LESSONS FROM THE TRADITIONAL-PUBLISHING MODEL PART TWO: The Genre’s the Thing!

We talked last time about the first lesson from Traditional Publishing—focusing on the product, the book!  Now we continue with the second—knowing your genre.

LESSONS FROM THE TRADITIONAL-PUBLISHING MODEL

The Genre’s the Thing!

Often new writers tell me a big reason they want to self-publish is so they don’t have to conform to publishers’ specs.  “I want to write my book the way I want to write it!” is a common sentiment.  Word count out the window.  Structure?  Who needs it!  “I don’t want to write formula,” comes into play.

And at least daily, I’ll hear something to the effect of: “My book is a YA novel with Christian themes but it’s not just for the Christian market so I don’t want to label it that.”

Well, if you want to sell it, you do.  Identifying the right genre isn’t just for those going the Traditional route.  It’s how readers buy books.  Although they probably aren’t aware of the underlying genre, they know what they like to read, and can identify it on the pages.

And it’s the exact place they walk to in the book store or library.

The genres, categories, and sub-categories are not really formulaic, except in the idea of what needs to happen, and what doesn’t.  Some are of course, but the vast majority of specs exist sort of like a clothesline on which you pin your shirts and pants, blouses and jackets to make up the storyline.

So why on earth should someone intending to self-publish care about Traditional Publishing’s specs?  That’s a huge reason you’re self-publishing, right? 

Big fat wrong.

It’s very true that Traditional Publishers can’t spot trends.  Just ask them!  The standard line is always: “I’ll know the next trend when I see it.”   Everyone in this business is always surprised (often shocked) at what takes off.  And then everybody wants that thing, with a different twist.  Who saw Urban Lit coming?  Or the resurgence of Vampires?  Or the Dystopian craze.  And don’t you wish you did?

But it is in hindsight that the Traditional model shines.  This really is a business of the tail wagging the dog.

But what those publishers excel at is in analyzing what made the tail wag in the first place.  In other words, they study the successes, and most importantly, who those readers are and what they expect from the books.  They know their customers.

How often have you heard: “Write for your audience”?  Again, that makes new writers quite squeamish.  “I write for myself,” is often the response.  Which, yeah, you have to.  But you’re also writing for someone to actually read your work, no?

Your audience exists.  If you know where to find it. 

People come to me all the time saying, “I have written a romance.”  Okay—what category and sub-category?   There’s a reason that Harlequin Desire is 50K words, while Harlequin Romantic Suspense is 75K.  And the reason is:

That’s what those readers want and expect.

A Desire reader doesn’t want the Suspense part.  Period.

For a more stark contrast, let’s mix genres.  There’s a reason that Cozy Mysteries are 70K words, with no graphic sex or violence.  But if you’re writing Urban Lit, you better have both!  Because, again, that’s what those readers are looking for in a book.

It’s not just word count, but what happens, and how it happens.  Even the prose is different in a Mystery vs. a Thriller.

Often I see manuscripts that do cross genres, which in the Traditional world is the kiss of death. 

None of the agents I know will touch those, because of course, they can’t sell them.  Writers get so frustrated by this.  They’ve just doubled their audience, no?  No.

By crossing genres, you’ve just lost both audiences.

Readers want what they want.  Give it to them!  They’re waiting for the next great book (in the genre they read, of course).

I often talk to readers, from people I know to strangers in airports.  I’ll ask what they like to read, and they usually respond, “Oh, I read widely.”  But when I press as to which authors they most read, those authors all line up in one specific genre (even though readers are unaware of the appellations J

Yes, you absolutely can throw all these specs to the wind, but go outside the lines at your own peril. 

Recreating the wheel in publishing is akin to climbing Mt. Everest when your goal was actually to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Man, don’t you hate when you do the former when the latter would have been so much more successful?

Go to the major publishing sites and peruse their categories and sub-categories and the specs for all, and discern where your book fits best.  Revising a bit to fit those specs is not at all difficult, and the results are powerful—you can target an audience that already exists, and is ready, willing, and wanting to buy the kind of books your write!

Now, go be that successful author you’ve always dreamed of being!

LESSONS FROM THE TRADITIONAL-PUBLISHING MODEL Part One: THE BOOK, THE BOOK, THE BOOK!

Traditional publishing has been in the toilet this millennium.  Big news flash, right?

What are new writers missing

The Book, The Book, The Book!

As publishing houses scaled back, imprints closed, editors were fired, the door opened wide for self-publishing.

Now, however, traditional publishers are growing lists again.  Nothing stays the same for long in this business . . .

