Monday, March 23, 2015

Make Your Novel Sellable in 7 Steps

by +Denise Drespling

Edit Novel

You've just finished a book. Yay! You want the world to see it. The question is, once you’re done writing, what’s next?

To me, this is not even a question. What comes next is editing and rewriting and more editing and rewriting. (And to me, editing and rewriting are really the same thing.) I was rather shocked, I must say, to find that this is not the obvious next step for everyone. I’ve had a few folks ask me what my plans were for my new novel, now that it’s complete. One of the comments I received after describing my editing plans was, “Oh, good. I’m glad you’re going to edit it.”

My reaction was something like, uh... duh?

Maybe you’re new to the writing thing. I don’t know. Maybe you’ve just never read a book on writing before (Seriously?! Go read, like, ALL OF THEM!). Maybe you just don’t think editing is important or necessary. Here is a stunning a revelation for you if you’re one of the oh-I-have-to-edit-this-thing camp:

Editing is the most important (and probably the most time consuming) step of writing.

Editing is where the magic happens! Whether you wrote your first draft in 30 days or 30 months, it’s just that. A FIRST draft. Once you’ve typed “The End,” it’s only the beginning. Because now, you get to take your jumble of words and punctuation and make them into something great.

And please. Don't even consider sending out your book to an agent or putting it up on a self-publishing outlet until you've done at least these steps. No one wants to read a book that hasn't been properly edited.

It took me an embarrassing amount of time into my writing career to get a good editing process in place. My original method was to just keep rereading my piece until it seemed good enough. Well, that process is not good enough. I have seen the error of my ways, and I have learned.

I’m hoping to save you this same misery. There are lots of different ways to edit, of course. This is what I do. I once heard author Claire Keegan say (and this was confirmed by author Carlo Gebler) that it might take as many as 30 drafts to get it right. 30! Take the time. Do it right. There is no reason to rush (Unless you’re under deadline. Then maybe rush a little.)

Here are the steps in a very simplified list. I’ll go into detail on each step in future posts.

  1. Initial Read Through
    Look for things like major plot holes, loose ends, and along the way maybe do some simple editing like fixing typos and missing words, or brushing up a sentence that just isn’t working. The idea is to get a picture of the book as a whole to see what needs to be moved, deleted, added, slowed down, or sped up. This is also a good time to notice inconsistencies in point of view and character voice.
  2. Seek and Destroy Problem Words
    I have a list of these. I use the search feature in Word and try to eradicate as many as possible. This list includes: just, really, very, that, thing, got, even, so, in order to, start to, words ending in ing, and the "to be" verbs—was, is, am, are, been, being, were, be. Not all of these words can or should be eliminated, but I cut down as much as possible and put stronger words in their place.
  3. In-depth Word Analysis
    Judgmental is a dirty little word. No one wants to be it. It's time to leave that idea behind because you need to be as judgmental as possible when it comes to word choice. This is the step where I break it down paragraph by paragraph. I hunt out any weak verbs, ambiguous descriptions, and anything confusing or vague. I look for telling in place of showing, I watch for cliches, and I rephrase unneeded prepositions. I judge every single word carefully to determine if there is a better word or if the word is even needed at all. Obviously, this is the most time-consuming step, but this is also the most amazing step. When I discuss this in more detail later, I’ll show you an example of a scene I thought was finished, until I made it a billion times better using this step.
  4. Read it Out
    For some reason, reading your book aloud lets you hear it differently. You'll hear strangeness and falseness in your dialogue. You'll notice awkward phrases and sticky spots. Act out the scenes as much as possible to make sure they're realistic. Plus, it's good practice reading your work.
  5. Get Some Feedback
    Got some writer friends? If not, get some now. Join a group, network, sign up on a critiquing site. You need people who know what they’re doing, who will give you honest, quality feedback. They will catch things you missed. They will find holes and point out ways to make the story better. And hopefully, they’ll tell you that they liked some of it. When you get their notes back, consider each suggestion carefully, but remember it is only one person's opinion. Opinions differ.
  6. Let it Rest
    A good time for this to happen is while the book is out to beta readers. Put the book away and don’t look at it or think about it for 6-8 weeks. Hopefully, you have that much time. This allows you to forget the story and characters enough to get some distance from it and to see it clearer when you return to it.
  7. Repeat!
    After it’s been erased from your mind, go back and do another read through. If you can do it all in one sitting, awesome! At this point, you’ll determine what needs to happen next. If you’re lucky, you wrote it and edited it well enough that you can move onto publishing. Otherwise, do the process over and over as many times as it takes to make the book awesome!

