Tag Archives: Publishing

So Many Drafts

Hey there, writers in the trenches! Let’s have a little talk about tweedle beetles drafts. Specifically, numbers of drafts.

I know that when I started out writing novels, I had no idea how many drafts a book went through before it got published. Thinking back on it now, I get all Ming the Merciless and want to tell my past self, “Pathetic writer. Hurling your manuscript out into the void, without the slightest inkling of what is out there. If you had known anything about the true nature of publishing, anything at all, you would’ve hidden from it in terror.”

Uh, no, really, actually, it’s totally great and awesome. BUT! I sure as hell needed to revise more.

So, in case any of you are despairing about how many times you’ve overhauled your book, here is a bit of data for you on my debut novel:

THE TETHERED MAGE went through around 6-7 drafts before it was ready to go on sub to publishers. Once Orbit accepted it for publication, it went through several official rounds with my editor—a major structural edit, minor structural edits, little fine-tuning kind of edits, copyedits, etc. But I did a couple rounds for each of the structural passes before my editor saw them. So it came out in the end to around 13 drafts.

Now, some of those drafts were me getting 20K words in and then going “Ugh! Start over!” Other drafts were just polish passes, where I was buffing up the language to a high shine and not making any major changes. But one of them was me revising from YA to adult, historical fantasy to epic fantasy, AND adding 50K+ words (almost doubling the length of the book from first completed draft to final draft), so I feel like it all evens out.

I created the doc for the very first draft of THE TETHERED MAGE in early 2014. I took some time off from it in there to work on revising an earlier book, but finished the draft that went on sub to publishers around the beginning of 2016. It sold in June of 2016 (BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER), and I continued to revise it for several months; it finally comes out next month (WHEEEE!).

Mind you, that wasn’t the first book I wrote. The book that got me my agent went through about 10 drafts before it did (I started querying it way too soon, though, on like draft 5). And I wrote other books before that.

Every single page I wrote, every revision pass, made me a better writer. The me of 2 books ago couldn’t have written THE TETHERED MAGE. Heck, the me of draft one of THE TETHERED MAGE couldn’t have written draft 13. Revision is where I learned the most, and still where I do my best work.

I’m working on revisions for THE DEFIANT HEIR now (the sequel to THE TETHERED MAGE). I’m really excited about them! I feel like this draft is going to be a big step up from the last one, and it feels so good to see the shape pulling true, and the pieces falling into place. I used to hate revision, but now that practice has given me a better understanding of how to spot areas for improvement and fix them, it feels awesome to make my book sharper and shinier with every draft.

Writing on a deadline, with an editor, is very different than writing on my own, and I don’t have the luxury to allow myself draft after draft. But I’m nonetheless already on draft 5 by my own count (my editor saw draft 4 as my “first draft”), and the version I’m giving her next month will probably be draft 6.

So, my as-yet-unpublished writer friends, if you haven’t already done so, I urge you to embrace revision! The difference between my first drafts and my final drafts looks a lot like the difference between my writing 5 years ago and my writing now, and that’s not a coincidence. You never know how many times you’ll have to tear down and rebuild before you get it just right, but it’s well worth the effort. Every draft teaches you something, and takes you one step closer to the end of the publishing rainbow…

…Even if it’s NOT ACTUALLY A RAINBOW IT’S A WEIRD RAINBOW-COLORED NEBULA THING WITH AN OMINOUS FLOATING CITY IN IT AND YOUR ADVENTURES ARE ONLY BEGINNING.


Success Over 40 and Other Mythical Creatures

So, there was some talk recently about whether you’re washed up as a writer after a certain age and do you have to get published in your twenties and when should you give up and blah blah blah. I think a lot of people have said what needs to be said—which comes down to IT’S NOT OVER TIL IT’S OVER, BABY—but I also get that there are people out there who are despairing of ever finding the end of the publishing rainbow as the clock ticks on, so I wanted to share a bit of my personal story in case that might encourage anyone.

First of all, I am *GASP* over 40.

Okay, not a lot over 40. But turning 40 is a thing that happened in my past. (NOW YOU MAY LOOK AT MY PICTURE AND GO “WOW, MELISSA, I NEVER WOULD HAVE GUESSED.” WHY, THANK YOU. MOVING ON.)

