My Writing Journey – Part Five

Previously on My Writing Journey Parts One through Four – I accidentally discover the plot for my first novel, suffer through the first week of Nanowrimo, discover  a devoted beta reader, and finish the draft of my first book. Instead of letting said draft sit for a month, I last a week before diving into revisions.

That probably says a lot about my personality. I was so excited, so eager to have that book in my greedy little hands, I simply couldn’t wait. After all, for winning Nano that year, I won two free paperback proofs from Createspace and one free hardcover through Lulu. I could get three free copies of my book, just like that!

Now, in addition to the physical goodies, I also had the opportunity to enter into a few contests – which I did – and I also received a few free resources on publishing and marketing. One fun reward was a complimentary manuscript review that broke down my writing style (sadly, said file is no longer available to download – how dare they not keep it available online indefinitely!) I just remember that I use a lot of dialogue in my writing, which is something Louisa May Alcott also did, and that I apparently write like Ray Bradbury and Stephanie Meyers. (Two incredibly different types of writers, I thought.)

While I waited for the results of the publishing contest to get tallied, I reread my book and looked up the basics on publishing. Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur- How to Publish a Book ended up being one of the most valuable resources I received from Nano – I didn’t read it cover to cover, but it had some great advice on how to avoid the ‘self-published’ look. For example, as a reader, have you ever noticed the running heads along the top of books? I sure didn’t, not consciously anyway. But as Guy pointed out, if they aren’t in place, many readers will notice that something looks off. They may not know exactly what it is, but something about the book will feel ‘unfinished’ or ‘unprofessional.’ Eep! Those running heads also have rules associated with them – the author’s name belongs on the left, and the name of the book or chapter title goes on the right. This book is also the one that taught me what belongs on your front matter page: something I’ve been complimented on multiple times!

Through yet more research, I also learned that the 50,000 word novel I wrote for Nano was actually more of a novella, or a short novel. According to publishing statistics, a proper fiction book generally had closer to 70,000 words.

This, of course, sent me into a panic. My book wasn’t long enough?! (This may or may not have been the leading cause of only taking a week before jumping back into my book. Oh, who am I kidding, this is exactly why I started working on the book again.)

I dived right into a whirlwind of reading and revision. I tweaked lines and entire sections to read better. I added several new scenes that fleshed out a few of the side characters (including my new favorite character who originally had no part in the book – he was a name of a friend – but who ended the book with a plot twist and cliffhanger of epic porportions.) I also added a fun little flirty scene to develop the romance between two characters. At the end of it all, I managed to push my book up to 75,000 words – right on target!

Even more exciting, during my revision process, I found out that one of my coworkers was an editor! An-honest-to-goodness, I-went-to-college-for-it editor. In fact, she was in her final year of her master’s degree, and she was willing to edit my book for almost nothing! Score!

Well, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong – she was an excellent editor. She critiqued the heck out of my book, and pointed out all sorts of educational aspects of how I handled different morals and themes. (That was fun to listen to, especially since half the time I hadn’t done any of it on purpose.)

No, my mistake was twofold. First of all – remember how I said that Nanowrimo said to let the book sit for a month? I really should have listened: it’s impossible to explain the perspective you’ll gain from walking away from the story for an extended length of time. I revised too quickly – the shiny sense of accomplishment and love of the story as it was hadn’t worn off yet. Hard to revise accurately if you’re still in love with the words already on the paper.

The second half of my mistake? Settling on the first editor I came across. While my coworker was an excellent copy editor, she didn’t have experience in fiction editing. Sure, I needed a copy editor, but I also needed a content editor – someone who not only spots when I use a comma incorrectly, but who also notices when I overuse certain sentence structures or points out when my characters blinked for the hundredth time. (After meeting my current editor and letting him at my manuscript, I feel an irresistible urge to poke myself in the eye every time I use the word ‘blink’. It’s my most overused form of body language.)

Of course, I didn’t realize any of this until over a year later.

Like I said, I was completely intoxicated with success. Not only had I written a book, but I had even started on the second in between edits! (To be fair, the epilogue of book one begged for an explanation – so the first six chapters or so of the sequel focused on telling key events from the first book from an alternate character’s point of view. Which made it incredibly easy to get started – I already knew what happened, I just had to reveal what was going on behind the scenes.)

