First Readers, Revising, & Publication

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who not only won NaNoWriMo but who made ANY progress this month. I finished with 32,000 new words, and I’m really proud of that progress! New words are always better than no words at all. 😉

To wrap up NaNoWriMo and to help all of you forge onward with your new manuscripts, I wanted to share all the posts I’ve ever written about revising a novel, finding a literary agent, and getting traditionally published.



Revising Your Novel


First Readers



How to Get Published


Finding Literary Agents

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Pub(lishing) Crawl: Adding New Ideas vs. Knowing When to Streamline

I received an awesome question post in my forum last week, and I thought I’d answer it today. 🙂

I thought my first novel was done except for proofreading, after being through many CPs and two passes with a professional editor I hired. Now that I’m about 25% into its sequel, I keep discovering new things about my characters that I’d like to go back and put in the first one as a connecting detail or foreshadowing. This is for characters, but for places too, because my trilogy is fantasy and I get more awesome ideas about the various cultures and places as I write more.

The problem is when can I “stop” world building? Should I write and edit the entire trilogy before self publishing the first one or just publish the first one now because it’s ready. When I’m working on the other two, I’ll just have to delete some of my new ideas I guess? Because the first one will already be out in the world, unchangeable.

How do you deal with this when you have a traditional contract for only one book, not knowing if your editor will want to buy or publish the rest of the series as you envision it?

Okay, let’s break this down into two separate questions.

When to Stop Adding Ideas

It’s funny that this question–When can I stop world-building?–came RIGHT at a time when I’m struggling with a similar issue. I have so many new ideas! I want to squeeze them all in HERE and NOW and into THIS WORLD…

Well, there is a breaking point and there is such a thing as too much. And in all honesty, a tight book that gets complex without getting unwieldy and that wraps up in a great big AHA! of meeting threads–those are the books that readers love most. (An excellent example is the Harry Potter series: lots of threads and characters and world details, but it never bogs down the reader. Best of all, everything comes together for a truly spectacular ending.)

So how do you know if you’re only complicating things by adding more?

For world-building: If you have extraneous details that don’t actually add to the story or need to be there for the plot’s sake, then you might want to cut out some histories and details. A few subtle elements can absolutely enhance the story–little details make a world feel real. But if you worry you have too many details or so many settings that the reader is getting whiplash…Well, you might want to take a look at the world-building.

For characters: If you’re having a hard time incorporating characters into a scene, then maybe they don’t need to be there. I totally made this mistake with Strange & Ever After–I wanted to have Laure join Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters in Marseille and Egypt. But it got so unwieldy! Having to find ways/reasons for every character to speak and act in group scenes? I just kept forgetting characters were even there. Obviously, I solved this problem by leaving Laure in Paris and then trying to keep each scene focused on only a 1-3 characters at a time.

For plot threads: If, at any point, you have to start writing a really complicated, info-dumpy type scenes in order to wrap up and connect all the threads, then you might have too many plots twining through your book. I am SO guilty of this in Strange & Ever After, and I’ll talk more about that below. 🙂

The key is, in my opinion, to getting a streamlined book is to:

1. Work with what you already have when trying to connect scenes, characters, places, and events. Sometimes little throwaway comments from earlier chapters or books can become AWESOME plot points or props.

2. If you can’t work with what you already have, try to instead to TAKE AWAY. Maybe some detail or thread is actually clogging you up rather than giving you the freedom to move forward. Thought it sometimes requires rewriting, it’s often better to simplify than to complicate–unless, of course, the book is already super simple. Then you might want to…

3. Add in those new ideas and see/feel how it works. If you can tell that it’s just opening up too many new story questions or story directions, then maybe you shouldn’t add it. But you can always weave it in, try it out for a few chapters, and then decide.

Writing an Entire Series Upfront

Now, onto the other part of this question: If self-publishing, should you write and edit the entire trilogy before publishing the first? If traditional publishing, how do you deal with new ideas and being confined to what’s already in the world?

Goodness, I can tell you from experience that writing a sequel once the earlier books are published/unchangeable is REALLY HARD. Holy crow, it’s hard. You write yourself into unforeseen corners and you can’t go back to tweak things in earlier books.

