When is a book finished?

This is such a difficult question to answer, and I’m learning my own response to it!

I re-wrote Regression a number of times, and actually am going to work on an omnibus for the holiday season which includes the first draft (alternate ending) as a bonus. Interestingly enough, neither Evolussion nor Revolussion have alternate endings since the first draft was very close to the completed copy. Why?

Because I learnt that the book will never be finished until I choose it to be finished, because there is always something which could be changed. When I read Regression, I begin to re-write it in my head, while I am more satisfied with the other manuscripts.

So the completion of a manuscript is the point at which you the author think it is finished telling the story. In looking at Revolussion, I know there are the smaller, side story-lines which I could have kept on writing, but I decided that those could be left up to the reader’s imagination. Dawn’s story was over. At least, her story as the mother of humanity. Stew, Nicholas, Hope, Avery…I could continue with their stories, but their roles in the original plot have ended, and I need to take a break from the Infinion Series to test myself against new material. Can I write something else? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Contemporary? I want to try them. And then, I might come back and carry on where Revolussion left off!

Look for news on Synergy 2012: Return to Magic on the blog as I begin a new project!

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Behind Regression: Nicholas Weaver

Although I knew, when composing Regression, that a man had been responsible for forcing the regressions to save the woman he loved, I had not planned on working him into the first story. But beta readers kept on asking how the heck Adya knew so much, making me realize my hints about her having multiple past lives were not obvious enough. Hence the journal entries from the future, sharing Nicholas Weaver’s thoughts and exeriences.  Not everyone catches the clues in Nick’s Notes (I tagged them as such when working on the draft) which explain not only what the disaster of 11/11/11 is, but also how many times he has replayed this same history.  

Even those who absolutely hated the novel appear to enjoy Nicholas and his thoughts. I enjoyed writing them, as well. I wrote them haphazardly, in no particular order, and then organized them within the sequence of the other chapters to compliment the content of the main story. One very astute reader noticed that the dates of Nick’s notes coincide with the date of the subsequent chapter of Adya’s story, but I am not sure if many others caught that connection. I added the dates after inserting the journal entries where they made the most sense.

Nicholas Weaver is a man chasing a dream. The dream of a woman loved and then lost, but also the dream of being the saviour of humanity. When he arrives to join the alternate timeline already in progress in Evolussion, he finds a world beyond any of his imaginings. And a cataclysm even greater than the one he spent one thousand years trying to avert. But, at least he has Hope. Where the two of them go in Revolussion is yet to be seen, as the story weaves itself at the end of my fingertips, but his character is one I especially relish writing. Perhaps he’ll give me a few surprises as the story materializes.

Managing your language when writing

Even if you are an author who writes just for his/her self, there are still some aspects of writing which could be improved using the following tools.

Word Frequency Count

This applet reads through your submission – even full length manuscripts – and then reports how many times you’ve repeated a word. Doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes word repetition can become tiresome to your reader, especially when the words being repeated are unusual or remarkable. Use this tool to hone your writing skills by finding which words you favour too often. Then, open up your manuscript and run a search for those words, using your thesaurus (or brain!!) to replace them. Especially watch for the dreaded ‘that’ which is usually unnecessary! And when writing, look for expressive verbs instead of using adjectives, then you won’t have so many adjectives show up in your repeat count.

The Phrase Frequency Counter
Same reasoning as above. Amazon has a feature called ‘Statistically Improbable Phrases’ active with their Search Inside the Book feature, which tells prospective purchasers what strange and unusual phrases you might have in your book, but having those wierd phrases repeated too many times might turn a reader off. Thanks to Mathew Ferguson over at Kindle boards for those two.

Readability Index: Who is your target audience?

If your novel is going to target children or young adults, then readability tests will ensure your are not speaking way above their heads! I’m not saying our kids aren’t smart, but if your narrative is reading at a fourth year university level, you may have some trouble engaging those twelve-year-olds. When selecting a textbook for science class, we sometimes use the SMOG index to determine which works for applied verses academic students.

Finding My Voice.

