Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Waiting Game

I'm going to be honest and put my hand up to say that I might be a little impatient (in fact I can probably relate to at least half of this list). One thing I have learned very quickly about the publishing game is it's not a place for impatient people. There are a lot of stages, and each one only becomes harder for someone slightly lacking in the patience department.


First there's the writing.
Now when I'm on a roll, I can probably write close to a novel in a month. However, I'm not always on a role, so it's usually a good 2-3 months to get a decent first draft out.

Then there's the time for writing sit for a while to settle. 
It's a good idea to let a novel sit for a week or more before beginning edits. This is because it's all so fresh in the mind that issues are likely to be miss. A week (or ideally more) offers the words a chance to leave your mind so that you are seeing them fresh. Some websites even advocate leaving it for months or more before coming back to do a round of edits. (Gah!)

In all honesty, I tend to skip this step most of the time, I'll have an enforced gap coming up after I complete a few read throughs of the text. Also, I tend to write quite linearly, so by the time I get to the end it's usually been a month or more since I read the beginning (see above).

Once it's rested, there's the first (second and usually third) round of editing.
It's surprising how terrible a first draft can be. Just like a gem isn't perfectly cut and polished after being extracted from the ground, they need to be refined and worked to get to a shiny story. This is not true only for me, but in general. I doubt there is anyone who turns out a perfect first draft, anyone who says they do is most likely lying very talented indeed and probably edited as they wrote.

There are so many reasons that stories need polishing, here are just a few:

  • Voice of the character. Often, the character, especially a minor one, reveals his/her true voice once he's been in the story for a while. Anything written before that it discovered will then begin to sound false for that character. For one of my characters recently, I thought I had learned his true voice only for him to show me what it really was almost a full book later. During edits, I was able to refine this until his speech sounded authentic for him. 
  • Grammar/Missed words/Substituted words. Usually in first draft mode, I am so focused on getting the full plot down that I miss a word here and there (if you ask my lovely pre-reader, she'll probably tell you of a number of times when I miss whole ends of sentences and don't finish thoughts), I miss and misplace commas, semi-colons etc and the big one, substitute one word for something that's similar but not the same (me/my, the/there). It's just a consequence of being in 'story-mode' not edit mode.  
  • Plot holes/Loose threads. This is a big one, often something is expected to happen, but when it comes time for it to happen it doesn't 'feel' right for the characters. When that happens, all of the groundwork carefully laid out and foreshadowed is now useless and needs to be unwoven from the fabric of the story. Of course, it can occur the other way too, where something expected leaps from nowhere and then the foreshadowing for that event needs to be sprinkled throughout the story so that it's not a slap in the face to the reader when it arrives. 
Once this has been done once, it needs to be done again to catch all of the things that might have been missed (or changed) on the second round. 

Next is the friendly critique/prereader.
This is where you find a very trusted friend, prefereably one who writes as well and understands plot, structure, characters, dialogue, and grammar. Then you email it to them and bite your nails while you wait desperately for their feedback patiently wait for them to find the time in their own schedule to read through and markup the manuscript with changes that they recommend or comments about characters (or in the case of me and my prereader, gigglesnort at each other's unintentionally dirty phrases). Just like editing a story yourself, a good prereader will go over the story at least twice, once to read through for general story and the second to look for all those pesky missing/misused words and commas.

Lastly is a rinse and repeat of the last two steps.
Even after the first rinse off and cut, a gem isn't the shiny perfect thing set into the ring at the jewelers that you fall in love with on sight. It takes many rounds of cutting and polishing and wiping away the grime to get that beauty to shine. This is the same for novels. It may take two rounds, it may take four. Each book is different.