Or, you’ll have the AWESOME ideas that you just love and that resonate so much with you…but that you can’t introduce because they really should have been introduced in the already-on-shelves book 1.

Or, if you’ll discover in your third book (as I did) that everything you’d kinda-sorta thought would tie up DOESN’T–at least not in a way that resonates with you. Now you’re stuck adding all sorts of little details and backstories that you really wish you’d dropped into earlier books. For example, in Strange & Ever After, I introduce the idea of gods and other creatures from the spirit realm. I REALLY wish I could go back to Something Strange & Deadly and weave in just a few hints that gods are coming up…But alas, the first books were already published.

So if you can (and if you intend to definitely self-publish the whole trilogy), I actually think you can benefit from writing all the books at once. Not only does this allow you to really build your story and streamline it, but it also allows you to publish the entire series at once (which works very well in the self-publishing world).

However, if you ARE confined to writing only one book at a time, I urge you to follow the steps I list above: work with what you already have, take away aspects, or add new ideas with heaps of caution. Will you be stuck scratching your head and screaming at the already-in-stores book for not being changeable? Probably, but that doesn’t mean writing sequels after earlier books are finished is impossible. (And perhaps my post on planning a series will help!)
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Writing 3-Dimensional Characters

Character3DRecently, I received this question from Kaila in my inbox:

I was wondering, could you please do a post on your “For Writer’s” page about creating 3-dimensional characters?

At first, I was totally afraid to even TRY to tackle this question. I mean…gosh, are my characters 3D? Am I even talented enough or aware enough to talk about something so important?

But then I wrote in my newsletter last week about motivations and consequences, and I realized that–at least for ME–there are 3 things that make a character feel REAL when I’m reading.

#1: Motivation

Character motivation is the WHY of a character’s actions. It’s the WHY behind her goal, the WHY behind her inner and outer needs, and it’s even the WHY behind her short temper and her inability to commit.

But no, you say, that’s backstory! Backstory and history explain her short temper and inability to commit.

Ah, but not entirely. Yes, she’s been burned by men before, so it’s left her wary. But WHY does she  use sarcasm and shouts to make her point? She could just as easily be closed-off and cold. What motivates her to behave the way she does? What does she subconsciously (or in full awareness) hope to achieve by behaving the way that she does?

If you don’t understand these WHYS, then you’ll have characters do things for the sake of the plot…Which means characters will act out of character–and readers will spot that stuff. I promise.

An example: In Truthwitch (which comes out next fall from Tor), I had one of my heroines keep a giant secret from her best friend. I mean, for the plot’s sake, it worked to have her stay quiet, but on a motivation level, it just didn’t make sense. These girls are the CLOSEST FRIENDS you can ever imagine–why would Noelle EVER keep a secret from Safi? Well, a few savvy critique partners asked that very question, and so I finally examined Noe’s motivation for silence…

And it turned out she didn’t have one. I was making Noe stay silent for the sake of the plot. And although changing the story so that there was no secret would require major revisions, I realized that it had to be done. Otherwise, there would always be that lingering question in the reader’s mind of why Noelle did what she did. There would always be the nagging awareness that the character wasn’t behaving quite right.

#2: Emotional Dominoes

In order for me to revise the book with this new awareness–the awareness that Noe wasn’t motivated to keep secrets from Safi–I had to go back to the book’s very first scene and work through every emotional beat in the book. All over again.

Now, I’ve talked about emotional dominoes before, and I will often write in my notes, What are my emotional dominoes?, and then go through each emotion scene by scene. I find this method is incredibly helpful for unsticking my plot, and I also find it INVALUABLE for revising my characters and building real people.

In the Truthwitch example, I had to look at what it meant for Noelle to have told Safi her secret. If Safi knows this bit of history about Noelle, how does it change their interactions? How does it change how they view each other? How they behave in each scene?

And, once I had adjusted one scene to reflect this “new normal”, how did that effect the emotions in the next scene…and the next and the next?

Remember: every scene is linked. What happened before affects what’s happening now, and it will also dictate what happens next. If you try to force emotions to fit a plot, well…You end up with a book that feels forced! And as I mentioned above: readers WILL notice!

