Still Alive

You might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I had died and decided that in this new state of unliving, I would abandon my blog. This is, you will be ecstatic to hear, not the case. I have been busy with a death that doesn’t belong to me, the following despicable family behaviour, a job, a new car (it has GT on the back!), moving house, trying to get internet, and making my beta readers cry.

Yes, finally, the third book in the NEXUS series is (kind of) finished. I started writing it as soon as I finished Temple of the Sixth and set it aside time after time to write Kira, Acts of Violence, and Kira Part II, but at last the most abused book I’ve worked on is nearly ready. It still needs a bit of rewriting and then editing and proofreading, but it’s not too far off now. Hopefully.

Trip To Space

After this stop-start, stop-start, I hope at least the next two books will come quicker and smoother, but thinking about other projects is what got me into this four year crawl in the first place, so let’s ignore that for now.

So, sooner or later I’ll be posting again with a synopsis and release date…or just a cover. Or a rant about another film.

Last Word Proofreading

Fountain Pen

I am now a proofreader! Proofreading hither and thither. Mostly hither.

I’ve been doing bits of proofreading for friends’ businesses for some time – press releases, website articles, comic books, a non-fiction book – and finally realised that I could (and should) make a living of it. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and that writing and editing taught me most of what I needed to know about the English language – even if I don’t always put it to good use. Editing my own work sharpened my eye when it came to other people’s because, as we all know, your own work is the hardest to edit and proofread.

So, driven by the knowledge that I had both the eye to spot errors and most of the language skills necessary, and by a soft spot for telling people they’ve made a mistake, I went to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to start a handful of grammar and proofreading courses.

I completed the courses with the knowledge that I can proofread anything that’s thrown at me – unless it’s a specialist subject, in which case you can throw it elsewhere. And my last tutor was impressed with my eye for detail, so there!

So now I have a brand new button at the top of the website that leads to my brand new proofreading website with links to my brand new proofreading email address. It isn’t particularly well written, but it is well proofread.

Last Word Proofreading.

How to Write a Book: The End

We’ve done the preparation, the writing, the editing, and you feel like you’ve reached the peak of a mountain. Now it’s time to turn around and see the next peak looming over you.

Remember, as with everything that has come in part 1 and part 2, everything I mention here needs its own in-depth research.

THE ROAD TO PUBLICATION

Publication

Perhaps you were writing only for yourself, or your friends and family, or because an alien parasite crawled into your head and made you. In these cases, you may not be interested in publication of any kind. However, even in such cases, you may still want to have a professional-looking book to give to said friends or family, or even to have sitting on your shelf where no one will ever see it but you. And the parasite.

– Which Road?

Will you be taking the traditional route to publication, via an agent and publisher, or will you be self-publishing? Again, this is an entire article’s worth of debate and discussion. Self-publication doesn’t have the same stigma as it used to and is not the easy route, or the one you only take after you’ve repeatedly failed to secure an agent and/or publisher.

Each route has it’s own pros and cons, and you should consider both properly and thoroughly. If you intend to go the traditional route, the next section is irrelevant to you.

– Ebook vs. Paperback

At this point, I’m sure you’ll have done some research…right? You’ll know the kind of prices you’re looking at for paperbacks/hardbacks and ebooks, which is more popular and from where, and which is best for first-time authors. I won’t try to steer you away from either, but I will say that whether you want a hardcopy version or not, you should do an ebook.

E-Book or Print

On the customer’s side of an ebook, they are usually cheaper, meaning people will be more likely to take the risk on an author they’ve never heard of. They are also more likely to buy it on a whim, just to have things loaded on their e-reader; fewer people do this with physical books.

On the author’s side, ebooks cost nothing but a percentage of every sale. Paperbacks cost quite a bit, depending on what source you use, and thus usually need to be sold at higher prices than paperbacks or hardbacks normally would.

Createspace and Lulu are probably the most popular destinations for those wanting physical copies of their book. On the surface, it seems free, but you’ll need to pay for a proof copy before you publish. That’s not really a big deal, although the price to you is usually the same as you would pay for an actual published book.

This leads into the main downside to services such as these. Because they charge so much for print on demand, you will have to up the sale price considerably to even make a tiny profit. I had to up the price of the paperback version of Temple of the Sixth to $14.84 (and £9.99) in order to be making $0.05 through the Expanded Distribution (i.e. channels other than Amazon and Createspace itself). Let’s be honest: that’s a little too much for a paperback.

For Shadow of the Wraith, I now use Lightning Source. They are a little different to the aforementioned places, and require a small annual fee. This fee means that the cost of actually printing a copy of the book is lowered, and I’m able to sell it for £7.99. Bearing in mind that this book is just under 130,000 words, that’s a lot more reasonable.

The percentage of sales I get from the physical versions of the books is so low as to be practically non-existent. Due to this, I made Acts of Violence ebook only. It’s a lot more popular when it comes to unknown authors.

– Cover

Despite the saying, your book will be judged by its cover. If you are taking the traditional route, this will be taken care of by other people.

If you are self-publishing, don’t make the same mistake that so many self-published authors make, and create the cover yourself. Unless you are a very talented graphic designer, the results are likely to be catastrophic. And the worst thing is, you probably won’t even realise.

I can genuinely say that I could count on one hand the number of good author-made book covers I’ve seen. You might think that the content is far more important than the cover – and it is – but if your cover looks cheap, unprofessional, and lazy, it will reflect badly on you and the book. Many, many people will not make it past the cover if this is the case.

Of course, just because someone is a professional doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a good cover. There are professional cover designers out there, but be wary that they aren’t just people who know that a book cover needs a picture, the title, and the author’s name, and so decide that they’ll call themselves a professional. Make sure to look at their previous cover designs. I’ve seen so-called professional covers that are simply horrendous Photoshop jobs too.

