Scrambling at the last minute

My goal was to get my first novel published by the end of the year, and I got it in just under the wire.

I finished off the latest edit, and I sent off a copy at the end of November to one of my beta readers to check for typos and grammar errors. While I was waiting to hear back, I read it again. And edited it again. This really could go on forever.

As I mentioned in my last post, the book still needed a new cover before I put it up for sale. I had some initial pictures and better ideas were developing, but then rain and a trip to Seattle for the holidays stalled progress on the new cover.

While I was in Seattle, I got my typo report back, fixed them, worked on the website and other background stuff, but I couldn’t do anything about the cover until I got back in town. I returned the night of the 26th and headed out on the 27th for another photo shoot. After lots of dashing back and forth with the self-timer, I had thirty more photos. I couldn’t really see how the photos turned out with the sunlight bouncing off of the camera screen, so I went home hoping I had something good. I ended up using the last photo I took, so I am glad I kept trying.

I updated the cover with the new photo, and was ready to submit it for file approval. And I was still messing with the text. I had to get this thing out of my hands. I uploaded it to CreateSpace and waited for them to make sure there weren’t any formatting problems. I received their approval on the 29th and immediately ordered a proof. Now I had to wait for the hard copy to show up so I could make sure everything looked okay in print.

The anticipated ship date was sometime around January 6th, so I wasn’t going to make my year-end deadline. But I was so close I was willing to call it a victory. Then, somehow, during the post-Christmas chaos of shopping and shipping, CreateSpace and the Post Office had the proof in my hands on the afternoon of December 31st.

I filled out all the last minute synopsis, author bio and pricing information and hit “Approve” at around 5:00pm. I was published. More or less. The book could have been purchased on the CreateSpace site that day, but it didn’t show up on Amazon until January 1st. The listing still isn’t completely ready as the web machines haven’t attached the synopsis and preview, but it is available for sale!

My first novel.

Final cut

I spent the month of October doing what I thought would be a final edit of Share the Road. I wanted to get the edit done before changing my focus to the new book, and I thought that going through the novel would also recharge my writing battery for NaNoWriMo.

If I haven’t lost count, this would be the fourth edit of the book. Each round seemed to dig a little deeper, make finer corrections, but they would also add new things to the story. And each time something was added, it was fresh material that needed to be tweaked and corrected.

For the fourth trip through the story, I decided to print it out. For some reason when something is printed out it is much easier to detach myself, and read what is actually there instead of what I think is there. Problems don’t seem to jump out as readily when I am staring at a computer screen.

Reading through it on paper, smaller problems seemed bigger and I was able to focus in word choice and eliminate some repetition that had slipped through the cracks. When I was finished, it felt like it was about ready for a new audience. I set it aside for November.

December 1st I left the new novel at the halfway stage and returned to Share the Road. It had been in the back of my mind while I struggled with the new story, and I was hoping to get it completely finished by the end of the year so I move on. I sent off a copy of it to a friend for a typo check, and decided to give it a final read-through.

And I am still making changes.

It has been said many times by a number of people, a book is never really done, you just finally have to let it go. If you are fortunate enough to be a professional writer, a deadline forces you to stop endlessly tweaking it. For we amateurs, you have to force yourself to stop in order to move on. A book doesn’t come alive until someone reads it, and if you endlessly rewrite it, it is almost as if it was never written.

This is my last time through. I have a couple more chapters on my read-through, and my typo/grammar check should arrive in a week. I need to get this book out of my hands before I do anymore damage.

Beta readers

It was time to let someone else read my novel. Oddly enough, the novel proofs I had ordered were cheaper than printing the book out on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. So my beta readers were about to be duped by the appearance of a finished novel.

Over a few months, the three copies got passed around to eight people. I actually ended up formatting the book for a Kindle (more good practice for later), so one of my friends could read it without waiting. And the feedback was really interesting.

I was mostly interested in whether or not the story held together well enough for them to keep reading, and whether there was enough there to bother working to improve it. I asked them to write down any errors that pulled them out of the story, but I wasn’t expecting a total proofread. It turned out there were plenty of things that jumped out at them.

The first two people to send me their notes each noticed about 50 errors each. The surprising thing that there was only one error in common between their two lists. Not a big boost to the ego to have ninety-nine errors caught by the first two readers, but not entirely unexpected.

As more feedback came in, each person had a different sort of thing jump out at them. One person focused in almost entirely on punctuation, while another caught words being repeated within paragraphs. Every read was seen through a different lens.

