Monday, August 31, 2015

Gearing Up for a Month of Changes

I stopped counting hours for August, but I know I came in way over my goal of 30.

My goals for September:

1) 50 hours storybuilding work for Mender, the first book of the new series.

2) start the submission process for TOB.

The Pitch Wars mentor picks will be announced Sept. 2, but I am 99% sure I didn't make it. I never got any e-mails from my mentor picks asking for more material. Oh, well. Onward to querying!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Beta Experience

I'm doing my last pass (for now) through the MS, and I'm a little shocked at how quickly it's going. Much faster when you know exactly what you're trying to do.

Based on some beta feedback, I am considering radically truncating Act I. In the meantime, I've just focused on cutting as much dead weight as possible from chapters 3 and 4 to help pick up the pace and get to plot point 1 sooner. I weeded out about a thousand words, and am going to take another run at it tomorrow.

23.5 hours for August so far.

But really I want to talk about beta readers.

Before this summer, no one had read a completed story of mine since 1998. For one thing, novels take longer to complete and are more of a time investment for the reader. For another, I never got any novel draft to the point that I was willing to let people read it. And for a third, I was scared of feedback.

I've never been the sort of person who takes constructive criticism well. Not my favorite thing about myself, but true. And while I never had my stuff savaged in a writing workshop in college or grad school, I did learn how sucky it can feel to have other people point out problems in your work. Like you're proudly wearing a dress you sewed yourself, feeling absolutely awesome in it, and then someone gently points out that you forgot to sew a back onto the skirt, and your ass is hanging out. You're glad they told you, but you also kind of want to kill them.

I felt different this time, maybe because I knew I'd gotten the book as far as it could go without outside input. Or maybe because the process of finishing a novel humbled me. Or hell, maybe because I've actually grown a little in the last 17 years.

I've had five betas read TOB so far. And the first one to respond didn't like it, and didn't have too much to suggest about what could improve it. And I wasn't crushed at all-- just thought, "well, let's see what the others say."

The next four were all far more positive about the book and had many nice things to say. They also had many, many helpful things to say. I honestly didn't feel like I was being criticized; I felt like I was being helped by people who'd read the book, understood what I'd been trying to convey, and wanted me to make the book the best it could possibly be.

This was exhilarating, both because it was a relief to feel I had backup and the book a cheering section, and because it's still blowing my mind that five people have read my book. It makes the TOB feel so much more real somehow.

So I was surprised by how constructive and non-painful the feedback was. I was also struck by how right-on it was. There's guy on the internet (isn't there always?) who's fond of railing against the practice of beta readers, insisting that any editing undertaken as a response to beta feedback is ill-advised, because people are stupid and only editors who are paying you have legitimate opinions about your writing (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist).

Of course I think all feedback has to be taken with a grain of salt, measured against your vision of your own book. You don't want to run off and change things willy-nilly just because one reader didn't care for them.

On the other hand, people are not stupid. People are your reader. They are also other writers. People can tell you things that might be useful. For me, a majority of what betas pointed to as needing improvement resonated with me as something I knew deep down needed improvement. And a few things I was worried about were actually pointed to as positive things by most of the betas.

It's been interesting how different the feedback is, too. Such different styles, and I'm so glad, because they all caught different things. For example:

One is another writer, who made a lot of the same kinds of comments I make when I beta: I'm not buying this plot point. Your pacing is messed up here. Here's where I'm confused. That last is so helpful, because now I know what needs a little more clarification.

One is copy-editor, who line edited the hell of the thing. The other betas all noted many of my little errors, so I'd already fixed a bunch, but this lady caught eeevvvvvverything imaginable, from many, many unnecessary commas, to head-slapping things like "wait-- I thought it was his front leg that was missing?"

And one is a voracious reader and book reviewer, who wrote a what is basically a review. It was amazingly cool to get this perspective-- all about the feeling of reading it, of being connected to or disconnected from characters, about what story arcs are most compelling, and about the overall shape of the book and how it might become... shapelier.