Second of all, I have literally wanted to be a published writer since kindergarten. I know this because I remember we did an activity in kindergarten where we folded a piece of paper into like 6-8 squares and had to draw pictures of different things we might like to be when we grow up in each square. I put “Writer” in the first square and “Artist” in the second square, and then on reflection added “Princess” in the third square. And then I looked at the other squares like, dude, what more do you want from me? WHAT MORE IS THERE?!

I am sure my parents were thrilled to see I had selected such practical career choices. (In fact, I remember one of them—I’m not sure which—explaining to me that you couldn’t become a princess as a job, and that you had to be born the daughter of a king, and I remember thinking that was TOTAL BULLSHIT.)

I wrote picture books as a kid. I made my first real stab at a novel when I was maybe seven or eight, and got about 30 typewritten pages into it, which isn’t bad for a seven-year-old. It was about a princess who was a powerful mage AND had a magic sword AND rode a unicorn AND a dragon (though not at the same time, that would be weird), because WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL?

In fourth grade, I wanted to publish a book of poems, and my dad got me Writer’s Market. I read that thing cover to cover (what was WRONG with me?) and submitted some stuff and was Terribly Serious about it all.

In my late teens/early twenties, I wrote a really (REALLY) bad novel about a teenage boy who was secretly a prince AND a dragon AND a mage AND a really good swordfighter, because WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL? …So, yeah, that didn’t get me an agent. Thank goodness. But I tried. An agent even called me up and basically ranted at me on the phone about how I was wasting my potential. She ended the call by saying she had no doubt I’d be published someday. (Needless to say, she didn’t offer rep.)

It was very weird. In retrospect, I’m honored, and she was right on all counts.

I had to calm down and stop writing Mary Sue characters. I had to improve my craft, develop humility and empathy, and embrace revision. I had to grow up, both as a writer and as a human being. (Now, some people are already quite grown up as writers and human beings in their twenties. YAY! I salute those people. They’re amazing. That was not me.)

I got an agent when I was ready, as a writer. I got a publishing contract when I was ready. Before that, I still had more work to do. And that’s fine. I did the work. I learned the things. I wrote and wrote and wrote, I kept learning and getting better, and I didn’t give up.

And now, yay! I have a book coming out in October! MY LIFELONG DREAM IS FINALLY COMING TRUE!

It literally took, what, 35+ years?

And that’s fine. All that time, I was leveling up. Every shelved book earned me a ton of XP. Every word I wrote was a step toward this goal. Some people level up faster than me, and that’s great. But I made it! And you can, too.

The only way to be sure you never get there is to step off the path. Get back on that unicorn—or dragon—or BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, WHY NOT—and ride.


After the Offer: Five Things No One Told Me

Getting an offer from such an amazing publisher as Orbit remains a highlight of my life to date, and working with them has been pure bliss. My pre-publication experience has continued to be a dream come true. But there are some aspects of the life of a debut author I couldn’t have guessed at. So here you go… now you can’t say nobody warned you!

1. DEADLINES CHANGE EVERYTHING. My old writing process involved a lot of letting things sit and simmer for a while. Yeah… Let’s just say the slow-cooker method is no longer on the table. Conversely, I keep thinking “Okay, I’d better stop goofing around on this book and do some work—WAIT! This IS work!” Being able to prioritize writing guilt-free is pretty awesome.

2. YOUR BOOK BECOMES BIGGER THAN YOU. Every now and then my lovely editor will casually mention “the team” working on or talking about my book. Every time, I’m filled with a sense of wonder that this is a thing, and there are these people I’ve never met who are helping make my book a published reality. And then I think OH SHIT I CAN’T LET THEM DOWN. (It’s kind of terrifying, actually.)

3. THERE IS SO MUCH WORK. So. Much. Work. This is fine, because I like writing, and I even like revising these days, and I don’t mind hard work. But wow. Don’t get it in your head that once you get a publishing contract, your work is done. It is ONLY BEGINNING.