One way or another, however, traditional publishers have been at this a very long time, and have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

So what can we learn from big publishers’ successes and failures?  A lot.  Let’s dive in and talk about these issues, in order to gain their knowledge.

To begin, what’s the main point where new writers are failing these days?  No, it’s not the marketing.  It’s not the cover art.

What are new writers missing all over the place?  Putting the product, the book, first.

This really does seem like a no-brainer.  I mean, we’re writers, right?  It’s what we do—we write, we hone our craft, we study, we get critiqued, we write some more.  At least, that’s the way it used to be!

One of the issues new writers (and many seasoned ones as well, although they handle it differently) have with the Traditional folks is that this takes f o r e v e r.

Yep, it does.  At every single stage of the process, writers get to hurry-up-and-wait.  Hurry up and produce exactly what that agent, editor, etc., requests, and then sit on their hands for months and wait on responses.  It can drive a sane woman batty.

I’m in the process of getting one of my great Western writers agented, and of course, even though I know the agent very well, and have highly recommended the writer, it’ll take said agent two months to get to it.  Hey!  That’s actually quick!

But once she does get to it, my writer will get a full read.

Back to our point, though. What this enormous time lag did was to give writers all this glorious waiting time to actually focus on the book.  On writing. To learn the craft.

While they banged their heads against publishing’s seemingly impenetrable wall, they wrote.  Joined critique groups.  Got bashed there.  Went back and dove in again to make the story better.  Worked with an editor.  Wrote some more.

All of this took years.  But now, with the advent of instant publishing, you don’t have to go through all of that.  Presto!  Your book can be published without having to do all that incessant waiting.  You’re an author!

But not a very good one.  The waves and waves of schlock being “published” these days boggles the mind.  Oh my, is so much of this stuff just terrible.  Cringe-worthy awful.

And here’s the dirty little secret Traditional publishers know: You can put megabucks behind a new release’s marketing.  Hire PR agents.  Get the best cover in the world.  And maybe sell a lot of books because of all that.  But if the book’s bad, readers won’t buy the second one. 

In other words, you’ve totally lost the audience you worked so hard with marketing money to create.

You’re the same way, right?  You buy a highly touted book and by page five, it’s so awful you toss it into the trash, never to read that author again.  And I mean, ever.  No matter if said author ends up on the morning television shows touting her next one.

What sticks with you is the awfulness of what your hard-earned money was wasted on.

But then, the converse is also true, no?  You read something wonderful, and seek out that author’s backlist, while waiting eagerly for the next one.  I did that very thing with Pat Conroy not long ago.  For whatever reason, I picked up The Prince of Tides for the fourth time (one of my all-time favs, obviously).  Then I got on a Conroy jag, reading the ones I hadn’t read, while waiting eagerly for The Death of Santini.  Conroy could have written the yellow pages and I’d love it.

Oh, how I already miss him.

Of course, Pat Conroy came of writing age during the time when the only choice was to hone one’s craft . . .

Learn from him!  Dive in, learn your craft, hone it and hone it and hone it.  Have a great editor sign off on it before the presses run.  Ah, now you have a budding career as a book author!

These Are The 5 Most Important Resolutions For Writers

We think of resolutions as occurring with the new year, but when it comes to creative endeavors, commitment, and often re-commitment, resolutions arise year ‘round.

Typewriter with gold buttons in a row, assembling PUBLISH word

5 Most-Important Writers’ Resolutions

I love getting emails from writers who say, “I’ve dusted off my old novel (memoir, how-to, etc.), and am back to it.”

The love of the written word, and how we all connect with it, always warms my heart.

But like dieting resolutions, scaling back a hair will help you successfully meet your goals. So, let’s put our writing resolutions on a diet, so that we can bolster the power behind making our dreams come true, and focus on the crux of the issue.

Here are 5 ways:

Number One: Slow Down.

Everyone wants to be published yesterday. That in itself isn’t a bad thing—it’s one of those goals that keep you slogging through the slough of despond, as John Bunyan would say.

But I can promise you this is one of those instances where the tortoise beats the hare.

The number-1 thing I see that trips writers up is rushing.

I always cringe when someone comes back to me with revisions quickly—because I know before even looking that everything will have to be redone! Hurrying will leave cracks in the walls of your story’s structure someone will drive a Mack truck through. And it’s a true creativity killer.

Number Two: Take a Publishing-News Fast.

Let’s face it—the news from publishing is mostly depressing. Major imprints closing down. Editors losing jobs all over the place. The latest news of print sales rising is, of course, compared to a steep fall in previous years.