As a newcomer to the world of writing, I sought feedback for my first draft of Regression from a variety of sources. With time being a limiting factor, most of my interactions were through online communities for aspiring authors instead of real life writer’s groups. Authonomy, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, and others offered the opportunity to connect and consult with people who were both readers and writers. I learned quite a bit from those interactions, but the main lesson was to believe in myself and not be afraid to say ‘No, I don’t think I can do that.’

I solicited advice from those who took in-depth, critical looks at the work being posted for review on the writer’s communities, and also carefully read the critiques of other author’s work. At first, I frantically made changes to my worked based on the comments of my readers, trying desperately to make every potential reader happy. What I found was that there were as many different opinions about writing techniques and styles as there were authors offering opinions, and what one person wanted me to change or remove, another wanted me to expand upon or develop. I finally ended up explaining to one especially opinionated critic that as much as I appreciated her suggestions and efforts to provide feedback on my novel, the style she was attempting to lead me toward was a style she herself appreciated but one I could never see myself fitting into. I want to write like Kathy Bell, not Jane Austen. I Write Like I Live.

This was most clearly exemplified during my attempts to secure a traditional publishing contract. I submitted my manuscript to multiple publishing houses, and two of them expressed serious interest in my work. But, both of them had a list of changes they wanted to see happen before they would offer a contract. Imagine my chagrin when Publishing House A wanted me to change the exact opposite to what Publishing House B wished to change! I have had many people state one should not change a manuscript until a contract is signed, but of course I didn’t hear that until after I worked for weeks trying to adjust my writing style and story to make the possible book deal(s) happen. Unfortunately, neither lead panned out but the juxtaposition of the editorial commentaries made me realize just how subjective reading is, and just how much guesswork goes into editorial choices. Editors must guestimate the likelihood any given manuscript is going to meet the interests of the widest audience, and yet their guess is likely as good as mine in the changing landscape of the reading consumer. With ebooks making such an incredible array of books available, the final choice really is in reader hands and now we writers can write for ourselves instead of trying to meet the demands of an editor.

There are obviously some aspects which should be acknowledged in making a solid science fiction novel. Ensuring that action scenes are ‘experienced’ and not ‘told’, having continuity and validity, especially in your scientific concepts, making the entire thing make sense. But, these are generally objective aspects for the most part, not subjective. Even so, the objective facets of writing are malleable to a degree.

Now when I read through Regression, my first novel, I see a lot of elements I do not like. Compared to the first draft, the narrative is drastically different, and not always in a way that I think reflects who I am or can be as a writer. I changed it to meet the expectations of others. The retail version of Regression is about the eightieth draft! But, Evolussion is the complete opposite. I think it very truly reflects where I want to be as a writer, and (hmm, should I admit this in public?) is quite literally the second version of the story…much of the manuscript remains unchanged from the moment I put fingers to keyboard. I hope that the positive responses to the tale continue, because then I know that my own instincts about how to write a gripping, moving story were reasonably accurate.

Fun for Writers

For a little light-hearted writer fun, visit the following sites.

The Gender Genie, http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php . Bring with you a sample or three of your writing – 500 words or more – and the Gender Genie will oblige you by identifying your sex. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hold true to its verdict! But, if you are telling your narrative from one or the other sex’s perspective – which is likely, unless you are writing about aliens with three sexes – being aware of the words which are more ‘male’ or ‘female’ might help make for a more convincing narrative.

Here is the analysis of Evolussion, my soon-to-be released sci-fi novel and the sequel to Amazon Bestseller Regression.

