Rather than respond directly to a series of tweets that were recently hurled at me about why I would need editors, critique partners or beta readers before selling my novel to unassuming readers, I’m going to explain why I do in great detail.
And to do this I have gotten up at 5am to trawl through notes made to me about my work over years of novels to show you all how badly I stuff things up. It’s enough to see that I made a mistake, and sometimes disagree with the advice and this is the beauty of advice and reviews; you can choose to take what you want from it. But it is never okay to attack readers for their opinions and its never okay to demand more from them, when they’ve already paid for your work, and taken the time to review it.
So I want to use a magnificent piece of feedback from someone very close to me for some of my earliest work and move through to samples of my later work.
I’ve put the actual text from my manuscript in italics and the feedback in bright red;
The Well of Youth – written in 2016 after 4 rounds of self editing, 1 round of professional editing;
‘Tomorrow come here. We need waste no time anymore. I bid you and the dean good afternoon.’ Andy didn’t react to the dismissal, he had already got more than this afternoon could have possibly had hoped for given where he started the day.
I think ive gotten a bit lost, has he actually accepted? cause I know he goes, but the commander doesn’t know that, maybe he should say be here by that time if you wish to participate and then scream TALLY-HO and run out the door. Or something.
This was not the first comment of that nature, nor would it be the last, and I loved the way this beta gave me feedback, it was always jovial and her other comments made me wet myself laughing in reactions. She doesn’t know it but she’s the reason I leave those sorts of comments when I give beta reading, because I think its important to note when you evoke a good response from a reader.
(Re-reading this old work for me is an absolute cringefest of mistakes and wording, BTW, I would totally rewrite that entire sentence if I could, but I promised it raw and that’s what you are getting).
Queen of Spades – written in 2016, betaread x 3, self edited x 3, edited, revised and rewrote whole book in 2019, x 4 rounds of self editing, x 2 beta reads (this book had a lot of work put into it!)
Six hours passed and he came and got her, and by then Ayla was ready for the sleep, passing out fully dressed on the bed still warm from his body.
Ayla woke up hours later, curled around his scent, breathing it in.
“The Nuria is here,” Leith said over the comm.
Ayla was quick to get up, put her clothes and weapons back on, and hurry to the bridge.
Ayla passes out fully dressed on the bed and then wakes up and gets dressed???
Just a simple series of actions that were completely wrong/out of context but it does point out a very easy and fixable flaw that I hadn’t noticed DESPITE READING THIS STUPID BOOK MORE TIMES THAN I CARE TO THINK ABOUT!!! ß this still makes me mad, in case you couldn’t tell, and I absolutely love that the beta reader in question picked this up, and couldn’t be more grateful.
Here is an example of something that was said to me that I haven’t got entirely in context but was something of this nature;
One With Rage – written in 2019 after 3 rounds of self editing only
Spray; I swear to god there are other words out there for water Eleanor
Repetition is not your friend and I am terrible at it and its one of the first things I have to address with editors (I am still so sorry to you all that I do this), but its ALSO one of the first things I pick up when beta reading work. Repetition is monotonous if not done with specific tact and it can pull the reader from the vision.
Running a comb through her hair, with a spritz of mousse, she was scoffing the pancakes at the briefing room, having been the first to arrive.
Is she doing her hair and then going to the meeting room and scoffing down pancakes, or is she sitting in the meeting room doing her hair WHILE scoffing down pancakes? It’s not clear which.
Another case of scene transition that did not work well and I pick this up when beta reading other people’s work a lot but also it occurs in my own work as well. I knew what I wanted to do with that scene, but I completely stuffed up the way about it. A quick fix of breaking it into a couple of sentences only took moments to fix what was otherwise a very awkward transition scene.
Having used these very upfront and glorious examples of how badly I have made mistakes I want to extend these mistakes on to greater overall feedback I have gotten from some of my stories and I’m going to start with the most painful one first.
The Last Prophecy Series novella
I wont go into detail as to what was said but I felt like I was being chided by a loving grandparent when an editor told me an ending of my novella needed a lot of work. This is the part where people think editors are some sort of villain there to change your idea into their own idea and its not.
