Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Are You a Pantser or an Outliner?

For some writers, the word “outline” is akin to a four-letter word. It doesn’t have to be that way.


Yes, there are successful authors—and I do mean best-selling authors—whose practice is to let their fingers fly and write by the seat of their pants (known as pantsers), but they are few in number.

These authors may seem like they’re winging it. They aren’t. They have years (or decades) of practice built upon a foundation of knowledge about technical and creative principles of the writing craft. The majority of best-selling authors spend time on their outlines, even a few months, including doing needed research, which is at times extensive, before the first word of the initial draft is written.

This preparation process includes sometimes significantly changing or tossing the outline and starting over. Albert Zuckerman demonstrates this brilliantly in his book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by showing you iterations of best-selling novelist Ken Follett’s outline for his novel, The Man from St. Petersburg. It’s a terrific opportunity to see how a successful author (Follett) works his craft and crafts his work. Additionally, K. M. Weiland’s book, Outlining Your Novel, provides guidance so you don’t feel like you’re back in high school doing a dreaded outline, as does best-selling author of the Lynley novels, Elizabeth George, in her book, Write Away.

One of my clients wrote her memoir without creating an outline first. The result was the timeline was all over the place. Among my editing notes was the recommendation that she restructure the entire manuscript. It took time but she did it, and her story became fluid and logical for readers.

Another client wrote his debut novel without an official outline, but he had an organized mental outline going on, even though he didn’t realize it (it happens, just not as often as we might like). However, during our time working together, he did James Patterson’s online writing course, and saw first-hand how creating an outline would save time during the draft-writing stage, which he did for his sequel.

Anyone who uses outlines will tell you that just because you wrote the outline down, this doesn’t mean it’s etched in stone. For example, the client asked me to review his outline before he started the draft. Several ideas came forward for both of us, especially about how to create the desired big twist that alters the protagonist in a monumental way, which is a shift the author was looking for. Additional beneficial adjustments to the plot emerged as the story progressed. When such inspiration happens, just change the outline and keep writing.

More unfinished manuscript drafts written by pantsers sit in drawers than do manuscripts created by outliners who had spurts of pantsing while writing. When you don’t know where you’re going, you tend to go nowhere. A novel or non-fiction book written by an author writing with wild abandon can cause a story or book to go out of control. The task of getting it back on track is like trying to herd cats. That’s more than a little frustrating, and easy to avoid.

Writing is an adventure, from first word to product. Make it the best experience you can.

[Excerpted in part from the e-book, Easy, Basic Tips for New Writers: Things Every New Writer, Especially First-Time Novelists, Need to Know. Now available at http://www.lulu.com/shop/joyce-shafer/easy-basic-tips-for-new-writers/ebook/product-22760918.html]

Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a special focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Basic and Comprehensive Manuscript Evaluation/Critique and Basic and Comprehensive Developmental Editing, with an option for Ghost Rewriting/Writing services. Learn more about how to make your book one readers rave about at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/

Friday, February 19, 2016

Do You Really Need an Editor for Your Novel or Non-Fiction Book?

You’ve probably read or heard that you should have your manuscript edited. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?


I’ll get to the editing part in a moment. There’s something else to cover first. Something you really need to know, especially if you’re a novice author. You see, it’s the best of times and the worst of times for authors, especially first-timers. The worst is that the traditional publishing industry has been topsy-turvy for a while, and it’s going to be that way until the dust settles, however long that may take and whatever form it takes. It’s the best of times because self-publishing is available for anyone, and, agents and publishers are now reconsidering their opinion about authors who’ve self-published and are selling. The thing you have to ask yourself is which path is the one for you. Or is it both?

There are writers who are adamant about being traditionally published. These are the hearty souls who will wait the two or more years it usually takes to land an agent then a publisher, and to get into print. If they’re really hearty, during this process they start their next book. There are writers who want to get their book out as soon as possible, and maybe they don’t want to travel the trail of traditional publishing, for a variety of reasons, timing and lower percentage of royalties, for example. There are writers who by choice are both traditionally and indie published.

