Writing a novel is the easy part: After you write ‘The End’ the hard work really begins #writing #amwriting #editing #books

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In three recent posts I’ve written about where I get the ideas for the characters and plots in my novels, HERE, how I come up with and (to a certain extent) invent and adapt settings, HERE, and topics that I’ve had to research, HERE

If I get all that right I can then – she says modestly – come up with a pretty good 80 thousand word story. Job done.

Except it’s not. Oh no, writing that first draft is the easy part. And when I write ‘THE END’ it’s really only the end of the beginning – or the beginning of the end perhaps??

Whatever! There’s a lot that still needs to be done to get the story ready for readers.

Check and take note

First off, I have to go back to the beginning and read over the whole manuscript. And, all the time I’m reading, I’m also checking. I’m checking for errors – errors such as factual mistakes, inconsistencies in the plot, poor wording, sloppy phrasing, irrelevancies, boring bits, punctuation missing or wrongly applied, grammar crimes … and that’s not a comprehensive list.

Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite

Then, based on my notes from the above read through, I redraft and rewrite the manuscript. I’ll do this as many times as it takes for me to be satisfied that all is now well.

Off to the Editor

Once I’m sure it’s perfect, I send my story to my editor, confident he’ll find absolutely nothing wrong. I never learn! Of course he finds plenty. He’s an amazingly clever and astute alchemist of prose and much as I’d love to disagree with his constructive suggestions and recommendations as to what needs to be changed, I find myself going, ‘you know what, he’s right.’

Rewrite some more

So, after the editorial feedback is received, it’s time to rewrite some more and make even more changes to what is now draft number 526 (okay, slight exaggeration there).

But even after that I’m still not done. Oh no.

An irresistible backcover blurb

While all the editing is going on, I have to come up with the back cover blurb which will make the book irresistible to prospective readers who pick it off the shelf in their local bookshop, or who’re browsing that big online site that sells stuff. And, as if that wasn’t hard enough, I also have to produce a six (or so) word strapline for the front cover. This must be just as convincing as the back cover text that my novel is an unputdownable must-read. Writing both these reader-capture items is SO hard. I’d rather write another whole novel than condense my current one down to a paragraph – or worse still half a dozen words.

A beguiling cover

And while I’m agonising over the cover words, I’m also in discussion with the cover designer trying to come up with an awesome, attention-grabbing cover image. For someone as artistically challenged as I am this isn’t easy. But luckily as with my editor, I’m also very fortunate to have a fantastically talented and easy to work with designer.

After all the final edits are applied and the cover text and cover images are nailed and agreed upon, you’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

Proofread and check again

While I’m agonising over and finalising the cover, my proof-reader, aka the husband, is reading the ‘final’ manuscript to check for any errors not spotted by me or the editor, such as a missing apostrophe, a misspelling or anything that seems unclear or just plain wrong. And you know what, he’s incredibly good at his job and will always spot something that has previously gone undetected.

All set up

Then, at last, the now pristine manuscript is ready to be formatted for both print and e-book versions of the novel. And, you guessed it, after that’s done it has to be checked over yet again – just in case anything has gone awry during the conversion process.

Okay, you still with me? If so, well done. If not, waken up at the back there!

Early readers

Yes, I’m almost there now. All that remains, after all of the above is complete, is to ask, beg, plead with members of my early-reading team to read at least part, if not all of my soon-to-be-published masterpiece and to let me know what they think, or better still to write a review, or maybe even a cover quote.

And publish!

Then, finally, publication date can be confirmed.

And, at last, I really can write THE END.

All that remains after this point is the launch and marketing plan. But that’s a post for another day. In fact I’m going to be spending most of March preparing for the publication of Fulfilment –  doing the final edits and checks and making that launch and marketing plan – and so I’ll be taking a short break from the blog.

Back soon.

Invest in your Writing – Part Two: Let’s get Critical

Critical Eyes are a Critical Investment

Image via clipart
Image via clipart

Welcome to part two of this three part series of posts on investing time, money and effort in your writing.

Last time we looked at getting on course i.e. getting started on taking your writing seriously. This time we look at the next step.

So you’ve written a novel, or a memoir, or a collection of short stories. Maybe you’ve written a set of essays, or an instruction manual, or perhaps you now have enough poems to make a book. Now what?

Routes to Publication

Most likely you’d like to share your work with some readers beyond your circle of family, friends and the cat and so you need to get published. So how does that work? Well you can approach literary agents and if you’re lucky get taken on by one. You could even approach publishers directly and with even  more luck and a following wind be snapped up by one of them. And of course to increase your ‘luck’ in being offered a contract or publishing deal, you will have done careful research on which agents and publishers to approach, i.e. ones who actually represent/publish writers of your particular genre. You will also have investigated the nature of such contracts and will know what’s a fair offer and what you can and should negotiate on.