I’m sure there are a lot of other great methods for editing out there, and I’d love to hear your process! I’ve used this method a few times now and seen awesome results, but I'm still refining the process. If you can afford a copy editor, go for it! Do everything you can to make the book as polished as possible.

Especially if you will be self-publishing.

There is no agent/editor/publisher to tell you what needs to change to make the book sell. If you’re on your own, you’ll have to work even harder to make sure it’s amazing. You’re putting your name on it, so make it count! You can’t really unpublish a book once it’s out there, and once a reader knows your books are full of typos and loose ends, chances are, they won’t bother with your next one.


Present a beautifully glistening work to an agent or the public and you just might be the one to stand out from the slush pile or from the millions of other self-published books.

Every edit is worth it. Don’t scrimp. Take your time and make it good!

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014). You can also find her work in these anthologies: The Dragon's Rocketship Presents: The Scribe's Journal and Winter Wishes.

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, her BookTube channel on YouTube, or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Let’s Go Camping…in April!

by MarcyKate Connolly

Yes, you read that right. Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!  I’m kind of a fan of November's NaNoWriMo, so I can’t pass up the opportunity to write with abandon in the spring too. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, which means I’m all over the chance to get more words on the page. Here’s why you might want to join me:

  1. Set your own word count goals. Have you balked at NaNoWriMo in the past because 50K seems like too big a hurdle? No worries here – at Camp NaNoWriMo, you can set your own word count goal for the month anywhere between 10K and 50K. Totally up to you!
  2. Challenge yourself to get those words on the page. You’ve been meaning to write all winter haven’t you? And maybe you haven’t written as much as you’d hoped. Maybe you’re only 10 or 20K away from finishing that draft. Here’s your chance to get in some serious wordage, and at your own pace.
  3. Cabins. You can team up with other campers in virtual cabins. Basically, it’s your own personal cheering section. Plus, you might make some new friends.
  4. Fabulous prizes! Well, more like discounts on cool stuff from the sponsors, including 50% off Scrivener (which is one of my favorite things, right up there with NaNoWriMo) if you meet your goal.
Have you done Camp NaNoWriMo before? Will you join me this year? Hope to see you around the virtual campfire! :)

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, is out now from HarperCollins Children's Books!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Perfect Writing: is it attainable?

by Cat Woods

As a writer, finding that perfect word is almost as exhilarating as winning the lottery. Actually, in a way, it is winning the lottery--in a literary sense. You see, we writers take our words very seriously. We want to tell the perfect story with the perfect characters living the perfect plot that ends with the perfect resolution. We expect nothing but the perfect sentences flowing into paragraphs of perfection.

However, I don't believe that perfect writing is attainable. More importantly, I don't think it is desirable.

As a speech coach, I judge a lot of high school tournaments. I watch hundreds of talented kids recite amazing pieces week in and week out for three months straight. I admire the skill they have in memorization, characterization, blocking and inflection. They use facial expressions and body language to depict the emotions and elicit sighs of sadness or peals of laughter from their audiences. The better they connect to their characters and the better they help us connect to them, the better the speechies do.

Alas, however, I have seen technically perfect pieces executed in an over-rehearsed fashion that lacks genuine voice, effectively erasing all the hard work they've done.

This--this striving for perfection--is actually the problem with chasing it. We can, and often do, sacrifice quality, spontaneity and authenticity when we hash and rehash our work, kneading it, massaging it, substituting words and punctuation with a tenacity that is nearly obsessive.

In short, we risk losing genuine voice in the quest for perfection.

So, do you feel perfection is desirable or attainable in writing? If so, how do you pull it off? How do you keep your writing fresh despite the grueling hours of edits and revisions? Conversely, in what ways does the quest for perfection inhibit your storytelling? What do you do about it?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods is a speech ninja five months out of the year. She helps junior high and varsity students hone their speaking skills--both on and off paper--a process that is eerily reminiscent of critiquing other writers. Feel free to critique her writing in Tales from the Bully Box, an anthology for middle grade writers from Elephant's Bookshelf Press. Or, check out her kid blogs at or

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writing Rituals (Dangers and Benefits)

By Charlee Vale

The question comes up everywhere for writers: in interviews, at events, one-on-one. It can take different and varying forms. 'Do you have something you need to have while writing?' 'What does your daily process look like?' 'Do you listen to music while you write?'