Kira cover

Another thing to know is that being artistic and being able to put together a book cover are not the same thing. That said, simply finding an artist may work for you. If you do it this way, the thing to remember is the size ratio. The largest size I have my ebook covers in is 1400×1867 (pixels), and that’s for uploading to Smashwords. Your artist will almost certainly work in a large size anyway, but make sure they know that it’s for a book cover and so needs to be large (the artist made the image for Kira’s cover 2400×3200, which gives me plenty of room to work with), and that it needs to be a certain ratio. If you want, just tell them the minimum size you need (as above, with Smashwords) and ask them to work on it at double that size.

Be aware, too, that ratios will be slightly different for different places. The ratio for KDP is different to Smashwords is different to the paperback. So to be sure, try to know in advance all the sizes you’ll need and tell the artist so he/she can incorporate bleeds (i.e. they’ll make sure the image reaches the limits of the largest size, while the important parts are placed so that they won’t be cut off in the smallest).

If it’s a paperback, you’ll need a back cover and spine as well. Createspace will have a cover template that shows not only the size the image should be, but where the spine text goes, etc. Even if you’re not using Createspace, if the company you are using doesn’t have such a template (although they should), then steal it from Createspace!

Obviously, I’m biased, but I think this method of finding an artist to do the cover art has worked well for me. They create the art based on my (probably overly-) detailed descriptions, and then when they give the me the finished work, I put on the text. Again, you should have at least a basic knowledge of design before you put the text on, or you may end up ruining a perfectly good piece of artwork. I created the plaque for Kira’s cover, and put the text in as though it were engraved, but I did it too small. It looks good on the A3 poster I have on the wall behind me, but you can’t make out the title in thumbnails, and my name is too small even in larger sizes.

– Formatting

Not hugely important if it’s going to sit on your computer, or be printed out on A4 pages and stapled together, but otherwise this is vital. It’s all different depending on whether you are going for paperback (or hardback) or ebook format.

If this is for an agent or publisher, they will likely have their own requirements for formatting. Usually, it should be double-spaced and in a certain font size. Tailor it to their requirements. For self-publishing, continue reading.

Formatting

If you’re formatting for a physical copy, most of what you’ll need to do is obvious: centre the title, author name, and copyright details; set the title, author name, and chapter headings to larger font size and maybe bold; indent paragraphs (but not the first paragraph after a break); set everything to a good, readable font and size; set out paragraphs correctly (again, indented and with no spaces between them for fiction, vice versa for non-fiction); set justified alignment.

Then the printer will have their own requirements. Usually, you will be able to download a template if you really want to, otherwise you can simply set the margins, paper size, etc. to what they tell you.

Formatting for an ebook is both easier and more difficult. Easier because there’s pretty much no design decisions for you to make. More difficult because it’s a more in-depth process.

If you are self-publishing with Smashwords, you’re in luck, because I’ve already written a guide to formatting for that site. I recommend that you do use Smashwords, but I’ll say more about that later.

For Amazon, you should preferably know HTML, as you can make the ebook look exactly how you want it, and ensure there are no formatting issues or glitches (other than by human error). Otherwise, you can simply upload a Word document to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform and it will automatically convert it for you. While this method does seem to be pretty well done, I personally prefer to the peace of mind that comes with knowing I put in something that couldn’t be screwed up by an automated process.

While writing this, I have decided to write a guide to formatting via HTML for Kindle (if you want the guide, let me know in the comments so that I’ll be enthused!), but until then, just follow Amazon’s directions and then go through the converted file with a fine-tooth comb to ensure there are no issues.

EDIT: I have now written the KDP guide!

– Proofreading

Again, this is unnecessary for those travelling the traditional publication route, as the publisher will deal with this and editing.

Proofreading comes after a professional editor goes over your work and makes you cry. They are the last stop before the book goes to print, and the last hope for errors to be eradicated like the vermin they are. They are unsung heroes.

Incidentally, I’m about to start my proofreading business

Proofreading

First, know the difference between a copy-editor and a proofreader, as you don’t want to be paying for something that you’re not going to get. For example, fact-checking is not up to the proofreader. If you claim King Henry IX had six wives, then that’s your error. Granted, in such an obvious case, the proofreader may spot it, and probably won’t ignore it, but don’t expect fact-checking.

If you’re self-publishing – which you are if you’ve read this far – there’s a good chance you won’t be able to afford an editor and a proofreader. Proofreaders are, although fairly-priced, quite expensive, and editors even more so. All the more reason to learn the difference before deciding which you need.

Most self-published authors tend to go for a proofreader. This may be the price difference, or ego, or perhaps enough work is put into their own editing that a proofreader is more cost-effective. The choice is yours, as always.

One thing I will say, though: don’t go to publication without having an editing professional of some kind go through it. For an average length novel, I would say aim for £600-700 and start saving a little bit every week even before you’ve started writing. Unless you have a money tree. Or a good job.

– Finding An Agent

Harder than writing your work of art is finding an agent for it. You will, of course, need an agent who represents the genre that you’ve written in. This has varying degrees of difficulty depending on said genre. When I was looking for an agent for Shadow of the Wraith, it was quite difficult to find agents who represented sci-fi, were taking submissions, and weren’t looking only for hard sci-fi or YA sci-fi.

Don’t be afraid to query the agency if you’re unsure. They might list sci-fi but not fantasy, and while the chances are that means they don’t accept fantasy, the two are usually pushed together so it’s reasonable to ask. But don’t ask an agent who lists only children’s books if they’ll accept your anthology of erotica short stories, or one who lists only romance if they’ll accept your dark fantasy Game of Thrones killer.

