When is your WIP ready for publishing?

I am Writing

Let’s admit it, you could change your work in progress (WIP) endlessly. Sentences can be rewritten in a bunch of different ways. You can spend days choosing the perfect word to describe one moment. Paragraphs and scenes can be reordered, added, deleted, and amped up on crack.

So how do you know when your book is ready to publish either traditionally or independently? You look at your WIP and you know it is the best you can make it. There is no little voice in your head saying, “You know you should look at your dialog and spruce it up a bit,” or saying “You should rethink X, Y, and Z.”

There are always changes that can be made, there are in the best works, but the little voice in your head, your inner editor, does go quiet with satisfaction eventually. If an editor has reviewed your book and your inner editor is quiet, it’s time to publish and stop fiddling and tweaking.

I have going over my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream, again. I am focusing on POV and targeting sense words (smell, taste, hear, saw, touched). I am also watching sentences that begin with “I.” Fighting for a Chance to Dream is written in first person present tense, so I am careful to vary the sentences, so they don’t all start with I did this or I did that, which gets very annoying and boring.

When editing, it’s important to pick one or two things to focus on as you go through the manuscript. If you don’t, the task becomes overwhelming. After completing a first draft, the first round of editing focuses on major structure and story development. I read the manuscript start to finish (I print it out because it’s easier to keep notes) and make notes in the margins about those two things.

The second round of edits focuses on each scene making sure there is a goal, conflict, and disaster and in the sequels making sure there is a reaction, dilemma, and a decision.

The third round of edits focuses on Motivation Reaction Units making sure at all levels (scene, paragraph, and sentence) I have set the MRU up like a row of dominos.

The fourth round looks at character arc and development of the main and minor characters. Characters need to change and grow throughout the story not just at the climax. Changes and realizations need to be initiated by something with enough weight to actually make the change in a person. A change to a person’s beliefs and values is a process not an instant reaction.

The fifth round focuses on POV and senses making sure that I’m showing where I should be and summarizing/telling when I should be.

Once I’ve finished all of these, I send it out to beta readers asking if there are any holes in the story or major questions that go unanswered. I ask them to mark parts that are boring or confusing. I usually take the manuscript to an office supply story and have it spiral bound, so my reader can go through it like a book.

I make more changes based off what my beta readers suggest. I try to take an objective stance when I get feedback from others about my writing although it can be r hard to hear. Sometimes it is best to just listen, keep notes, and allow yourself a day or two to mull it over. I have found that their suggestions are worth listening to and much of the time taking even if it means killing parts of the manuscript that I love. I just save them in a separate file that way my darlings are never dead.

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Tri-Writing

A triathlon is composed of three parts: the swim, the bike, and the run. As a triathlete, you have to train in all three of these areas to prepare for the goal, a specific race. Most people have their strong areas and their weaker ones.

Writing can be broken down into three parts as well: the first draft, the editing, and the publishing. As a writer, you have to learn about each of these areas to prepare your novel. A novel is similar to a specific race. It is the goal of all your prior work and training.

The swim is like the first draft. Most of what you do stays below the surface, your body rotation, kicking, and most of your arm stroke. In writing, most of the work a writer puts into the first draft remains unseen by others. In fact, you probably want your first draft to remain unseen by others. Research, backstory, character profiles, it all remains below the surface of the novel. In swimming, technique is essential. Understanding structure is critical in completing a first draft. It’s your road map to the finish.

The bike is like editing and revising process. The bike is the longest portion of the triathlon. Revising and editing take a long time. You have to let your manuscript rest for at least a few weeks before editing and sometimes for months.  Riding a bike for hours can cause various body parts to become numb and editing can cause mind numbing. Riding the bike and editing are both a pain in the butt. The only way to get through either, the bike section or editing, well is to spend a lot of time in the saddle.

The run is like the publishing process. In a triathlon, you make or break it on the run. It’s the final stretch before the finish line. You can’t give up and just relax, you have to continue to push forward even though you are tired and your mind is screaming to stop. Once you get to the publishing stage of writing, you want to just hand your manuscript over to others to finish it: formatting, cover design, and distribution. But you can’t you have to remain invested and oversee these aspects too and push through by promoting your novel.