~ 0 ~

I'm sure you can already see why novel-writing is not for the impatient. The count is up to at least three to four months already and the publishers haven't even entered the scene. Once the draft is at this stage, it's likely to be in a decent enough condition to start thinking about sending out queries to publishers/agents (or self-publishing but that's a whole other kettle of fish). The query process goes something like this:

  1. Draft a query letter. And don't think you can't edit that bad boy to within an inch of it's life just like the novel. 
  2. Draft a synopsis (depending on publisher/agent requirements). I don't know if everyone agrees with me, but synopsises, synopsi, synopses are the devil. It's like trying to fit a twenty-six bedroom mansion into a backyard shed without losing any of the essence or scope that makes it a mansion. 
  3. Research the publishers/agents you want to submit to.
  4. Email off query and synopsis (with or without the first three chapters, again depending on agent/publisher requirements). 
  5. Wait. 
  6. Wait. 
  7. Wait. 
  8. Seriously, there is a lot of waiting at this stage. My publishers were great, they came back to me relatively quickly and well within their stated time frames. However, the things is publishers are busy. Agents are busy. They are busy doing what they need to be doing to stay in business--publishing and selling books. It takes time to read a query, to read the synopsis, and then to read the sample chapters. 
  9. If the agent/publisher likes the query and sample, then there'll be a brief relief from the waiting where they request the full. Then the waiting begins again, only now they have twenty-something chapters to read and consider rather than three. Obviously, there's a bit more waiting involved here. 
  10. If the agent/publisher likes your full manuscript, they'll offer a contract. 
That's when the real waiting begins. 

I'm still in this waiting stage. That's not to say there isn't communication, but the editing process has to start from scratch with the publisher's fresh eyes and sales/industry knowledge. I know the final book-in-hand process is still a number of months away, but it'll be worth every second of the wait so I'm okay with it.

Mostly. 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fangirling

A very quick post today. I recently found out about an upcoming multi book signing event (Indie Authors Down Under) which is being held down the Gold Coast in March. I'm going to be heading along to see what it's all about, meet some local (and not local) readers, see some inspirational authors and hopefully generally just have a good time.

One thing I have to say though is in a world of apparent declining reading rates, full of other distractions like TV, movies, video games etc, it's good and refreshing to see so many people fangirling and fanboying over books and authors.

Which authors would you fangirl(boy) over if you had the chance to meet them?


Saturday, January 11, 2014

She's Always Sad When It Rains

Many people will tell you writer's block doesn't exist. And technically, I guess it doesn't. There's always something else to write: another scene, another story, another point of view. However, when it comes to a particular scene or on a particular story there is definitely such a thing. I struggled for the first few weeks after the holidays to get anything productive done, so I decided to stop trying to be productive and write for the sake of writing. Something that isn't for one of the novels in the series I'm working on or for a future novel I have planned.

I had one sentence strike me late one night, and the below little slice grew from it. The sentence was, "She's always sad when it rains." The below is first-draft rough, it hasn't been truly edited for content or grammar (I did have a lovely friend glance a quick eye over it, but it's changed since then). It's mostly just a bit of an exercise to flex my writing muscles with the hopes that when I open my laptop after I get through work deadlines, the words will still be there.


"She's always sad when it rains."

He looked up when Billy murmured the quiet words. Billy knelt in front of the window, leaning forward with his nose practically pressed against the glass, watching intently as the rain splattered against the other side of the transparent surface. 

For a moment, he watched Billy watching the rain and wondered whether his son had actually spoken or if he'd imagined the words. Billy rose slightly higher on his haunches as two droplets joined together and sped toward the windowsill at twice the speed of those around them. He smiled as he recalled fondly that Billy had always liked those ones best. A long time ago, Billy had told him that he imagined the glittering drops were in a race and that by joining together they became stronger and faster. 'Just like you and mummy,' he’d added with a smile.

The memory broke his heart because he knew Billy only watched the raindrops now because it was something else to concentrate besides the sound of sobbing coming from upstairs. He was certain now that Billy had spoken and he needed to offer his son what solace he could. 

"Mummy's sad at other times too," he said. He didn’t mean for his voice to take on the tone parents always seemed to use when explaining things to children, but it had slipped out regardless.