Some of us have no choice but to follow the business end of things, but you don’t—you can take a nice long fast from this and let your creativity soar.

Whenever I’m writing, I let publishing go take a long hike—in the opposite direction from the path I walk.

Number Three: Let your Creativity Soar!

Write, write, write, and write. Don’t self-edit as you go, just tag along behind your characters and see where they take you. Follow every thread, no matter how whimsical it seems. In fact, the more fantastical in the creative phase, the better!

 Run with it. Laugh, play, dance with the drama. You will go into book editing and revision way on down the line (so you never have to worry that you’ll be embarrassed later about some bone-head move now). For now, be free!

Number Four: Damn the Naysayers.

And those are legion! Let their lists of all the ways you can’t make it in publishing roll off your shoulders. Easier said than done? Nah. Just let them ramble on and as they’re doing so, say (silently), whether to your own demons or those of your mother-in-law: “You’re probably right. But at this minute, I’m immersed in novel development; I have a scene, chapter, story to write. I’ll get with you later.”

Number Five: Remember that Writing Well is a Journey.

This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Again, our point isn’t to be published next week. Our point is to write beautiful stories with characters who leap off the page, and with whom we all want to tag along for their journeys.

All we’re looking for is progress, growth, the ability to see that what you’ve written today was better than yesterday, or last week, or last year . . . And I can absolutely guarantee that if you write, if you read and study your craft, and write again, you will get better.

And one day, maybe even in 2016, you will look up and realize: I am a writer!

Does Life Get In The Way When Working On Your Novel?

My writers often bemoan the fact that real life gets in the way of their creative endeavors. And this is true for us all.

Nice Large scale Original abstract Oil Painting On Canvas

We are besieged at times by the good, the bad, and the ugly of this incarnation; by joys and sorrows, births and deaths; by the mundane of paying the light bill and getting the kids to school.

By all of those things that can put the kibosh on our creativity and seem to drain our writing souls to the very core.

During these times, while the artist’s fields lie fallow, creativity may feel barren, indeed.

But in reality, it is not actually even dormant. 

For far under the surface of the muck and mire, that creative light still glows, however faintly.  Dimly perhaps, but the flicker of that flame never falters.

What I know for True is that within the deep unconscious, no matter the outer storms, the seeds of creativity ever flourish, forever finding fertile soil, awaiting a touch of life-giving water here, the shard of sunlight there, in order to spring up once again anew.

Especially in the penning of fiction, it is imperative that we have these times of creative quiescence, times of artistic rest (whether chosen or forced upon us), which make us yearn for the fertility of creation.

It is from these very times that the germ of a story takes root. That characters are created, plotlines burst into being.

I so often counsel my writers to let their subconscious minds do the work for them—to give themselves the space and time for that to happen. For it is from the depths that our works become rich with understanding, compassion, and love.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells in the myth “La Calavera,” we have candles for each section of our lives—careers, family, love, creativity, health, etc.—at all times.  And that on any given day (or month, or year) one candle burns brightly while another flickers dim, finally to fade and be done.  It is just the cycle of life.

The resisting of one candle’s flame dying out merely stops our progress, although oh, how we try to con the gods into keeping them all burning at once!

We, like the young doctor in the story, try desperately to turn reality on its head and keep everything going as we want it to, and damn the consequences.

But the result of pushing all that water uphill is exhaustion, and the true death of the creative nature.   

So our job, as writers, is to allow life’s flow to take us down the stream; to fjord the rapids, to steer around boulders, to not force when the winds grow still.  In short, to trust the process of creativity and, of life.

Or, as a dear friend keeps telling me, to learn to float.

At some point, some time, either tomorrow or next year, the story will be there, waiting for your gaze; for the touch of your fingers to keyboard or pen; for your characters to jump again on-stage; for your artistry to sail downstream. 

My wish for you all is to ride the waters and understand that in time, all rivers truly do flow back to their creative source . . .

Editing Matters Even When Writing For The Spiritual Market

The last decade plus, we’ve seen a huge surge in spiritually based books. They’ve sold so well (both fiction and non) that most of the big houses have some sort of spiritual imprint, running the gamut from Christian Fiction to Buddhist texts to New-Age works a la Hay House, etc.