For both of these life-changing events, you must be constantly training, learning, and improving. It takes months and sometimes years to reach your goal whether it is a specific race like the Ironman or seeing your novel in print. Dream big. Fight for your dreams. Never give up.

Text to Speech

AI

A useful strategy for editing your manuscript is to read it out loud. By doing so, you focus on each word more and can catch mistakes in your writing whether it is a missing comma, a misspelled word, or an auto-correct that is not correct.

Another tool that writers can use is text to voice programs. NaturalReader is a program that will read your manuscript back to you. They have a free version with a male and female voice, and they have a paid version where you get two more, higher quality voices and a few more options for $69.50 U.S. One option I am interested in is turning the book into an MP3 audio file giving me the ability to listen to my manuscript as I do other audiobooks. Granted the electronic voice is a little weird, but if you can get over that issue, having your manuscript read to you is a great way to find extra sneaking mistakes. NatrualReader has multiple languages options such as German, French, and Spanish.

I’ve looked at the IVONA text to speech program too. It’s an Amazon product. IVONA has a thirty-day free trial of their program. You can buy different packages of voices. It’s $59.00 U.S. for one voice and the ability to convert into an MP3. You can get three voices for $119.00 U.S.

yWriter is a free writing program that you can download. It helps with structuring your novel and keeps track of location, time passage, characters, and any other object you put into the program. You can input as little or as much information as you want into the program. It also has the ability to read the scenes to you (you have to be in the Scene page).

Another way of having your manuscript read to you is by changing it to a PDF document and emailing it to your kindle and having your kindle read it, which makes it more portable than a laptop.

Having another voice read my manuscript adds another layer of objectivity, at least for me. Separating myself from my memoir has been difficult. I’ve waited four month before going back to edit it, and I still find it hard at particular points to step back and experience the book as a reader.

Has anyone else tried any of these programs and have a favorite?

 

Structuring Your Novel: part two

Structuring-Your-Novel

The Scene is the basic building block of a story. A Scene has two parts: the action part and the reaction part.

The action half of a scene consists of a goal, conflict, and disaster.

The goal of a scene is usually a small piece of the overall plot goal or it can be a major piece of the plot goal. The goal of a scene must make sense in the overall plot of the story. It cannot be something random just to add something interesting to your story. It must move the plot forward. The goal of the scene has the PoV character (generally the protagonist) trying to obtain or avoid something physical, emotional, or mental. The goal must directly affect the PoV character, if it doesn’t you may what to switch to a character who has a higher stake in the scene. The goal should also lead to a new scene.

The conflict within a scene must flow from the goal. It should be about something that matters to the PoV and threaten the PoV’s ability to achieve the goal. It must be logical or your reader will not be able to remain in the story. Not every scene has to be a major battle. It can be something small that gets in the way of what the character wants.

The disaster should answer the question driven by the goal of the scene and prompt a new goal for the next scene. It needs to be flow logically from the goal and conflict. The disaster needs to raise the stakes, but not be melodramatic.

For example if your protagonist has a goal to obtain information from another character. The question is will he get the information. The conflict could be a million things but for this example, it is that the character with the information is intoxicated and doesn’t make any sense. The disaster is the protagonist never getting the information he needed because the character dies in a car accident on the way home.

The reaction half of a scene consists of reaction, dilemma, and decision. The reaction half can be very short, just a couple sentences, or it can be much longer. At times, it is interlaced within the action.

The reaction needs to correlate to the proceeding disaster. The reaction must make sense in the context of the story and be true to the PoV character’s personality. Reactions are important because they create the bond between the character and the reader. Don’t skimp on the reaction half of scenes.

The dilemma of the reaction portion is where the character reviews what happened, analyzes it, and plans his/her next step. The disaster of the action part of the scene influences the dilemma of the reaction portion. Be as clear and specific as called for in the story.

The Decision must be an organic result from the dilemma. It also needs to lead to a strong goal for the next scene and advance the plot. As will every piece of the scene it must be an important logical step in the plot of the story.

All the scenes of a story should line up like dominos. Each triggering the next in the line.

