Category Archives: Editor

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation

An Open Letter to all PitchWars Mentors and Mentees (from a Mentee)

For the past few years Brenda Drake has run a crazy level contest (over 2,700 submissions/675 entrants)  on her blog called PitchWars. Let me just steal some words from her description:

Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Writers send applications (query and first page of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next five weeks. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests.

Sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it? Well, as someone who was cherry-picked by a ninja-Mentor this year (the AMAZING Renee Ahdieh) with CROW’S BLOOD, I can confirm that it most definitely is. I’m hard at work based on her editorial/critique notes. It’s keeping me quite busy.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen a LOT of Mentors tweeting and commenting that they hope their Mentees don’t hate them for being too harsh or nit-picky with their notes. I have a single word response to that: Impossible!

So, Mentors:

First: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I say that from the bottom of my heart. Even if you’re not my Mentor and we’re technically competing against each other: Thank you! You’re awesome, amazing, and wonderful people to be doing what you’re doing.

Now, onto the rest of it.

Don’t pull your punches! We understand that they’re thrown with the best intentions (ok, so maybe that’s not the greatest metaphor). Keep giving it to us straight and professional, we can handle it. We’re not made of fine gossamer glass.

You have to trust that we know our work isn’t perfect, or we wouldn’t have entered PitchWars in the first place. Moreover we know that you know our work isn’t perfect. You got a look at it before you picked us. In many cases you saw more than the 5-page sample from the original submission.

You’re giving your time and effort, not to mention expertise and insider knowledge to help us get our work into the best shape possible in a limited window of time. There isn’t time to pussy-foot around playing nice. We need to get the job done.

On the flip-side: Mentees:

First: Congratulations, you were selected by a Mentor as either a primary or an alternate. That means you’ve got some chops. Take a few moments, pat yourself on the back, and inflate your ego.

Done? Good. There’s a lot of work to do.

There’s a certain level of trust every Mentee should be bringing to the table. Trust that we’re in good hands and that every note that comes across that table is an effort by our Mentor to improve our work.

That said, the bulk of the hard work should fall on our shoulders. It’s our book. This is our shot. We can’t afford to miss it. Every last one of us should be taking this opportunity and holding on to it, squeezing it for all it’s worth to get at the soft golden centre.

If your mentor gives you some hard truths that’s a good thing, they’re paying attention. We all have our natural talents, those bits of writing that just flow, those aspects of the work that we could sink ourselves into for days (plotting, dialog, world building, description, etc.). But we all have our weaknesses that we can only compensate for with craft (Shatner Commas, making that character that we know inside and out feel real, punctuation in general >.<).

Craft = Work. In many cases Craft = Hard Work. That hard work is why you’re here. If your writing was perfect you wouldn’t need a Mentor. So if your Mentor shines a light on the rust and broken bits of your story, don’t complain.

Roll up your sleeves. It’s time to get to work.

-Alex

P.S. Renee has been fantastically professional, if the other Mentors are half as good as she is there’s going to be one hell of a fine showing at the Agent round.

P.P.S. I’m aware I could use the word protege, but Mentee is a word, regardless of what my browser, word processor, or operating system say. There are many reputable sources.

P.P.P.S. At some point we need to have a long talk about split infinitives.

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Filed under Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Revision, Validation

Thiiiiiiiis close!

The last five days have been harrowing, dreadful, bone-chilling days. With my latest revision complete and polished, and with my Query Letter and Pitch polished for #PitchMadness, I really only had one thing missing from my arsenal: A Synopsis.

Let me define that little eight-letter-word for you as best I can: 
Synopsis [si-nop-sis] (n):
  1. A brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject.
  2. An evil  creation of agents and editors for the express purpose of torturing writers.
  3. A soul-sucking vampire in word form.