#3: Consequences

Consequences are hard. These are very much linked to emotional dominoes–in fact, you could say that “consequences” are just a form of emotional domino. Cause and effect, right?

But what I mean when I say “consequences” is going all the way. I mean digging deep into emotions that scare you and writing raw, honest stuff.

There is nothing I hate more than a character dying and then everyone just sort of moving on! Or a character who commits a truly horrible act (perhaps the heroine keeps a secret which thereby causes the death of her love interest’s family) and everyone just glosses over it–or worse, forgives her right away!

If an act is irredeemable in real life, it will also be irredeemable in fiction.

And if an act causes deep emotional response in real life, then it needs to cause deep emotional response in fiction.

So, as frightening as it may be to face the dark stuff in your heart, you’ve got to if you want your consequences to feel REAL.

If I return once more to the Truthwitch example, I realized as I was revising the book to incorporate Noe’s secret that the reason I’d failed to have it in the first place was because I’d been scared of facing the consequences. I hadn’t wanted to “go there” because “there” was a very scary place, and now that I had Noe’s traumatic childhood secret out in the open, I was going to have to build those consequences and emotions into every single scene.

It wasn’t easy, and I’m still not sure I got it right (thank goodness for multiple rounds of revision!). But I now understand Noelle’s–and Safi’s–characters so much better. I feel way more connected to them as people, and that in turn makes me care about and love the story even more.

Now, obviously we aren’t ALL writing dark characters with twisted backstories. But even books that are funny and “fluffy” have loads of heart and can hit us right in the gut. I remember reading Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married as a teenager and suddenly bursting into tears at the airport. I felt what Lucy felt (oh, Gus! You bastard!), and she was as real to me as if she were sitting next to me, waiting for her flight too.

The reason I connected to Lucy–the reason she felt 3-dimensional–was because I understood WHY she wanted love in her life. I understood why she made the often hilarious and often DUMB choices that she did. I totally understood why her failures brought her low, and every scene toppled neatly into the next. And, above all, when Lucy was faced with the final, really tough decisions, I FELT all the emotional weight that those decisions were due. (If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it!! Romantic comedy at its finest!)

So there you have it: motivation, emotional dominoes, and consequences. Those are the 3 dimensions that make a real character for me.

What about you? How do you write 3-D characters?

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Resources for after NaNoWriMo (or any first draft!)

You’re ALMOST to the end!! One day left to reach your NaNo goals–to hit that 50K word count mark or to revise your manuscript or whatever it is you set out to do this November.

You got this. I know it…and heck, maybe you’ve already typed “The End” or maybe you said, “Screw this” on day 1. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you DID something, and that’s always better than doing nothing.

And now, to help you on your journey after NaNoWriMo, I’ve compiled a list of resources both on my blog and across the web.

Also, before I share those resources, I want to offer you all an ENORMOUS THANK YOU! Thank you so, so, so, SO much for making the NaNaNoWriMo Bootcamp so awesome! For interacting with me for the entirely too brief 2 weeks that I was doing NaNo. For joining in the #BAMFWordBattles and cheering each other on. And for making this hands-down THE BEST NANOWRIMO YET! I cannot possibly express how much love I have for you all or how amazing this November 2013 was for me. ♥

Now enough of my yapping. Onto the helpful list!!


Helpful Revision Resources


Helpful Resources for Getting a Literary Agent


Helpful Publishing/Industry Resources


Other Generally Helpful and Awesome Resources

So there you have it. It’s not the longest of lists, but hopefully you can find something helpful on there. And of COURSE, share your own favorite online resources in the comments!

Happy last days of NaNo, my friends!! (And P.S., I get back next week and should return to blogging later in the week. ♥)

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Camp NaNoWriMo! We hold you in our hearts…

…and when we think about you, it makes us want to– Ah, Salute Your Shorts. A 90s gem, if I do say so myself. Ah, Camp NaNoWriMo, a 2013 gem, if I do say so myself. You guys know I’m a HUGE–like GIGANTO-BIG-HUGE-MONDO-ENORMOUS supporter of NaNoWriMo. I mean, I was even featured on their blog! Wha-whattttt! (No joke: that was a highlight of my life.)