Literary Agent

As usual, a good place to start is the internet. You can find lists of literary agents such as this one, which is for UK agents. There’s not a lot of point trying to get an agent who isn’t based in your country, so search for ‘literary agents [country]’.

Next, follow the submission guidelines for the agents very closely; don’t assume that simply getting in contact is sufficient, or that every agency’s policies are the same. If an agency lists on their website an agent dedicated to your genre, address your submission to that person (unless otherwise directed), using their name in the cover letter.

NOTE: Before you send anything to anyone, take a copy of your work – be it printed, on CD, or on a flash drive – and post it to yourself. Then don’t open it when it arrives. This way, you’ll be able to prove (with the sealed, dated envelope) that the work is yours, should the need ever arise. Which it probably won’t.

Generally, you will need the following:

  1. A cover/query letter – this basically states the genre, the word count, a brief outline (the blurb should suffice), and perhaps anything unique about the book. DO NOT write one cover letter and send it to every agency – address the agent by name if you know it, and if possible, make a mention of something about the agency (without being contrived) that shows you’re not just using the spray-and-pray method.
  2. The synopsis – this is a more detailed outline of the book. It is notoriously difficult to write a synopsis, but read some samples and a few guides on how to write them and it won’t be too much of a challenge. Don’t be afraid to give away plot twists in the synopsis, as much as you want to keep them close to your chest. A synopsis is usually between one and two A4 pages (the agency may specify a length).
  3. The manuscript. Not all of it, of course. Usually, they will ask for around 2-3 chapters or 30-50 pages. By this, they mean the first chapters or pages – and they usually clearly specify that too – so don’t try to pick out the best 50 pages in your book. Make sure it is in the specified format (usually Word, sometimes PDF, or simply posted).

Again, follow the individual agency’s directions closely. Don’t email the manuscript to them if they say postal submissions only, don’t Tweet them your pitch, etc. Do only what they say, or you will annoy them and make yourself seem unprofessional. Not to mention if you show that you can’t read and follow simple directions, why would they want to work with you?

It will be helpful to set up some kind of document to keep track of what agencies you have submitted to, when, who has responded, who has rejected, etc. You will probably be submitting to quite a few agencies and you don’t want to accidentally do so twice.

Rejections

You will be getting a lot of rejections, unless you’re very lucky or have insane, never-before-seen talent. Don’t forget that a lot of agents will have interns or whatever who look at the submissions before any actual agent does, and it might not even get past them. Cruel and unfair, but reality. Also, plenty of agents have to confer with their colleagues even after they decide they like a manuscript, so the final rejection may come after long deliberation. Just look for lists of how many times famous authors were rejected, and you might feel a bit better.

You’ll have come across the warnings in your RESEARCH, but make sure you don’t waste any time with an agent (or publisher) who wants you to pay them for anything. At best this will turn out to simply be vanity publishing (where your books will get printed out and then sit in a warehouse doing nothing), or at worst it will be a scam. Real agents will only ever make their money as a percentage of what you earn.

– Finding A Publisher

This will be taken care of by your agent, once you have secured one. While actually getting an agent is a very big step, getting a publisher will be equally difficult and stressful. But at least your agent will be doing the work for you.

There are some publishers – indie ones – who will accept submissions directly from authors, in the same way as an agent. One problem with these is that their funds will be limited, and you will end up doing a lot of work to market and get your book into bookshops and so on. On the other hand, authors are having to be more involved in that with bigger publishers these days anyway. And an indie publisher will have the enthusiasm to do the best they can for you; they won’t be foolish enough to be in it for the money!

The bigger downside is that this is the area where most scammers operate. They will pose as indie publishers, waiting for naïve, hopeful first-time authors to walk into their trap, thinking that they’ll cut out the middleman and keep more royalties. Again, though, if there is any mention at any time of you paying the publisher for anything, you know to walk away. Which means not signing anything until the entire process and obligations of both parties are down in writing. Make sure to read that writing very carefully, and if you don’t understand anything, get professional help to read it (asking the publisher what it means kind of defeats the point).

But genuine indie publishers do exist; I’m friends with one on Facebook.

– Where To Self-Publish

If this is the route you decide, there are multiple platforms for self-publishing. To name just a few:

Buy from Smashwords

As I mentioned, I use Lightning Source and Createspace for the paperbacks, Lulu for a hardback, and KDP and Smashwords for the ebooks. I looked into Feed-a-Read and found it to be too expensive, and the same goes for Lulu – although the special edition hardback of Shadow of the Wraith is for sale, I really only went that route for myself.

In the future, I will only use Lightning Source for paperbacks, as Createspace is expensive and has pretty poor service. If you decide to publish in paperback, do plenty of research into who does what. You’ll want to know where they distribute to, and if it costs extra to distribute beyond their own marketplace (Createspace only recently made it free to distribute to outlets beyond it’s parent, Amazon, even though in reality this means simply listing the book title with those outlets, not shipping physical books to them).

When it comes to ebooks, I don’t think there’s any need to look beyond Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords. Obviously you’ll want your book available on Amazon, for Kindle. The way to go about this is directly publishing with them. As I mentioned, I will at some point write a guide to properly formatting your book for KDP with HTML, but until then, just follow their directions.

You will be hassled at first about enrolling the book into KDP Select. This requires you to give Amazon exclusivity for 90 days, meaning you can’t publish the ebook anywhere else. Again, research it. I enrolled Shadow of the Wraith into Select, and got a lot out of it. I was able to set the book to free for up to five days within those three months, and a lot of real sales came out of that. However, when I did the same with Acts of Violence, I think something had changed. The free days yielded no real sales at all. I can’t be sure, but I think when I first did it, the book’s rank remained high for a while after it was free, allowing it to be seen more. But the second time round, the rank disappeared the moment it went back to normal price, meaning it didn’t have any extra exposure. I won’t bother with it again. It’s only 90 days, though, so perhaps you’ll decide it’s worth a try.

