Buckle up, folks, for a long but worthy Fika conversation today! Last week, Kate Richards of Wizards in Publishing chatted with us about her pre-publication services for writers at all stages of their career. This week, aspiring author Maria Coltman tells us about her experience receiving a partial edit and pre-publication consultation, donated by Kate. Following her post is a list of ten questions that Maria asked Kate as part of their month-long work together.
Before we get started, there are two exciting items:
First, Katherine Deane is the lucky winner of last week’s random drawing for a complimentary edit of up to 25K. Thank you, Wizards in Publishing! Best of luck, Katherine!
Second, Kate Richards is offering another prize today, an ARC of her soon-to–be-published book, Dungeon Time! Leave a question for Kate or Maria in the comments to be eligible.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for a Tuesdays with Ana discussion on using shifts in POV in fiction writing. New and aspiring authors, come with your questions! Established authors, come with your opinions and expertise.
I’ve written stories for pretty much most of my life. The first story of any significant length I remember writing was when I was about nine years old. All I can recollect of the story itself is that it had horses in it somewhere, and that it had a happy ending. It took our teacher nearly the whole afternoon to read it out to the class, but sadly, such was my lack of confidence in my writing ability, I didn’t even bother to tell my parents, and can remember consigning it to the wastepaper bin as soon as possible.
This act didn’t prevent me from writing further stories. I continued throughout my scholastic career encompassing a wide range of topics. The earlier years were focused mainly on ponies, and then on to horses as I grew – primarily about my adventures with the aforesaid animals.
And then when I was thirteen, I discovered science fiction. I read John Wyndham’s book The Chrysalids, and I was lost forever in another world. One that I could see so clearly I could almost taste it – but one that was forever beyond my reach.
I devoured everything our small local library had to offer, and then saved my pocket money and bought virtually everything ever written by authors such as Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury. I quickly discovered what I liked and what I didn’t – but many of those books published by famous names such as Corgi and Penguin, are still on my bookshelves today.
The thing that stood out for me, was the lack of female writers of Sci Fi. The majority of books seemed to be written by men. In fact, in those days, you were lucky to find anything of any merit written by a woman. Until Anne McCaffrey came along. I was so excited. Here was a woman who wrote not only Sci Fi, but romantic Sci Fi. She wrote (and continues to write) from a feminine viewpoint. Her ‘heroines’ if you can call them that, are usually strong, aspiring females; but her ‘heroes’ (or main male characters) are even stronger. Whilst loving, protecting and respecting their females, they invariably stand up to them, taking the lead, being decisive and asserting their control.
It occurred to me that my most favourite Sci Fi books from a whole range of authors, the ones that I have read time and again, are the ones depicting such relationships. I so wanted to write one myself that it verged on an obsession. I started to write many, many times. But would come to a stuttering halt a few weeks later, and usually throw the handful of pages away in frustration and annoyance.
In fact, it was not until 2009 that the latest story swirling around in my head began to gain any substance. I can remember I was on holiday at the time with my husband. He noticed that my usual holiday reading was going untouched at the side of my lounger, and he enquired why. My reply was that I didn’t need to read a book because I had one in my head, and I was fine-tuning it ready for writing on our return. He laughed, because he is familiar with my little megrims. However, when we got back I sat down at my computer and began to write. Heartsong was born!
The words poured out. There weren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate. The storyline grew and evolved. The characters became real to me; they dictated what they would say and what they would do. In essence, they told me their stories. It was just for me to bind it all together in order to tell to someone else. At last I had a substantial piece of work, and in my head there was, and is, so much more to write. Because I have learned that to tell one story often spawns another and another.
Then, of course, comes the difficult bit. You have written a book, but what do you do with it? No one in their right mind would ever think such an endeavour worthy of approaching a publisher with, but what steps should you take? So initially I became brave and trusting, and I gave around ten copies out to friends and acquaintances of both sexes, and all ages and backgrounds, to read and comment on. After all, if the story was rubbish, what would be the point in continuing?
The feedback was interesting. One of my friends was serving out in Afghanistan at the time, and nearly the whole of his unit read it. They liked the battle scenes best – but wanted more gore, which I was not going to comply with. The women were perhaps more critical than the men, and I became a little worried that I was trying to rewrite bits to try to please everyone – and would end up pleasing no one. But at least I had my answer – they said it would make good ‘holiday’ reading. Believe me, I am more than happy with that reaction.
The next big step was to seek out a literary agent. I can hear you all laughing. But remember, I am new to this. Yes, I have done my research. I am familiar with a number of publishing houses dealing with my chosen genre. But the agents don’t want to know. They are all too busy. You can’t even get a foot in the door.