There’s no perfect consensus in the writing world on what exactly a synopsis is but this is what I’ve found to be most often repeated:

  • 1-5 single-spaced pages
  • Block formatted paragraphs (no indents)
  • Double-space between paragraphs (a single blank line)
  • No smaller than 10pt font
  • Outline ONLY the main plot of your book
From what I’ve seen, 2 pages is the standard length for an agent (at least with the agents I intend to query in my first round that require them).
Sounds easy enough right? Just take your ~60,000 – ~115,000 word (240 – 460 page) book and boil it down to ~1,000 words. Oh, and keep it interesting! Remember: You’re selling your idea here!
Simple right?
ARGH!!!
So here’s what I did: 
I went through my manuscript, skimming chapter by chapter, and making notes of the major points of that chapter. I tried to keep it short and ended up with around 2,900 words.
Then I went through and mercilessly cut anything that didn’t directly have anything to do with the main plot. 1,900 words.
I pared, whittled, reworded, and tweaked every sentence, revising from my quickly written notes to the most sparse text I could get while still maintaining clarity and some semblance of flow. 1,300 words.
I did that two more times, ending at just over 1,000 words, which fit nicely within 2 pages at 10pt Arial and 10pt Times New Roman.
Then I called it a day.
Now, that ordeal is done until I’ve had someone other than me, who’s read the last revision, go over it and tell me what I’ve done wrong.
I have to apologize and thank my wife and children for bearing with me and giving me the time to work on this and a sounding board for my complaints, and my friends and followers on Twitter who have had to deal with me exploding/ranting/whining/begging over the past five days. I’m sorry if I’ve gotten on any of your nerves.
– Alex

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Critique, Editor, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Real Life™, Revision, Story Elements, Twitter, Word Count

Doing My Homework

I have 3 full critiques back on CROW’S BLOOD, for which I must give heartfelt “Thank you!” to my Epic Critique Partners: Colton Hibbs, Clare Mitchell, and Rachel Russell.

Not only did each of you trudge your way through my last revision, you took the time and effort to provide me with detailed and insightful criticism. Some of it is so obvious now that you’ve pointed it out that I don’t know how I didn’t get it right the first time. Your notes will make my work better (if I’m up to the task), and that’s awesome!

All of them (and the partial Critique I received from the lovely and talented Kat Ellis) highlighted one pretty major problem: It takes far too long to connect with my main character Flynn (and even longer in some cases to like him at any level). As he’s the main POV, that’s… awful.

Here’s the thing: I know these characters, every one of them. You can ask me a question and I can quickly tell you how each one would answer it. What sort of things they would like and dislike. How they would react under certain circumstances. I can even describe the mannerisms, idioms, and rhythms of their speech. From my main character, down the the smallest side character, (yes, even to the one guard that sucker punches my POV character).

I can’t tell you what they had for breakfast (unless it’s relevant), but I can get inside their heads if the need arises.  I didn’t do this by building out detailed character sheets or writing throw-away scenes with them (though I did that for some more prominent characters).

It’s just something I do whenever a new character is created. I put myself in their shoes/boots/socks/sandals and work my way through them. What motivates them. What are their goals in life. It usually comes pretty quickly.

Problem is: It wasn’t coming across on the page. So what was wrong?

That’s where the homework came in. I’ve spent the better part of my evenings reading, and doing exercises from a workbook on Deep POV, while it’s not perfect, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything in there. It’s written by a professional who certainly seems to know what they’re doing (at least considerably better than I do).

The best part is the exercises. I’ve read plenty of websites describing and giving examples of how to give good character, and great POV, but none of them went so far as to give relevant exercises in a work-book format. Something about it all just “clicked” (I think).

So I went through that workbook (it’s only 60 or so pages), did all the exercises, and took a look at my own Work In Progress. What. A. Mess. I have “tells” everywhere (something I tried desperately to avoid and clean up last pass), narrative separation/distance, and my POV character does indeed seem flat and voiceless (he’s NOT like that in my head). I have my work cut out for me to reel this sucker in to a deep POV.

Needless to say, it’s going to take a while for me to hit my stride on this revision pass, and I may reach out to some of my CPs earlier on (if they’re amenable to looking over some small chunks) to see if I’m on the right track, or ruining what good I had. I’ve spent most of this evening (my first night back at revising my own work) and have only worked through the first 5 or 6 paragraphs.

Like I said, slow going. But I’m trying to be careful with my new powers, to ensure that I employ them for the forces of good.