After KDP, really the only other place you need to go is Smashwords. There are others, but Smashwords pretty much covers everywhere you’ll want your book to be sold, including Apple iTunes/iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. It will also be distributed to three companies that sell to libraries, a handful of places you’ve probably never heard of, and will be sold on Smashwords itself. It will also turn up in places you don’t expect, like Waterstones and so on.

So, in short, publish with KDP and Smashwords.

– Advertise

Don’t sit back and expect the book to start selling by itself. Inform those writing groups and whatnot that you’ve been in contact with, use Facebook and Twitter (learn to use hash tags properly), find other websites to join and utilise, such as creating an author profile on Goodreads.

Advertise

Forums are good places to go, if you are going to participate in conversations, and not use them solely for advertising. There are two Kindle-specific forums that I use occasionally: Kindle Users Forum (UK) and KBoards (US). Each have some small downsides, such as restriction of threads and posts about your own work, but if you use them right, you’ll see a spike in sales.

As with everything else, research. The advertising part is a process almost as in-depth as the rest, and there is no sure-fire way to success. There are places to get free press releases, review bloggers to get you well-written reviews, and plenty of other things you won’t think of if you haven’t researched.

PROFIT!

Profit

Or more likely, don’t. Receive a trickle of money, if you’re lucky. Either way, keep advertising and keep writing.

THE END

How to Write a Book: The Middle

So, we’ve covered the preparation stages in part 1, now it’s on to the main event:

NOW, WRITE!

Finally, we’re ready to start the fun part. It only took us 3,000 words to get here. All of that preparation might have been a pain, but there are two bits of good news. First, if you made it through the pain, there’s a good chance you’re definitely writer. Second, you’ll be glad of all the planning and research while you happily write away, fully aware of who your characters are, and their motivations and whatnot.

Fountain Pen

While fun, this part is also tricky, because it’s where people are unsure if they are ‘doing it right’. It’s extremely hard, if not impossible, to tell someone how to write something good. It either happens or it doesn’t. That said, don’t expect to have something publishable come out of your first attempt. Some authors have numerous fully completed manuscripts lying in drawers that will never see the light of day, because they’re not good enough.

The best advice I have heard or can give is to simply write for yourself. Write something that you would want to read. Try never to think ‘ah, that’ll do’. Enjoy the process and the work itself. As for knowing when it’s properly finished, or if it’s publishable, that’s pretty much up to you to decide for yourself – but don’t forget you have friends and family!

– Just Write

This part of the process is all about getting everything out of your head. Don’t edit what you’re writing. Don’t worry too much about your sentence structure, how many adjectives you’re using, and how many iterations of ‘was’ and ‘that’ you’re using. Hopefully, you should be writing fairly well by default, but all this will come in the rewriting and editing stages.

Characters come alive

By Jodi Harvey-Brown

If you’re not sure where to start even after planning, just start with anything you’re sure of: maybe a scene you have in your head, or have the protagonist do something normal and everyday, like going to the corner shop, so we’re introduced and you get into the flow of writing. You’re not chiselling into the side of a mountain, so you can afford to do things out of order and write stuff that will never make it near the finished work.

Your characters will take you in directions you didn’t expect, and reveal things about themselves that you may not have known without a thorough background check. This is part of the fun, and you will do more harm than good if you scold them and force them back onto the path you’ve set out for them.

– Backup

Remember what I said in part 1 about my computer deleting all of the work I’d done? Save to multiple computers, flash drives, external hard drives, Dropbox, even send your work to yourself in an email attachment. And backup very regularly.

– Chapters

You don’t have to decide how you want to do your chapters at this stage. You may find your scenes splitting themselves up into natural chapters as you go, or you may have to go back through later to insert them. You may decide that you don’t want to use traditional chapters. In my NEXUS series, I haven’t so far used chapters in the normal way, with numbers and/or names. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Terry Pratchett book in which he uses any kind of chapters.

It’s up to you and what you think suits your particular book. There isn’t really a right or wrong here. Choosing where to insert your chapters can be surprisingly tricky, and you may find yourself doubting your choices. Equally, not using chapters may have its own issues.

– Take A Break

Take a Break

– ‘Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit’

Know when to stop writing for the night, or for the morning, or whatever it happens to be. A good piece of advice for finishing is to never write until you’re empty. When you are in the mood to write, and it’s all flowing out of you, it’s tempting to just write and write and write, but if you finish while you still have ideas, it will be much easier to pick it up again when you return. But don’t stop after an epiphany, obviously, as you don’t want to come back the next morning and realise that you’ve forgotten where you were taking things!

Now might also be a good time to revisit your notes and plans. Perhaps not to edit them, but to add to them. I prefer to update my notes with new information and ideas, rather than ‘correct’ the old notes. Apart from anything, the planning and note taking – and especially the editing – is a different kind of writing to what you’ve just been doing, and you don’t want it to break your creative flow. So perhaps just jot down important revelations and the like, and then go to bed. Or work. Don’t forget to go to work.

– Don’t Fear The Internet

This could have easily gone in the research section, but it’s as relevant here. The internet isn’t just for Googling your name to see if you’re a famous author yet (hint: you aren’t; you haven’t finished the book). There are a lot of people on the internet: some most are a******s, but plenty will be a lot like you. Websites like Authonomy are good places for writers to learn, meet other writers, and even ask for help.

If you are active in a website such as Authonomy, you can learn a lot about writing, as well as receiving (hopefully constructive) criticism of your own work. Not only does the latter help you improve said work, but it will help thicken your skin for the inevitable bad reviews and so on later. You can also make a lot of good connections.

FINISHED!