4. YOU FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHY PUBLISHING IS SLOW. There are so many steps, big and small, between “I WROTE A BOOK WOOOOO!” and final published product. It’s been about seven months since I got my offer, and I feel like the pace has been lightning fast. My editor has always gotten back to me with blinding speed, and I’ve been working my butt off. There has been no fat to cut. The machine is well-oiled. It just has a lot of work to do.

5. IT NEVER STOPS BEING AMAZING. At least, not so far. I still regularly find myself going HOLY CRAP, THEY’RE REALLY GOING TO PUBLISH MY BOOK! And I bounce around the house grinning like a loon. It still feels like a wonderful dream.


My 2016 Writing Life In Review, One Email Quote at a Time

2016 may have sucked for humanity, but it was pretty awesome for my writing career. As the year draws to a close, just for fun, here’s a look back on my 2016 writing life through email quotes!

I always am fascinated at anything writers, editors, or agents post about submission and publishing timeline stuff, because the timing in publishing always seems so shrouded in mystery. So for your entertainment, here’s one actual quote per month from a writing/publishing-related email I sent in 2016, tracking the evolution of THE TETHERED MAGE in its journey toward publication.

Actual email quotes are in blue, commentary in black. Enjoy!

January:

OK, here it is with the changes! I took all your advice. 🙂 All changes accepted, all comments deleted, ready to go.

EEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!

In January, I put the then-final touches on what was at the time a YA historical fantasy called A FALCONER OF VENICE and sent it off to my awesome agent, Naomi Davis. Uh, a lot has changed since then. Though Naomi is still awesome. (And still my agent.)

February:

Now I gotta get back to working on this WIP, but it’s hard to type with so many fingers crossed… 😉

In February, the book then known as FALCONER went out on sub to a small, select handful of editors. (Repeat after me, kids going on sub: “And now, we wait.”)

March:

It’s good to have news, even bad news—silence is unnerving! Thanks for sending along the feedback, too. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the remaining fulls & pitches.

In March, I got my first rejection for FALCONER. See, it really does happen to everyone!

April:

You know what’s really awesome when you’re a writer waiting for an email? Dozens of notification emails about someone updating a work thing.

This one is actually a tweet, because in April, I got no news of any kind on FALCONER and pretty much just sat there gnawing my fingernails and freaking out. And also working on my new WIP, which is a thing you should always do when on sub.

May:

Everyone I know seems to be in the same boat of publishing being just plain slow these days, so I’m not freaking out (honest), but I’ve basically managed to get myself superstitious that if I send you an email something will magically happen, so, uh, here’s the email. (Hangs head in embarrassment)

In May, as you can see, the waiting of being on sub got to me, and I snapped and sent my (wonderfully communicative, to be clear) agent an OH GOD I KNOW THERE’S STILL NO NEWS BUT THE SILENCE IS KILLING ME PLEASE SAY SOMETHING ANYTHING JUST SO I KNOW I’M NOT ALONE HERE IN THE DARK email, as you can see. I, uh, don’t necessarily recommend doing this. And she was being great about keeping me updated and everything. I just snapped. She was very nice about it.

Also, I lied. I was totally freaking out.

June:

(June was the month I got my book deal, so I give you several different email excerpts, because I can’t pick just one!)

I am certainly around this evening! And totally can make it until then without dying of suspense. 😉

This was about setting up a call with my agent when I knew she’d been talking to an editor who had my book.

I was lying. I actually died. But then I got The Call and it brought me back to life.

I’m still bouncing off the walls! My daughters think it’s hilarious. They have also reminded me that years ago I promised them if I ever got a book contract we’d go out for fondue, so that is definitely happening very soon. 🙂

We did. It was delicious.

Woo hoo!!!!! Still waiting to wake up from this amazing dream… 🙂 🙂 🙂

Six months later, STILL waiting. This is a hell of a long dream.

July:

“THEY’D BETTER USE THE OXFORD COMMA!”

In July, I signed my contract. This quote was my gut reaction to the section in my contract about following the house style guide. (Not sent to my editor, of course! Just joking with my agent. Well, mostly joking. I have strong feelings about the Oxford comma.)

August:

In other news, the revision is coming along great! I’ve got some good momentum going and am trucking along.