What does this have to do with the question about needing an editor? A lot. If you intend to go traditional, you have to erase the antiquated notion that you send your manuscript, errors and all, to a literary agent who lands a publisher for you, or to a publisher that doesn’t require an agent, and they’ll fix everything for you, excluding theme or plot and character development issues, if there are any, which they’ll expect you to address. An agent expects quality work to be submitted for consideration, for him or her to agree to represent you. A smaller publisher may agree to take you on without an agent, but may or will charge you for editing. A large publishing house expects to do some tweaking, but nothing extensive.

If indie publishing is your chosen route to Authordom, you need to know there’s something of a stigma attached to that, though frequently from writers still trying to get traditionally published. One comment often made about indie books is that the quality is poor; that the author should have worked with an editor. A surprising number of indie authors publish without ever having an editor or proofreader so much as look at their manuscript. Readers will comment if a book is riddled with typos or if a novel’s characters and or plot are not compelling.

So, you need an editor if you intend to go indie and want good or excellent reviews that lead to more sales and build your reader fan base. You need an editor if you intend to submit your manuscript to an agent or smaller publisher so they’ll consider you and possibly sign you on. Here’s another reason you may need or want an editor: You want to improve your skills as a writer. This last one applies if you really love writing, find it fulfilling, and intend to keep on writing. If this fits you, you need to find an editor who includes instruction as part of the editing service, as well as you personally doing what it takes to develop and expand your skills.

You want to find an editor you feel comfortable working with and trust. Let’s assume you’ve found this person who cares about your manuscript almost as much as you do. Now we bump into one of the facts of life about of working with an editor: Monetary investment. It can cost, and you need to be prepared for this. International best-selling author Andrew E. Kaufman had this to say: “An editor with a fresh and critical eye will bring things to your attention you never knew existed, both developmentally and in the line/copy editing. These are people who will help bring a novel to the next level. . . . And for those who say they can’t afford to hire one—I say you can’t afford not to. If you’re serious about selling your book, then this is a step you simply must take.”

There are things you can do first to reduce this expense. You can keep future editing costs down by not engaging an editor to work on a manuscript that needs extensive revision during the editing phase (unless that level of service is what you actually want and are willing to pay for). For example, are you someone who feels pretty darn confident about the creative and technical aspects of writing? Be honest. Whether you are or aren’t confident, maybe what you need is a manuscript evaluation, also called a critique, so you know how well your book is going, creatively and technically. Be sure to find out what the evaluation will provide; you want guidance, not just an opinion.

Maybe you know your skills aren’t what they could be or need to be. Maybe you want to learn how to develop these skills. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you prefer to rely on an editor instead. Only you know how much you’re personally willing to do to get your book into the best shape possible for readers, and what you aren’t prepared or skilled enough to do. Although, after nearly twenty years as an editor, I’ve learned that novice authors, more often than not, don’t know how much they don’t know about writing and revising a manuscript. If you’re skilled at writing non-fiction, these skills do not readily transfer to writing fiction. Fiction is a wholly different arena.

After discussing a new client’s project (his first novel), he told me another editor had said he could edit the still-in-progress manuscript for $300. There are novice authors who believe this is a fair price for editing an 80,000+ word manuscript. It isn’t, and especially not for developmental editing. The client decided to use my services. As we got going with the novel, which he wrote several chapters at a time, and with me as a developmental editor and ghost rewriter (and sometimes ghostwriter, at his request), it became clear to the author that he would never have received the same value and result for $300. Not even close.  

The author chose the indie route. His debut novel received five stars and outstanding reviews from professional reviewers, as well as from readers, with readers becoming self-proclaimed fans begging for the sequel. I don’t like to imagine what level of service or outcome the author would have received for $300. This author has a number of books planned. He wants to improve his writing skills but doesn’t have the time it takes. So he relies on the skills and expertise of his editor. Skilled writers rely on an editor. Every best-selling author works with and relies on an editor.

Whether you need a critique, developmental editing, or ghost rewriting/writing, you want to find someone who provides what will help you accomplish your desired outcome for your book or books. The more intense level of service you need, the more expertise your editor needs to have and the more time and monetary investment it will take. Now I’m going to be frank about this: If you don’t want to pay for a reliable editor but want good results, you must learn what it is you need to know if you intend to continue as a writer who gets the reviews that keep you writing and fans reading. However you get to your goal, it’s a worthy adventure.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.

Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a special focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Basic and Comprehensive Manuscript Evaluation/Critique and Basic and Comprehensive Developmental Editing, with an option for Ghost Rewriting/Writing services. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Learn more about how to make your book one readers rave about at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Writing Fiction Is Not Like Playing Make-Believe


All fiction writers have much to pay attention to in order to create a reader-worthy novel. Something significant new fiction writers sometimes forget to pay attention to are the details.

Let’s go back in time a bit. Many of us played make-believe as children. We’d come up with an idea then act out our story, often changing it as we went along. Maybe we were the only cast member or maybe we recruited one or more others to be on our pretend stage with us. We might have started out saying, “Let’s pretend that . . .” then took it from there. Perhaps what we suggested was agreed to by everyone who had a role in our mini-production. Perhaps one or more cast members decided to change their role or the plot a bit. “You’re a school teacher,” you might have said to one, and he may have responded with, “No! I’m a pirate.” You may have then said, “There aren’t any pirates in this story.” He may have replied, “Then I’m not playing.” Either the story went on as planned, without a pirate, or you came up with a way to include one.

In make-believe, we may start out with one “reality” in mind then alter it to suit our purposes. The structure is loose. That’s fine when you’re playing that game. It’s not fine when you’re writing a novel. Details and structure matter in fiction. Some new writers don’t realize this. The responsibility to keep track of details and structure consistency is yours, as the writer. Your readers will expect this of you. They expect to suspend belief in some measure when they read fiction, but they still expect the story and details to be believable, logical, and realistic. And they expect you, as the writer, to fulfill this promise to them so something written on the page doesn’t launch them out of the movie playing in their minds as they read.

Being an editor for over twenty years, I’ve seen a lot of good writing and writing that needs improvement, especially since new writers tend to be my clients. It’s a tremendous pleasure to assist them to become better at the craft of writing and to create books they’re proud of. But I do come across issues like the one being discussed in this article. For example, a client had her protagonist living on the East Coast. The protagonist did something that led to her incarceration. The writer had her protagonist imprisoned on the West Coast, for no reason other than that’s what came to mind. First, that’s not how the legal system works. Second, the writer had the protagonist’s family, friends, and lawyer visit her often in prison. That’s a very long way to travel, and costly. You can see why that’s impractical and implausible for the purposes of the story: It contradicts real life in a way that doesn’t work, even in fiction. But this is the kind of “oopsie” that happens fairly often for new writers. The Devil is indeed in the details.

As a new writer, you may feel the thrill of your fingers flying over the keys as the story pours forth from your imagination. That’s a great feeling. But you need to create a system that works for you and that you stick with so you can manage the details. Somewhere, somehow, you need to track dates, days, and times of day so you keep this straight. You need to track the approximate time that passes in each scene. It would benefit you to create a cast list. This is especially important if your first book is one with a sequel or will be a series. And this also helps you to be consistent with the spelling of your characters’ names. It can quickly become tedious to keep scrolling through your manuscript to confirm or check something that you could readily find on a separate document.

Repeating that the Devil is in the details, you may (or should) have to do something many new writers fail to do or don’t think to do: Research. For example, if your story takes place in a town or city you’ve never been to—or even if you have been there or lived there—you still need to get certain details right or you’ll have readers howling at you. This research also helps you create settings so your readers can imagine themselves in them, and your research notes help you stay consistent about the details. What else in the novel you’re writing would benefit from research?

Go ahead and get your draft written, but when you sit down to read through it, aloud, for that first of several revisions, look at the content not as the writer but as a reader. Pay attention to what’s going on in your mind’s eye. Is more research needed? Is what you have your characters saying and doing realistic, logical, and believable? Is the timing involved for each scene and the story as a whole realistic, logical, and believable? Did you inadvertently change the “facts” anywhere in the story in a way that makes the reader balk, or that defies basic physics or time progression in an unacceptable way? Did you mistakenly alter the personality of any of your characters without creating a valid reason for this to happen? What else needs your attention?