Hooray, you’ve written a book! Calm down. At this point, I usually go straight back to the beginning and start going over it again. The better plan would be to take a longer break of anywhere between a week and a few months, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

– Rewrite

How you go about this is up to you, but I’m going to dictate anyway. Rewriting and editing are fairly in-depth topics in their own right so, as with everything else here, you should probably read (or have read) a book or article specially written for the subject. That said…

Rewrite

Don’t start with edits. I didn’t say ‘rewrite/edit’, I just said ‘rewrite’. You could say they are practically synonymous, but here that means that you should start with structural changes, not line edits. Line edits being rearranging sentences and the words within. Structural changes are drastic things that may change even the basics we planned out: genre, setting, narrator, etc.

You might, as many of us do, find that your opening just doesn’t work. Perhaps you have a prologue, the information in which would be better scattered throughout the first few chapters. Information dumps are bad!

Perhaps a character turns out to be quite boring and unnecessary, and should be deleted. Or perhaps the book is missing a vital character that you need to insert.

You might start by reading over your book with a notebook beside you. Skim over it, ignoring the wording for the moment, and just concentrate on the bigger picture. Anything that strikes you as out of place, unrealistic, overflowing with information, or anything that trips you up or catches your eye, write it down to come back to it once you’ve finished your read. Apart from anything, skimming through like this is more likely to help you catch plot holes or scenes that are too slow or too fast, etc., than a normal read, or while editing.

Some people go for a more literal rewrite at this stage, and will write the book again from scratch. Presumably, you would write an outline of each chapter and work off that, but I don’t think that method would work for me. The closest I’ve got to that is with the novel I’m currently working on. I have already written a fair amount of it, and now that I’ve finally gone back to it, I have it open on one screen while I write it again on the other. This means that some lines are identical between the two, while others are added to, or taken away; in other parts, entire chapters are added. But, again, I don’t think this benefits me any more than simply rewriting in the same document.

– Edit

Now it’s time for the line edits. Would this sentence work better if it came after that one? Would they both work better if they were merged into one? Should that whole paragraph be condensed into one sentence, or deleted completely?

Line Edit

You will almost certainly find yourself rewording individual sentences at this point. If you can avoid doing so until you make a dedicated edit run for that, it may be for the best, but it may also be unavoidable.

Just as when you finished your first draft, it is a good idea to leave the book to rest a while between edits. Fresh eyes will see new issues every time.

The final step of an edit – for me at least – is to look at the individual words. You will probably have reworded many of your sentences by now. But even when looking at the big picture, it is hard to see when you’ve overdone things. Using a character’s name too many times in quick succession, too many iterations of certain words, etc. I have a list of words I do a quick search for, to begin with. I have a tendency to use the word ‘suddenly’ a little too often. While I have slowly weaned myself off this habit, I still search for iterations of it. It’s one of those words that is rarely necessary. If I have more than, say, three iterations of it in the entire book, then it’s overused. I try to aim for only one or two but, again, only if it reads well.

Other things to look out for are unnecessary/superfluous words (usually adjectives or adverbs), correcting misused or mistyped words (it’s/its, their/there/they’re, your/you’re, learnt/learned, though/through/thought, quite/quiet, etc.), common mistakes that have become ingrained in most people’s minds (percent vs. per cent, alright vs. all right, damnit vs. dammit/damn it, affect vs. effect, etc.). I’d like to give a special mention, American readers, to ‘I could care less’. This is NOT the phrase. It’s ‘I could NOT care less’.

Some words that are commonly used unnecessarily are ‘that’, ‘very’, ‘suddenly’, ‘just’, ‘then’. The list goes on, and it’s not difficult to find whole articles (and probably books) written on the subject of such words. Don’t say ‘ran very fast’, say ‘sprinted’. Don’t say ‘very angry’, say ‘furious’.

Dialogue Tags

But don’t go through your work changing words for no reason. Don’t go through and think ‘Uh oh, I saw that on a list somewhere; I’d better change it’. For example, some people say that the word ‘said’ is overused. Well, I’d like to see a writer not use ‘said’ as a dialogue tag without crossing into highly irritating, contrived territory. Other sources will say that ‘said’ is by far the best dialogue tag, because it becomes all but invisible to the reader, allowing them to be aware of who is talking without having to focus on contrived tags.

It can be difficult not to fall into the trap of changing words simply because they’re listed as overused or unnecessary or whatever. If you do start changing words for no real reason then at best it will come across as contrived or pompous, or at worst…remember the episode of Friends when Joey used a thesaurus to make his letter ‘better’?

In other words, use your own common sense and stick to your own style. Sometimes an overused or cliché word simply works. Again, people complain about J.K. Rowling’s overuse of adjectives and adverbs, but has that damaged her writing and career? If it works, it works. Just make sure if you break ‘rules’, and leave things in that might be topics of complaint, that it’s for the right reason (i.e. it reads well).

Consistency may need its own pass. Do you have something capitalised sometimes and not others? Is your character wearing a jacket in one scene and in the very next, he’s scratching his bare arm? Consistency in the writing itself and in the content is, obviously, very important.

There are some automated writing services online that may be of use, especially when you’re just starting out. I can’t for the life of me remember the one I used for Shadow of the Wraith, but it looked for a lot of stuff, from spelling and grammar errors to word usage and those overused words I mentioned earlier.

Whether or not you use such a thing as a basic part of your editing stage is up to you, but I would suggest you’re careful not to rely on it any more than you do on Word’s spellchecker. DO NOT RELY ON WORD’S SPELLCHECKER!

If you make it all the way through this guide and don’t notice any errors or inconsistencies, you might need to give your own work some extra goings over. For example, I’ve capitalised some words for emphasis, while italicising others. If you pick up on stuff like that, it’s a good sign.

