The Reality of Novel Writing

Writing novels is hard work.

Writing a novel can be as hard as going to work every morning, working under someone else and getting a paycheck—except with writing, you only get paid if you sell your books. In fact, you’re spending more money than you are making when you first start out.

Starting a book is well and good. What matters is that you finish the draft. It doesn’t matter how long it takes unless you’ve made a deadline or an editor/publisher makes one for you. What counts is when you’ve finished the first draft.

But that’s only the beginning.

Your first draft is not the one hit wonder. It’s not ready to be published. Take that draft and shred it to bits with a black felt tip pen. Edit like your life depends on it. That first draft shouldn’t have much salvaged when you’re done.

Mine looked like this after the third drafting. It shows the first two were really bad. However, this is what your first draft should be after editing.

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If it’s your first novel, you’ll draft a few times. Sorry, but that’s the truth. You won’t be brilliant like Stephen King, Scott Lynch or Terry Goodkind your first go. It takes several novels to get that damn good and believe me, even bestsellers first drafts take a bit. Look at how long George R.R. Martin takes.

I can hear my editor’s cry now at just mentioning his name. 🙂

After you’ve made your painstaking edits, put them in the computer and re-read everything, take a break for at least a week on that novel. Let it process. You are going to have to do this in order to look at it fresh later. Don’t fight this—just do it. Your mind will be mush at your first edits.

So while you’re doing this, work on something else. It doesn’t matter if you’re not putting that book out the same year or if it’s a fun project. Sometimes I work on sketches on my new work, or I write and game for a bit with friends. Either way, you’re allowing time for your mind to recover from editing.

Once you’ve done that, go back and work on your novel. If you need to re-write it (and sometimes you do), outline it. Believe me, this will help—no matter how much you mentally complain. Just get it done and over with.

Then do your rewrite.

You’ll be proud of your second draft. You’ll want to post about it on G+ and Facebook. People are interested, so you start thinking of ways to publish it. It’s a success! You’ll be a bestseller!

Stop. You are not done. It’s time to edit the manuscript again.

Your second rounds of edits should be easier. You may have worked through plotholes, tightened up your sentence structure, threw out scenes from last draft and maybe taken out characters that weren’t important. But you find that the new parts you have are just as painstaking as the first edit.

That’s okay. Just edit the damn thing anyway.

Afterwards, find a developmental editor. They are the ones that will help see other plot holes you may have missed, character development issues and world building dos that need to be implemented. They’ll see your strengths and weaknesses and play up on those or show you how to bring up those weak spots. And yes, you can agree to disagree, but why would you all the time when you’re paying them for their expertise?

They will make suggestions you don’t like, but they are there to help. You can talk to them and ask why they made certain corrections or suggestions. If you don’t feel you can, get yourself a new editor. Seriously. You’ll thank yourself later.

If you have a good editor, your manuscript will have so many comments, suggestions and honest feedback your head may explode. That’s okay. 🙂 That’s what you hired them for, didn’t you?

Give them a month to work on it. It may take longer. If it does, don’t complain. It gives you time to work on other aspects of you novel, like your cover artist and typographer. Please do both of these while you’re waiting on edits.

Also, take my advice and get both. You’ll save everyone a headache, your cover artist can focus on art and the typographer can focus on making your blurb with title pretty. It’s a win-win. It was something else I learned.

To get kick ass art, you will want to know your vision before commissioning them. If you don’t know, sit and do some basic sketches. I don’t care if you have stuff written around your character’s head, body, draw shapes and put words inside—anything. You’ll know what you want. I’ve done that before. While not pretty, you also have an idea where you want stuff placed.

This will help them–I promise. If they’re asking questions, they’re doing their job.

When you begin your cover art, please choose your artist carefully. Your cover and blurb is what will make your reader pick the book up and read it. So this is one part you don’t want to screw up. If they want hundreds of dollars for it, make sure it is good quality. And yes, it’s normal for them to charge that kind of price.

If you need recommendations, ask other authors. It’s okay to be part of the community. If you aren’t by now, you will want to consider that. You can get so much feedback from other authors, especially those in your genre of expertise. I found mine through recommendations from someone else.

Next, visit their page, contact them. Ask questions on what they do, what their technique is. How long do you have to wait for the cover? (A lot are busy, so please keep that in mind.) Either way, once you solidify a cover artist, confer with them your sketches, what your vision is and leave them to the work. Do not drop off the earth while this is going on. They will have questions.

They will send you sketches and updates based on their progress. It’s important to be brutally honest at this point. They are representing your novel. They’re drawing your dream in art form. Only you can make sure it looks as close to your vision as possible. A good artist won’t complain about feedback and working hard to make themselves look good. Not only do you get kick ass art to show off, they get to keep their digital for a portfolio on their site. It’s a win-win.

At this point, your edits may come back while the artist is working, depending on their schedule.

This is where you should not be scared, at all. The developmental editor did some hard work for you, showing you where you need to tighten up, cut and make your novel shine on paper. But you’ll probably feel overwhelmed with all the comments and feedback.

That means the person did their job. Stop bitching. 🙂

Sit back and work on it chapter by chapter. That’s the only way you can do this. A good editor will review it again for you and go over it again to make sure you understand what you need to do. Again, if this doesn’t happen, you don’t have a good editor. This part should take a little bit of time. Luckily, mine does a second readthrough.

Now, while they are reviewing the last edits, take this time to solidify promotions, book interviews and author reviews.

You will want to do this, even if it’s your first novel. It can make or break sales. Don’t be scared to toot your own horn–but don’t have such a big ego that you’ll turn people off, either. Be humble, confident and thankful people are interested. Don’t push your novel onto people who aren’t interested. Make some friends while doing your promotions.

At this point, your final edits should come back. They won’t be as dreadful as the first few. But when you get the green light that it’s done and ready to be published, hire a line editor. These people look for grammar and some do eBook formatting. Please sell your novel as eBook as well as traditional. You’ll get more readers this way. A lot use Kindle, Nook and other tablets which read eBooks now. 🙂

Also, make sure to copyright your book and purchase your ISBN numbers.  You can find more on that through the links page. And research good self publishers. I’m hearing great things with CreateSpace right now!

Another helpful hint is to do some giveaways and discount book costs for the first week or two. Now, I know you want to make that money, but you want to be on bestselling lists too. Encourage people to wishlist your book, share with friends and family. If you’re on a bestselling list, you get recommended to other readers. That’s the goal.

Having a giveaway or a release party also helps, which most do on Facebook. One I know does it on G+ and is quite successful.

Keep in mind that you should still be updating your website, engaging with your readers through social media and your blog. Perhaps you want to do some reviews for other readers or give them some exposure. Giving some stuff for free will pay off in the long run later. Success entirely depends on you and how hard you want it.

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