Participants: Gerald Hornsby, Maria Johnson, Anita Belli, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Sandy Stuckless, Cheryl Whiting, Chris Towndrow, Karen Heenan, Gillian Harvey, Deborah Klée.
Gerald: Hi Deborah! Not really a ‘submission’, per se, but my next novel will be coming out at the end of this month. So, I will be ‘submitting’ it to Amazon.
Anita: Hi I’m Anita and my next submission will be a non-fiction book called Author in the Classroom, about my experience of working as an author in schools. To accompany a workshop at Swanwick Writers Summer School about being a writer in the gig economy.
Sandy: I’m Sandy and I’m currently tweaking a short story to send to a themed anthology in a shared universe that’s due out in November. I think it’ll need at least one more serious edit before it’s ready to go.
Deborah: Hi Sandy. What is the theme of the anthology?
Sandy: It’s basically an anthology that offers alternate explanations for the mythical legends we know. Big Foot, Loch Ness, etc. For my piece, I decided to mash up some D&D, mountaineering, and ex-military characters. So, my team of characters trek into the mountains to recover a magical meteor and stop a dragon. With some goblins thrown into the mix! 🙂
Deborah: I am rereading my WIP to edit again, so polishing it ready for submission to agents and publishers.
Maria: I’m Maria, based in NW England. In recent months I’ve submitted my 3rd historical fictional novel to my small press indie publishers and signed the contract a couple of weeks ago. It will be my 4th novel overall.
Cheryl: I’m Cheryl. I try and encourage student to publish their research in peer reviewed journals, so these are likely to be next publications. In relation to my book, I guess I will be posting a chapter onto my yet to be developed website as a teaser/ taster of what’s to come
Chris: Hi Deborah and all. In hindsight, I tend to publish too early, but have beefed up my edit process to get a better ‘1st edition’. This week I re-released a sci-fi novel, I have a short-ish story going online this weekend hopefully, thereafter nothing fixed.
Deborah: Hi Chris. I think we all press send too soon when we start out. I am still learning to hold back. We can all be a bit impatient at times.
Chris: I wouldn’t class it as ‘impatience’, more that ‘good is good enough’. Like many, I could revise endlessly and procrastinate. My dramedy has 5* reviews, even from those poor souls who read version 1… ! I’ve learned since then.
Cheryl: I think you can over think things and you can destroy a good piece by playing around with it too much. I say ‘put it out there’ in some way when you’re 75% happy. If people are flying a flag, its good enough – move on and devote time to the next piece.
Kathleen: Hi! I’m Kathleen, US mystery writer, and I’m waiting for the editorial letter on my first contemporary mystery. I’ve been over the MS and I know what I think should be changed…but I don’t know what my editor will want.
Deborah: Hi Kathleen. I love getting comments back from an editor but it always makes your heart sink a little until you have time to mull them over. Good luck!
Kathleen: So true — my rule is that I acknowledge receipt…but don’t say anything to the editor about the comments until I’ve had a couple of days to let them settle. They’re usually right, and I don’t want to mess it up with a defensive response. I’m pretty easy, after a lifetime in newsrooms…but there’s always something that feels like too much — and is exactly right in the end.
Karen: I’m Karen, I live near Philadelphia, and I write historical fiction. Recently submitted my third novel to my publisher and am working on edits. Also finishing a draft of another historical which I will self-publish (sometime) in the future.
You have written THE END on the first draft. What do you do next – after celebrating of course?
Gerald: I check the final wordcount. I tell people I’ve finished the first draft. I do something else for a week, before the first draft edit, ‘add-it’ and rewrite.
Gillian: PRINT and read in hard-copy 🙂
Anita: Park it for a bit. Then take a tentative peak and cry … then think, oh it’s not so bad after all … then read and rewrite and fix things and then ask a beta to read it and then rework again until I am sick of it… then edit…Then ask for more readers. Respond to them and eventually Publish and be damned! Meanwhile, having moved on to the next idea which is soooo much more exciting….