The story in question had reunited characters far too early for the overall series (which is HUGE). The story itself and the ending was all over the place, and I hadn’t given the reader a sense of closure by the time they got to the end. He was kind, honest, and careful but he made it clear I wasn’t just doing a reader a disservice, I was doing it to myself.
That hurt a lot.
It was the BEST lesson to date I have had that I can do better, that someone knew I could do better, and was brave enough to tell me that. I took what it cost them to say that very seriously. I went back and rewrote the entire ending, pulled apart the start to add other characters and what it ended up doing was giving a much more fleshed out character for the following book, so much so that by the time I got to the book the editor was very happy with the story overall and had no major changes.
Why? Because I’d learned the lesson the first time, and used the novella to improve my writing craft so when I wrote the following book it had a far more solid plot.
Queen of Spades – Awakening & Darkening
I originally queried Awakening and I had my first full request from a New York agent and I was SO excited that he liked my overall story, but in the end he didn’t like the world building or the concept of Ayla’s power and it wasn’t enough.
Given this was my first foray into querying outside of Pitmad I was pretty upset – but I went back to beta readers to clarify and work on exactly that to make it better.
I also decided to fork out the money to get a professional editor and a wonderful CP, both who have been incredibly helpful.
But both found many mistakes even after all that, and when it came to book 2, my CP said to me that overall I spent too much time in Ayla’s head, and she was absolutely right and I will be working on fixing that.
I don’t wish to talk about one of the major changes I will be making to Behind the Veil but the editor recently got back to me and I want to sum up our conversation very succinctly over a series of emails;
Ed: I think this might need to be tweaked, and it’s a big tweak, what do you think?
Me: … actually that is dead on, you are absolutely right, I will fix all that, this is how I think I’ll fix it, what do you think?
Ed: Sounds good
They spend hours, many of them unpaid, to make your story the best it can be. At the end of the day few of them get a kick back unless you sell well, and you will not sell well without help.
I am often pulled between the self pub/indie author/trad press options before me because I want the freedom for some of my stories, but I also know they need improving, each and every one until the day I stop writing (which will be when I am dead).
I have chosen all three because I want people to love my stories as much as I do, but I am not going to expect random strangers to fork out $0.99 to $20+plus for a book I didn’t spend the time, money, and effort making it the best it could possibly be.
If you are struggling for editing money, ask for beta readers and look at traditionally publishing or trying with smaller presses. Get feedback on your work, learn how to best relay your story to your reader.
If you can afford it and want to take the financial risk, find a great series of people to work with and organise for professional editing and self-publish.
Because in the end no matter your lofty goals, these people aren’t here to tear your ideals down, to make huge changes to your story, they are helping you because they love those things about it, it’s the nitty gritty detail that needs smoothing out. That needs polishing.
It doesn’t matter how often you write, if you just want to get your stories out there post them for free via a website. But don’t attack readers after they aren’t happy with a book they paid for. You made money off their time, they read your whole work, and if they didn’t say something nice about it that might just not be their taste. But if many readers leave less than savoury reviews, don’t attack them.
Ask yourself this really fucking hard question; did you do your best?
And that isn’t about writing the damn thing, or self-editing, its about getting that outside opinion to make your book be the best it can be for everyone, not just for you, and especially not if you want people to hand over money for it.
Don’t do that to readers, its not fair, and you aren’t just cheating the reader, you are cheating yourself.
2020 is full of KICK ASS goals because in 2019 I got far more done than I thought possible.
It’s the past examples of what you did that makes you A-freaking-mazing and I’m full of confidence for 2020.
We’ve been badgered by smoke all our holiday, and the last 72 hours have been harrowing from its thick pervasiveness and the constant updates of the worsening fire conditions, but if you read my story, The Water Tower, you’ll know and be pleased when I say I can now see it again.
Which gives me hope, determination and goals!