As for copy edits, and Canadian (not “British”) spelling vs. American spelling, and my blatant and continued misuse of commas… I’ll get to them, once I’ve sorted out my critical character issues.

– Alex

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Critique, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Id, Learning, Revision, Viewpoint, Voice

Carefully Stacked and Marked Electrons.

Electronic Data. It rules everything these days. It’s our money, our jobs, our entertainment, and our memories.

So much of our lives revolve around little 1’s and 0’s flitting about on the merry tasks we set them upon.

Well, today, I sent a meaningful and important stack of those 1’s and 0’s half-way around the world to someone I barely know. I finally finished my critique of a CP’s work-in-progress manuscript, and I can only hope I’ve done it justice.

Here’s the thing. I received it on April 7th. I’ve had it for two and a half months! I had to ask myself: Why did it take so bloody long? We’re nearing the half-way point of 2013 and I’ve consumed 14 other books this year (1 of those is another WIP from a CP), so what was different about this?

Was it a hard read? No, it was quite enjoyable, considerably more enjoyable than what I imagine mine was for them to read. The characters were compelling, the descriptions and setting were simply beautiful, and the spelling and grammar were fantastic (you have no idea how important that is!).

So what was it? In a word: Fear. That’s right, I’m a coward.

I hate making other people uncomfortable, and I know that my internal Editor is a complete asshole. I don’t ever want to be as hard on other writers as my Editor is on me.

Would they hate me for pointing out how I felt about that sentence? That turn of phrase? That plot point?

Was I putting too many comments? Beating a dead horse? Nit-picking (GUILTY!)?

Was I missing things that I really ought to point out? Things that would help more than what I was catching? Things that actually mattered more than my hang-ups?

And SO much more. I was never an angsty teen. Why was this all coming out now? And over something like this?

I’m a cocky, self assured, smart-ass, bastard. Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll jump right on that sucker.

Here’s why: This is someone’s soul. Yeah, yeah, touchy feely crap. I know! But it’s true. Little known fact: Writing isn’t easy.

It’s a lot of hours pouring everything you have onto a page (that usually consists of those carefully stacked and marked electrons, and not so much dead trees and ink). And what you have when you’re done that first round of effort is usually a great big steaming pile of electrons that need to be poked and prodded, and in many cases thrown away and replaced, before you have something you can even let anyone see.

know how much effort I put into getting CROW’S BLOOD where it is now, and it still has a good ways to go (I have some Character Voice issues with my main POV to sort out, namely, I left too much of it out). Every mark I put on my partner’s Word document made me cringe.

So I procrastinated. That’s something that’s easy, and I can procrastinate with the very best of them! And hey, no one’s feelings get hurt by procrastination! Hell, I spent more time with my wife and family avoiding someone else’s Word document than I think I spent with them in the entire 3 months while I was writing the first draft of my own.

Well enough of that. I needed to put on my space-marine helmet, and grab my magical sword, and get past the barrier I set for myself. I needed to find that fear and kick it’s ass.

Did I mention this is also the first time I’ve done a full mark-up? I needed to finish it and return it on principle. The first is always the most difficult.

I can only hope I got it right, or that I can vastly improve my skill at writing carefully worded apologies.

– Alex

P.S. I didn’t return a mark-up to Colten, my other CP, and dear friend, but we had a really good long talk where I outlined my thoughts and we discussed some of the finer points. I’m looking forward to what he’s doing with the story and can’t wait to see the next draft.

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Filed under Character, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Revision

Once more, with feeling!

Ahem. So, staying in character, I’ve been neglecting my blog. For a while there I was easily dropping 3 updates a week. It’s been nearly a month since my last update.