Deborah: Ernest Hemmingway quote ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’
Anita: And Michael Crichton who said ‘Books aren’t written. they are re-written.’
Karen: After the champagne? If I’m disciplined, I will put it away for anywhere between 2 weeks and a month to give my mind some time to be objective before starting to edit.
Deborah: Very wise. I am resting my MS now but itching to get back in there. Focusing on the synopsis instead which isn’t so much fun.
Chris: I tend to let it sit days/weeks – perhaps move on to another project, sometimes while a beta is reading it. First edit is any feedback plus an on-screen ‘kill the filler words’ pass. Second edit is a printed-out read through with red pen.
Deborah: I follow a similar course of action. Do you read your MS on a Kindle or other reader too?
Chris: No, this is probably the only ‘readability step’ I don’t have a handle on. I put a lot of faith in the Scrivener export, and have picked up some errors in Adobe Digital Editions for one book, but I don’t know enough about possible pitfalls…
Kathleen: (sheepish shrug) I never really have a first draft. I edit each day’s pages at the beginning of the next day’s work. My first step when everything is down, though, is going all the way through a couple of times to make sure it all holds together.
Cheryl: I try to avoid this, as I end up ‘faffing’ and not getting ideas out of my head andwords on paper, so feels like I’m not progressing. Once a week. I print off what I’ve written and edit in the coffee shop. Then edit on screen when have few moments of time to kill.
Sandy: 1st drafts are like a nice piece of beef. You have to let it rest. I usually give my drafts at least a month, sometimes longer depending on what I’m working on. I need time to ‘forget’ what I wrote.
Deborah: I love that comparison to beef. I am always a bit too impatient and start my first edit too soon. I am resting my beef now for a couple of weeks before a read through on my Kindle.
Cheryl: I’m with Sandy on this #FriSalon. I often put things ‘away’ and come back a while later with fresh set of eyes. Interestingly I’ve got 3/4 way through a chapter having trouble pulling it together in right direction. So, I’m leaving it where it is and moving onto the next.
Deborah: I leave the MS alone for a few days then work through chapter by chapter on my desk top, improving prose, checking continuity etc. 1st edit.
Do you have a process for checking: Character arcs Chapter beginnings and endings Pace Hitting all of the story beats Anything else?
Kathleen: All of the above — and I usually catch it in read-throughs. As a mystery writer, I also have to keep track of all of the evidence, and how to hide it — or not! If I don’t wake up at 3AM worrying about something I missed, I’m doing it wrong!
Karen: No specific process for me. I write out of order, so there are a lot of notes in brackets to check later, because I don’t always know when I write where in the story the scene will appear, and I’d rather cut repetitive stuff than have to remember to insert it. Since my work tends to be more character than plot-based, the arcs are usually solid but I always have to check my continuity and my timeline to make sure it makes sense.
Maria: My first edit is what I call a ‘content edit’ I make a note of plot points, time passing etc. In my 3rd historical fiction novel my MC Daniel goes on a quest and during editing I changed him being gone for months to about a week. Then had to make that consistent! E.g., there was a scene where a close friend makes a joke about his hair getting so long since he’s been away and cuts it for him – that scene literally had to get cut, as his hair wouldn’t have grown much in a week!
Kathleen: Timing can be an ENORMOUS editing issue. I had to nail down the entire month of February 1900 in my 3rd Ella Shane novel!
Chris: Ideally, it’s all built into the outlining stage (“measure twice, cut once”). Mostly, any fixing is as a result of feedback. For me, the biggest learnings are usually applied to the next book, to make it more compelling and marketable from all angles.
Sandy: I’m an ardent follower of the 3-act structure. Usually, after my 1st draft, I’ll go through and outline the whole thing, making notes of what I have, what I need to add, and what I need to delete. Each subsequent pass is to address each of the things below. I should also add, that I rely a lot on my beta readers to tell me what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes I’m blind to my own work and can’t tell
Anita: No, not really. I try to read it like a reader and see if I enjoy the story and it makes sense. If there is something not quite working, I will then check why. It may be one of those things, but often a Beta is better at picking that up than the author
Cheryl: Writing for the academic world is so different there’s process and guidance from publishing journals, so check lists are there. These don’t translate into the real world so I’m having to develop my own winning formula.