Beyond the long list of corrections that was building, each person also had different things stick with them from the story. A particular scene, a good turn of phrase, a point where the story didn’t ring true, etc. One reader would mention a point in the story that really grabbed them, but the other seven wouldn’t even mention it. Another would say that a certain thing needed to be bumped up, while another thought it could be cut.

It was awesome.

It was great to have so many people helping me out. I did my best to improve the things that were mentioned by more than one person, but of course it was still up to me to make the choices about how the book should be changed. The buck stopped with me and I didn’t take every bit of advice.

But the book is absolutely better because of these eight people. Anything that isn’t great is all on me. I can’t imagine doing any differently in the future.

Thank you.

 

 

Painting a better picture

I enjoyed the first read-through. I found good bits and pieces that I had forgotten about. I could see the occasional a-ha moments that happened as I wrote my way into the story. I saw again how random things I put down early in the story popped up again later. And after reading it through, I finally had a title I liked. It was really rough, but it only made me want to make it better.

And it needed a lot of work. There was rambling, repetition, and lots of typos. Though it is not a story where lots of things are happening (think Cast Away), it was in desperate need of fleshing out. I had pictured the scenes in my minds eye, but I had not brought that clarity to the page.

During the first round of editing, I primarily focused on bumping up the descriptive parts, painting a better picture of the world my character was passing through. Since this was not a plot driven book, I needed to be able to pull the reader into the world if it would have any chance of getting them to keep turning pages. I would work on polishing the story on the second pass-through.

This approach to editing is the reverse of most recommended methods. Why bother fleshing out the scenes in a story if you aren’t even sure if they are going to remain in the book. But for some reason this is what appealed to me. I needed to be pulled into the world as well, to find reasons to be there, to find details I previously missed.

And I found that I enjoyed editing.

I was surprised by a couple of things. Editing was as slow or slower than putting down the first draft. As hard as I struggled getting the story down on the page, I couldn’t imagine going any slower. But in a way editing was more difficult. I wasn’t pouring over every word, but the focus was definitely finer. Just as I was trying to notice more details in the imagined scenery, individual words and sentences clamored for attention.

But I found that I enjoyed the tweaking. It still felt like I was discovery writing even though I knew the story already. By taking a closer look at the scenery passing by, I found more inspiration, and so did the main character. The story still wasn’t worth showing to anyone else just yet, but it felt like I was headed in the right direction.

First read

My first novel, written in a rush in just over a month. There was pride, there was elation, there was computer screen eye fatigue…now I had to read the thing.

One of the many lessons from On Writing was to shelter away your first draft and show no one the work in progress. It is just too rough, and you are already filled with enough self-doubt that you don’t need anyone else reinforcing that feeling. You just need to lock yourself away until it is all done.

When I say no one had read the book, I mean even I hadn’t read it. Part of the NaNoWriMo challenge is to turn off your internal editor. I was not entirely successful as my fingers hovered over the keys too long before striking them.

But I did resist going back and messing with what was already down on paper. When I opened the Word file each morning, I would go back a couple of paragraphs to see where I left off, but no farther. Part of it was the time crunch and not having time to rewrite anything. Another was I was worried that I would read it and see how horrible it was and get discouraged. But now it was done and it was time for the first read.

On the advice of many, I intended to set the book aside for a while. Wait for at least a month to distance myself, maybe start reading it in the new year. But I didn’t wait all that long. I was home for Christmas, and had some time on my hands. I reasoned that it had been almost two months since I wrote the first chapter, but it was just an excuse. I wanted to read the damn thing.

I went to Fed Ex/Kinkos and printed it out. Bought a shiny new binder and a fresh highlighting pen. I went to a coffee shop, bought a strong cup of coffee and dug in.

And then I stopped.

I started making corrections and pausing over paragraphs all over again. I was getting too bogged down, obsessing over phrases and punctuation. The highlighter was messing it up and I wasn’t reading the story.  I wanted to read it once through without critiquing it (or at least taking notes) to see if it held together.

I ended up setting the notebook aside. I found a program online that would convert my Word file to a mobile format, and downloaded the book to my Kindle. There are ways to make notes on the Kindle, but it is more cumbersome than with pen and paper. Reading it as an eBook made it easier to just read. No real notes. Some judgment.

Parts of it were painful, but there were certain points or turns of phrases that brought a smile to my face. It needed a lot of work, but I enjoyed reading it for the first time. Now it was time to edit the thing .