Editing Matters Even When Writing For The Spiritual Market
Of course, publishing follows cultural trends (rather than vice-versa), so this could change at any minute. But for now, these books are still selling well.
I’ve seen a host of such manuscripts. Many of these come from counselors of a wide variety; many are scholarly; some from writers on a spiritual path.
But the majority have things in common: either they beat you over the head with their “revelations” (which needs no discussion—we’ve all had this experience!) or they’re free-form, just shy of stream-of-consciousness.
And while such numinosity may indeed be the manner in which we receive the essence of spiritual inspiration, it still must be translated into book form in order to be publishable, and to be accessible to the market—readers.
As with all true gems of knowledge, inspiration, even Truth (and isn’t this why all writers write? To convey some bit, no matter how big or small, of something learned along the way), the success lies in the telling.
Now, I’m not here to proselytize for or against any religion, spiritual bent, or path, but rather as a writing coach to help writers fashion their works into true and viable books.
Often the lessons along the way seem quite difficult, and oddly, the “spiritual writer” seems to have the most conflict with accepting criticism and revision, as if to do so would mar the pristine nature of the work.
All writers have that fear to some extent. The spiritually based ones tend to take it to the extreme. After all, if the inspiration came from God, Spirit, The Universe, whatever you may call it in your belief system, the idea is “who am I to question?”
I may have missed something, but I never heard God say, “To edit is of Satan.” Although, of course, many writers would attest to that in general!
But in fact, the editing itself can be as creative a process as the initial inspiration. It’s all in how you go about it.
This mindset, although seemingly mundane, is the point of creating a work that readers can grasp and utilize.
Remember—you yourself are not your only audience. Yes, you are a vital one to please (that is a lot of why we write).
But if you want someone else to actually read it, you must bring the work into a recognizable form, and one which others can grasp.
As a book editor, I see a ton of such works that go all over the map. In other words, the organization is off. Many need a much narrower focus. The ideas, while they may indeed be unique, go from Texas to Nebraska and back without ever crossing the Red River. I.e., you can’t follow the path to save your danged life.

Without a sharp focus and tight organization, the reader is catapulted all over the pages, unable to find the thread of the theme around which everything about the book must be weaved.
Each chapter must build upon the previous, so that your reader’s understanding and knowledge begin to grow from within. And that holds true for fiction and nonfiction.

I edited a wonderful book by Gerald Morton, Never Alone in the Back, which is a collection of stories from an EMT about emergency calls he’s worked. It also weaves his personal spiritual path, and its evolution, through these stories, the inner mirroring the outer, if you will, just as in a beautiful novel.
It was tricky making this work, but Morton is a brilliant writer (he’s had both fiction and non published by Traditional houses), and he never misses a beat. Nowhere is the reader confused as to how these stories relate to each other and the broader theme.

When Randy Mitchell wrote Sons in the Clouds, he didn’t shy away from the work I gave him. We focused on novel development and the elements of great fiction. He plunged in, and revised and revised, producing a beautiful book that fires on all cylinders, and which just happens to have an underlying Godly theme. Is it spiritual fiction? Yes. But first and foremost, it’s a great read. And that novel was nominated for Global e-book award.

While I’m not in the habit of touting writing how-to books, a great resource exists for a more in-depth study of this. Spiritual Writing, by Deborah Levine Herman with Cynthia Black, discusses some of these points, as well as the marketing end of things—i.e., the various genres within the spiritual market, where yours might fit, and how to identify it.

The main point here, however, is that writing a spiritually based book is not terribly different from writing any great book—from a novel to a manual on child care. All of them need inspiration at the core.
All require good writing. And all must have the elements that make up a good book—theme, focus, organization and structure, pacing, flow, vivid characters, showing/creating versus telling, substance, voice, etc.
You don’t get a cosmic get-out-of-editing-free coupon just because you claim God as the co-author (just ask Morton or Mitchell, referenced above :). Besides, I’ve never known the Divine to be a sloppy Creator or Editor.
We’re pretty much the ones who create the mess. And we have the God-given intelligence, combined with the resources available, to clean up that mess. The process is still about writing, editing, revising, rewriting—where, of course, as in everything, the devil is in the details.

Are You Struggling With The Writing Demon?

Writing is a convoluted and intensely psychological process. Even those who say it comes easy and/or don’t want to deal with all that mental ‘mumbo jumbo’ get caught in the same psychological traps as the rest of us.

Are You Struggling With The Writing Demon?

Anything that originates from the heart, the gut, the inner recesses of the human mind by its very nature cannot be easily contained or controlled.

Oh, we can learn to work with that finicky muse. Even tame her, in some cases (the Strength card in the Tarot comes to mind). But control from where inspiration begins? You may as well grab onto a fist full of water and try to hold it.