In August, I was busting my butt adding 50K words to my book and making it adult rather than YA, and original universe rather than alt history, among other structural revisions. “Trucking along” is want-to-seem-professional-ese for “OH GOD I’M WORKING SO HARD MY SOUL IS BLEEDING.”

September:

SO DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY to finally be able to tell everyone about this!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!

In September, my book got its final title, THE TETHERED MAGE, and we announced it publicly. Oh, and I turned in that first huge round of revisions.

October:

Thank you so much for all the fantastic feedback! This is all incredibly useful. I’m excited to get going on the edits!

In October, my awesome editor, Lindsey Hall, got back to me alarmingly quickly with feedback on said enormous and soul-breaking round of edits, and I plunged straight into Round Two. NO REST FOR THE WRITER.

November:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In November, they sent me an early look at a cover concept. The quote above is my reaction! I loved it and I still love it and it made everything seem like maybe it was all real. I also turned in my second round of edits.

December:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s incredibly exciting! WOW!!!

In December, I learned that Orbit would publish my book in the UK as well as the US. I also got feedback on that second round of edits and am now working away on the third, which is nice and small and manageable, comparatively speaking.

You will notice a trend toward more and more exclamation points and capital letters as the year wears on. Clearly, by release day, I will be reduced to nothing but exclamation points, and all my emails and tweets will just be “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Gotta say, I look forward to it.


Going on Submission (Now With Scorpions)

The first rule of Sub Club is you do not talk about Sub Club. So there’s not as much out there about the process as there is about querying. While I was on sub, I know the posts other writers who’d gone through the process made about it were a lifeline for me, so I vowed I’d write my own once I was safely through that dark valley.

Here is that post. I’m not sure how actually helpful it is, per se, but I hope you enjoy it.

Congratulations! Your novel is going on submission! Are you excited? Are you SUPER EXCITED? Are you bouncing up and down because this could be it, and your novel could FINALLY be published?

You fool. You sweet summer child.

No, actually, really, you SHOULD be excited. Because this COULD be it! And you should be proud. You’ve made it so far, and you have a really awesome book. You’ve done a ton of work, your agent loves it, and you’re finally ready to BE THROWN INTO THE ARENA BLINDFOLDED WITH ONLY A TOOTHBRUSH TO DEFEND YOU FROM A DOZEN GIANT SCORPIONS—

Whoops, wait, no, it’s fine. It’s totally fine. It’s not like that at all.

Mostly, it’s not like that because you don’t even get to be in the arena. You’re sitting outside, nervously munching popcorn, with no idea AT ALL how your book baby is doing in there with that toothbrush fighting those scorpions.

(Also, I should say here that editors are not at all like scorpions, and actually are very nice people who love books and don’t want to crush your soul at all. It’s probably more accurate to imagine that arena is full of frolicking kittens. But that’s not nearly as dramatic, so we’re going with scorpions for now, and also, the point is you’re stuck outside the arena eating popcorn, so YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. They could be unicorns. The arena could be empty. IT’S A MYSTERY.)

And here’s the thing. You sit there with your popcorn, and you wait.

And wait.

The silence drives you crazy within hours, but unless you’re very lucky, you have to wait for months. And there is nothing you can do to make it go faster.

DO NOT TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE SILENCE. You will want it to mean something. You want its horrific eternity of torment to have some hidden signal or significance. Maybe you’re not hearing anything because the editors loved it and are getting more reads…Or maybe because they’re totally unenthused and put it at the bottom of their pile… Or because your agent doesn’t want to hurt your feelings… Or because THE GIANT SCORPIONS ATE YOUR AGENT OH NO WHAT IF SHE NEEDS RESCUING…

Stop. No. Put down the popcorn. Walk away from the arena. Do not listen to the Silence. Do not look at the Silence. Do not let the Silence look into you.

What you SHOULD be doing, everyone will tell you, is writing the next book. That way if your book is getting really tired fighting those scorpions, you’ll have fresh, maybe better-equipped reinforcements ready to throw in there.