Gerald: Most of those things are sorted at The Art stage (story design). Pacing, beats and arcs are ‘built-in’. Chapter begin/end is written-in at 1st draft stage. Continuity is checked at 2nd edit stage. The rest is bug fixing.
Deborah: Does Scrivener help you achieve this, Gerald?
Gerald: No, not really. @ScrivenerApp is one of the tools I use to build the novel, along with @PlottrApp,@ProWritingAid and @vellum180g. Scrivener helps me write and organise quickly, with imports from Plottr and exports to MS Word. It helps in that it’s efficient!
Deborah: I love the way you successfully use systems to structure and quality control your work. It is not a style that would suit me. I wish I could.
Gerald: I’ve had a bit of practice! Body Under The Pier will be my 7th novel. I’m writing series novels, in a specific genre, which lends itself to structure and organisation.
Do you use beta-readers? How many do you prefer and where do you find them? How helpful is this?
Gerald: I bounce ideas off a few people. But for Beta reading, I need someone I can trust to do the job quickly and give me accurate and relevant feedback. @anitabellibooks does all that. You need to trust that your Beta understands your writing and your storytelling.
Cheryl: I don’t feel I am quite there yet on this, but I post snippets on LinkedIn each week and get some good feedback which helps me to gain a sense of the value of topics and impact of my insights.
Anita: I use the very talented writers at Frinton Writers Group who give strong, honest feedback. A built-in beta reading service of respected and trusted views. Couldn’t do without them @AuthorGerald @DeborahKlee@LesleyKara @EllieHWriter
Kathleen: Absolutely — couldn’t survive without them! Newsroom colleagues and close friends who are very sharp and care enough to be absolutely honest.
Maria: I kinda do. After I’ve done my first ‘content edit’, I let my husband read it, just to make sure the story all adds up and there are no glaring plot holes. Then I do one, usually two rounds of grammatical edits/proofreading. As I’m small press and not self-published, it doesn’t have to be perfect as they also edit – which is a good job, as it still comes back in red lol! My mum is a fantastic proof-reader and she goes through it very thoroughly for me too.
Karen: My best friend is my first reader. She tells me if something doesn’t work for her, even if she’s not sure why. I trade work with several Twitter writer friends. It’s very helpful to have eyes other than mine read my work, especially if they understand the process.
Chris: I don’t use ‘formal’ betas – just a couple of well-read close friends. Actually, you were the first ‘true’ beta… (to Deborah). I have an editor and agent’s feedback too, and all together they point the way to an improved next draft.
Sandy: Absolutely! I wouldn’t be published at all without them. I like to have at least 3-5 (the more the merrier). I like to look for trends. If more than one reader says the same thing, I address it. I also like to keep it an odd number in case I need a vote breaker! 🙂
Deborah: This group has been helpful in providing beta readers for one another.
How do you check spelling, grammar, and formatting are professional? Do you know how an MS should be formatted?
Chris: I’ve mostly relied on myself for spelling and grammar, and I think I pass muster. Again, I improve through accumulating #WritingCommunity knowledge. Formatting – I’ve bought templates for varying book sizes and this is part of my 2021 republishing crusade!
Maria: I proofread it as good as I can get it (for me personally, it gets to a stage where I could tinker with it forever and just have to hit that submit button). Then I let my publisher worry about making it into an actual book.
Gerald: It doesn’t really matter to me how the MS is formatted, since we use Vellum to format for publication. Spelling and grammar is assisted by @ProWritingAid. For self-publication, the MS should be as ‘clean’ as possible. No extra tabs, spaces, etc.
Karen: 30 years as a legal assistant has made me a pretty accurate proof and copy editor, but my publisher does an editing pass and always finds things I miss. I haven’t tried formatting yet, but it’s something on my list to learn for my out of series book.