"I know," Billy said, looking down at his hands for a moment.

He longed for a better way to comfort his son, but no longer had the right words. If he'd ever had them, that part of the parenting job had always fallen to his wife. No longer though, now it was all up to him. 

"But always when it rains,” Billy added, looking up at him with sad eyes.

"Yeah." He nodded, surprised that Billy was astute enough to notice that simple fact. Then again, he thought, kids are often clever like that. Give them enough time and they'll find reason in the most complicated concepts. Even if it consisted of patterns and knowledge that would bypass some of the most capable adults. Sometimes especially then. "Always when it rains."

"Why?" Billy asked, turning completely away from the raindrops and their races down the cold glass for a moment. "Is it because of us?"

He nodded sadly, again fighting against the rising suspicion that Billy knew far more than a boy of ten really should. 

Although, he reasoned, maybe that's to be expected, under the circumstances. 

Yet that knowledge wasn’t enough to help him escape the pain. 

Perhaps it never would be.

"Isn't there something we can do to make her feel better?" Billy looked desperate for an answer.

He wanted to give Billy a solution, even had words poised on his tongue ready to unleash at a moment’s notice, but he couldn’t. The words would have been lies and the last thing he wanted to do was lie to Billy. Not when the two of them could only rely on each other now. The truth was that there was little they could do; certainly nothing they hadn't tried already.

Billy's dad looked up at the ceiling, as though he’d be able to see through it to where his wife was no doubt sitting on the floor by at the foot of the bed.

"We could try talking to her," he suggested after his eyes rested back on the sight of his son's sorrowful eyes. It hasn't fixed it before, but it can't really hurt to try again, can it? Maybe it’ll help Billy even if it doesn’t help her.  

"Maybe we can talk her into moving somewhere really sunny?" Billy suggested. "Then the rain won't be able to make her sad."

He smiled indulgently. "Like where?" They’d played this game before, but Billy was always surprising him with a range of weird and wonderful new suggestions.

"Aruba?"

"But she won't know anyone there. And what would she do for a job?"

He smiled despite himself Billy's small face screwed up as he concentrated on another destination. Billy’s eyes squeezed tightly shut and mouth pressed so tightly into a tiny 'o' that it almost disappeared completely. "Maybe she can go visit Aunty Sheree in Queensland?"

"That might be a better idea."

"Can we tell her our idea?" Billy was practically bouncing up and down on the spot.

Even as he watched, the heaviness that had seemed to envelope Billy moments earlier evaporated as the hope that they’d found a solution for her sadness took root and grew.

"We can try," he replied cautiously. He didn't want to dash Billy's hopes, or shatter the smile that appeared to reach from almost ear to ear on his son's small face. He knew better than to expect his wife to listen; she'd stopped listening to them a lifetime ago.

He crept up the stairs with Billy just in front. Both of them walked slowly, taking small tentative steps, as they followed the sound of sobbing. Billy muttered under his breath, counting counted each of the steps it took to reach the top. He knew Billy was using it as another distraction technique, but he was willing to indulge his son if it made things easier. Billy was just a few paces ahead of him as they neared the bedroom.

"I think she'll like this idea, Daddy." Billy turned to face him with a face was so full of enthusiasm that it would have been cruel to dash the hope in him with tempered words.

"Mummy?"

Just as he’d expected her to be, his wife, Billy’s mother, was curled on the floor with her head resting against the foot of the perfectly made king-sized bed. Wrapped tightly in her arms was a photo of the three of them. He smiled at the memory of the day the photo was takenalmost three years ago now. Billy had run amuck, forcing both he and his wife into a chase until the instant the photographer had said, 'Say cheese'. Billy had instantly frozen in place with a big, goofy grin. As a result of the chase, both he and his wife looked completely frazzled and tired when the shutter clicked.

Who knew nine-year olds could be so energetic? 

It wasn't the best photo of the three of them individually, but it was the one which best represented their life. Or at least, the life they'd had before.

