I’m going to need for you to hold on just a bit longer. I’m going to need for you to shut out those negative thoughts. Instead of crying yourself to sleep tonight, I’m going to need for you to pick up that bible. I’m going to need for you to pray. Cry it out, scream,…
This Sunday, 1/10, I will be on Rave Waves Radio @ 1PM EST/12 PM CST to chat about my Contemporary Romance novel, Waiting for You. You can tweet your questions with hashtag #RRBCTagTeam2*4*5 and join in on the conversation! And, as always, feel free to tweet me @AlliW_writes!
Before you send off your baby…er…manuscript to your editor or beta readers, it’s important to get it in tip-top shape. No beta reader or editor wants to slog through careless typos and errors that could have easily been fixed by the author.
I know what you’re thinking… but Allison! Isn’t that what editors and beta readers are for?!
The answer is no.
From time to time I do some beta reading. I’ve seen some really awesome manuscripts. But I’ve also seen some really horrible ones, too. I don’t mean horrible as in the story was bad; there were just so many typos, silly grammatical errors, or careless plot holes…so many that it just made me absolutely hate the story itself, and made me internally curse the author. It was very apparent that the author had done zero proofreading or editing.
All authors should take the time to edit their work once the first draft is complete (yes, even if you were self-editing along the way). A sloppy manuscript only screams:
“I’m lazy and I don’t care what you think of my writing!”
Okay, maybe not quite like that. But every sloppy manuscript I’ve read made me doubt the author’s ability as a writer. Every careless error detracted more and more from what could have been a really good story, usually to the point of my being totally fed up and wishing I could just stop reading it.
Editors will also appreciate your efforts. It saves them time from having to correct the little, silly errors such as typos, when they could be focusing on the bigger picture of your story — plot and characterization, or the voice and syntax of your writing.
This doesn’t mean you need to have a Ph.D in English. I do suggest picking up a reference book for English grammar. English for Dummies is a good one; it explains grammar rules in simple terms and offers good examples.
Once you’ve brushed up on basic grammar and punctuation, here are some suggestions for editing your work. I did all of these (pretty much in this order, too) after I finished my first draft of Waiting for You. But do what works for you!
- Step away from your story
Once you’ve finally written those glorious words — The End — take a break from your first draft. After you’ve spent God only knows how many months of grueling over every scene and chapter, it all looks the same. Your brain knows what it’s supposed to say or sound like, so that’s what your eyes see when you proofread. Step away from it for at least a week. A month is great if you have the luxury of time (and not having a deadline). You’ll be able to come back with fresh eyes.
- Proofread your manuscript in various mediums
If possible, read it in different mediums: print out your manuscript or load it onto your e-reader. If you print it out, mark up that bad boy with colored pens and markers (I’m a nut when it comes to colored pens). If you use your e-reader, load it as a .mobi or .epub file, and you should be able to “highlight” any troublesome passages. Also, make note of any phrases or words that you’ve used too much, as well as those pesky adverbs.
- Read it aloud
Seriously, read your work out loud. You’ll be able to hear any clunky clauses or phrases, or dialogue that doesn’t quite sound genuine.
- Use your word processor’s handy dandy search bar
Once you’ve gone through your manuscript a few times, go back into your word processor (or Scrivener, if you’re in the cool club), and use the search function to find any of those phrases or words you made note of. Reread those passages to see if there’s a more appropriate word or description you can use.
- Nix was, said*, very, etc.
Or any other “weak” verb or adjective. I heard the tip some time ago to search for the word “was” — it was actually very eye-opening. I found that I was using the imperfect tense in a lot of places where preterite tense conveyed the action much more crisply. (i.e. “He was trembling.” vs. “He trembled.”) This also goes for the word “very.”
*A note on dialogue tags: Tread carefully when it comes to your dialogue tags. If you find yourself having to replace a ton of dialogue tags for stronger verbs, or find yourself using a lot of adverbs, you may need to rework the dialogue itself. While using strong verbs for tags can be great in small sprinklings, your dialogue and your character’s action before/between/after should convey their emotion strongly enough that it doesn’t necessarily require a different tag.
- Those-Which-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned… That’s right. Adverbs.
A lot of writers will cringe and hiss at you if you even utter the word “adverbs.” While it’s true that too many adverbs are a red flag that you should find stronger verbs and descriptions, I’m of the mindset that a few minor adverbs here and there are OK. You can’t seek and destroy every adverb in your story; you’ll end up with choppy passages and forced, awkward writing. If you find yourself scouring a thesaurus, just stick with your adverb. In a lot of instances, it’s extremely apparent when a writer had to look up a word.