Kathleen: Since I’m trad pub, I do the best I can with Word (when you see red and blue lines, respond!) and leave the rest to the copy editor. Commas are my downfall — I’m a broadcaster, and I “hear” things rather than see them…so I will never fight an editor over a comma!
Cheryl: Quality is a big issue, I guess. I have to see things on paper to be able to spot errors. I am also very good at reading what is not there! I do wish twitter had an edit function, I cringe at some of the speling and grammatikal mistax I do make!
Anita: I used to do this the hard way but technology now makes it so much easier. I use Grammarly for spelling and grammar. For formatting, we use Vellum which is fabulous! Or you can download a template for the size of the book from KDP.
Deborah: I did not know that you could get a template from KDP. Can you use this even if you are not going to self-publish?
Anita: Yes. It gives you the publishing layout for print books in whatever size you are doing. Gully margins etc.
Sandy: When it comes to spelling and grammar, I know some things, but my betas usually catch things too. For formatting, 12 pt TNR is my go-to because that’s what most houses ask for. The key is to read and follow sub guidelines explicitly. If you’re unsure, ask.
Gerald: I just let @vellum180g do all the hard work. The trick is to make the MS as clean as possible. Apart from that: double space, Times New Roman, 12pt, first line indent, page break for new chapter.
Deborah: Does the new chapter have to start halfway down the page?
Gerald: For a manuscript, no. Start it at the top. Interior design / formatting / typesetting (call it what you will) does that for you. That way, you get consistency throughout the book.
In the finished book, they tend to. Sometimes a little higher like 1/4 or 1/3 the way down.
Sandy: Going to disagree with Gerald a little bit here. I start mine halfway done (13 lines on the page, to be exact). This gives me room at the top to make notes of changes I need to make/things that need to happen. I’ve read that some editors ask for it that way for the reasons I mentioned. Gives them a place to make notes.
Gerald: I’ve read that some editors ask for it that way for the reasons I mentioned. Gives them a place to make notes.
Sandy: Exactly. Regardless of how I like to do things, I always defer to those.
Cheryl: I have a ‘style guide’ – just a scrappy looking note book really, with reminders of whether I should write self efficacy or self-efficacy etc. If I write it down so I don’t have to remember and can free up space in my brain.
Deborah: Isn’t it funny – I have the same spelling mistakes I constantly make and like you I have written these in a note book and check every time!
Kathleen: My best “worst” is my historical mystery MC’s real name: O’Shaughnessy. The copy editor added the second “h” for the first book, and every once in a while, I forget it! (Incredibly embarrassing!)
What have you learnt about your writing as a result of getting feedback over the years? Is there something you have had to work on?
Anita: The main thing is story structure. And the tendency to over write; too much description which slows the action. Also, head hopping and staying in one POV. And still learning…
Sandy: I still need to work on specificity. I tend to write vague and uninspiring 1st drafts. Sometimes it takes feedback to spot it, sometimes it doesn’t. I also keep a ‘seek and destroy’ list of overused words.
Gerald: Pacing, and avoiding the saggy middle. I’ve found Save The Cat / Story Beats ensures that the pacing is controlled, and readers get an enjoyable experience. And, of course, I’ve had to work hard on actually finishing novels.
Anita: So true Gerald! And now you are making up for it by finishing 4 novels per year!
Cheryl: what I haven’t learnt over the years I am having to un-learn. I was the master succinctness happily filling the page with persuasive academic rhetoric. Here I am trying to develop a conversational narrative that doesn’t alienate my potential readers. I am my own WIP!
Kathleen: Story structure…in the R and R with my now-agent, he said “I love the characters and the setting, but nothing happens in the first 100 pages.” He was right. I have to be careful to make sure we’re going somewhere, not just hanging out with the characters.
Karen: Description is my weak point. I’m good with pacing, and fairly economical with words, but in my first draft most of my action takes place in empty rooms or landscapes. I have to work to improve that. Historical requires some description.
Thank you all for an interesting chat. As always, I learnt something new. There will be no #FriSalon tweet chat this coming Friday as I am taking a short break. Back again 18th June.