Yes, there are many things you as the writer must pay attention to if you want your readers to be happy with your novel and you as its author. Whether you like it or not, writing a good novel involves managing the details and getting them right, rather than just making up whatever you feel like writing as you go. Don’t give readers a reason to call you a lazy writer. It may seem as though other authors, including or especially best-selling authors, sit at their computers and just make stuff up. Yes and no. They make stuff up, but they base it on real information they’ve researched and real life experiences. This is part of how they draw us in and keep us captive until the last word, and sometimes even after we finish the book. You can be this kind of writer as well. You just have to do what it takes.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.


Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

An Easy Way New Fiction Writers Can and Should Expand Their Writing Vocabulary


If you’ve heard this advice for new writers before, it bears repeating: Read novels by other authors, especially, but not solely, in your genre. This is beneficial, but there’s something else you could or should do while you read, to help you improve your writing vocabulary.

We all have a vocabulary we use on a regular basis. If you’re a writer, you want to expand the word choices you have in your grab-bag. When you write fiction, you want to use the best action verbs, nouns, and modifiers you can. Yes, good or great writing is partially about how words are put together, but it’s also about the words, themselves.

The first thing you’ll notice as you read a novel is that if it’s an engaging story, you’ll get into it just as any reader might. That’s terrific. Enjoy the novel. Then reread it and pay attention to the writing. Pay attention to the creative aspects such as how the plot and characters were developed, as well as the technical aspects (punctuation, etc.) One thing to keep in mind: There are some differences between books written by British authors (or as though the author is British, e.g., Elizabeth George) and books written by American authors or for American readers. Not only will certain words be different between these two literary cultures, but so will some spellings and some of the punctuation. One example: Among is the American word; amongst is the British word. If you’re writing for American readers, stick to the standard rules.

Okay, with that out of the way, here’s how new writers can and should expand their vocabulary anytime they read another author’s work. You might expect me to say that when you come across a word you don’t know, write it down and look it up. That is a logical thing to do, and it seems obvious, but readers don’t always do this. However, that isn’t my strongest suggestion for building your writing vocabulary. What follows is.

Get a notebook, or use whatever system works for you, and create categories that fit your needs. Let me explain. As you read (or listen to people talk, or listen to movie or TV dialogue), add to your lists any verbs, modifiers, and nouns, which includes compound nouns, that get your attention (compound nouns are two words that act as one: roller coaster, grab-bag). You’ll be surprised at how many of these you’ve used in your writing, didn’t think to use, or perhaps didn’t know about.

You also want to keep a list of words and phrases for what affects your characters physically, emotionally, and so forth. Here are some examples.
-Hands: his face sank into his hands; he drove his hands into his pockets
-Skin: a sheen of perspiration blossomed on her face
-Body: tension coiled its way up his neck
-Mouth: she smiled with regret
-Mood: he strained to compose himself
-Posture: his arms hung flaccid at his sides
-Eyes: her eyes surveyed the room
-Voice: his voice faltered
-Talking: she jabbered away
-Laughing: a hearty laugh rumbled from his chest
-Walking: she wended her way through the park
-Face: she wore a gray hat and pinched features
-Action: he threw a wild punch
-Setting: the graceful fa├žade of the house rose above the hedge
-Sounds: a heavy thump outside the window made her lurch from the bed
-Internal: one word came to mind about how she felt—wretched

Making note of words you read or hear is meant to inspire you to expand your ability to describe what’s going on internally and externally for and or around your characters. These lists are meant to guide you to write in a fresh way, rather than copy what someone else wrote. You’ll, hopefully, continue to add to these lists forever, but there is a best time to use them: after your first draft is completed and it’s time for the first (of several) revisions.

You see, it’s likely that when writing your first draft, you relied on your regular vocabulary, which is fine because you’ll write faster when you don’t pause to deliberate over every single word or phrase. You want to get the draft written so you can then focus on cleaning it up and making it the best read it can be. Unless your regular vocabulary is extensive, and even if it is, you still may need to look for better words or better ways to describe or express what’s going on. A thesaurus is a good idea, but you have to make certain you know what replacement words mean. It’s very easy to use an inappropriate word you found in a thesaurus because you erroneously believed all the words listed mean exactly the same thing. For example, if you look up sensual, you’ll see salacious listed. But they absolutely do not mean the same thing, which only a trip to a dictionary would clarify. The biggest advantage of creating your own lists is that you can create categories specific to your needs and likes, as in the example above, which makes it easy and convenient to look up better word or phrase choices.