Analysis
Feminine Keywords Masculine Keywords
[with] 9 x 52 = 468 [around] 1 x 42 = 42
[if] 1 x 47 = 47 [what] 4 x 35 = 140
[not] 10 x 27 = 270 [more] 3 x 34 = 102
[where] 2 x 18 = 36 [are] 2 x 28 = 56
[be] 6 x 17 = 102 [as] 14 x 23 = 322
[when] 3 x 17 = 51 [who] 3 x 19 = 57
[your] 1 x 17 = 17 [below] 0 x 8 = 0
[her] 29 x 9 = 261 [is] 10 x 8 = 80
[we] 2 x 8 = 16 [these] 0 x 8 = 0
[should] 1 x 7 = 7 [the] 124 x 7 = 868
[she] 18 x 6 = 108 [a] 37 x 6 = 222
[and] 28 x 4 = 112 [at] 10 x 6 = 60
[me] 0 x 4 = 0 [it] 11 x 6 = 66
[myself] 0 x 4 = 0 [many] 0 x 6 = 0
[hers] 0 x 3 = 0 [said] 0 x 5 = 0
[was] 28 x 1 = 28 [above] 0 x 4 = 0
  [to] 39 x 2 = 78

Words: 1611

(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1523
Male Score: 2093

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Since the sections were written from a male point-of-view, I am happy to have that verdict. The subsequent segment told from a female point-of-view scored differently.

Words: 1333

(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1816
Male Score: 1505

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

If you look at the words being tagged ‘male’ and ‘female’, you might notice the female ones do tend toward the social and/or personal. Pronouns and interrogatives. The male identifiers are object-related. Articles, adjectives, and prepositions. This makes intuitive sense because the average female is socially conscious, whereas the average male is action oriented. Now, don’t get all defensive about the whole thing, we the sexes should glory in our differences rather than try to be exactly alike!

Another fun site to try out is ‘I Write Like…’ http://iwl.me/

My ‘masculine’ passage rose to lofty heights…

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


While my female POV segment drew a less illustrious comparison.

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Again, this is just for fun and the results will often change with every excerpt you submit. As they add more famous authors, the result will be expanded.

A great way to while away time that could be better spent actually writing!

I’ll be starting a blog tour on October 11 to promote the release of Evolussion. The tour will last four weeks, hitting 20 or so blogs. Should be neat! More news to come.

Talking Publishing to Grade 7s and 8s

Tomorrow I am presenting to small groups of Grade 7 and 8 students, as part of Family Literacy Day activities at a local elementary school. Other authors have been invited, but out of the participants I apparently have the greatest familiarity with eBooks and the current trend toward self-publishing so will be focusing on that. May as well kill two birds with one stone and make my blog double as my notes for the students.

To simplify the publication process to its barest elements, a book starts with an author, moves through an editor (possibly an agent beforehand, but since agents are a rare species in Canada I won’t dwell on them), is built by a designer, flies with a promoter, runs through a printer, travels with a distributor, and finally sells through a vendor.

 I visualize a steep staircase, with a tiny stick figure at the bottom peering up to where clouds almost obscure the golden gates of the vendor’s retail store. Other tiny stick figures are clinging to the sides of steps where they have lost their way, manuscript in hand, frantically waving their little arms to get the attention of one of the many gatekeepers on the climb to retail presence. …perhaps I won’t use that analogy with the kids, too depressing.

The author has their wonderful, incredible, amazingly unique idea for a story which is sure to be the next great bestseller, and will make Dan Brown look like the poor country relative. Comparisons between their work and well known authors are thrown around like confetti used to be at weddings but of course is not done now because of the environment. Same should be said about some manuscripts, save the environment, don’t print the darn things…but, anyway…I digress, and I am sure there are those who would say that about my MS since reading is so subjective. Aye, there is the rub. One man’s – or woman’s – joy is another’s pain. Every author has something that has been an investment of their time, energy, possibly money, and it has great meaning to them. That it might not strike the same sense of wonder in another person can sometimes be baffling to the creator, leading to hostility, defensiveness, or withdrawal. I plan to reinforce to the kids tomorrow that every written creation does have intrinsic value for themselves at least, but that most businesses must make decisions based upon economics which means that very, very few new authors are added to the industry by big presses in any given year. The new phenomenon of print on demand, and of digital publication, is changing that and instilling hope in large masses of emerging authors. But, by doing so, these authors have thrust upon them the roles traditionally held by publishing houses, and those roles are not always comfortable for the artist. From a personal perspective, having operated businesses with six figure revenues, I’m quite familiar with and comfortable in, the entrepreneurial hat.