Take your time with edits and revisions. There’s no need to rush through them. Once you’re ready to work with beta readers and editors, be sure to keep an open mind to their input. You might find that all your betas have the same suggestions on a certain character or scene. Be receptive and respectful of critique, but also be sure to give your betas feedback as well.
What other steps do you take to get your manuscript ready for beta readers and editors? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!
First of all, I want to say Merry Christmas to everyone. I know the holidays can be a hard time of year for some, especially those living with mental illness.
Christmas last year was difficult for me. I was in the midst of a horrible depressive episode. I’d hide in a bathroom stall at work when everything inside my head became too overwhelming, and I’d sit there, my face buried in my hands, and choke down the sobs that threatened to escape. Christmas music played overhead all month long, but they only added to my loneliness. Everyone, coworkers and customers included, was so cheerful and bubbly. And there I was, just fighting to get through each moment without breaking down.
Trust me, I know how hard the holidays can be. Christmas Day rolls around, and you don’t even want to move, let alone get out of bed. You feel guilty when you open presents from family, because you have to pretend to be excited. But inside, really, you just feel like you’re dying, like you’re about to crack and shatter into a million little pieces on the floor. You wish everyone would just go home already, so you can curl up in a ball. Pretending to be a ray of fucking sunshine is a lot of work. It drains you. By the time you’re finally alone and can curl up in bed, you hope you can go to sleep and never wake up.
But I want to tell you that it’s OK to not be full of Christmas cheer. You don’t have to feel guilty or get down on yourself if you’re not feeling well. You shouldn’t feel like you’re a bad person if you didn’t have the energy to send out Christmas cards. No one is going to think badly of you.
Surviving mental illness is no small feat. The “most wonderful time of the year” can make us feel even more alone when we’re simply fighting to get through each hour, each minute, each second. We see everyone around us, or so it seems, and they all seem to be so happy; and we think, “Why can’t that be me?” And, sometimes, it makes us feel so bad and alone that we wish we were dead.
Finding the courage and will to stay alive is the best gift you can give. It is far more special than anything you can buy in a store. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s OK to say, “Hey, I’m not OK.”
As always, you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1 (800) 273-8255
No matter what, stay safe. Being alive is the best gift you can give.
Book trailers seem to be a pretty popular trend. I’m not really sure why. The whole point of a book is to read, not watch. I browsed through a few on Youtube yesterday — most of them for Romance and Young Adult novels — and a good majority of them featured pictures of models or actors. One even had clips from a TV show. How many people actually watch these trailers?
I have a beef with this. One of the fun parts of reading a book is getting to imagine what the characters and settings look like. Book trailers that feature pictures and video clips of real people take away from the joy of using your imagination. For my previous Meet the Character posts, I included links instead of embedding the image in the post, offering people the choice to look or not. I had a very clear image in my mind of what my characters looked like before I found actors who best resembled them. I get that some people like knowing exactly what a character looks like beforehand, but not everyone does. Besides, you shouldn’t need to rely on pictures to portray your characters; your description in your novel should be able to do all the work.
Here are my thoughts and tips on book trailers, should you choose to make one for your book:
- Don’t include images of someone’s face. Perhaps someone looking away, with their face blurred, or the back of their head — you get the gist. Just not the entire face. Not all readers want to be shown exactly what your character looks like.
- Brevity is key. Keep it short and sweet. One minute, at the longest, should suffice. There were a few I saw on Youtube that were between 3-4 minutes long. I never made it past the 1:20 mark on any of them.
- Don’t spill the beans. What I mean: don’t divulge your entire plot. A book trailer should tantalize your readers and make them want to read it, like your back cover blurb.
For fun, I put one together for Waiting for You. I used iMovies, but to be honest, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing when it comes to making videos.
What are your thoughts on book trailers? Any tips for authors who are thinking about making one?
After I published Waiting for You in September, I started working on a sequel to it, Forget Me Not, a Women’s Fiction story that focuses on Kylie’s life as a journalist. I really haven’t gotten much on it — a measly 17,000 words — and have hit a slump with it. I had written a rough outline, but still can’t seem to jumpstart my creativity with it.
For quite some time, I’d been toying with the idea of stepping out of my comfort genres of Romance and Women’s Fiction and dipping my toes into the waters of murder mysteries and Suspense. These are actually some of my favorite genres to read. For some reason, though, I just can’t seem to come up with any solid ideas. I have zero experience writing crime (although I do watch plenty of Criminal Minds and CSI, thanks to my husband).
Instead, I’ve decided (maybe!) on something else — a memoir about my life with bipolar disorder, psychiatric hospitals, and being a shock therapy patient.
I had immediately thought, “Well, I already know off the top of my head about two memoirs that already exist for mental illness. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison and A Memoir of Madness by William Styron. Why should I bother?”