Overal Structure of a Novel

Structuring-Your-Novel

As some of you know, I internet and book stalk K.M. Weiland. I just finished reading her book, Structuring Your Novel Essential keys to writing an outstanding story. It’s an excellent resource for beginning and more experienced writers. Her informal witty conversational tone make the book easy to read and understand. She uses examples from her own fiction to demonstrate ideas throughout the book. Here is part one of what I learned. I’ll cover Scenes and Motivation Reaction Units in Part two and three, so stay tuned in.

K.M. Weiland is a proponent of the three-act structure for novels. From the opening sentence, you must hook your reader with action and a specific character. Within Act one, you have the inciting event and the Key event.  The reader should ask the major story question, which will be answered in the climax. Smaller questions will keep the action and suspense going along the way.

The inciting event is the thing that sets the story in motion. Sometimes this occurs before the story begins, but frequently it will be in the first couple of chapters. The Key event draws your protagonist in to the story. Act one concludes with the first major plot point. This point should draw your protagonist into the plot and slam the door behind him. There is no going back or changing course.  Typically, the setting and/or surrounding characters change from this point out.

Act two is the bulk of your novel and contains pinch point one, plot point two (midpoint), and pinch point two. Pinch points are times in the story, between the plot points, where the antagonist flexes his muscles and reminds the antagonist of his strength and determination lest the protagonist forget what is at stake in the story. The second plot point(midpoint) is a game changer in the story. The protagonist goes from reaction to situations to taking action toward his goal.

The first half of the novel the protagonist is climbing the mountain dodging whatever the antagonist throws down at him. The summit is the second plot point. The second half is the protagonist chasing the antagonist down the other side. Mind you, the antagonist is still a huge threat and lays landmines and other nastiness along the path.  The antagonist is not running out of fear of the protagonist, but because recklessness is fun.

The second act ends with the third plot point. This is usually a low point for the protagonist. A reminder of the challenge he took on at plot point one. Like plot point one, this is a doorway that must slam shut once the protagonist steps through. Things change here, probably not for the better and the protagonist must rise to the occasion enough to keep moving toward the climax.

The pace of the novel increases in act three. All of your subplots and twist should be funneling into the climax. You probably want to wrap some of them up on the way. The climax occurs about three quarters of the way through act three. The climax should resolve the major question proposed at the beginning of the story.

The resolution follows the climax. The resolution doesn’t have to be long, but the reader needs to know that the lives of the characters they have grown to love go on in one form or another. This is important even if you are writing a series.

 

WTF is an Author Platform?

book-platform-graphic

A few years ago, I was asking this  question. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been focusing more on building my platform and a little less on writing my manuscript.

Writers write, but if they don’t have a platform they don’t publish or sell the book that they have spent so much blood, sweat, and tears getting on paper. Because of my other commitments (single parent, day job, ultrarunning), it took me two years to get my first manuscript written and ready to be send to a professional editor. During those two years, I didn’t understand what a platform was or how to go about building one.

The importance of a platform didn’t really sink in until six months ago. Then I made some excuses about how I didn’t have time to write and build a platform. Now, I am trying to achieve the balance of building a platform and writing. At this point, my time is about 50/50 on these two tasks because I’m behind. Once you have your platform built you can ease back on it and let it grow of its own accord. Initially, it does take a lot of time because you are just getting it going. If you put the work in upfront then it will take off and you don’t have to put forth the same effort if you do not want to.

What is a platform? A platform is an audience, followers, fans, or readers. People, other than your parents, who want to read what you have written. People buy books because they are recommended by friends, reviewers, or some other form of media. Occasionally, people do pick up a random book in the bookstore or from Amazon read the back and buy it.

Readers have to know that you exist or they cannot buy your book no matter how amazing and life altering it will be for them. You can self-publish the book and wait for people to find it, decide to buy your book, read it, and then decide if they want to tell others about it or write a review of your book. I don’t recommend going this route. You will likely end up in some dark depression staring at computer screen displaying your book on amazon with zero reviews and zero sales (okay two sales your mom and dad).

There are superstars out there, who have been able to get huge sales despite no one knowing who they are, but I’m not relying on the idea that I’m a superstar and neither should you.