The fact will always be this: Good and great writers work very hard to make writing seem easy. This includes deliberating about the best verbs, nouns, modifiers, and phrases to use, which is done primarily during the several revisions the novel goes through (or should go through). You can improve your ability to tell a story that fits your characters, and with a writing style that is uniquely yours, through usage of the best words and phrases for your story and genre.

As you read novels, notice how the words used are what make your heart race or make you laugh out loud or bring tears to your eyes. That’s how you want to right as well. Yes? Yes.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.


Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/

Friday, October 30, 2015

Nifty Manuscript Revision and Proofreading Tips for Novels


You’ve completed the first draft of your novel. Now you’re supposed to follow that pesky rule that requires you do something called a revision—more than once. How can you make this easier?

The first thing you need to know is that there are no real shortcuts when it comes to the revision process. And, it’s going to take multiple passes through the manuscript in order to make sure it’s the best story and cleanest copy it can be. Why more than once? For one thing, and especially if you’re a new writer, you absolutely will not be able to see everything in just one reading. Really. It’s also very likely that if you’re truly tuned in to your novel, ideas and even questions will continue to come to you for a while. Be sure to write them down!

If you know that your skills regarding technical and or creative matters aren’t what they should or could be, at some point you’ll need to get an editor on board to assist you. There’s no shame in this! Every writer serious about his or her work uses an editor in some measure. This can be through either an evaluation (critique) or substantive (aka developmental or conceptual) editing. Even if you believe you’re adept at the writing craft, you still need at least one other pair of eyes to go over your manuscript after you revise it, or depending on your skill level, perhaps even before. Yes, you may want a relative or friend to read what you’ve written, but are they qualified to advise you on the technical and creative aspects? If not, you absolutely need someone who is to look at what you’ve written.

But for your purposes, here are some (just some) of the things you are obligated to address as an author.
  • Does the story work? Is the plot engaging from start to finish, and are your characters developed well enough?
  • Have all the questions posed in the story been answered?
  • Look for inconsistencies. Is your protagonist completely bald in chapter one but you have him comb his hair in chapter five? Does your story start on Monday and two days later it’s Friday?
  • Watch for repetitive word usage and even incorrect word usage (both are all too easy to do).
  • Check your verbs: Are they strong action verbs or weak, passive ones?
  • Is your dialogue strong and natural sounding for each character, or is it stilted, or boring? Do all of your characters sound alike?
  • What’s the pace like? Is it faster in action scenes and slower in narrative passages? Is there any place where it drags?
  • Are you telling when you should be showing?
  • Is your protagonist making a decision—any kind of decision—in each scene? She or he should be if you want to keep the story moving forward and the pace from lagging.
  • Is each scene written from one, and only one, POV (point of view)?
  • Is tense correct and consistent throughout the story?
  • Make sure you have only one space between sentences and no spaces between your indented paragraphs.
  • Do not overuse exclamation points, ellipses, em-dashes, and italics.
Here’s something else to pay attention to when you’re looking at your manuscript on your computer. Many new writers completely ignore the red and green squiggly lines under words, sentence segments, or sentences. What these lines mean is your attention is being drawn to either a misspelled word or a grammatically incorrect structure. You’ll have to carefully read what you’ve written so you catch oopsies like typing “they’re” when you should have typed “their” (or “there”). If you use dialect in your dialogue (hopefully not too much of this, or you’ll slow the pace way, way down), you’ll see lots of words with red squiggly lines indicating misspellings. Be sure these misspellings are deliberate on your part. The same goes for sentence segments with green squiggly lines under them: If the way you wrote them was deliberate, and not because you didn’t know better, you don’t want to change them in a way that alters the voice of a character or the storyteller.