For example, when writing a book (fiction or non), this is how the process usually goes (if you’re lucky in the first place): You get an inspiration (which means, literally, to be filled with the spirit—the breath—of the gods, the muses, your dead aunt Clara, wherever you find it) and begin to write. The characters or the theme of the setting grow so vivid in your mind that you canNOT not begin.

Words flow from your fingertips onto the computer screen. And they’re good. You can feel it, sense it, your heart is pouring onto the pages. The meanings emerge clearly through plot points and the chapters begin to file into line like clothespins.

You are brilliant. You were meant to do this. All those people who scoffed when you told them (IF you even ‘fessed up) can now eat your dust. Life is good!

And then, ever so slightly you begin to slow down.

At first it happens so subtly that you don’t notice. And then a week has gone by and the chapter isn’t written, when before you were churning one out every few days. You feel stuck in the deep mud of time. Is everything you have written been in actuality, terrible? Or (if you’re not of the beating-yourself-up ilk) can you just not really find the time to return to it (even though your schedule hasn’t changed any if at all)? If you could just get another scene done . . . maybe then you can get back on track.

Some folks don’t go into this slow decline; some hit a brick wall and reel from the smack in the face.

But usually, it happens inch by inch until you’re so bogged down, the way forward so obscure, that bewildered writers want to sit in the road and cry (or on the couch watching soap operas. Horrors!).

You have reached a swinging, precarious bridge on your journey, and as with any good myths (down which the writing path will surely send you), you must successfully navigate this element or stay forever on the ‘wannabe’ side of the river.

In essence, this is quite probably the most difficult crossing on the whole mythical map.

Because if you give up here—and I don’t mean quit writing; most folks simply quit THAT book and begin another—a demon will follow you on down the road. Which demon that is will depend upon your own psychology (whether it’s the one labeled ‘Not Worthy,’ or ‘Afraid of Success,’ or countless other hairy beasts), but rest assured, you have just given power to a slimy creature that while you don’t believe is actually inside you, in reality is grazing on your creative intestines as we speak.

It is vital at this point that you push through.

No matter how horrible you think the work you’re doing is, write.

I mean, how bad can it really be? If your writing was so wonderful in the beginning, what turned you into a hack in the middle? I ask those questions just to turn your thinking around a bit, because they’re really beside the point anyway. Right then, you are in no shape to evaluate your own words. The twin devils of “You’re Brilliant” and “You’re Awful” will talk to you throughout this process. Your only job at that juncture is to say, “Yes, I hear you. And we’ll talk later. Because right now, I have a paragraph, scene, chapter, etc., to write.”

Push through. Make the conscious decision (and yes, it takes a fair amount of courage to stare into that abyss, which is what this crossing comprises) that you’re going to continue, even if you’ve lost your way.

What’s the worst that could happen? You change or ax perhaps whole chapters in revision. Big deal. We do that anyway. As with any monster you keep in the dark, once you face this one, it turns into a silly rat and scooches away.

I’ve chunked entire sections of books. What can I say? I got off track. But by persevering, I finally found the right road again, and in revisions could go back and delete (yep, ax completely) the sections where I’d lost my way. And in the end, I found the pot of gold—right where it was supposed to be, if not where I left it!

“Oh, no!” you say. “I would lose so much work!”

Yep. But revision is truly the name of this game. And you learn by writing and writing more and writing again. As good friend and Western author Glenn Bavosett used to say before he died, “Nothing is ever wasted.”

Because once you do push through that god-awful slough of despond (my apologies to the Bard), the oddest thing happens: Your inspiration reappears, never really having left, and now merely rising from all the muck. You’ll be slogging along, and almost imperceptibly the mud becomes less dense. All of a sudden you’re churning out chapters again toward the finale. It begins to go so fast that before you take a breath, you’re typing, “The End.”

And wondering how by the luck of the leprechauns you got there!

As An Author How Do You Know What To Do With Criticism?

“This is a very subjective business . . .”

big green troll in the impassable forest

Taking Criticism

Are you just about sick of hearing that? How many rejections, critiques, or pieces of group criticism begin or end with that remark? And while perhaps meant to temper the above, we all know it’s a plot (sort of as we use in the South, “Bless her heart,” after trashing the bejeebus out of some character quirk).

Any creative endeavor, however, and especially writing, where you’re often relegated to one person’s opinion at a time, is very subjective.

So, how do you know when to take the criticism, and when to reject it? Because what you do with the words from the book editor, literary agent, contest judge, or critique group most assuredly predicts your success.