The plain fact is, I love NaNo. There’s just something so INSPIRING about the camaraderie! About the intensity and deadline. Even if I don’t have anything that needs drafting, I participate in NaNo every single November.

Well, how lucky am that now that I do have something to be drafted (that ol’ epic fantasy WIP of mine ain’t gonna finish itself), it’s perfect timing for Camp NaNoWriMo! HUZZAH!!! (Read more…)

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Writing is hard…

…so don’t give up. I don’t really have anything else to say today other than that. I’m in the middle of book 3 revisions, renovating my house, preparing lesson plans for the YAGB tour, and revising other books that have not yet sold. It all seems pretty overwhelming and insurmountable.

But it isn’t. It never is.

The thing is: you can’t stop working. And you can’t give up.

Writing is really hard. Revising is really hard too. And it doesn’t get easier just because you’re published or agented or have finished X-number of books or sold in 45 territories. More often than not, the writing just gets harder.

But don’t give up. You’ll get where you need to be; we all do.

And now, here’s some music to send you off to work by. It’s my current writing fave, and I hope you find it as uplifting as I do.

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Approaching Your First Novel

Left to right: Mary Lindsey, Brigid Kemmerer, Victoria Scott, Brodi Ashton, Erin Bowman, ME

Sorry for the brief internet absence. I was in Texas for a week (it was AMAZING). Edgefest was a blast and I discovered a few new bands I am now obsessed with (I’ll share next Monday ;)).

Moving on, a reader asked a while ago:

Looking back, knowing what you know now, how would you approach learning the craft for writing your first novel? Would you start with learning how to craft characters, plot or world-build etc.?

Honestly, I think I followed a great path to get to where I am–and I would think there are many authors/people who say that. As the quote from Douglas Adams goes, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.(Read more…)

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When Something Changes Mid-Draft

So, this question came in from Alex last week, and I thought I’d address it in a post today.

I’d really like to read about how you handle it when you’re in the middle of a draft and suddenly you realize that you need to change something BIG. Something which changes the story a lot, a major change you’re already sure will make it into the next draft. (Like e.g. a character that does important stuff in this draft, but you really know you’ll get rid of that character completely anyways. Or switching the narrator. Or changing something big about the whole story set up)

The crappy non-answer is: every book and change is different. 😛

The slightly less crappy non-answer is: gauge the scale of the mid-draft change and proceed from their. Below, I’ve tried to show how to do this and give you examples from my own writing.

Disclaimer: This is MY process. No two people write a book or revise or deal with story issues in the same way. But maybe by reading how I handle issues, you can see what will work best for YOU.

There are, I think, three different options that face you when you make a change mid-draft.

  1. You can power onward, writing as if you have ALREADY made the change and knowing you’ll fix it all in revisions.
  2. You can stop and revise.
  3. You can throw the draft out and start over.

Now, first off, let’s define the sorts of changes (at least the way I see them): major,big, minor, inconsequential. (Read more…)

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How to Get Traditionally Published, Part 3

Read Part 1 in this series.

Read Part 2 in this series.

ALL RIGHT. This is the last post on this–I swear.

My usual disclaimer applies here–this is the journey to traditional publication as I know it. I’m basing this on my personal experience and the experience of other published authors I know. 🙂

Also, FYI, the usual time between getting a book deal and your book hitting shelves (at least in traditional YA publishing) is 18 months to 2 years. There’s a LOT that has to happen, and your publisher needs every second.

Now, let’s finally wrap up this multi-year journey. We left off last week with getting our contract from the publisher… (Read more…)

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How to Get Traditionally Published, Part 2

Read Part 1 in this series.

Read Part 3 in this series.

So, in case you missed Part 1, I am trying to lay out the very SIMPLE BASICS to getting published…

I emphasize “simple” and “basics” here because every author’s journey is different and because, although things seem clear-cut on the surface, they are actually kinda complicated underneath.

Overall, though, the moral of last Friday’s post was that getting an agent requires four main things:

a polished manuscript + a stellar query letter + tons of industry research + perfect timing

And sadly, today’s moral ain’t gonna be that different. That “perfect timing” component is such a bi***–and pretty much makes or breaks absolutely every author out there. (Read more…)

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