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Okay, yeah, the title is a bit misleading. This isn’t about disparaging the writer or their book. I think the worst books can be saved. (Lawd knows mine was saved from the pit!) This article is about first accepting that your initial draft, or second, third, and fourth may be unpublishable or downright awful. Second, accepting that harsh criticism is necessary for growth.
So what inspired this need to hone in on the obvious? A client sent us a scintillating email this morning to opt out of a mailing list that doesn’t exist. I won’t repost it because Beta Witches do not show anyone what our clients write without their expressed permission. The gist was, though, that I’m a terrible person, a terrible editor, and a truly odd person.
In truth, aren’t all of us creative types weird? In my art classes, we call each other odd all day with glee because normal can’t make art. And writing is truly an art if done well.
It’s the second point that I want to highlight, the part about my being a terrible editor. I’m not defending my skills here, but more so highlighting the fact that every writer will get negative feedback about their art. This is so true especially with the editing process of a book!
In my 2-D art and photography classes, we have critiques, just like editing is a writer’s critique. My teachers are brutal! The critiques happen in front of the class. My absolute worst occurred exactly one year ago where an entire theater of professional and semi-professional photographers said my work was akin to street photography as it was plastered across the movie screen. Meaning that my work was bad.
New to photography since I’d only been in class three days before that first crushing critique, I cried and wanted to quit. I was the worst in that group and the worst in my classes for at least 9 months. And yes, I did threaten to quit at least once a week.
This same process happened with my writing. I threatened to give up every two months because of bad feedback, and writing/editing was just too hard. I know you guys can empathize.
Yet, I listened to my editors. (My second editor was so worried about her critique that she apologized before sending her feedback! She said that the book just fell part by the third act. By the second series, she was hounding me to get the sequel finished so she could keep going with the story!)
I rewrote that first book five times. I really rewrote my book five times. I (mostly) listened to my beta readers, and I ended up with a much better book. All this while I wrote/am writing my six other books and having those edited/beta read.
I listened to my photography teachers and kept going despite being just plain bad at photography. I cried all the time, nevertheless, I persisted in writing and photography.
Seven years later with the writing and a year later with the photography, I’m at a better place. My art teachers say I’m a good photographer and I need to look into selling my work to magazines. Check out my Instagram page Molly.Creates to see my progression from my lowly iPhone picture days to my ability to use professional studio lights. And yes, I cooked that food.
Yesterday, a published author friend said I was a good writer and good storyteller. (By published I mean she makes more money Indie-publishing than she did at her government job. This affords her nice long lunches like we had yesterday afternoon, but I digress.)
My friend said publish publish publish cause the book is good, but only after I do another edit. Did you get that? After I do another edit on top of the three years of editing I’ve already done. (It took that long beacuse I had to pay in installments.) Writing a book doesn’t stop once the story is good! It "stops" once all elements like grammar, composition, the teeny tiny plot holes, the lagging parts etc are fixed. That takes time if you want to be on the level of a traditionally published professional on the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
Art, boys and girls, is a lot of work.
So my overall mega big point is that editors have to tell you the truth. Well, we don’t have to, but it’s in your best interest to hear the truth.
Yesterday, at that same ladies-who-lunch lunch there was this hilarious woman who also edits. She said that no matter how bad a book is she only corrects grammar, syntax, and lightly touches on the story. Her reasoning is that she wants to be nice because the writer will get enough flack once they publish. This is the age of freely mouthing off on the internet, ya know.
The truth is that no matter how good a book is people will criticize it, but there’s a difference between justified and unjustified criticism. Your editor needs to tell you the truth that your first draft is crap. All first drafts are crap. I mean an Anne Rice first draft will be better than my third draft, but for her, it’s still crap.
Do you get that? If you can get that then you’ll probably be successful. If you want your editors to kiss your tail and lie then be prepared for some harsh ice water once that book is published.
The entertainment business is cutthroat. The most talented don’t survive. The most driven and the hardest workers make it big.
I just read on Quora about a man who used to choreograph Madonna’s tours at the height of her popularity. He said that what he remembers the most is that her talent level is low. Her work ethic, determination, and ability to market herself made her Madonna. He said no one works harder than her.
So take that crappy first edit, take the harsh feedback from the editor, and put the work in to make your book a success. I read a blog once where a writer said that so few will put the time to write a real book that the market is less saturated for good books. He said if you work hard enough you’ll outwork the rest.
So go make that crap a success.