I mention it in part 3, but it’s worth noting here too that it’s notoriously difficult to proofread your own work. You will end up reading what you know is meant to be there rather than what is there.

– Beta

The next stage for a lot of writers is to send the book off to beta readers. This basically means you give the book to family and friends, perhaps writers’ groups or websites, for feedback.

Beta Reader

While this is a good idea, it can be quite disheartening. While professional or pseudo-professional writers will likely be pretty harsh, you might find friends and family will let you down completely. I sent Acts of Violence to a handful of friends, and not one of them read it. So don’t rely too much on beta readers, as there are a few too many people out there who don’t know how to say ‘no’, and it ends up screwing things up for you a lot more than that ‘no’ would. Plus, it’s difficult to be totally honest about the negatives to a friend or relative.

So places such as Authonomy are probably your best bet, but there are downsides here, too. You can’t just upload your work and expect people to flock to it; you have to put work in. You will end up reading and commenting/critiquing more than you receive comments/critiques, but even that will help you. Even while you are identifying problems in other people’s work, you may realise that you’re making the same mistakes, for example.

In this stage, you have to be ready to take (constructive) criticism. Even pretentious writers who consider themselves wordsmiths of the highest order, yet can’t get an agent any more than anyone else, may have valid points. The main thing to remember is that, much of the time, it’s just one person’s opinion on how writing should be done. It may or may not be relevant to you, your writing, and your style.

In short, read/listen to and take in everything, but don’t make these assumptions: A) That these opinions and views all need to be implemented into your writing; B) That none of these people understand you/your writing, and they should be ignored.

Finished Book

If you have no desire to take things any further and get published, or just print out a nice paperback copy of the book for yourself, then read no more! Otherwise, part 3 will cover what you need to know next…

How to Write a Book: The Beginning

Not long ago, I was at a meeting at which my being an author came up. During a lunch break, a woman started talking to me about writing, and how she’d always wanted to write something. She was asking me questions about how you know if you’re a writer, how you go about writing a book, and so on.

On the one hand, I see people saying things like that similarly to telling a brain surgeon how you’ve always wanted to perform brain surgery, but never had the time or never got round to it.

Sit Down And Write

On the other hand, it’s not for me to tell people that if you’re not writing then maybe you’re not a writer. Perhaps people genuinely suppress that desperate need to write that actual writers feel, because they don’t know how to go about starting a book. Maybe.

Regardless, the question of how to write a book is one that is asked a lot. The internet is also overflowing with articles and step-by-step guides. It could figuratively literally burst at any moment because there are so many. So I’m going to write one too.

My guide on how to go about writing a book is not an ‘expert’ one, nor a hugely in-depth one (otherwise it would be in a book, wouldn’t it?), or an all-encompassing one. It is simply based on my sphere of experience and knowledge: what does and doesn’t work for me, and what does and doesn’t work for other writers I know.

I’ll only go over the basics, and then you’ll go away and put thought and research into the stuff and whatnot therein. This is more of a pointer in the right direction than an attempt to rival Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

So, with the disclaimer that it’s not my fault if you finish reading this and still don’t have a best-selling novel with your name on it, let’s start. Oh, also, I’ll be using my own work as examples; I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but it’s not for advertising purposes.

PREPARATION

Aside from the actual writing, there are some other things you need to do and think about.

– Buy A Notebook

You will almost certainly find yourself coming up with ideas for storylines, characters, scenes, even single lines of dialogue or description that you will want to remember. No matter how much you think ‘I’ll remember it’, there’s a very good chance you will not. The same goes for dreams. It’s too easy to wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and be too tired and relaxed to write it down, thinking that you’ll remember it in the morning. Then you don’t. So write it down, even if it’s only so that you can look at it in the morning and wonder how you ever thought that was a good idea.

Notebook

– Learn The Rules

Writing isn’t just about thinking up a good story and interesting characters; writing is about…writing. That means your characters and story need to come alive on the page and in the reader’s mind. And for that to happen, your writing itself needs to be at least solid.

Obviously, just knowing the difference between an adjective and an adverb isn’t going to make you an amazing writer. Knowing how to use adjectives sparingly, and to show not tell, won’t ensure that your novel is the next Game of Thrones. But once you know the ‘rules’, you’ll know when you can break them. You’ll know what a pile of crap many of them are. But even the rubbish ones are there for a reason, and may make you think twice about an iffy sentence.

You can’t paint without learning how to paint. And once you know how to paint, you can do whatever you want with the knowledge and skills you’ve learnt. Do you think Picasso was taught to paint the way he did, or did he learn to paint traditionally, and then take all of those skills and paint his own way?

– Read

You may have heard this so many times that it now annoys you. We’re always told that a good writer is a good reader. This of course means that we deconstruct what we’re reading and work out why something on the page works or doesn’t work. We think about how we would have written the same scene or dialogue. Perhaps we imagine our own characters in place of the book’s.

Stephen King

Reading improves vocabulary, opens you up to different styles and character points of view (first person, third person, etc.). You’ll see from reading other authors’ works just how much you can get away with. I found myself obsessing over adjectives and trying not to overuse them, until I read the first chapter of an Ian M. Banks novel. He broke so many of the ‘rules’ and it didn’t matter. His paragraphs spanned entire pages, some sentences ran on for multiple lines, I counted something like nine adjectives and adverbs in a single sentence… But none of it ruined the writing or put me off.

And what about the Harry Potter books? J. K. Rowling is quite fond of adjectives, and takes some criticism for it, but has that fondness damaged the books or their sales? Depending on what source you look at, the Harry Potter series is either the third or the fourth bestselling/most read of all time. Do we really think that if she used less adjectives, her sales would outstrip anything else?

So read.

– Why Are You Writing?