Editors either work through publishing houses, or as freelancers, to get manuscripts ready for publication. The first step involves proofreading for basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you are aspiring at all to be a writer, do not overlook this important first impression when submitting a manuscript to an agent or a publishing house. No, it is not their job to correct things for you if you don’t already have a contract with them! So, get it clean and ready before submitting, to impress them with the fact that they will have less work do to if they do happen to sign you on! Second reading will be for five “C”s of copy-editing: clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent. They look for awkward sentences which could be re-written, they make sure you are using Canadian spelling throughout the manuscript if you reside in Canada, that sort of thing. Finally, a last round of editing involves truly reading the manuscript – checking for character development, plot advancement, pace, subplot analysis – can sometimes be the most challenging for an editor if the genre is outside their forte or enjoyment. Books heavy on facts should have verification of their information, often by referring to experts in the relevant fields, because nothing is worse than reading a book and knowing the author/editor/publisher has the wrong bit of information.

A designer takes the rough manuscript and makes it pretty, with an appealing cover. Flourishes at the bottom of pages or beginnings of chapters, proper page margins and numbers, etc. fall within the province of the designer, although usually a graphic designer will take responsibility for the cover art. Anyone self publishing must be crucially aware of the fact that just because an image is on the internet, it is not public domain. Buying the rights to royalty free clip art is an easy and responsible answer to cover art, as is finding an artistically inclined friend to create a cover masterpiece. There are plenty of page layout templates for various book sizes, available online.

The promoter creates the buzz about the upcoming release. News bulletins, advance review copies, announcements in magazines, all of that promotion creates advance orders and generates interest. A promoter will book radio and TV spots, garner interviews at other venues, and schedule book signings as well as a release party.

The printer takes the print-ready manuscript and puts it on paper, most of them do nothing more, nothing less. There are some differing packages offered in the industry to assist with design, editing, etc., but the most economical is the print on demand method where a digital copy is kept on file at the printer, and when a copy is ordered, it is printed then shipped. No overhead, no books collecting dust, and reasonable pricing. Unfortunately, POD is not readily available to Canadians, and so most end up having to obtain print runs, at higher costs and a large original outlay.

Distribution is an almost insurmountable barrier for both micro-presses and self-published authors. Dependent upon which printer is being used, there may be some catalogue listings provided, but usually limited. Distribution is the process of getting the printed copy of the book into the hands of the retailer. Distributors take a cut of the cover price (often 10%), on top of the steep discount required by resellers, meaning the actual revenue which makes its way into the hands of the small press or indie author is minimal. Canada is especially bad for this, because of the geography distribution ends up being more costly.

Finally, the retailer is the last stop for every print book before it gets into the eager hands of the reading public. When you walk in to a bookstore, it is amazing to think that not one single copy of those books on those shelves have been paid for. All of them there are literally on consignment, awaiting a sale or getting returned to the publisher. This stumbling block makes it very difficult for indies or micro-presses to get through the doors of many brick and mortar bookstores, because that shelf space is invaluable to the store, and the bill for the books must be borne by the indie until the book sells. Many people cannot afford to print copies, have them sit on a shelf for four months, then have the book mailed back to them at their own expense. This is why many, many people will wait months, years, even decades for the representation of a large publishing house – because they do not have the time, money, or inclination to take on the various roles required to become their own publishing team.  If you are fortunate enough to have personal connections in one of more of these areas, your chances of success increase with each contact you utilize.

Writing a book, bringing it to completion, is something to be proud of. Even if that book never sees the light of day nor darkens paper, the sense of accomplishment is to be savoured. Taking the next step, to see it in print, is the beginning of a journey which can at turns be frustrating, disappointing, intimidating, exhilarating, and exhausting. The method of the journey will depend on the author’s own skillset, patience, confidence, and experience but the prospective author should never underestimate the value of friends – word of mouth can create such a flow of success that a photocopied manuscript can end up making the NYT bestsellers list.

Hmm…not quite what I’ll present tomorrow, may need to water it down a bit for 12 and 13 year olds, but it’s a start. I’ve notes about the eBook phenomenon, but that will make a good topic for tomorrow’s blog post.

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