As usual, I like to add what others write about on the same or similar topics. As writers we have to always read what others are saying, read other books, and stay abreast of the field. These are some inspiring posts I hope you'll like.
Purple prose is the devil. It’s described as flowery, overly ornate writing that takes away from the story. New authors tend to think that the purple devil makes their writing sound gorgeous, deep, and intelligent. In truth, it makes all of this untrue.
Read this example:
Megan flushed with overtly bright happiness, which was on obvious juxtaposition against the overly gray, sad day because today was, finally, her dreamed about fairy-tale ending with her perfectly perfect dream man.
She happily dragged herself out of her luxurious 500-count Egyptian cotton, blue and sea foam sheets, bedspread, and duvet. Her satin pillows hung vicariously near the edge of her crumpled bed sheets as she lingered just on the edge of her bed and watched the sunrise. The ornate pillow jewelry made her skin feel cold as she leaned back in bed.
Megan happily rubbed her swollen and puffy eyes.
Today is my wedding day, she thought as she dragged her brown orbs to her closet that had a door standing open just enough to allow her intricately and expensively designed Italian designer wedding dress play peek-a-boo with her overwrought but excited and yet deep emotions.
Harry was to be her husband in a few short hours, and she pondered what life would be like as a Mrs. instead of a miss. Suddenly her egregiously joyfully happy mood plummeted to the depths of Hades as she realized that she would be losing her independence that day.
“This is my last morning as a single lady,” she bemused as she threw her hand up to impersonate the talented Beyonce from her video single ladies.
“All the single ladies…All the single ladies…all the single ladies…let me see you put your hands up,” Megan sang in her chipped and clunky soprano that wanted to desperately mimic the clarity of a Disney princess…
In a word awful! Who wants to read all that? Better yet why do new authors think readers want to read all that? What successful book reads like this? (Don’t confuse literary style with purple prose.)
Well, as an author I’m not sure why I ever thought any of that was good writing, yet I wrote like that. I used too many words, said nothing in way too many words, and tried to use my entire vocabulary in every paragraph. Then I learned better.
Purple prose is not good writing! Master writers are concise, clear, focused, and every word and action have a point that they add to a book! Such a simple idea that many fail to get.
Here are a few rules to keep the purple devil away from your book.
1. Use the simplest word possible.
2. Say what you mean instead of using a lot of words that say nothing.
3. Make every part of the story have a point.
4. Don’t use the same word all the time.
5. Understand that all of the above makes your book sound amateurish and unintelligent.
6. Bonus: Don’t use suddenly or all of a sudden in a novel.
Master writers write on an elementary school-age level. They don’t write college papers with fictional content! The more complicated the writing the fewer people will read it.
Here’s the breakdown. Many readers are low-level readers, so they don’t want to read anything that taxes their brains. For web info or nonfictional content, they’ll skim. When it comes to reading books they’ll put it down and ban that author from their library. You want the reader to swallow all you write and beg for more. Purple prose will make them choke.
Even high-level readers want easy to read fiction. In truth, the easier to read the book is the more intelligent people think an author is. Stephan King writes on an eighth-grade level, yet no one questions his intelligence.
Think back to a pompous writer. Didn’t you feel like they were overcompensating? They probably were. Purple prose is the devil, remember that kids.
As for my bonus point, suddenly is not purple prose, but it is bad writing. Authors who think purple prose is good writing tend to use suddenly in their novels. So stop doing both if this is you.
That’s it. Short and simple, but I’ll leave you with the better version of the example. Happy spell crafting, folks…
My independence dies today.
Megan’s eyes opened before her mind understood she was awake. A smile drifted across her full lips as she swiped a messy tendril of brown hair off her face. Megan’s heart rushed to pump blood through her body. Her palms tingled and her belly fluttered.
The gray clouds hid the sun, but nothing could trash her mood. Popping up into a sitting position, she threw back her Egyptian cotton sheets. A tiny section of her designer Italian wedding gown played peek-a-boo from her closet.
It reminded her of Harry, her fiancé. The way he’d pull the covers over her face every morning just after they’d wake up.
"My last day as a single lady.” Megan slumped and her heart dropped a bit too. Her career and family had always been her life, but romance had snuck up wrapped in the cutest, funniest accountant. How odd that her perfect man was an accountant, but that was Harry. Loving him was like experiencing her childhood Christmases every day.
Megan threw her hands up and pursed her lips. “All the single ladies… all the single e ladies… all the single ladies…put ya hands up….” She slid off the bed to recreate Beyonce’s iconic video.
Info from the professionals!