Something I cannot stress enough: At some point, print your manuscript. Sit somewhere with the manuscript, extra paper, and a pen, where you can read your novel draft out loud. This is an invaluable tip that allows you to hear how it reads for readers and to see and catch things you won’t if you read it silently.

Wayne Dyer said, “If you want the things you look at to change, you must change the way you look at things.” This is also true for writers! The fact is that after you’ve looked at your manuscript a number of times both on the computer screen and in print, it can become tedious and not as easy to see the details any longer. So, switch the view—literally. If you work in Word, click on View then on Reading Layout. It’s amazing what you see when your manuscript looks more like a real book. If you’ve ever been reading a book and spied typos, you know what I mean. Set your own manuscript up this way then read it aloud, and don’t speed through this. If you prefer to print it out in this format, go ahead, but it’ll take a lot of paper. Also, when you save and close the document and then open it again, it likely will have reverted back to the original 8 X 11 version. So, if you have to stop reading this altered format, be sure to make note of which page you stopped on. When you return to the document, just choose Reading Layout again and you can easily return to your place.

Granted, there is a lot to know about the writing craft and always more to learn. But anything that assists you to create a novel that will entertain readers in the way your story is meant to—and that they expect—is something you should be committed to doing for your sake and for the sake of your book and its readers. What an adventure, yes? Yes.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.


Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Exactly Is a Ghost Rewriter, and Why Would You Ever Use This Service?


You’re likely aware there are ghostwriters (I love the movie, The Ghost Writer, with Ewan McGregor), but are you aware there are ghost rewriters who provide services as well? Let’s look at what they can do for authors.

You seldom see the term “ghost rewriter” used, if you’ve ever seen it at all. If you search that term online, you’ll see tons of site listings for ghostwriters and then maybe some sprinkled in for rewriters. Ghostwriting is the more familiar service, which is an involved method of getting a book written that’s based on a concept, notes, and or interviews with and for the person who wishes to put their name on the book cover, even though they don’t write the book (there are far more books written by ghostwriters, including best-sellers, than you may be aware of). So, what is a ghost rewriter? Maybe it’s self-explanatory. If not, you’ll know more in a minute, as well as why an author might want a rewriter on his or her team.

There are new, budding, and prolific authors who are do-it-yourselfers. They appreciate input from an editor because they sincerely want to put the best book out there that they can write, but they want to do all the writing and revising. There are other new, budding, or prolific authors who want to write a rough draft of their fiction or non-fiction manuscript then turn it over to someone else to rewrite and revise it, including writing additional content, if needed, until it’s ready for readers. If you’re in the first group, you may wonder why any author would do what those in the second group do.

 

One reason may be that the author never focused on the technical and or creative mechanics of writing, and has no intention to. Ever. These writers rely on their editor/ghost rewriter to bring what they write to finished form. There are other authors, new or not, who don’t have the time, or inclination, to do more than a rough draft, so rely on an editor/ghost rewriter to bring their manuscript to the finished-product level. Yes, your book—your baby—is, after all is said and done, a product you promote and sell.

 

Ghost rewriting can be an involved process (though not as involved as ghostwriting usually is) because now the editor/rewriter is creating what is essentially a new first draft that will need to go through the revision process just as an author doing all the writing would be required to do. The author is the one credited for the work; though, mention of the editor usually appears on the copyright page, in acknowledgments, or both. Credit for services rendered is up to the author. But the fact that someone ghost rewrote (or ghostwrote) the book isn’t mentioned, at least, not usually.

 

If you think this is a form of cheating, please consider that a number of best-selling authors do a version of this: They engage a co-author to write their book(s). A good example is James Patterson. At some point in his career, he shifted gears from being a solo writer, and his fans (I’m one of them) don’t mind at all. They want to be entertained Patterson-style, and he fulfills this for them. He fleshes out an outline for a novel, working on it until he’s satisfied, and then he sends it to one of his co-authors to write the novel (that’s what the other names on his book covers are about, in case you weren’t certain). This happens with Patterson’s input and approval about what’s written, of course. What a terrific opportunity and win-win-win-win for him, the co-author, the publisher, and readers.