I did the above. I was encouraged by the fact that my first novel got to the ‘second-reading’ stage in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Getting that far in that scheme is usually taken to mean the manuscript is publishable and leads to an introduction to at least one agent. But I had no success, I’m afraid. Bad luck or poor writing? Not for me to say. None of the agents or publishers I approached ignored me. All offered encouragement and constructive advice. None felt they could sell my work. My novels don’t fit neatly into any one genre, but spill over across several, plus the main characters in both are women who are no longer ‘chicks’–– and older women just ain’t cool––apparently.

But that wasn’t the end of my ‘getting published’ dream. We are indeed (as writers) fortunate to live in interesting times. Recent years have seen the rise of the independent author-publisher. Now, put all notions of the old concept of vanity publishing out of your head. Things have moved on considerably from the scenario where a desperate-to-be-read writer would spend a lot of money on poorly produced volumes of their work, only to end up pulping them, having stored them in the garage unloved and unsold for months or maybe even years. No, it’s all different nowadays.

The rise of the indie author or author-publisher (pick your favoured term) has coincided with the rise of the digital or e-book. As e-books popularity increased, book distributors such as Amazon saw an opportunity; an opportunity that would bring them sales, sure, but would also allow anyone with a written piece of work to publish it.  Kindle desktop publishing (KDP) was born. All an author had to do was have their manuscript in a suitable format for uploading, get a cover from KDP’s cover creator facility and press upload.  Other companies such as Ingram and Smashwords and the makers of the Kobo and Nook e-readers also got on board. The uptake of this opportunity by authors was considerable and this led to Amazon and Ingram, amongst others, offering the facility to produce paperback as well.

I went down the author-publisher route, set up my own imprint and have published two novels with a third one (this time for children) due out early in 2015. I  joined the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) set up by the indomitable Orna Ross and this means I have access to lots of very useful advice and protection, as well as a network of authors and publishing industry experts whose knowledge I can draw on. I’ve become au fait with marketing, especially on social media and have made a reasonable number of sales but I’m nowhere near making a profit – yet.

Why no profit? Ah, well, that’s where we come back to the investment thing at the heart of this series of posts. Yes, it’s time to get critical.

Polish before you Publish

So, if, having read the above, you’re enthused to publish your book, please just stop a minute. Don’t rush into it and don’t publish your first draft. Don’t publish your fiftieth draft. I can assure you it won’t be good enough. Whether you want to pursue the traditional agent/publisher route, or whether you decide to go indie, you owe it to yourself and your manuscript to get dispassionate, critical eyes to assess and critique your work. Get networking and find an editor, a cover designer, a proofreader and a book designer. At the very least get an editor. If you join ALLi as an associate member (£44.00) i.e. unpublished writer, you will be able to tap into a rich database of tried, tested and approved book professionals who will knock your manuscript into shape.

If you take this advice and perfect and polish your book, you have more chance of getting an agent or publisher’s approval, but more than that you have a publication-ready manuscript regardless of whether Penguin (other publishers are available) think you’re next big thing.

If you do self-publish, you’ll have a book worthy of your readers hard-earned money and investment of time. The last thing you want is your reader throwing your book  (or their e-reader) across the room in frustration at your poor spelling, several typos, plot inconsistencies and nonsensical sentences.  And furthermore, it’s not unheard of for traditional publishing houses to pick up a successful indie author having been impressed by a good product that’s building a satisfied readership.

But more than any of that, it should be a matter of pride and of belief in your writing to produce and publish the best version of that writing. And, especially if you choose the indie route, the quality is down to you. The author-publisher is gaining respect. Booksellers and book fairs are beginning to be just as approving of the independently published as they are of those who are traditionally published. Again ALLi has been at the forefront of this move with their Open up To Indies campaign.

However, it’s down to us as writers whatever route we take to publication, but especially if we go the indie route, to ensure that our book is edited and proof read, that the cover is not some generic, distributor generated one, but is worthy of being the first judgement readers make of our work, and that the interior layout is easy on and pleasing to the eye.

So develop a professional attitude, invest in your ‘business’ and GO GET CRITICAL!

And if you still need convincing, and even if you’re not wanting to be published, consider this, seeking and accepting constructive criticism won’t just make your book a better read, it will make you a better writer.

Some useful contacts:

These are the talented people whose services I’ve used to make my books the best they can be, clck on their names to go to their websites for more information:

Editor: John Hudspith

Book and cover designer: Jane Dixon Smith

Proofreader: Perry Iles email – chamberproof@yahoo.co.uk

And you’ll find the Alliance here