You should probably have it straight in your own head why you’re writing a book. Is it because you think it will make you money? Because you think it will be easy? Because someone else wants you to?

Isaac Asimov

I won’t go into details and statistics about the money side of writing, because it’s depressing. And because I can’t be bothered to go looking for said statistics. Even if writing a half-decent book guaranteed you several years’ income, it’s not a good reason to write. You’ll get bored and frustrated, and you’ll either give up or put out a really crap book. The same goes for most reasons for writing, really. If you’re not writing for you, then you probably shouldn’t be writing. If you have any doubts about whether you actually want to be a writer, try writing a short story and see how it feels.

PLANNING, PLOTTING, AND SCHEMING

That’s an Oxford/Serial comma. If you don’t know that, you should still be in the preparation stage! It’s entirely arguable that I shouldn’t have used the Oxford comma there, but never mind. Clarity over convention. Not that the title needed clarity. Moving on…

Straight away, this is diverging from my own routine. I tend not to plan beforehand. I just have an idea for a story or a character, or even a scene or event, and I write it. Then I just keep writing. As I write more, the world and the story develops around me, both on the page and in my head. That’s when I start to plan more. That’s when I start writing ideas of where the story is going, what’s going to happen to the characters, etc. But that way comes with its own problems, so if you’re just starting out, you might be best planning.

Kurt Vonnegut

The thing to remember, perhaps above all else, is that what you plan and what happens on the pages of your book are not going to be the same. That’s fine. Once you breathe life into your characters and your world, you can’t possibly expect to stay in control. You nudge and suggest, and your creations will agree or disagree.

A good example is my thriller, Acts of Violence. Years ago, I wrote a few chapters of a book, which my computer then decided to delete. Thankfully, I’d been sending updates to my granddad, and he’d been printing them out. The last update I’d sent was only about half of what had been deleted, but it was something. I decided last year that I would take that story and those characters, and rewrite it in a sci-fi setting.

The result was absolutely nothing like what I wrote all those years ago. It doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance. The one and only thing the two share is the protagonist’s name. So I got what I think is my best work, and I still have the old story to rewrite sometime down the line.

– The Basics

The first things to decide are the basics. What is the genre? What is the setting (including time period)? What POV will you be writing from?

These are obvious and important. Each one will also sway the others to some extent. If the setting is the Crusades, for example, there’s a good chance it won’t be a romance. And if it is, why is it set during the Crusades?

Point of view is an important one. Is it first person, where we’re in the head of the protagonist (or antagonist, if you’re clever about it)? This will mean that you have to stay in his/her head for the entirety of the book, unless you are a very talented writer and can make a mix of first and third person POV work. Is it third person, where you can afford to be a little more omniscient? How many characters’ POVs will you write from? Just how omniscient will you be? Will the narrator him/her/itself have a voice?

While these are important things to decide before you put pen to paper – literally or not – they may well change. Again, Acts of Violence was meant to be third person, because I don’t like first person. But the line that popped into my head and caused me to abandon what I was writing in favour of the thriller was ‘As his nose cracked under my knuckles, I reflected on how much I hated violence’. It’s a first person line and I liked it. So I didn’t have much choice in the matter after that. It turned out that first person suited the novel better than third person would have. Even something as seemingly set in stone as POV can change in the course of writing.

– Story

KS2 Story Planner

For KS2, but still relevant!

The most obvious thing to plan. What, why, how? Also who, when, and where, but that’s kind of covered in the basics. (Side note: you’ll notice I used the Oxford comma again, and again it was arguably unnecessary, but…consistency!). This part of the planning can be as vague or detailed as you want. If you’re going for detailed, just remember what I said about things changing.

How are you going to introduce the story? What is the conflict or problem that needs to be solved? In what way are you going to develop and progress the story – will there be a trail of bodies, each more grisly than the last as the killer becomes more bold, until he slips up? What will the climax be – probably the hero will confront the villain, or the oblivious lingerie model will suddenly realise she/he loves the hopeless romantic.

How will things be resolved? Will the hero die? Will the villain die? Will the hopeless romantic realise that the lingerie model actually isn’t a very nice person and go travelling to find him-/herself? What loose ends might there be? You won’t really know this until you actually get to the end, but there might be some obvious ones that you can note down from the start, so you remember to check. Perhaps you’re writing a mystery, and one of your red herrings leaves town early on. You’ll have them do it so that the reader will be more suspicious, but then you might forget all about them, and never actually have the detective work out where they went, or why.

– Characters

This is, in my opinion, more important than planning the story. Although it may be entertaining for you to get to know your hero as you go, it might not be a good idea. Your hero needs to be fully formed, and while your writing might give the reader the impression that you’re writing about someone you know personally, there’s a good chance that it will be obvious you’re just making him/her up as you go.

Perhaps your hero finds himself locked in the back of a truck with a ticking bomb. He rolls up his sleeves and manages to defuse the bomb just in time. But your readers are left wondering at what point this insurance salesman learnt to defuse bombs. Did the writer only decide at this point in the book that he was once a master spy?

Even if your readers are only now meant to learn this information, you need to be aware of it from the start. If you kick off your story with your hero tripping over his untied shoelaces and falling down the stairs, there’s a good chance the reader won’t believe for a second, later on, that he was once a master spy. If you already knew that he was, you’re not going to write something like that, but you will probably write in little things that will then later be recognisable as clues.

So take some time to write your main characters’ background stories, write about their appearance, and note any peculiarities they have. It could be something small but very unique to them; it could be something a bit more common (in Acts of Violence, Jack’s anger can get the better of him, and he tries to be smart-mouthed, but sometimes his brain isn’t as quick as his mouth); it could be something bigger and more central to the story, such as Walter Mitty’s daydreaming.

If you don’t feel like you know your character well enough to write the background yet, you could try writing a short story about him/her.