So many times we nonprofessionals try to give all the advice when you really want to hear what the professionals do. (I’m equating having a book published and making a living as a writer as being a professional author.)
Today, I had the great opportunity to go to a local literary festival. If you’re an author then take advantage of these places. They’re great for networking, selling your books, and meeting all kinds of people in the business. I met five today who are in various stages of the publishing game, but one thing they all have in common is success.
First up I met Jackson Pearce who gave a talk on YA. She was so gracious to sign my book and give me a one-one chat to pass her tips to you guys. First and foremost, and it’s as trite as the expression first and foremost, you need an editor! You must have an editor if you’re going to do anything with your book.
Miss Pearce said that the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey was a fluke! Most indie authors who don’t put effort into editing don’t do well. She also said that YA and grade school books do better in traditional hardcover and paperback books. The target audience, kids in school, still do most of their book browsing at book fairs that go to the schools and browsing at their local malls and libraries.
That means that you, the YA and grade school author, need to expect to have your book on par with traditionally published books. You have to be able to compete with them to get the attention of an agent or publishing house.
Another way to do that is to be unique with your story. Jackson said that the YA genre is very susceptible to retelling. That is plots, such as inhuman boy/girl with human girl/boy, that are retold in every book. The genre is oversaturated with certain stories! Tell a new story.
Jessica Hawke, another YA paranormal author, echoed Miss Pearce in that authors need editors, material books are better for the YA and grade school genres and be unique with characters and plot.
So basically, kids be creative.
Another tidbit that Jackson said is to write what you know and research what you don’t. This is one of my personal mantras.
Miss Hawke said to know the genre. That is, do your research and read books that are already doing well in your genre.
Allison and I always tell our clients to build the world well in the beginning and to know the rules of the story upfront. Jessica said the same thing during our chat. Know the rules of the story, and stay in them throughout the book. Basically, don’t have a vampire suddenly able to die like a human on page 100. Be consistent, but also allow some flexibility. Jessica said that often you’ll end up having to look at your own rule in a new way, so allow for that early on.
Jessica Hawke is an indie author while Jackson Pearce is traditionally published. Both write YA and romance, and both publish them similarly. They agreed that while YA and grade school is better in tangible form romance lends itself better to E-books.
Women are the biggest buyers of books, E-book and traditional. Women want that escape, so once a woman likes an author she’ll stay loyal. We all know women who buy new books weekly or daily, so if you write romance take advantage of that.
Another romance author, Hildie Mcqueen, did a talk on self-publishing. She was so sweet to talk to me afterward and besides being hilarious she had great info on how she makes a living indie publishing. (She makes more self-publishing than she made at her job.) Branding and marketing. Be active on social media, traditional media, and brand yourself. Have an author platform and a website, not a Facebook author page, but a real website where fans can come visit you at your home. If the fans like your home then they’ll come back.
I also had the opportunity to meet a local indie author, Bryce Gibson, who writes thrillers set here in the south. Mr. Gibson asked me if any of my clients actually used real editors right at the start of the chat. Mr. Gibson hammered the fact that authors need editors. He uses beta readers first, but he’d never put a book out without a real editor seeing it first.
Bryce’s biggest piece of advice was for me as a beta reader/editor. Be honest. For the writer that means hire an honest reader or editor and your book will be better for it. He appreciated the raw feedback on his books, and he uses many pairs of eyes. The more people who read the story the more well-rounded the feedback is. He said that way an author can take the opinions they need and dump the rest, but they’ll end up with the best feedback overall.
That’s a lot of info I know, but I’ll leave you with one last author. Kimberley Lawson Roby is an NYT and a USA Today bestselling author. Since she is famous and there was a large audience to see her, I had to settle for the talk she gave. But what a talk! Mrs. Roby was rejected by every agent and publisher she tried, so she started her own publishing house. After the first book took off she had agents after her, and now she’s very successful.
Mrs. Roby said that for her to have to learn the business by being an Indie author first benefited her. So take all the rejections and setbacks as valuable info for later once your book takes off.
If you want to check out any of the authors I met today here’s some links to their social media and websites. Happy writing, peeps.
P.S. I'll just say that the authors offered the info given freely. I asked what were their best pieces of advice and they all emphasized editing at some point, especially for Indie authors. So many indie authors just post a book on Amazon without having it professionally edited, and to these authors, this was completely unacceptable.
Kimberly Lawson Roby:
Author Kimberla Lawson Roby signs rights deal with Lifetime TV: http://www.targetmarketnews.com/storyid01060902.htm
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