Whether beginner or seasoned pro, we all need outside eyes. Many of my writers, upon receiving rejections ask, “Is it the market, or is it my book?” The answer to that is of vital importance to your writing career, so let’s sift through, separating the wheat from the chaff.

Especially when first starting out, the critique from a writer’s group can seem very harsh. Sometimes the criticism may indeed be self-serving, being more about the person giving it than the work itself. But often, the folks who have been around the block a time or two want to help new writers along the path. The trick is to keep in mind the personalities involved, then weigh the validity of the comments.

And listen to it all.

Yes, you may dig through a ton of BS before finding a jewel, but that very gem may be the thing that pushes you over some creative hump. In the beginning, all of the skills and tools involved in book writing may seem overwhelming, but by listening to such critique, these skills become more accessible.

As you progress down the writing path, critique serves as a sounding board, letting your know that indeed, you are on track. Or not, and need to go back to the drawing board.

The same holds true for a judge’s evaluation through a contest or conference. Usually the evaluator is a seasoned pro (a novel editor, etc.), and can identify strengths and weaknesses in a flash. I will say that I’ve judged a lot of conference contests, and some of the evaluators don’t give a piece five minutes. But most do.

And before your ego reacts, try to stay objective to the subjective point of view, and look at the criticism from arm’s length.

Does the person have a point? Is the writing flat? Are the characters thin? If you were reading your work from the standpoint of outside eyes, would you feel the same?

That brings us to the submissions to literary agents and editors. Everyone has probably gotten the form rejection, the “Not for me” standard line. The next step may be closer, but say, “I didn’t fall in love with x, y, z.” Followed of course with “This is a subjective business and another agent . . .”

Even after you’ve become agented, you’ll get that ‘no’ from publishing-house editors. And taken one step further, once you’re published, some awful book review editor may slam you. The nerve! Again, these run the gamut, but hopefully they’ll respond more in-depth (just one reason why having a good agent is important).

As you sift through, does a pattern surface?

Are many saying they loved x but were put off by y? Perhaps loved the prose, the voice, but the problems lay in the basic book development? If so, you’re getting there. Those problems are fixable, and doing so may be your ticket to success. If not, you may be facing something as simple (yet difficult) of not yet targeting the right house or agent with your work.

Again, listen to it all. I can’t say that enough. Much more worrisome than keeping your ego intact is to miss something that may be key to your book or story selling.

 In today’s insanely tough market, a work has to be more than perfect to sell; it has to shine above all the rest in order to make an editor fall in love. Remember, the editor who does so still has to convince both the editorial board and the sales’ reps of the book’s brilliance. Never has traditional publishing been more difficult. Never has it meant more as per prestige.

Which brings us to the crux.

Creativity really is subjective, and in those murky waters lives the only true demon—the ego troll.

Nothing is closer to our core than the stories we write. We’re not selling bread dough here; we’re selling work from our very souls. This leaves us so vulnerable that the ego naturally jumps up to provide at least some protection, and in doing so can undermine the very essence of what we’re doing. Getting that troll out of the way so that you can be objective can be the true beast. But you must do it.

I’ve worked with just about every kind of book author. And I’ve seen very talented writers fail because they believed their work was so pristine, so perfect, it needed no editing or revision. I’ve seen semi-talented (and you have to have some talent, but the rest is about skills and those can be learned) writers succeed because they were willing to set aside their egos, dig back in, learn from the critique and their mistakes, and write better.

The best way to deal with the ego troll is to look it in the face.

Is your writing perfect? No. If honest, we all must answer that way. Can it improve? Of course. Does x agent or y editor or z critique group know anything? Hopefully. If not, why did you submit, join, etc.? It all comes back to you in the end. And even if you decide he/she/they were idiots (which surely they were! :), as the old cliché goes (don’t let my writers know I’m using one!), even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.

Put your ego on the shelf for an hour and look at your work as if it belonged to someone else. The validity of any critique (or lack thereof) will shine through. And some always exists, even in the most pedantic response.

Your job is to find the subjective pearls, through your objective mind, and put those into practice.

Sooner or later, that obnoxious phrase with which we began this will not come.

And that agent, editor, judge will simply say, “Yes.”

Creativity And Editing And Working With A Developmental Editor

Most writers (especially new ones) have a fear connected to working with an editor, especially a developmental editor.  It’s not so frightening to think of someone copy editing your manuscript, as what can a few commas hurt?

Workspace Workplace Working Wooden Table Art Concept

Creativity and Editing

But the idea of someone actually delving into the essence, well, it makes a lot of folks squeamish.  Kinda like how having a few stitches put in is one thing, but having open-heart surgery, quite a different one indeed.