Do not forget to do this same thing for the antagonist. Very rarely should your antagonist be flat and simple. It depends on what you’re writing, of course, but the antagonist will almost always have a reason for doing what they’re doing, may have doubts about it sometimes, etc. Depending on how often he/she/it comes into the story, the reader might not get to see these things too much, but again, you knowing them will make all the difference.

Antagonists

Read about how to write good antagonists. There are plenty of different kinds. Some are acting out of emotion, some out of logic, some out of fear. Perhaps your villain is an android, only doing what it’s programmed to do. This is one of the few cases that a 2D villain would be acceptable, though you’d still need a reason for it being programmed the way it is, so in effect, the programmer would become the true villain, even if he/she is long dead.

Motivation is one of the most important things. Why are the characters doing what they are doing? That goes for the protagonist, the antagonist, the side characters, and even the bit characters (don’t let even your smallest characters be 2D). If your hero jumps into a taxi and tells the driver to run the red lights, you’d better have a good reason for the driver to comply. Does the hero have a gun, perhaps? Or does he offer a large sum of money? There needs to be motivation for everything.

– Miscellaneous

There may be other bits of planning you need to do. If your story is complicated, or contains quite a few characters, you might find it useful to draw out a simple chart. You might save yourself a headache if you can see the book’s timeline in front of you: where the characters intersect, the important events occur, etc.

If you’re writing a murder mystery, you might want to plan each murder ahead of time, listing out the items, weapons, clues, witnesses, and so on, that are involved. Different kinds of book will require different kinds of planning.

– Research

Unless you are the world’s foremost expert on your subject, you should do some research. If you’re writing about one man’s quest to find a yeti, do research into past expeditions and findings. If you’re writing about going back in time to walk with the dinosaurs, research what Earth’s atmosphere was like back then, and what kinds of dinosaurs would have roamed various parts of the world. Even in a fantastical book such as that, you wouldn’t really want your hero to witness a fight between two dinosaurs who would actually have inhabited different continents.

Remember not to assume that your reader knows everything you do, but also don’t patronise them. Perhaps more importantly, remember that your characters probably don’t know everything either. Perhaps your time traveller is a genius who has built a time machine and wants to go back 100 million years, but it takes a friend or colleague to point out that there was less oxygen back then, so he should prepare for that.

Research

It’s okay for your characters to lack knowledge. Think about how much you know about. You might drive a car, but do you know how that car works? You probably use a computer, but do you know how it works? It’s not so okay for the writer to lack knowledge however, as in the time travelling examples. It’s better for one of your characters to point out the oxygen issue to your hero than to have one of your readers point it out to you.

It might be boring to research – especially if you already think you know a lot about the subject – but it’s important. Besides, think how knowledgeable you’ll be afterwards. Perhaps that’s why so many famous authors seem to be intelligent and knowledgeable.

And now it’s time to write! Which will be covered in part 2

Days of Winter Guardians

I have left it so long since the last blog post that the whole layout of this New Post screen has changed. But anyway, it’s time to update the world on my goings on and allow you to unbate your breath.

The main, important things are that I have now finished my second short story featuring Kira. It is tentatively entitled ‘Kira Part 2’. Or ‘Horizon’. It will be first published in the sequel to last year’s anthology: ‘Wyrd Worlds II’. The exact date isn’t known just yet, but it will likely be as soon as this September! So I should probably get started on the cover.

The second important thing is that I’ve been writing a number of blog articles for Uproar Comics, hence why I’m even more quiet than usual here. I’ve been writing about a range of subjects, from the usual films, TV and games, to extraterrestrial life and the Mariana Trench. If you’re interested, which…why would you NOT be, they can all be found here.

And now for the all-important film update! I’ve watched several films in the past couple of months, some of them crap and some of them good.

Captain America 2: Winter Solder is good. Very good. Damn good. I think it’s tied for second place in my list of best Marvel films with Guardians of the Galaxy. The Avengers is better, I think. The only downside is that I guessed the big twist before the film was even released.

Guardians of the Galaxy is also good. Very good. I should probably say damn good, too, because it’s tied with Captain Freedom. It’s not the typical Marvel film, yet ties in with the Marvel universe well. I expected it to be pretty bad purely, simply, because of Chris Pratt. He seemed from the trailers to be an incredibly irritating…prat. But, in fact, he was pretty decent. Personally, I think Nathan Fillion would actually have been better in the role, but it doesn’t matter. It was damn good. And very funny.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was…actually a bit of a let down. Probably mostly because of how much people raved about it, and claimed it was the best Marvel film yet. It isn’t. There are several better ones in my opinion, including at least two previous X-Men films. But it was pretty good. Wolverine was in it, so that was good. But it didn’t feel like a superhero film at all. It was mostly talking, and shouting, and running around. The scenes in the future seem to be there more because they realised how boring the main film was in terms of action, so stuck them in there to keep people interested. And Quicksilver was pointless. But, good acting and a decent enough story. I’m not entirely sure what to think of it, so it’s just as well I’m not giving it a star rating.

Machete Kills. Surprisingly entertaining and amusing.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 was terrible. The worst Marvel film yet, perhaps. Not quite as bad as I’ve heard people say, but terrible. Electro, or whatever his name was, was a complete joke of a villain. Foxx played him well, but the character himself was just ridiculous. I can’t even be bothered to explain why. Plus, spoilers. The conclusion of the relationship with Gwen Stacy wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was ruined by the stupid ending.

So, that’s that. Look out for Kira in Wyrd Worlds II next month. Probably.

The Indie Author Manifesto

The Indie Author Manifesto, by Mark Coker

The Indie Author Manifesto, by Mark Coker

This is fairly self-evident. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has created this manifesto of what it means to be an indie author. The original post can be found here.