"Mummy?" Billy called again, disrupting his father's thoughts. Billy’s little voice held a desperate tone this time, edged with the onset of tears. 

He mentally scolded himself for not warning Billy that this could be the outcome. It was possible this would always be the outcome, no matter how many times they followed the sounds of her tears in an attempt to soothe her. 

He glanced around the space which he'd once shared with the fragile woman in front of him. Scattered all around the room were various piles of moving paraphernalia, boxes and packing tape, scissors and garment bags. None of the items came as a great surprise to him; it seemed like an age had passed since she'd decided to move out. She hadn’t been able to follow through with that choice yet though. It still made his heart ache to see her in pain and not be able to do anything to fix it. Not that he and Billy hadn't tried, she just seemed impervious to all of their varied attempts.

"Mummy?" Billy's lip trembled as he called for her again.

The whole thing was hardest on Billy. As astute as Billy might have been, it was all wiped away in the face of a mother who didn't respond to desperate pleas for attention. That would have been enough to shatter any young child. 

He wished there was more he could do to help both his son and his wife. It was hard on him, but he could bear the load. Because he understood why

He could understand why his wife no longer spoke to them and why his son hadn't aged a day in the last two years. He didn't like it—hated it in fact, would have done anything to change it—but he understood. He lived with the hope that one day things would change, but he grasped the fact that it might never. He wondered whether one day the rain wouldn’t make her sad and Billy could be free of his worries—worries a child shouldn’t have to face.

"She still can't hear us, can she Daddy?" 

Billy's tear-stained cheeks made him angry at the world all over again.

Maybe if it hadn't been raining that night, things would be different now, he thought as he allowed the all-consuming rage to settle over him. If he closed his eyes, he could see it all happening again. He could hear the sounds of the squealing tires, feel the blind panic that raced through his veins as he'd woken--his first thought, Where's Billy? 

By then it was already too late for Billy and, although he hadn't realized it immediately, it was already too late for himself too.

"She won't ever be able to hear us, will she?" Billy sniffed as he looked down at his feet. He shuffled from side to side as he watched his mother's tears begin anew.

Give them enough time and they'll find reason in the most complicated concepts, patterns and knowledge that would bypass even the most capable adult.
 

He gave Billy a small smile. He dreaded the day Billy’s hope to faded completely—he drew so much of his own strength from it. "Maybe not," he said. "But we'll be here for her anyway, won't we?"

Billy wrapped his arms around her waist. She'd never feel him there, but it made Billy feel better. "We'll be her angels."

"I like that; her angels. We'll keep her safe, won't we, mate?"

Billy smiled and nodded. "And maybe one day, she won't always be sad when it rains."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Year's Not-Resolutions

Welcome to 2014!

In my last post, I said I still needed to come up with my New Years resolutions. I'll admit that I struggled with it. I now see that there's a reason why I've failed to set resolutions. Each year, millions of resolutions are made all over the world. I would hazard a guess that a significant portion of these are broken even before the end of the first week of January. Why? Because they're inflexible.

So instead of resolutions, I'm going to make goals. What's the difference?

Goal: the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result
Resolution: a firm decision to do or not to do something

The difference is subtle, but I intend to set goals to achieve rather than limiting myself to only doing one thing or not doing something else.

So what are my goals for 2014?

  • Finish/polish the remaining three novels in my series to the point where they can be sent to my publishers for consideration. 
  • Finish my next stand-alone novel and have it to the query stage. 
  • Write. Write. Write some more. 
  • Plan the next overseas trip for the family.  

I have my own personal timeline for when I would like to achieve all of these goals by and it's not necessarily the end of 2014 but they're the first of my goals to achieve for this year. The beauty of goals is once these ones have been met, I can set new ones. If something else comes up that is more important, goals can be amended to fit life and for that reason they're more likely to be achieved. Unlike resolutions which are simply do or do not.

I'm interested to know, have you set a New Year's resolution(s)? Or are you like me and have set goals instead?