Anyway, I'm writing a book here, but a huge heartfelt public thank you to ALL my beta readers, including the sixth one standing by to read my post-feedback edit. Thank you for the time, effort, and mental energy you expended just to help a chick you've never met make her book that much closer to awesome.

Now I'm all verklempt.

Saturday, August 15, 2015



Pitch Wars submissions opened early, so I went for it and submitted today. I spent a big chunk of yesterday in the library, making notes on the subtle changes I need to weave through the books, and then re-reading the MS and beginning to make those changes. I also wrote another version of my query-- at least #15.

I have to read through the rest of the MS for the edit, and need to finish a synopsis-- and I need to do this stuff quickly. But for right now, I am just taking a deep breath.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Where I'm At

I've got six more days until Pitch Wars.

I had a bunch of small things to fix or clarify based on beta reader feedback, and I've done most of that. I have a few more complicated things to address, but it's not vital that they be done by Sunday since all I need to submit by then is Chapter 1. I'll need all revisions done soon, though. Either I'll be accepted by a PW mentor and have to send my full MS, or I won't be chosen and will move on to cold querying.

I just finished the latest version of my query and posted it for feedback last night. So far it seems like this might be it. *insert muppet flail of joy* I need that for the PW submission, so phew.

In the process of writing this version of the query, I realized there's an aspect of Willa's motivation that I've not made explicit enough. Adding this will be complicated-- not in terms of needing to write lots of words, but in figuring out exactly where to weave a few words into the existing fabric of the story.

My synopsis is in a sorry state. I've got a very stripped-down one-page version nearly done. A synopsis isn't officially required for PW, but the rules warn that some mentors will ask you for one to help them make up their minds. So ideally I would have this done by Sunday.

Today is rainy and depressing, so I'm going to try to hit the library for a few hours, and then tomorrow my mother-in-law is taking The Son for a while so I can tutor, but I'll wind up with some extra time as well. My goals for these 4+ hours:


1) finish making all the relatively simple changes to the MS --got most of these done today; just a few more to do

2) figure out where I want to weave through the thread of Willa's additional motivation

3) finish the one-page synopsis template of the story's main arc --done!

4) if possible, complete two more one-page synopses of the two secondary arcs --got one of these done

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A- for Diligence, C+ for Focus

4 days into August, and I'm at over 5 hours of writing work. However, I keep hopping from one thing to the next. By the end of the month, I want to have my query, synopsis, and a (for now) final edited copy of TOB.

Over the weekend I worked on the synopsis, using this intriguing one-page model. It's too flimsy for my needs, but helped me nail down the central story arc.

Then earlier in the week I got sidetracked into working on M (first book of the new series) using the same simplified synopsis model. I have a pretty good picture of what I want the first quarter of the book to be, with all the various story threads, but I was missing the skeleton of what happens in the rest of the book. Now I have that skeleton!

Then I started going through the in-text comments one of my beta readers made on TOB, fixing the (many) technical errors, and making notes about things to clarify. I got about halfway through the MS, and am going to try to finish it tomorrow. And then I'll probably move on to the query for a day or two.

With luck, all this hopscotching around will get me where I want to go!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

August Plans

New month, new goals!

I fell out of counting my writing hours these past two months. In June I had other goals (and probably worked more in hours anyway), and in July I needed some space from writing demands. But now I'm feeling the need to get back in the swing.

August is going to be a challenging month for finding writing time. The Son is done with camps, and I'm facing down a solid month of having to play Cruise Director. All things considered, I think 30 hours is a reasonable goal.

My non-time based goals are to finish my query and synopsis, and also to do yet another final edit for TOB. I've had two out of five beta readers give me crits so far, and they've both been incredible helpful in their own ways-- even though they sometimes disagree. I think having five readers was a good move, because if five people all point to something and say, This is a Problem, you know it's probably not just a matter of taste.