 

What you, as an author, need to decide is what works best for you; what helps you accomplish your desired outcome. Sometimes the best assistance for you is to have your manuscript evaluated or to use substantive editing services so you know how to improve your book. Just make sure the person doing this is going to provide you with enough guidance you’ll use to revise your manuscript so it becomes the engaging book for readers you intend. And if you need or want more assistance than that for the reasons listed above, or for some other reason, consider a ghost rewriter who’ll take your manuscript where it needs to go but not require his or her name on your book cover.

 

There’s an advantage to working with an editor/ghost rewriter: You can choose to start out with a completed rough draft or submit one or more chapters at a time, until the draft is completed (a number of my clients prefer to work this way); just be consistent about writing so that you never allow the momentum to flag. Yet another advantage to working with an editor/ghost rewriter, if you’re committed to improving your skills, is that you see what the person did with your manuscript and learn from it.

 

Ghost rewriters are skilled writers but may not wish to travel the publishing path themselves. They love writing and are avid readers. They love assisting authors, especially indie authors, to put their best foot forward for their particular audience. This is another win-win-win experience. As a new, budding, or—if you’ll pardon me—somewhat lazy author when it comes to the technical and creative mechanics of writing, finding the rewriter right for you can be the difference between not going far (or anywhere) with your book and going the distance (and getting great reviews).

 

No matter which group from above you fit into, the fact is this: No writer ever completes a book entirely alone. At least, writers shouldn’t, if they want to put the best book they can into publication. There should be one or more qualified beta readers involved to give quality feedback. At some point an editor needs to be involved, without exception. Line-editing may be needed. Eventually, the services of a proofreader are required. Best-selling authors have teams who assist them, whether they go the indie or traditional publishing route. And if you’re Patterson and want to publish ten books a year to keep your readers and publisher deliriously happy, you engage the services of co-authors. If you’re not 100 percent confident about your skills or don’t have or want to take the time to go the distance, you put a ghost rewriter on your team. A team makes a dream come alive.


I wish you the best with your writing and progress, always and in all ways.


Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Some Beneficial Tips for New Fiction Authors


Let’s start with what is for some writers akin to a four-letter word: Outline. Yes, there are successful authors—and I do mean best-selling authors—whose practice is to let their fingers fly and write by the seat of their pants (known as pantsers), but they are few in number. These authors may seem like they’re winging it. They aren’t. They have years (or decades) of practice built upon a foundation of knowledge about technical and creative principles of the writing craft. The majority of best-selling authors spend time on their outlines, even a few months, including doing needed research, before the first word of the draft is typed. This includes sometimes significantly changing or tossing the outline and starting over.

I recently worked with a client who wrote and self-published his first novel. It was written without an official outline, but he had an organized mental outline going on, even though he didn’t realize it. However, during our time working together, he did James Patterson’s online writing course, and saw first-hand how creating an outline would save time. As I write this, we’re working on the sequel, which started with an outline we both reviewed and revised. And as anyone who uses outlines will tell you, just because you wrote the outline down, this doesn’t mean it’s etched in stone. For example, as I went through the client’s outline, several ideas came forward, especially about how to create the desired big twist that alters the protagonist in a monumental way, which is a shift the author was looking for. When such inspiration happens to you, just change the outline and keep writing.

Now, let’s talk about skills. This client has experience writing non-fiction papers and articles, but this was his first foray into fiction writing. He was genuinely shocked to learn he didn’t know how much he didn’t know about the technical and creative aspects of writing fiction. A truth to keep in mind is that a successful author works very hard, using the technical and creative principles, to make writing seem easy. This means you, if you are committed to being a good writer, need to study these principles and put them into practice so they can become natural for you as well.

Initially, the client expressed that his confidence was shaken because of the needed corrections brought to his attention and because of the suggested revisions provided. I pointed out that his innate abilities were obvious to me (they are!) and reminded him that he was just starting on this path, so it was unfair for him to compare his efforts with my twenty-plus years of study and experience. He soon got on board with the learning process. Happily for both of us, he’s a willing, enthusiastic learner. (By the way, he’s ecstatic that his debut novel is getting five-star reviews!)

