Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights #2!

Hey everyone! I know I promised a post, but we're in the process of moving to a new house and everything's going to hell. So since last week's AMA highlights post was so popular (and since I'm basically writing giant blog posts for this thing anyway), we're doing it again!!

Here are a few more of my favorite questions from the year so far. And if you have a question about writing, publishing, or books in general that you want to me to answer, head on over to the NaNoWriMo Fantasy forum and check out my thread! Just think of me as your own private pro author :) (unless you already have your own private pro-author, in which case I'm happy to be your second string). I'll be answering questions whenever I can until the end of the month, so drop by say hello!


Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights #2!

Rare image of the writer at work loafing on the internet.

First up, DavidJGreen has a follow up to the question I answered last week about how to find a freelance editor and how does this self publishing thing work, anyway?
"Sorry if you've already answered this one. I've noticed you've answered one similar (but that was more regarding the marketing) but I don't know whether you'd categorise it as the same 'question'. How do you go about contacting an editor/publisher? Or, if you tend to self-publish: What are your first steps in self-publishing?"
My reply:

No probs! Always good to get this stuff straight.

(Note: all of the below is assuming you've already 1) finished your book and 2) edited it to your very best ability. If you don't have a finished manuscript, none of this other stuff matters yet.)

If you want to be traditionally published (big NY publisher, book deal, see the print edition of your book in bookstores, etc) then your first step is to get an agent. There are some publishers who still take unagented submissions, but by and large, an agent is your ticket to the big pub game. If this is what you want, then check out Agent Query for some great, legit info on what agents do, what agents are currently looking for your genre, and how to contact them.

If you want to self publish (put the book up yourself, total creative control, keep 70-90% of your profits) then your first step is to find a competent freelance editor whose style matches your own. As I mentioned in a previous answer to a similar question about editors, a great way to do this is to find a high quality self published book that's similar to yours and look up who did their editing (often listed somewhere in the book's credits/copyright info). If you just want to see a list of freelance editors, you can also check out the KBoards Yellowpages, though remember that these listings are put up by the editors themselves, not recommending authors, so there might be some scammers. A legit content editor will always list their rates upfront and have a public client list so you can see their work. This is very important b/c editing is expensive, and you don't want to waste your money on an editor who won't get the job done.

Once your book has been edited to your satisfaction, you'll want to get it looked over again by a copy editor. This is the person who finds all your errors and typos. You will also (if you haven't already) want to get a cover professionally made. This can be very expensive if you want a custom illustrated or photographed cover, but there are many artists out there offering pre-made ebook covers for very cheap, which can be a real bargain if you can find one you like! Whatever you do, though, unless you're an artist, don't make your cover yourself. Readers can always tell, and books with shitty homemade covers don't sell as a rule, no matter how good the story is. You spent a long time on this book, don't hamstring it right out the gate by going cheap on the cover!

Once your book is edited, copy edited, and has a nice cover, you're pretty much ready to self publish on the venue of your choice. Personally, I like Amazon because they're huge, going exclusive with them is simple, and it gets you into KU, which I really like. But there are plenty of authors out there who have tons of success with wider distribution, so you'll want to make sure you do your research. Actually, you'll want to do your own research on all of this. Self publishing is a VERY new industry, which means things are constantly changing. A successful self published author has to be a business person as well as a writer. This is not as scary as it sounds, but you do have to be willing to do your research and use your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

This is a very brief write up, and obviously there's a lot more to learn about both self and trad publishing than I can type up here, but I hope this helps you see the landscape a bit more clearly. Again, though, you have to have a finished book before any of this can begin, and by the time that happens, all of this might have changed! Remember: professional writing is a business, and like any business, you have to be informed and do your research before making decisions. Questions like this are a great start, but don't be afraid to research the hell out of things before you commit!

Good luck and happy writing!

Next, we've got MandyWriMo with a question I've been meaning to answer on the blog for a while:
"I'm really struggling with where to start my story.  I know where the story is eventually going to go, but I'm not sure how far into the story I want to start. I want the readers to be able to understand what's going on in the opening scene, but I also don't want my beginning to be boring or bogged down by loads of backstory. I'm also afraid that if I start too far in just to have the beginning be interesting, I won't be able to show readers what I want to show about my characters, but will have to tell them instead...

Long question short: Do you have any tips for deciding where a story should begin?"
My reply:

Figuring out where to start your story is tricky. I wrote a blog post kind of on this topic called "Where to Start Your Story" that you might enjoy, but I'm going to try and do you one better since that post doesn't answer your specific question as to where to start a story when you already know where you're going.

I've actually dealt with this exact problem recently in my Heartstrikers books (there's a LOT of backstory to get out!). I tried a bunch of different prologues and openings specifically to do exactly what you're talking about: showing readers the characters so I wouldn't have to tell them about it later. Unfortunately, none of these approaches worked, and I ended up going with an entirely different opening that had nothing to do with any of this, but was really cool.