So a quick (hahaha, no, not really that quick) rundown of what’s been so damned important that I haven’t had time to even drop a few lines here.
I have a Critique Partner, the wonderful and insightful Colten Hibbs, who was kind and gracious enough to let me into his beautifully realized and deep faerie tale world. I made it my first priority, above even my own writing, to read through his draft, and provide him with meaningful feedback (which I hope I’ve done). He’s now hard at work on his next draft, and based on our discussions, I can’t wait to see this next one.
Colten was amazing enough to give me a marked up copy of CROW’S BLOOD with loads of goodies and notes that are improving my writing ten-fold  (I hope).
Going through those notes I cheered (at the parts that were important to me that he just GOT), grimaced (at my own failings and some of the gunk he had to sift through), and had some incredibly awesome revelations. 
I have to share the biggest of those revelations with you.
One of the points that’s been brought to me repeatedly was that it takes too long to get attached to the MC (Main Character). Colten highlighted that he didn’t begin to feel even remotely attached to (and at points wasn’t even sure he liked) the MC until around Chapter 6!
That’s a death sentence for a book folks. That’s it! It’s over! 99% of readers will drop a book considerably faster than a bad habit if they’re not engaged and buying in to the MC by the end of Chapter 1. Clever blocking and world building can only get you so far.
New light was shed on this problem (which I had absolutely no idea how to fix, and maybe still don’t) when Colten pointed out that I have several Spot POV Chapters, where it’s the only Chapter you ever engage with that character, where I manage to do it right. They’re engaging and connect you with the character, in that single chapter.
I’d like to say I had a Eureka moment and got to run down the street in little more than a towel, but alas, it’s not that simple. But I had somewhere to start! It had been sitting there, right in front of me, for months… Critique Partners bring fresh eyes indeed.
I studied those chapters, making notes and everything. Then I studied them again. Then I studied them again. Ok, so that’s how I do it. Fantastic. 
Now why couldn’t I do it with my MC?
I, uh, don’t know. Except perhaps that I maybe have too much time to spend with my MC?
I spent the first week wrestling with Chapter 1. I wanted to add more insight into the MC without killing the pace (I like the pace I’ve set). I think I’ve achieved that, and I’ve since moved on, all the way up to Chapter 11, making little touches here and there, and giving a little bit more of the MC (also, making him a little more consistent).
My word count is shifting a bit (getting a little longer), but I’ll be ruthless in keeping it under 100,000.
Depending on where my other Critique Partners are in their read-throughs, I may ask them to go with this latest draft, or I’ll just sit on it until their feedback comes in, and parse theirs too, making any changes I feel warranted.
So that’s what I’ve been up to, and now that I’m back in the swing of the writing side of things, I’ll get back to updating my blog a little more often.

– Alex

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Filed under BookB, Character, Critique, Editor, Ego, Id, Learning, Revision, Voice, Word Count

Zug Zug

Remember that little progress bar to the right? Take a peek at that sucker!

BAM! That’s right. Revision 4 complete! It took considerably longer than it probably should have, but Real Life™ tends to not care what we have planned.

I put every spare moment I had into getting it done (hence the disgusting lack of blog updates). The problem being that spare moments weren’t as plentiful as I’d hoped they would be. That said, in the interest of getting it done, I’ve learned a new skill.

I can now revise, out loud, in public places, with lots of distractions. Sure, people probably thought I was crazy, and it didn’t go nearly as fast as when I hide in my writing cave, but it was time to revise I didn’t have otherwise. I’ve now revised out loud in places such as hockey arenas, train stations, hotels, coffee shops, and book stores.

This revision was a game changer, and I have to say, I’m going to do an out loud pass on everything I write from here on out (yes, including this blog entry). It makes such a difference to the flow and clarity of the written words. There’s something about engaging the speech and hearing centres of the brain that catches all the crud the eyes miss.

Take another look at that progress bar, see the numbers under it? That’s 4,598 words shaved off the word count, all in the name of clarity. And it wasn’t just 4,600 words dropped, it was closer to 7,000 words cut, then more words built on top.

During this process I won a 40 page critique from Kat Ellis on her blog. Her feedback was AMAZING, and I tried to take it into consideration throughout the rest of the draft. I can only hope I succeeded.

I’ve put the latest in my DropBox for my Alpha Readers, and e-mailed copies to 2 of my 3 current Critique Partners (Colten Hibbs, Rachel Russel, and Clara Mitchell). Now it’s all over except for the terror… and feedback.

– Alex

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Critique, deadlines, dropbox, Editor, Ego, Real Life™, Revision, Word Count