How do you build a platform?  Social media such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook are the best way to build a platform. Pick two or three primary social media sites that you enjoy interacting on and build your empire with them. It’s important to pick the ones you like to use. If you don’t enjoy it, your dedication will falter and you will stop updating them. It needs to be something you can dedicate some time to each day at least 30-60 minutes.

The numbers slowly go up as you find other people who are interested in the same things you are. You want to use social media to build relationships not to advertise. Connect with people. Readers buy books and remain loyal to an author they have a connection with. Your numbers are not going to grow to thousands overnight. It is going to take six months to a year to get some decent numbers going. So relax.

The best advice I have heard about how to use social media is to create connections to others and provide useful information. Its fine to post what you are doing every once in a while, but if you do this all the time, the only people who will follow you are your friends and family.

In my opinion, having a blog is the absolute best way to build a platform. People get to know you on a deeper level when you blog (connection). Choose your topic wisely, because it has to be one that you can maintain over a long time. We are talking years here. It needs to be broad enough that you don’t feel restricted and contained. Choose something you are passionate about.  It doesn’t matter what it is, other people are passionate or interested in the same thing.

The topic is likely to change a little from when you first start blogging and that is fine.  Your style and topic will develop and grow as you realize what your readers like to read. Consistency is also important. You need to post on your blog at least once a week, but daily can be a bit much for busy people. Personally, I find multiple posts during the day overwhelming and sometimes I will unfollow the blogger.

You won’t have many followers/readers for your blog during the first few months, but numbers grow exponentially. You have to hang in there for the long haul. A great way to get other people to follow your blog is to follow and comment on other blogs on related topics. This again goes back to making a connection and being useful.

You don’t have to be famous or have a book published to start building your platform. You need to start building it sooner rather than later.

Even writers planning to publish traditionally, should build a platform. Most agents and publishers will google your name when you send in your query letter. If they don’t find anything, they are probably not going to agree to take on your book no matter how awesome and life changing it is.

Other ways to build your platform include: podcasts and youtube videos.

Wandering in the Labyrinth of the Internet

I am Writing

This morning I began listening to Chasing the Bard by Philippa Ballantine, AKA Pip Ballantine, (free on iTunes as a podcast) which is a fantasy novel. I had no idea that you could find such quality writing for on iTunes. The second book in the series is also free and called Digital Magic. I found out about these while listening to The Creative Penn podcast by author JoAnna Penn.

The Creative Penn is full of loads of information on self-publishing, writing, marketing, traditional publishing, and everything you could want to know about becoming an author. It is a wonderful resource. JoAnna has four years of podcasts on her website free for anyone who wants to take a listen. Some of the information from 2010 is a little outdated because the self-publishing market has changed quite a lot over the last four years.

JoAnna interviews various authors and entrepreneurs. I have found them very helpful in navigating the very intimidating world of becoming an author. She also provides a lot of inspiration and hope for me as well. She began her writing career with a non-fiction book and initially wrote while holding down her day job. I started the same way beginning with my memoir Fighting for a Chance to Dream, which has been vacationing in my closet waiting for another edit and me to save the money for a professional editor and book designer (for a cover, maps, and internal formatting).

When I first began writing my memoir, I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, but having learned more about self-publishing I know that it the best path for me and my books. I falsely believed that going the traditional route would save me time, which is a huge commodity in my life, because  I would not have to do the marketing, but the more I delved into the well of information the more I learned that this is just not true. Most agents and publishing houses will not even consider looking at your work if you haven’t spent a year or more marketing it and yourself before publishing. I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, but I didn’t make it through law school and as an ultrarunner with two children in tow believing I was the exception to the rule.

There is so much information about self-publishing and becoming an author on the internet and the various social media sites that it is frankly overwhelming. I’ve tried to put some sort of boundary on where I am getting my information only to maintain my own sanity and sense of control.

Here is a list of the sites I have been relying on for information:

TheCreativePenn.com (Author JoAnna Penn)

  • Marketing, platform, self-publishing (all aspects), traditional publishing, and craft is sprinkled in here and there.

Helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com (Author K.M. Weiland)

  • Craft of writing.

Terribleminds.com

  • Flash Fiction Fridays, information about the state of the publishing world and other authors.

From these sites, I explore the sites of authors and others involved in the business of writing. Check them out if you haven’t already. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.