The more willing and enthusiastic you are about improving your skills, the better your experience and results will be, and the more eager your readers will be for additional books from you. As you improve, you’ll reduce the time it takes to get your novels ready for your audience. If you’re a new writer of fiction, please understand that rushing the process of writing a novel, especially your first one, is never a good idea. Never. Be willing to take your novels through a number of revisions, if needed.

Some other things to focus on when writing a novel are as follows:

Track the chapters: Keep track of chapter numbers and include a brief one-liner about what main thing happens in each chapter. This makes it easier to find your place in the story if/when an inspired idea or needed change flashes in your mind. If this flash happens during the night or when you’re doing something else, make a note so you don’t lose the idea, and then add it in the next day. Also, watch that you don’t make your chapters too long. Look at several books by successful authors and note how long their chapters usually run. The number of chapter pages will differ throughout their books, but you’ll see that sometimes chapters are longer and sometimes they are one, two, or three pages in length. Shorter chapters keep readers reading. Long chapters will keep them reading as long as the content is page-turning good. In longer chapters by these authors, note how often they have scene breaks or scene changes.

Track timing: Keep track of the dates, days of the week, months, and times of day. It’s too easy to slip up. You might start a scene at eight in the morning then three paragraphs or two pages later it’s nighttime but you’re in the same scene that may have lasted only fifteen minutes. Oops. So, it’s also beneficial to keep track of the duration of the scene. Did it play out in fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour or more?

Track characters: Create a character list. The best way to do this is to write the characters’ first and last names down (and make certain you are consistent with how you spell their names throughout the manuscript), as well as their relationship to the protagonist and or their role in the story. This also makes it easier for you to look up a character’s name if s/he hasn’t been “on stage” for a while. You benefit by doing character profiles prior to starting your draft. The more significant a character is to the story, the more detailed the profile should be.

Track conflict type: You want to pay attention to how many scenes include conflict that is external, internal, interpersonal, and or antagonistic so that you keep the correct balance for your plot and character development. Conflict is required for a good story, and how much and which types of conflict occur have all to do with your genre. Commercial fiction typically has far less internal conflict for one or more characters than literary or light literary fiction requires. The most engaging, page-turner novels have conflict of some sort escalating gradually until the climax point in the story. This doesn’t mean each chapter has so much action or conflict in it that you exhaust your readers. Some conflicts are simple, like your protagonist needing to contact someone in a hurry and s/he can’t reach them, or perhaps your protagonist needs to speak up in a situation but has self-esteem issues.

Track point of view (POV): This is something you can organize when you create your outline. Tracking POV for scenes is important because it’s too easy for inexperienced (and even experienced) writers to include more than one POV in a scene. Each scene that includes POV needs to be in the POV of only one character at a time.

Read aloud: This includes reading passages from books by your favorite authors, but especially your own manuscripts. Once you complete your first draft, print it out (don’t read from the computer) and read it aloud with pen and extra paper on hand. It’s vital that when you do this, you do so from the perspective of a reader/editor, rather than the proud creator. Look for extra spaces, misspelled words, missing words, incorrect punctuation, consistency of indents for paragraphs (be sure you do not include spaces between paragraphs, and be sure you do use only one space between sentences), wrong word choices, boring dialogue, not enough information, more information than what’s needed, run-on sentences, flow, pace, and anything and everything that impedes the writing from being a good story that keeps readers in their mental movie and eager to turn the page. You read aloud what you write because you need to hear how your story sounds, because this is how it will sound in readers’ minds. Do this for each revision. You’ll be happy you did.

There are many, many additional things to pay attention to when writing fiction, and this is why there are so many books available on this subject. One book I highly recommend is Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence & Captivating Readers by Barbara Baig. This is not a book you read like most books: Baig puts you to work, but it’s not hard or tedious work. If you’re committed to being a writer and improving your craft, you’ll find her practices engaging and revealing. Your ability to write better, and with more confidence, will unfold as you move through the material.

Know this: There’s always more to learn. This is why even best-selling authors go to workshops and conferences. Commit some of your time to studying to improve your skills, some time to reading so you study what other authors do, and some time to writing, which is the only way to practice what you learn.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.


Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/