These questions, while they have slightly different answers, are trying to get to a root question: Do you have an writing rituals?

We're fascinated by rituals. We want to know what works for other so that maybe we'll pick up a spark of genius that might work for us. We want to wonder and marvel at the peculiarities and the simplicities of the way others work. Perhaps we want validation for our own set of unique rituals. There's an entire book dedicated to the rituals and practices of famous writers and artists. (It's actually very cool) You can find it here.

But what drives writing rituals, and do they help us or harm us? I don't have a definitive answer. I only have my own experience to draw from, in which the answer was: both.

During the Summer of 2013, I had a book that poured out of me like no book I had written before. I was writing anywhere from 2-5,000 words a day. For me, that's crazy.

Now, I tend towards the disorganized in my personal space. 'A place for everything' has never been, and never will be my motto. However, as I've gotten older I've noticed that I focused and am far more productive when I do a several things: Sit upright at a desk or table, have a clean work environment, and have noise canceling headphones on with my music. I also love tea to no end, so I would always make tea when I wrote.

I don't know if it was a conscious or subconscious thing, but those things quickly arranged themselves into a ritual. I would go to the kitchen and put on water for tea. Then I would go back to my writing space/room and make the bed. Then I would clean up anything that happened to be on the floor, and then the desk. When that was finished I would go and make the tea, and then sit down to write.

By itself that seems pretty harmless. However, it quickly became clear to me that I was associating my productivity and creativity with this ritual. I had to do it. If I didn't, how would I write? How would I be able to continue putting out this amazing level of words if I didn't keep doing things the way I had been doing them?

That right there is the danger of ritual. When we rely on an outside source to make sure we have our creativity, it becomes a problem. I stopped doing those things in that order, and spoiler alert, I'm just fine. So is my writing.

That's not to say that I didn't learn anything. I now know that the act of making tea helps me clear my mind after a difficult day. I know that having a clean workspace helps me, and that motivates me to keep it clean all the time instead of rushing to do it before my productive hours. Those things are a healthy boost to my creativity, though my creativity doesn't depend on them.

Let me know in the comments if you have any rituals, and what things you think really help you!

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, on Novel Thoughts, on Twitter, resisting the urge to make her bed obsessively. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

When You Don’t Know Your Audience

By Matt Sinclair

You can’t see me, but I’m shaking. No, it’s not due to the five or six inches of snow that were dumped on my suburban segment of New Jersey last week. (I haven’t looked forward so much to mowing my lawn since… last winter.) Nor is it because I tend to write these missives on the train. No, the problem is I’ve got homework that’s due tomorrow and I’m woefully unprepared.

Tomorrow, I’ll be the special guest at my six-year-old daughter’s kindergarten classroom, where I’ll be speaking about Ireland. She’s been after me since last fall to do this. And to be honest, I shouldn’t be so nervous. I went to school in Ireland for a semester back in college. I loved it. I should have loads of stories to tell them. But most of the time I was there, I was reading and writing and playing my guitar. Attending school too, of course, but as any college student knows, attending classes is not nearly as time-consuming as everything else involved at that time in one’s life. It’s the preparation that’ll kill you.

The problem for me is that I must boil down my travels (and as little as possible of the travails) for an audience of six-year-olds. As much as I love my kids, there’s a reason I’m not a children’s author. The characters I write tend to have insecurity issues, problems with relationships, and perhaps a wee problem with the drink, as they sometimes say in the auld sod. (Write what you used to know, right?)

Things I would not, could not tell a child. Not in a class, not in a car. Naught ‘bout the fun. Naught ‘bout the bar.

Simply put, this isn’t my audience. And while I have a sense of what this audience likes, it still makes me a little nervous.

To prepare myself, I asked my daughter what she wants to see and hear from her daddy in class. So I need to show Ireland’s flag. Check. Beyond that, she had no clue what she wanted. Still, she’s my target audience. So perhaps that means my audience doesn’t know what it wants either.

With writing, I look at such situations as an opportunity to simply tell the story I hoped to tell. In this particular situation, my goal is to not embarrass my daughter. Somewhere in the middle, lies the answer.

What does this have to do with a writing blog? I’m not 100 percent sure. But I think it’s about being honest about story while still respecting your reader. You can tell the story you need to tell. It will take some work and some preparation, but in the end, your audience will be happy if you’re honest. And always have a flag.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. EBP is currently looking for horror stories for an anthology that will be published in the fall. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.