If there's one lesson I've learned over the course of bringing out two books, it's that you shouldn't rush.
I learned that the hard way with A Noble's Quest. I got it professionally edited, then published it.
But back then I didn't have all the writing contacts I do now, or the knowledge I've gained over time. I still don't know everything (far from it!), but going too fast because you're eager to get a book out won't help you.
I hate lists that authors give with advice. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and different things work for different people.
- Drink coffee.
- Drink alcohol.
- Write in the morning.
- Write at night.
- Have a quiet space.
- Work in a coffee shop.
- Write every day.
- Write when you're inspired.
- Write a blog.
- Start with fan fiction.
All that stuff is personal preference, not rules, even if the writer's a jerk about it and tries to shove the belief down your throat. Sure, that's what worked for them, but you are not them. There are probably as many different ways of writing as there are writers.
That said, there are common undercurrents running through a lot of the advice, and through my own experience (take that with a grain of salt) I've narrowed them down to these...
|They work for me!|
1) Put out the best work you can.
That might sound silly. Of course we want to put our best foot forward, but it's central to pretty much every point I'm going to make.
2) Don't edit your own work.
You know what you meant to write. When you're reading your own writing, you will probably be blind to a lot of errors - my common problems are: repetitive wording, and using too many words when fewer are more effective. I miss that stuff every time. That's why it's vital to have an editor or two.
I know some people with high levels of language education think they don't need editors. They might be right. But for the rest of us, editors are your friends. I've read too many indie books that didn't see an editor - actually, I haven't read them. I start, then stop after a chapter or two. Do you really want your potential readers tossing your book and never looking at anything you write ever again?
3) Don't send a line editor your first draft.
Your first draft should be treated like garbage, not worth the pixels it was constructed with. I'm serious. Go through it at least three times yourself until you can't find anything wrong with it. Then send it to beta readers to see if it makes sense. Sending a bad story with plot holes out to an editor for sentence structure and grammar checking isn't going to make your story good.
4) Don't have "yes men" for beta readers.
If you give it to your spouse, sibling, parent, aunt, etc with the hopes that they will tell you it's a marvelous work with no errors whatsoever, just don't. Find the most brutally honest people you know - maybe other writers - and get them to shred it. Now, if someone from that list doesn't have a problem being honest with you and saying your writing needs work in various spots through the book, that's fine.
Personally, I send my book to my dad because he's read so many fantasy/sci-fi books I can't begin to count them, and he's very honest in his feedback. But would I send my book to my mom for beta reading? Bless her, I love her to bits, but she doesn't have a mean bone in her body and hearing the book is great on my first try isn't going to help me put out my best work. She can enjoy the final product.
5) Don't take it personally.
Odds are, you haven't created a masterpiece. Even after going through it yourself, and having beta readers critique it, it needs work. But at this point, you won't be wasting your money going for editing... unless you go into it thinking you're God's gift to writing.
Fighting with your editor is not going to make working with them easier. You may have creative differences, but that's the point - you're hiring the editor to tighten up your story. If you don't want feedback, don't write. Authors need to have a thick skin, because your writing won't be for everyone, and you will get bad reviews/ratings. If you can't even handle constructive criticism from someone who you've paid to give it to you, you're in the wrong business.
I've been told that I'm great to collaborate with from all three editors I've worked with. Why? Because I listen. I don't have a big head about my writing, and I try to find ways to incorporate changes that make sense. I'm not saying be a door mat and let your editor walk all over your story. There will be certain things you want to keep, and that's fine.
But I'd say I keep about 90% of the changes my line editors make. Sometimes a word is suggested in place of 5 or 6 words, but that word is so archaic that I don't want it because I'm hoping to get younger readers. In A Noble's Quest, I used the word crepuscular because I loved it. But a beta reader came back to me and said, "WTF? This doesn't fit with the feel of the rest of the book." So I tossed it. It's a beautiful word, but if readers don't know it, it's best not to use it. Now, if you're writing highbrow pieces, you might want to challenge your readers and make them look up words. That's not my aim, though.
Developmental might be a bit lower... 70%? But even when we're tossing ideas around and working out the kinks to make the flow better, I'm appreciative of all ideas put forward. Just some things don't work with my vision.
In the end, it's your book, and your call, but at least be nice about it.
6) There are different kinds of editors.
I was unaware of this until my second book.
- Developmental editors will look at the elements of your story: flow, progression, character growth, and red flags. By red flags, I mean something that you wrote that's flat out wrong. They might offer suggestions for areas that need strengthening, or tell you that something you've done simply doesn't work.
- Line editors are probably the sort of editor you first think about. They check your spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc.
- I have never used a copy editor, but if you're in journalism you probably use them to make sure you're not going to wind up in court for what you've written. Not so relevant for fantasy writers.
I can't recommend developmental and line editors highly enough.
7) Slow down.
Publishing a book is exciting. But don't pull the trigger on publishing your book until you've double checked it, even after you think you're done with it. Get someone else to proofread it, too!
Granted, there's only so much checking you can do, but by re-reading your book after editing, you might catch a few things you changed during edits that don't read properly. Maybe you have a new double negative because you forgot to delete a word when you implemented the changes, and it would totally throw off the meaning you were going for. Maybe a word slipped past you, your beta readers, and your editors - we're all human. You won't come out with a perfect manuscript, but a thorough reading will help clean it up.
8) It takes time.
All of these steps are important for building trust with your readers. If you can bring out a book with a solid story that reads well, people will come back to you. You're not going to reach any level of fame overnight with one book, but you're building your writing career one novel at a time.
From what I've read, an author doesn't gain a following until they have 4-6 books out. That's right. That book you just slaved away on probably isn't going to be a one-hit wonder that catapults you into the limelight. You probably won't even make your money back on your investment if you stop there. It's akin to a scam at the start, where you do all the work and get no reward and someone says, "But wait! Write another one, and things will get better!" You do that, see a minor uptick, still don't break even, and that same person says, "Well, really, what did you expect with only two? Do it again!" And so if you're really committed, you keep publishing until you've got enough books out there for people to take notice. Readers want to see what you're made of, so trust is key to keep people coming back for more.
Best of luck in your writing endeavours! And if you want to argue any of these points, please do so. I'm always up for a writing chat/debate.