The thought is: What if he fundamentally changes my work?  My voice?  My people.

That’s not, however, what a good editor is supposed to do, and not at all what a great one actually does.

One of the most important aspects of working with a great book developmental editor is an intangible one.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor. We strive, sweating blood and tears and losing pounds of proverbial flesh in the process, wondering whether the work is good or awful, great or terrible; should we chunk the whole thing and start over. And while authors need outside eyes regarding the nuts and bolts, the elements of plot and characterization and style, these simply provide the framework for the editing and revision. Great insight comes from seeing not only what works, but also what doesn’t, and quite importantly, why on both. Most vital here is guidance on how to fix the problems.

But all of that said, perhaps the most helpful of all aspects that a good editor provides is an emotional one.

And I don’t mean this in a hand-holding sort of way, although absolutely that must be part of the scenario. We all need encouragement; an outside voice that comes in and says, “Truly, you can do this.” All writers need to know that someone, somewhere, sees the potential of their characters, their story. That’s one of the things that gives you an often much-needed shot in the arm to continue slogging on.

Self-editing can be exhausting

Usually by the time a writer sends me his work, he has exhausted his skill set, or is stuck, or just plain sick of it all, and doesn’t know how to make the book better. The idea of one more revision or even polish, much less attention to book development, makes him consider taking up baccarat instead. “I just can’t look at this one more time,” is a common refrain. And often the thought of another revision once I’m done proves a sticking point to even sending it to me. “You do it,” I hear a lot!

But the oddest thing happens when I send a package home to a writer, including the detailed edit of his book along with an in-depth, comprehensive, and very specific critique. I cannot explain why this happens, but it universally does. And it always makes me smile.

Working with an editor revives an author

I’ll invariably get a call from a very different person from the hesitant one who originally contacted me. Although the first reaction is usually a sense of being overwhelmed, that quickly passes. Excitement fills her voice, the tempo growing more and more upbeat. “I see what you’re saying! And I could use this suggestion, or what if I did this instead? Would that work?” Glee tinges her voice.

When you work with a true novel editor—one who attends to all aspects and elements of great writing—for whatever reason, creativity gets cracked smooth back open. Inspiration floods the airwaves, and the keyboard. Characters take off in entirely different directions, deepening, expanding, broadening both themselves and the story they’re now impacting. And the writer who was stuck or sick of it all has just flown over the moon.

Writers are so very appreciative of this numinous turn of events. It’s a joy to see. They thank me profusely, but I benefit almost as much. Few things are more gratifying than to hear that excitement in the voice, that quickening of the pulse, and to know—because it always happens—that a new and better writer has been born. And with that, the beginnings of a great book as well.

Structure And The Novel: How To Keep From Drifting

When new writers dive into fiction, mostly they just put words to page.

Structure And The Novel: How To Keep From Drifting

Which is great!  It’s the way you have to start.  In order to find one’s unique voice, a writer must write and write and write.  There is no other way.

But what results is often a big blob of sprawling pages, where the storyline drifts here and there and yon; where many scenes and even entire plot threads dangle out in space, having no relation to the actual plot.  What you have is basically an amoeba.

And ah, that’s perfect!  I hear your surprise.  But from there you can take all that you’ve learned of your characters and storyline, and begin to fashion this plethora of words and multitude of pages into a real novel.

So often writers tell me, “I don’t want to hear about structure; it’ll hamper my creativity!” 

And while at the outset I don’t dispute this, once you’ve reached the end of your first draft, if you don’t take a hard look at structure that amoeba will stay just that—a single-celled organism, which folks find kinda slimy.

Your job, as a true novelist, is to take that big fat blob and carve away at it to find the true meat and bones of the book—the plot, the story, the main theme and major premise, as well as how the characters serve that and vice versa.  As Michelangelo said, David was always in the marble; he just had to sculpt away to find him.

It’s the same with your book–the jewel is there; your job is to scrape away all of the superfluous layers of verbiage to find it. 

Structure is, most simply put, the arc of the storyline.  (Of course, we often confuse simple with easy.  Don’t make that mistake here!)  But this is how great novels are created, and all of them follow a pattern of rising and falling, ebbing and flowing. The trick is to know when to rise, when to crest, and when to begin the last push to the finish line.

And that’s part of the skill set about writing great fiction that can be learned.  

Without an in-depth understanding of this, folks write novels that take fifty to a hundred pages to get into (which I see all the time), those with sagging middles (I’ve given workshops on this, and agents and editors complain to me most about it as well), those which coast to the finish, or end with a bang only the writer goes on for another fifty pages.

