Tag Archives: Writing Journey

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.


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.


Write Like the Terminator

You want to get published? Here’s how: be like the Terminator.

The more time I spend immersed in the writing community, the clearer it becomes that a writer’s cardinal virtue is persistence. Many other talents, skills, and qualities will help you on your road, but it’s persistence that will get you there.

Anecdotally, it’s very common for the book that gets you an agent to not be your first novel. And it’s also quite common for the book that landed you your agent to not be the one that gets you published. Chances are strong you’ll have to write a bunch of books, each better than the last, before you write the book that lands you a deal. Even after publication, you are not immune to rejection, and there will likely be books you have to trunk and move on from.

This is why it’s so important not to let despair stop you from forging onward. Even if your beloved manuscripts fall by the wayside like cybernetic limbs blown off with an RPG launcher, you must stride inexorably onward—on fire if need be—your glowing eyes fixed relentlessly on your target. You load up your next ms like a fresh ammo clip, undaunted. You are an unstoppable force.

If you keep writing new books, keep improving your craft, keep learning and revising, keep submitting, you will prevail. It may take years or decades, but you’ll get there.

Because you are badass.

Now go write.


2014: The Year of the Phoenix

It was the year of fire, the year of destruction. The year we took back what was ours. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed.

The year was 2014. The place: Babylo…. wait. No, this is about my writing career.

But yeah, it was a hell of a year.

In January of 2014, I started querying DREAMWALKERS, a middle grade contemporary fantasy.

In February, I got into my first pitch contest (in which I got no requests, but got great feedback and encouragement).

In March, I got amazingly helpful feedback from the incredible and supportive online writing community, all of which pointed in the same direction: my voice for this novel was YA, not MG. After soul-searching and conferring with my CPs and beta readers — and most importantly, after realizing a direction I could take the book as a YA novel that could be really awesome — I decided to take the plunge and revise to YA.

In April, I finished revising the entire book from middle grade to young adult, retitling it JANUARY IN SHADOW.

In May, I started getting a whole bunch of requests for the new YA version.

In June, to distract me from the hell of waiting for query replies, I started a first person reboot of a new novel I’d been toying with, A FALCONER OF VENICE, a YA historical fantasy.

In July, I got sufficiently excited about the new book and disenchanted with the old that I gave up querying JANUARY IN SHADOW. I still had some active queries and requests, but I wasn’t sending out anything new. I’d shifted my focus to writing AFOV.

In August, I got a Revise and Resubmit request for JIS. I had to decide whether to focus on revising for the agent who was interested in JIS or on getting AFOV ready in time for PitchWars, a big mentoring contest I was really excited about. I went with momentum and kept pushing ahead with the new book, intending to get back to JIS next.

In September, everything happened at once. I got into PitchWars as a mentee with AFOV. While I was still celebrating, I got a request for JIS on an old query I’d closed out as no response. Within a couple of days, that turned into an offer of representation. WOO HOO!!! I was thrilled (if a bit dizzy from creative whiplash) to sign with my agent, Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary Agency.

In October and November, I furiously revised JIS based on feedback from Naomi and my awesome, awesome CP’s and beta readers, as well as my own fevered plans.

In December, I finished revisions on JIS and delivered the revised version to my agent. And also started taking notes for a new book I’m really excited to write, and worked on a revision plan for AFOV.

2014 was the year I finally figured out what revising was all about. The year I found the courage to start over, to take big leaps and big risks, to throw stuff out and completely rethink basic assumptions. To allow myself no quarter and ruthlessly keep honing a story rather than stopping as soon as it could hold an edge. It was a phoenix year, where I set things on fire with the faith something beautiful would rise from the ashes and lay some creative waste.

2014 was the year I found community. There are so many amazing people out there in the online writing community, who give of their time with great generosity to help each other on the endless road. And my own community of friends, writers and not, were equally amazing about offering to read my book, or helping me hone my pitches, or helping pick a title. I had been going it alone, but that was stupid. As video games teach us, IT IS DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE. There’s so much I have to learn as a writer, always, and I am honored and humbled to be a part of a writing community so generous in its sharing of knowledge and support.

2014 was the year I got an agent. That still feels pretty darn awesome. I’m starting a new phase of my writing journey. I know it’ll be even harder in several ways, and I’m sure there will be many bumps in the road. But I’m so excited to be embarking on the voyage.

I’m starting 2015 bursting over with creative energy, excited about all three projects (JIS, AFOV, and New Book) and eager to see where I can take them. No matter what happens, I am going to make awesome stories and it’s going to be amazing.