That turned out to be the kicker. The opening of your book has one purpose: to draw the reader into the story. Everything else is secondary to that goal, because if you can't hook a reader right off the bat, they won't hang around for all the other stuff. With that in mind, my suggestion to you would be to open with a scene that is 1) very interesting, 2) representative of the book as a whole, 3) involves one or more of the major characters, and 4) has immediate conflict to get the reader hooked on your stakes.

Now, obviously, you can hit all of these with a great character backstory opener, but that's just a two birds with one stone situation. Sometimes you can't arrange those for whatever reason, and when that happens, you still have to hit at least one bird with that opening scene. And that's okay! I know it doesn't feel like it now, but all that backstory stuff and character development you're talking about can be worked in a bit later in the book without info dumping or resorting to a flashback. You just have to get clever and think of good ways to get your characters talking dramatically about their pasts without coming off like they're reading you a script. Personally, I'm a huge fan of putting a character in a situation where they get really upset for seemingly no reason because of their backstory. That way, when the other characters ask what's going on, you can have that character reveal their past in a natural way, just like we do in real life. This method also has the built in bonus of showing your characters acting like real friends/people who work together! Always good for making your characters feel like people.

All of this is just to say that you shouldn't worry at all about starting too far in if that's what you have to do to make things interesting. Starting wherever the action kicks off is never a bad strategy! You can always figure out how to work in good character and backstory development further down the line, and if you still haven't figured it out by the end of the draft, there are always edits. No writing decision is permanent until the book is published! So do whatever feels right, and if it doesn't work, change it later.

I hope this helps, and I was working on the big mid-book climax of HS #3 literally ten minutes ago, so it shouldn't be too long. Thank you again so so much for being my reader, and good luck with your writing journey!!!

Finally, a really lovely question (which I turned into a two parter) from Pephredo about POV and making a living as an author.
"Thank you for taking the time to do this! It's always great to gain insight from successful authors, especially when you're supporting your family through your writing. It lets me know the dream can be real! :D
My question has to do with POV. On another forum I participate in, it was suggested that Urban Fantasy and a lot of other fantasy genres tend to do better when written in first-person POV. I've been writing my project in third so far, and third-person POV seems to be what I'm most comfortable with. But now I'm wondering if I should switch to first if that's becoming something expected in the genre these days. What's your take on it?"
My reply:

The dream is most definitely real! I think history will look back and say this was the best time ever to be a writer in terms of income. I've never hit a list and I'm not a bestseller, but I make enough to support my husband, myself, and my five year old quite comfortably in a normal American town. I'm not an outlier, either. There are tons of authors just like me who make great livings off their work, so don't let anyone tell you this is a dead end dream! It's not easy, fast, or guaranteed money (but then, what is?), but it is most definitely doable. More so than ever, actually. So keep writing! You can do it!!!

Now, on to your actual question,

If you like your book in third, keep it in third. POV is a hugely personal choice. I know readers who HATE 1st person and refuse to read it. I also know readers who love 1st person and complain that 3rd feels too distant and impersonal. There really is no way to win. Whatever you choose, someone's not going to like it, so your best bet is to do whatever POV you are most comfortable with and fits the story best.

That last part is really important. I write primarily in 3rd person, but when I sat down to write my Paradox books, I barely got three chapters in before I knew this story HAD to be in 1st. That was just what felt right to me with Devi's voice, and once I switched, I never looked back. This is saying something for me, because I HATE writing in 1st person. I never do it normally, but for Devi it was the only way that felt right, so I sucked it up and made it work because that was what the story needed.

It's good to know what's popular in your genre, but at the end of the day, every book is a unique experience for both the author and the reader. When you're making these kind of big structural decisions about your book, your best bet is always to go with what feels right to you. Your brain has been absorbing story since before you could read. Trust that experience and listen to your gut. It rarely leads you wrong. And hey, if you change your mind, switching from 3rd to 1st is actually pretty easy! So just do what you want and don't sweat what other people are up to. It's your book, write it like you want.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

And there you have it!

Can you tell I love NaNo yet? :) I just wish I wasn't moving this month so I could spend more time on it.

Thank you all again for reading and I hope you'll join the fun in the main thread. You can also follow me on social media (TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+). I post writing stuff and fandom for my books all the time. Knowledge is power!

Until next time, write like crazy and please pray to the power of your choice that I don't get crushed under boxes (WHY DO WE HAVE THIS MUCH STUFF?!). Happy writing!



  1. Rachel. This post was interesting! (It also saves me a bit of time sorting through all the comments on the official NaNoWriMo post! And time is money, as they say!). I wish you well with moving and I hope you're done soon! I can't wait to get more blog posts again.

  2. I hope things calm down with your move soon! Moving is terrible. (It brings up the eternal question--Why do we have so much junk??)

    One fun way I found to reveal character backstory in my WIP was to send my heroine to a shrink in the first chapter. Through the questions she does and doesn't answer, we get a great recap of book 1's high points. I got the idea from one of the Dresden books, which starts with Harry on a talk show, trying not to blow up the cameras and answering questions about magic. :-)

  3. I am an avid reader who likes engaging content. That's why I am here. Your original views on this topic are refreshing and interesting. You've done a great job of expressing your views. Thank you.