I’ve given half-day workshops on the structure of novels, and writers are always surprised, overwhelmed, dismayed, and by the end of the session, ecstatic—a light bulb has flipped on!

When you understand structure, it takes so much of that grasping-in-the-dark feeling away.

It brings a confidence to the writer, as he knows where and when and how the story needs to build to crescendo, and where the rest stops are along the way; where the character needs trials and tribulations, and when he needs love; who are the allies and villains, and what needs to be learned in order for the grail to be reached.

Yes, a lot happening in this story with these people who were simply once talking in your head!

A great resource for this is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.  One word of caution here—it really helps if you’ve written a lot before immersing yourself in Vogler’s book. It confuses very new writers; again, you need to write and write and write and . . . (I think I already said this!) before delving deeply into this topic.

But once you’re ready, study it.  Contact me for any questions about this–it’s one of the things I specialize in.   Read Vogler’s book.  Take a workshop or class on it.  However you dive in, dive in!  Your books will thank you for it.  Your creative mind will jump for joy.

And ultimately, your readers, while not having much clue as to what novel structure actually is but can point to books that “lose them,” will tout you as a great author.   

Your point exactly!

Where New Writers Fail And How To Not Be Like Them

Publishing’s brave new world dawned a decade ago.  And wow, the changes we’ve seen.

Where New Writers Fail And How To Not Be Like Them http://www.maloneeditorial.com/where-new-writers-fail/

Once upon a time, in the ancient days of yore, getting a book published was what amounted to a lifetime undertaking.

Those days of course are over.  With POD and now e-books, anyone can get a book published in what amounts to, well, overnight.

And I know you’ve seen it too: Enter what also amounts to an incredible sea of god-awful books.  Because while it’s true the elite club was almost impenetrable before, the converse of today is that now writers put words to paper and publish it.  Often in first draft.

I know—not everyone does that.  As was once the norm, many writers still delve deeply to learn the craft; to write and write and write some more; to join workshops and take classes and go to conferences and seek skilled editorial help (which in those once-upon-a-time days was provided by publishers).

In essence, to hone their skills and become better and better writers before their manuscripts ever become published books.  The flip side of that is to read and read and read as well.  I am always amazed at the number of writers who tell me they don’t read.  Boggles the mind!

But haven’t you noticed that most of the writerly discussions and forums now talk about physical product and marketing? Which of course are both vital.

I recently gave the opening speech, and a breakout session on Fashioning Fabulous Characters at the Netwo Conference.  And by far—most of the sessions were about marketing.

But marketing is secondary.  Yes, when self-publishing, you have to have a nicely printed product, with a great cover, in order to start selling your book.  And the marketing is absolutely everything in the end—whether you are self-published or traditionally so.  You have to do your own marketing even if published by the big NY boys.  So yes, yes, both these things are necessary.

Only here’s what’s happening with that ocean of books: Once you get past the shiny covers and into the text, folks quit reading.

While most readers cannot tell you why a character is flat, they can tell you that the character is flat.  And they stop reading.

Most readers can’t say why the plot didn’t hold together, but they can say they couldn’t quite follow it.  And while great prose isn’t something the average reader can dissect, she can tell you that the book was so enjoyable.  Now, if this reader is your sister or best friend, she’s probably just going to say, “I loved it!”  (Otherwise you need better friends and relatives:)

But here’s the kicker: Though you may sell a lot of copies of the first book, and therefore think it was good, those readers if not truly entertained won’t buy the second.  And your career as an author has just tanked.  Only the iceberg you hit was you.

In today’s market of billions of books, you have to stand out, above the crowd.

And you do that with quality.

Many of my writers self-publish, and do bang-up jobs getting the book to be perfect before spending all those dollars on covers and marketing. They’re building audiences and becoming more and more successful.  Mary B. Morrison came to me after she’d self-published Soul Mates Dissipate, and knew she wanted to go to the next level. She did. She got a six-figure deal from Kensington and is now a NY Times Bestselling author.

Naleighna Kai did the same.  Her Every Woman Needs a Wife sold through at Zane’s Strebor Imprint at Simon & Schuster.

I could go on. We’re selling a lot of books here these days—and many to the big NY houses.  Randy Denmon’s Lords of an Empty Land won a 2016 Spur Award.

So yep, you have to spend the bucks on the backend.  But unless you spend the time, effort, and dollars on the front end perfecting your craft, even in today’s new world of publishing, you might as well toss that money into the slot machine in Vegas.

What do you do to make sure your book is fabulous?