So I read lots of advice, most of it freely handed out by published authors, (and some of it in ‘book form’ I had to pay for). It was like wading through a sea of molasses. So much conflicting advice! I became very despondent, because if authors like JK Rowling have to self publish their first couple of Harry Potter books, what is the hope for people like me?
Then I met Ana. A feisty lady who seems to have more successful books under her belt than I’ve had hot dinners. Whether she was simply being generous, or whether she has second sight, I am not sure. But she gave me a lot of good advice and encouragement, and introduced me to Kate Richards – and suddenly there is purpose once again.
Kate told me that she had wanted to write since seventh grade, and like me, had put it on hold for a number of years. She identified with the fact that I felt overwhelmed, and explained that it would take time to adjust, to get to know and understand the world of publishing, and that I should just feel able to take it one step at a time.
I was worried about whether I should continue with the writing of my second book in a series of what I intend to be three, and she gave me reassurance, and told me to write and finish the books, and not to worry about the rest. Kate shared with me that she had cried after getting her first real critique from her now, business partner, Valerie Mann. So you can understand that I sent her my first three chapters of Heartsong with such trepidation I was nearly hyperventilating.
I shouldn’t have worried, because what she has given me I can now get my teeth into. What she has allowed me to do, is to see my faults through her eyes. Her advice distinctly lays the boundaries and informs. Instead of just treading water, I can now work on those faults creating improvement and establishing better writing techniques. Everything she has suggested is sensible and constructive. For example, ‘overuse’ of adverbs, repetition of words, considering use of ‘points of view’. One of her comments made me smile (I don’t think I have fallen into this trap too many times, but it is a point well taken!), she said “…remember, if it is my point of view, I can’t tell you I am pale or that I have a smudge on my cheek, unless I’m in front of a mirror!”
I have found the way Kate has drawn attention to words or phrases in my work with ‘highlighter pens’ very valuable in that it now gives me guidance to do the same with successive chapters. (I will use the same colours!)
I am very grateful to Kate for answering my questions, although I am still processing the information and I know that certain points will occur to me as I progress. I have already started looking into attending some writing workshops as she has suggested. Not only will they help me overcome technicalities, but will perhaps be useful for networking and finding a critique partner.
Kate’s consultation has opened a door for me. I’m not one to stand teetering on the edge. My motto has always been Carpe Diem. A little criticism shouldn’t be the end – it should be the beginning. It should make a writer even more determined. She has shown me ‘Round One’. I look forward to ‘Round Two’!
I’d like to thank you for your time and efforts Kate, you are a very motivating person!
Thanks to you Ana as well! I just hope I live up to all these expectations…..nose to the wheel, shoulder to the grindstone, put your back into it – help, it’s going to be better than a session at the gym!
Maria’s questions and Kate’s answers:
1. What is a ‘critique’ partner, and how would I choose one or be assigned one? What is their role in the process?
That is a common question for new authors. The most important answer is it should not be your best friend from high school or your sister. They love you and may have a hard time stepping back and giving the hard answers. There are critique groups out there, or you can join a great group like http://aspiringromancewriters.webs.com/ How I found mine, and it seems pretty common, is just connections along the way. Try to have at least one who is published and they should be in your genre. A mystery writer is not the best choice for a romance writer, for example. Usually. There are always exceptions.
A critique partner is one who looks over your book during the writing process. They are looking for ‘craft issues’ like repeated words, passive structure, head hopping, info dumps, plot issues. They may look more than once. They should be clear and helpful, but never cruel. And your job, as the writer, is to take the criticism in the helpful spirit intended and always be willing to critique in exchange. The reason an unpublished writer can get published authors to critique is that most of us remember the kindnesses we experienced and try to make time to pay it forward.
2. What are ‘beta readers’? Do they read the whole book or just a specified part?
In general, a beta reader comes into play once you consider your book complete. You have researched and plotted, written and reviewed. To you, it is ready to go. Now…a beta reader comes into play. Their position in the industry is less important, since they really are approaching the book from a reader’s point of view. Consider them your last polish before submission. If you are considering independent publishing, a real edit from a real editor is still an excellent idea. But if you’ve done all your homework it will cost you less. At Wizards in Publishing, we price lower for books that require less work. Most editors I’ve spoken to do the same.
3. As someone entirely new to the process, how do you go about establishing yourself with a publishing house, and how do you know whether it is the right one for you?
Look for a house that has books in your genre. It may sound basic, but it’s a common omission. Then read their submission guidelines. Follow them to the letter. Font. Style. Do they want just a query? If you do this, you will stand the best chance of having your book read to start with.
