Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Think You Want to Write?

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

You’ve written an amazingly brilliant novel. Your tension is excellent, the suspense is fantastic, your subplots are beautifully woven together--every word, every phrase is sheer perfection.

In the begin, the reaction from your friends and family to your writing may range from curious amusement to mild enthusiasm. Months pass, your family begins referring to you in past tense. You friends call less frequently -- eventually they quit, your kids stop setting your place at the table, and dog you’ve raised as a pup begins to bark and growl every time you shuffle your feet from your desk into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. The only television you “watch” are the infomercials at two in the morning only because you’re so wound up from working out complex plots that you can’t go to sleep. But that’s okay, because this is your goal, right? You’ve raised the bar a notch higher and now you have to roll with the punches. You have no choice but to push yourself to the brink of exhaustion and push you will!

So the fateful day comes when you give your manuscript one last read, say a prayer, and send it off to a publisher. He will, of course, immediately accept it and will pass it on to the next available editor. That editor will drop whatever she is doing to read your book because...after all, she knows from that opening paragraph that it's going to be an amazingly “brilliant book.” Within a day or so, the editor who stayed up all night because she found it impossible to put down your manuscript will return the book to you with only a few minor recommendations because she cannot improve “perfection.”

You correct the errors, make some more changes, and send it back. This process will continue any number of times until you and your editor are in complete agreement that the manuscript is just as it should be.

The next in line to receive the manuscript is the publisher. He will shove everything off the desk, unplug the phone, and call in an order for take out so he too can concentrate on the next NY best seller. The publisher reads your manuscript, makes a few more recommendations, dances a jig, and shoots it back to you for another round of proofreading--every page from beginning to end.

Now comes the tedious part. Proofreading the PDF version of the book you've committed to memory. You can recite every line of dialogue and narrative. You understand each character’s motives and the subtleties that makes them unique. The trick is to catch the typos your eyes no longer see because your brain “fixes” those pesky words and tells you the “of” or “the” are there when they aren’t. You overlook the “where” when it should be “were” because you’ve read this a million times and your brain is conditioned to “read it right” and thus, you don’t see the error. But this is no time for trickery. You need to catch everything that jumps off the page like: misspellings, typos, repeated words, passive phrases, unnecessary/or excessive tags, excessive use of pronouns, pronouns and more pronouns. Check for inconsistencies (If your character has blue eyes, in chapter one, she better have blue eyes in chapter 50). Other stuff includes, punctuation, run on sentences, and did I mention repeated words? What about facts? Have you done your research? If your story includes a scene where someone is heating up a sandwich in a microwave, your story can't take place prior to the 1970's. Sure the microwave was accidently discovered during WWII, but it wasn't marketed for domestic use until the late 1960s. It would be another ten years before prices would start to drop and another several more years before they became a household "must" item.

If you’ve gotten this far in the process, you’ve probably had no less than 8-10 set of eyes read, critique, and edit your manuscript a number of times each. Still, it’s up to you to scan every one of your 100,000 plus words and start making a page by page, line by line inventory of errors that need to be corrected, deleted, added, or tweaked. You proofread your proofreader's notes and go over the whole thing once more before you shoot it back into cyberspace straight to the publisher’s desk for his final seal of approval. And now you’re done, right?


Don’t even think of propping your feet up. If you’re lucky, you’ll only need to proofread the darn thing once more. Next comes the advanced review copies (ARCs). They’re printed and sent to a group of reviewers who have been waiting months for the privilege to review your masterpiece. While they’re busy doing that, you might be asked to proofread the manuscript again—just to be sure. THIS is by far the most nerve-wracking phase of all--the literal road of no return. No “Get Out of Jail Card” for you if you haven’t caught every mistakes by now.

You hold your breath and wait for the reviews to trickle in. Will they love the cover? Will the plot pull them in? Will the characters WOW them? Who knows? All you can do is wait and hope you've done your part to near perfection because the fate of your book is now in the hands of your readers.

Okay, so maybe I’ve exaggerated a thing or two, but in essence, this is what an author can expect after he/she has written “The End.” What every aspiring writer needs to understand though is that novels don’t materialize over night. It takes time—often years of dedication, research, and a massive amount of hard work to turn that “great idea” into a polished page-turning story. You’ll spend months in solitary confinement. You’ll write several versions (if you don’t, you should) before it’s ever ready for a critique. Oh, yes, before I forget, make sure to slip on the thick skin because no manuscript is perfect, brilliant, or totally unique. Readers will chew it up and spit out into a million unrecognizable bits and pieces -- better be prepared for the comments. Study the craft, learn about plot, characterization, point of view, imagery and the many other aspects of fiction writing. While you’re at it, brush up on your grammar and for crying out loud, learn how to research—Google everything.

From beginning to end, the quality of the story, depends on you. The truth of the matter is, there are no magic wands, no shortcuts, or easy answers. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few selfless souls who will guide you along the way, but in the end, the fine line between success and failure is totally up to you -- just as it should be.

Now, about your marketing ...

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Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

SILENCED CRY (2007)Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT in November 2008.


L.J. Sellers said...

Thick skin and patience—qualities that every writer needs to develop. Great post.

Kim Smith said...

Chuckling. Oh my oh my. This is such a must read for every person contemplating writing.

Have you read my horoscope today? I think the person it speaks of is YOU!


Exaggerating a bit? Not at all, except maybe the bit about the publisher shoving everything off their desk, ha, ha!

No, really a must read for every potential author out there, exaggerations and all.

Marta Stephens said...

Hi ladies, glad you enjoyed this!

So okay. You mean you didn't shove everything off your desk? But you did the jig, right? :()

Unknown said...

A wonderful post. It wasn't the typical the-world-is-again-you-so-don't-even-bother piece about the publishing process. It was a dose of reality that - like anything else - if you want it, you are going to have to work hard at it to make it happen. Nicely done.

Kathryn Magendie said...

*laughing!* yes, but My novels WILL be perfect and genius and accepted just as they are and don't/won't have ANY typos or anything wrong what so ever and...and....and.....okay, well...erk...never mind *laugh*

Good post Marta!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Chuckling here... Having been through this three times with my own books and just having shared the exhileration with you for your next release, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Wonderful post, Marta. ;o)

Anonymous said...

As someone just beginning the process, this is a great post and the exact reason I tune in to Murder by 4!


Anonymous said...

Wow Marta,
Even your How To Articles are well thought out and interesting! Great Job! I see that there is a lot involved with fiction. And the proof reading. That must be a chore!
Anyway, it is great to get to know you!

Marta Stephens said...

I, being the worse when it comes to compound words, just found this list of 2,276 compound words. Thought you'd find it as a good resource!