I’ve read Jamison’s memoir of bipolar disorder. Believe me, it’s a superb book. She’s highly regarded as an expert in mental health. I highly recommend An Unquiet Mind. I actually gave it to my husband to read, long before we were married. He has pages marked and dog-eared for passages that helped him understand my illness. I’ve never read Styron’s book, so I can’t really comment on it.
But perhaps I can offer a new perspective as a shock therapy patient. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know the first thing about writing a memoir. I tried to do a bit of research, then just decided to start writing. I’m still undecided if it’s something I’ll ever actually complete, but it’s becoming a nice little break from writing fiction. Mind you, it’s just a first draft, but here is a little of what I’ve written:
“I wanted to teach high school Spanish. Ever since I began studying a state-required foreign language in seventh grade, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
The beeping of the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram, both diligently displaying my liveliness in unwavering solidarity, have become so commonplace to my ears. Sensory adaptation, I think they call it, is when your body ceases to notice stimuli, minutiae things like the smell of your own perfume or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, because it is no longer deemed a threat to your wellbeing. I’m no longer overwhelmed by the number of nurses and doctors standing around me, all towering over me while I lie perfectly still on the gurney, as they quickly apply electrodes to my head, behind my ears, my chest, my side, even the top of my right foot with surprising ease and familiarity, like they’ve done it thousands of times before. I don’t even flinch when the nurse sticks me with a needle to set up my intravenous line, or when I feel the familiar burn of the anesthesia rushing its way up the veins in my arm and to my heart, where the fist-sized organ pumps the medicine to the rest of my body until, like flicking off a light switch, I’m asleep.
You see, I am a shock therapy patient. Electroconvulsive therapy is the proper term for getting your brain electrocuted, but I won’t get into the semantics of it. As I sit here writing this, I am already gearing myself up for my twenty-fifth treatment, which will be in a week-and-a-half’s time. I guzzle more water and cut back on my superfluous coffee consumption, all in hopes of only having to be stuck once for my IV. My veins are small (and I think they have an affinity for hiding from the impending sting), and for at least one third of my previous twenty-four treatments, the nurses have had a difficult time sticking me. Both my hands and the inside of my right wrist are dotted with faint scars from the IV needles. I am naturally pale and I scar easily, so it’s to be expected.
When the treatment is over and done, five to ten minutes at most, I wake up in the recovery room. Waking up from anesthesia is a bizarre feeling; it’s like stumbling through groggy darkness, and you think, “No! Can I please sleep just a little bit longer? I’m still so tired.” Your entire body feels heavier than an immovable, giant rock, and you wish you could just lie there forever without being disturbed. But then the recovery room nurse bustles over to start waking you up, and you do so grudgingly while she takes your blood pressure and removes the IV. Then she puts you in a wheelchair while your family member pulls the car up to the front of the building, and you are wheeled out and sent on your way. That, at least, is how my outpatient treatments go.
I suppose I should go back in time, back about twelve years ago to my sophomore year of high school, long before I ever knew that one day I would be an electroconvulsive therapy patient.”
What are your thoughts on stepping out of your genre comfort zone? Have you ever tried writing something totally different?
I don’t know of any indie authors who haven’t made a playlist for their novels — you all have, haven’t you? — or at least picked out actors who would play their characters if their novel was ever adapted for the big screen (which, by the way, I have an Evernote file of nearly all my characters and their respective actors…).
Music is such a phenomenal concept. I’ve been playing violin for 20 years and have had such wonderful opportunities to perform up and down the East Coast, including places like Epcot and Magic Kingdom at Disney World. In my private lessons, we studied via the Suzuki Method (which Adam makes a crack about in Chapter Two of Waiting for You. I couldn’t resist.) In high school, I also was a part of my church’s youth choir, which was associated with the Royal Academy of Music. In order to advance a level (and thereby getting to wear the next color adornment over your cassock and surplus), you had to take tests in music theory.
There are even studies on the effects of music therapy in psychiatric patients. Seriously, music is such an amazing thing. The right song can make us cry when we’re sad, cheer when we’re happy, and make us belt out a tune at the top of our lungs in rush hour traffic.
This is why I think it’s a great idea to create playlists for our novels. There’s something about the perfect songs that can help convey the heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears that we’ve poured into our novels. They can be the perfect accompaniment to, dare I say it, harmonize with our work.
So, without further ado, here is my playlist for Waiting for You!
- All This Time ~ OneRepublic (Main theme song)
- One Sweet Day ~ Maria Carey & Boyz II Men (Sarah’s song)
- Left Behind ~ Spring Awakening (Elliott’s song)
- Come Home ~ OneRepublic
- Nightingale ~ Demi Lovato
- Remedy ~ Adele
(Sorry! Couldn’t find a video to embed of this song.)