a Kindle.

The best way is surprisingly simple. You can email your Word file to Amazon and they’ll convert it for you in a matter of minutes.

Follow the steps at https://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/email

PS: I tried emailing a PDF file as they suggest, but I found the formatting always came out wonky, whereas Word files convert beautifully.

 

Pitching at a writer’s conference

Over the past few days I’ve been attending PNWA 2016 in Seattle. I’ve attended many technical conferences but never one for writing. It was a very rewarding experience, especially as I’d done a lot of prep ahead of time.

A writer’s conference lets you meet the local community, learn from others and pitch to agents and editors. I had business cards printed and I got more active on Twitter since so many book folks are there. I definitely met a lot of great writers and hope to stay in touch with them.

One thing I wanted to focus on was the pitch…

Preparing my pitch

I spent weeks scouring the internet for tips about writing a pitch, a query letter and a synopsis. I found help everywhere from Writer’s Digest to personal blogs. I got advice from a friend who was also attending.

I finally realized that the pitch should be more of a conversation – starting with why I was interested in the agent, a quick sentence about my book, then answer their questions.

Finding the right agents and editors to pitch

Mystery commonly gets lumped in with thriller and suspense. Mystery is a whodunnit (starts with the crime), thriller is how to stop them, and suspense often has elements of both. Cozy and historical mystery are their own sub-genre, and someone who represents might not like noir, for instance.

So I looked at the list of agents and editors who would be there. I really wanted to find great matches – people who were interested in cozy / historical mystery and whose companies had represented similar books.

Once I narrowed down to about 6 people, I researched their agencies, bought books they’d represented or edited and honed an individual pitch for each of them.

The result?

I’m excited to say that all of them expressed interest in seeing more!!

Now I need to re-read my query letter, get a fresh pair of eyes on it and send it out. This is just the beginning of a long road – even if I am lucky enough to land an agent in this round, it’s going to take a while to get published.