But if you can’t manage that, go find something else to obsess about. Something that will consume your life. Buy a house, or have a really pressing work deadline, or get a puppy, or something. You want to be so distracted running around putting out fires (Hey! Maybe literally! You could become a firefighter! They get awesome hats!) that you forget you’re on sub, even for one brief, fleeting, precious moment now and then.

(Probably writing the next book is best. Do not use this blog post as an excuse to get a new puppy even though your spouse/mom/landlord says you can’t.) (Actually, puppies are awesome, so I’m not judging.)

Here is the secret. Here is the one and only thing the Silence means. Are you ready? Can you handle the deepest and most profound mystery of authordom?

Here it is:

PUBLISHING

IS

SSSSSSSSSSLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW.

sleepy-sloth

That’s all. There is no deeper significance. It’s just slow.

Eventually, your agent will come by with a nice lemonade slushie and more popcorn and the halftime score. The score may be something simple, like SCORPIONS: 4, YOUR BOOK: 0. Or it may be more complex, with feedback or agonizing IT WAS SO CLOSE details like making it to acquisitions before facing the poisonous tail-barbs of defeat.

Suffice to say you’ll almost certainly get rejections first, and that’s totally NORMAL AND FINE. IT’S FINE. EVERYTHING IS FINE. Do you know why?

Because only one thing can end your journey toward publication. And that’s you giving up.

If not this book, the next book. If not that one, the one after that. YOU ARE AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE. You’ve made it this far; you have to be.

Someday your agent will come back from the arena with a huge smile and good news about your book’s stunning victory. You will enter the arena at last, toothbrush held victoriously aloft. You will fight side by side with the scorpions (or kittens, or unicorns, or whatever they turn out to be), carrying your  book on to its next battle: publication. It will be AWESOME. Bring snacks.

I’m cheering you on in the stands.


Lies Writers Tell Ourselves: Publishable Quality

Long ago, when I was young and innocent and just starting out on my journey through the world of publishing, I had the idea that my job was to write a book good enough to be published. Once I did that, everything else would follow—because if it’s good enough to be published, that means it’ll be published, right?

HA HA HA HA HA. Oh, what a fool I was.

I think this is a common myth, though. More than once, I had various industry professionals tell me my book was publishable quality, too, reinforcing my idea that there was this bar, and once you passed it, you were in. But this is a very dangerous illusion.

It’s a strange idea in the first place. Books get published all the time which you or I might very well not consider of Publishable Quality. And I’ve certainly beta read a decent number of books which I consider to well surpass that bar which have not yet found a home with a publisher. It’s not like you can put a manuscript on the Awesomeness Scale and see if it rates at 90% or above and slap a “Grade A” sticker on it and put it on the shelf.

One problem with the Publishable Quality idea is that it obscures the truth: publishing is incredibly subjective. If you and I did a blind taste test of 20 novels and had to check off which we thought were of Publishable Quality, we’d be extremely unlikely to come up with perfectly matching lists at the end. Nearly every published debut novel out there got rejected at some point. The idea that there’s some way to objectively gauge novel quality leaves us open to greater pain with rejection, because then instead of meaning we didn’t find our book’s  agent/editor soul mate, it means our book wasn’t good enough.

The Publishable Quality myth comes with another hidden catch. Even if you assume we could come up with some vague level of “Yeah, most people agree this is good enough to be a published book,” there are more books meeting that bar than there are slots for books to traditionally publish. Writing a good book is a rare skill, and one we should be proud of—but it’s not so rare that there isn’t still competition once you clear the elusive “publishable” bar.

Which leads to perhaps the most insidious danger of this notion of Publishable Quality. It can lead you to believe that once your book hits that level, you can stop trying to make it better. I know when I first started querying, I thought I just had to make my book good enough. But now that I’ve immersed myself in the world of writing and publishing for a while, I know that’s not true.

You can’t stop at good enough. You probably shouldn’t even stop at as good as I can make it. You have to keep going until as good as it can possibly be.

If you strive for less than that, you might still get published. It’s a subjective business, after all. But you’ll have failed to do your book the justice it deserves. You’ll have missed opportunities to make yourself a better writer.

So don’t ask yourself “Is this book publishable?” Ask yourself “How can I make this book even better?” You’ll go less crazy and write a better book.