Many houses have special calls. They may want werewolves for Christmas or steampunk for Arbor Day. These are an excellent way to begin with a new house. You offer what they want. Perfect.
Before considering submission to any house, Google them. See what turns up. I promise you they will do the same with your name. Acquiring editors want to know what is out there what you’ve been up to. Are you a responsible professional developing your brand or a drama queen who will make their editors’ lives hard ? No matter how great your book, if they find you having flame wars all over Twitter, they aren’t likely to want to deal with you. Publishers are very proud of their reputation. Their authors need to be an asset in all ways.
The second thing to do is chat up authors who are published there. Even if you don’t know them, they will probably be willing to tell you their experience. If not, it hasn’t cost you a cent. Ask someone else.
4. I am not so stupid to think that my first attempt at a full length novel wouldn’t require a great deal of rewriting and polishing, but how could we ensure that I am able to keep to my original ideas and storyline?
If you have followed all the previous instructions, you probably will for the most part. Publishers don’t have time or interest in rewriting your book. If it doesn’t met their needs, they will either ask you to revise and resubmit or just say no. But read your contract carefully before signing to learn what their editing policies are. Your editor will have a great deal of say in the final product.
5. Last year I attempted to approach two or three literary agents. They weren’t ‘disinterested’ but they simply informed me that they were too busy to take on any new aspiring authors. This made me doubt my ability to write, because I felt as if I was banging my head against a brick wall. Yet month upon month, year upon year, hundreds, if not thousands of new books are published. So if this is the case, where do these people make a start?
Most people don’t have agents. At least not until they have an established reputation in the business.
6. Would I get any guidance in writing a synopsis? I believe the standard length is a page or less. How would I know what to leave out and what to include if the ‘backbone’ of the novel came to more than one page?
A query letter or short blurb is one thing. A synopsis must contain all the major plot points and the length varies. Often an editor will be specific in how long she want the synopsis to be. Detailed or short. It’s worth taking a class to learn how to do one well.
7. How would I surmount the difficulty of the differences between the British use of English and the American use of English? Part of the essential action starts in a small East Anglian village. Would this present a problem?
Every publisher handles this issue differently. The dialogue should be appropriate for the characters. But as to spelling and grammar, they should be consistent throughout the book. Most but not all US publishers prefer US style. Often a publisher’s submissions page gives you the information you need on this and many other issues.
8. I carried out a great deal of research before even beginning this book as I wanted to ‘know’ the market as far as is possible for an amateur. I discovered that successful themes run in phases of two to three years, then popularity wavers and the next theme takes over. eg vampire, shades of grey type books. I believe the next Star Trek movie is on its way to our screens. How do authors manage to hit the next trend, ensuring maximum interest in their books?
I look at Amazon and other online bookstores and see what their bestsellers are. What books are climbing the ranks? Every author and publisher tries to guess based on marketing data and other factors. And readers are very happy to tell us what they love and what they want. I also like to see what special calls are out there. Publishers have more access to sales data than the average author.
9. I have already started the next book of the series, and written in a couple of ‘hooks’ towards the end of the first book. If this book is absolute rubbish and you say ‘Forget it – you can’t write for toffee,’ I would feel very foolish to be half way through the next one. Should I hold off writing any more for the present, or should I continue? My characters have taken on lives of their own, and it would be very hard for me not to write down what comes next, but now I am rather uncertain. In your experience, what do you think? I even have a third book in mind to conclude the story.
I write because I love it. If someone told me I couldn’t do it, I’d take the time to learn more technique, take more classes…work harder. If you love what you do, it is never a waste of time.
10. I seem to be pretty technically inept when it comes to setting up blogs and social networking. It doesn’t matter how many times I print out instructions from the Help Menu! Is there anyone available who could guide me through all this? When I look at [another author’s] site it frightens me with its ‘professionalism’. Added to that, she is an incredibly gifted writer. Regardless of the fact that she has tried to reassure me, I’m still very nervous of not living up to expectations. Any sage words of wisdom for me?
We all felt like that at one time. Pay someone to set up a site for you that you can handle. You probably have a friend who is better at it and will be glad to help you. We have to promote online but we can be creative getting there. Don’t worry about knowing everything all at once.
Like what you see here? Think Kate sounds like the consultant for you? For more information, please contact: TheWiz@WizardsinPublishing.com
To contact Kate Richards directly, please email: Kate@WizardsinPublishing.com
In addition to pre-publication and cover art services for adults, Wizz Kidz offers services for parents, grandparents, and proud aunts and uncles who would like to help their children get their stories published.