By this time, January 2014 had arrived, along with the crushing disappointment that my book didn’t win the publishing contract contest. Oh, well – just because I didn’t win a contest didn’t mean my book wasn’t worth publishing. After all, Murph loved it! In fact, thanks to the copy of Scrivener that my in-laws got me for Christmas (with my Wrimo winner’s discount, of course) I figured out how to create simple eBook files to send to a few of my other guild-mates who also loved the story. (Note: I haven’t included the fact that my family all liked my book, because I believe there’s an unwritten clause somewhere that states they’re required to like whatever I decide to write. After all, they have to live with me afterward.)

So, I had a revised book and I had an editor. Time to start looking for publishers, right? Or at least an agent.

I spent a week looking at agents and reviewing how to write a query letter. After a few dead ends, I found one agent that accepted books in my genre. After carefully reviewing what she was looking for (and thereby finding my new all-time favorite author), I decided to take the plunge and sent her an email, following the exact specifications that she requested. (Namely, a single page letter and the first chapter of my manuscript.)

Now, I definitely sent that initial query letter with a healthy dose of realism. I knew I had a .00001% chance that the agent would get my email, read the first chapter, and then decide she simply had to represent me. Did I hope such a thing would happen? Of course I did. But I sent that letter fully expecting to get my first (of the legendary many) rejection letter – and I did.

However, while I waited for that inevitable rejection, I did a bit more research on traditional publishing. One of the resources I found (I can’t remember where or what it was called) stated that even if I found a traditional publisher right away, it could take over two years to actually see my book in print. In fact, the reality for a brand new no-name author to get their book published drifted closer to six years.

Yeah, right. Remember December and the week of restraint I managed? There was no way I was going to wait that long to hold my debut novel in my hot little hands.

There you have it folks. Fact number one: the reason I decided to go the self-publishing route – the only reason, I’m ashamed to admit – is because I’m impatient.

I started researching and formatting my book into a print-worthy file before I even heard back from the agent. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly broken-hearted when I got the rejection. (In a weird way, I got really excited about it. Look! My first ever rejection letter! And she was nice about it!)

“Wait,” you say. “You researched how to format your book? Don’t you just send a plain word document and let the printer do the work?”

Well, yes and no. You can pay the printer to format the book for you. Or you can send the unformatted version and have a hideous mess on your hands.

Let me share a couple more facts about the type of person I am, in addition to being impatient.

Fact number two: I can be incredibly stingy with money. Especially when it’s something I can do myself and save thousands of dollars.

Fact number three: My research skills and ability to follow instructions are superhuman, and I’m just OCD enough to need my book to look like, well. A book. From a technical standpoint anyway.

I can’t even guess how many hours I spent formatting that first book. I read through my copy of APE and scoured countless articles on Createspace. I started with a Createspace template, and I learned how to set margins and adjust trim size. I found out what smart quotes were and what fonts worked best for novels (I prefer palatino linotype). I wasted an entire day adjusting dialogue to eliminate widows and orphans (the solitary stray lines or words that float alone at the top of a page or bottom of a paragraph) before I learned there’s a button for that in Microsoft Word. Apparently, it’s called ‘widow and orphan control’ and it can be found under the paragraph tab. Just so you know.

(My husband laughed his head off when he showed that to me. I responded with a stream of language so foul, I refuse to repeat it here. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you’ve wasted hours due to sheer ignorance.)

Once I had the technical parts of my book finished, I scoured through my hoard of books to see how other authors handled their copyright pages, acknowledgements, and author bios. I picked bits and pieces I liked from everything I read – my disclaimer on my copyright page is a good example. I don’t think you have to have one – but by golly, I wasn’t going to let some dude named Sebastian try to sue me ten years from now for basing my fictional character on his life story. (Although, if one shows up looking exactly like my Sebastian and manages to shapeshift into a panther, I’ll consider giving him whatever he wants.)

Then came my least favorite part of writing a book.

The cover pitch.

Shudder.

Run away while you can, little authors. Here, there be nightmares.

Okay, so it’s not that bad. But really – no one in their right mind wants to take a 70,000 word novel and squish it down into less than 200 words.

No one.

To be continued in a new series – My Publication Journey – starting Dec. 1st!

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