One of my key goals was fitness, I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, which has led to a thick waistline, but now I have the medication that’s proven to work I will be making that one of my key focuses. Expect more bitching about health related subjects, but I am determined to succeed.
On a more author related front, I promised that I’d write another ten books this year and I’m going to pick a project at random to work on this afternoon as my first 2k day for 2020. Expect kicks to get your daily writing goals!
I will also be looking into a mailing list and *gasp* Patreon!
No matter if you are traditional or indie this is an expensive process and I have put a lot of work and help out there over the 2019 year, and I hope to continue to do so but any kick back I can get would be a great help.
Don’t fret if you were hoping I’d be doing the same for 2019 as I did for 2020, you can still get free 5k beta read samples and very cheap beta reading rates for whole scripts, but its down to our communication and what you want to get out of it! I’ll also be tossing out some cool promos in a tweet in a bit so if you want your book read & reviewed, your whole script read for nothing, or some book tour features and author interviews, keep my Twitter refreshed!
Sending so much love to all of you who have supported me for 2019, and looking forward to a great 2020.
This was meant to be a delightful post I wrote several days ago about my accomplishments this year. I’ve not had time to go over it, given the NSW fire issues but wanted to post it anyway because despite everything it doesn’t take away my accomplishments of this year.
I wrote a story in this blogpost to help relay what its been like. You have to find ways to remember all you’ve done even during the stressful times…
TEN BOOKS TOO
My face is still melting over how I started this and got it done, particularly because I never planned to write ten books.
I planned to release the next novella and book in my fantasy series the Last Prophecy but due to budget constraints it all had to be put on hold for one simple fact; I couldn’t afford an editor.
If you are self publishing you had to pay for your own and I’d never thought about querying my epic 21 book/novella steam flavoured fantasy series.
So when I had to stop a writing journey five years in the making I was furious, mostly with myself.
With this fury I wrote a book in 25 days, Behind the Veil. Hart, a friend and someone who became a valued beta reader read the first chapter and said to me; “Oh, I think you’ve got more than a short story here…”
It set me off, and when I finished I polished it as best I could and pitched it to Pitmad, where Sharon from Literary Wanderlust subsequently offered me a contract for the book and I accepted.
Over the year I worked on many projects but it wasn’t until October did I realise in the lead up to the end of the year that if I worked my ass off (more like how much time I spent at my desk), I could write ten books.
Let me outline them for you so you know I’m not just crowing about them, I did work on them all year;
Behind the Veil – 75k words written in 25 days Gothic Noir
You can find more about that story here, but this was just the beginning of freedom for me to work on anything and I diligently applied myself to working on as much as I could.
An Absent Tale – 70k words written over the year Gothic Noir
It was meant to be a secondary story to Behind the Veil of a similar nature with a gothic noir feel, but after the plot walked off course and I finished it to find out where it would end up but I was disappointed with it overall.
Queen of Spades Trilogy – 240k in 3 books over the year scifi action romance
This trilogy was originally written in first person which made me very uncomfortable and it showed, so I went back this year and rewrote all three books from scratch, only using parts of what I’d done before but mostly rewriting the entire trilogy. I’ll be looking to self publish this in 2020 and that’s really exciting to have that for next year.
Echo of the Evercry – 80k written in 23 days Fantasy/mental health
Echo was written after being inspired by a poem and it turned into a quest but carried a huge undercurrent of mental health issues and the effects of bullying past high school. It was an odd thing to put into a fantasy story but I felt it worked. I pitched this for PitchWars and got a full request, but didn’t get in. Now I’m querying this manuscript, but I also won a free developmental edit from Meg Trast and I am looking forward to finding an agent for this script in 2020.
One with Rage – 70k written in 21 days magical realism/cyberpunk romance
Rage was written purely for fun, it has an angry and vengeful kick ass heroine surrounded by charming arrogant men who don’t deter her from her quest. The completed novel was generously edited by Lorney Tunes and is on Wattpad. I loved this world and its characters, it has a few holes but I wrote it purely for me, because it will be a while before I see my published work come out and I wanted to have something out there so people could understand what my writing style was like.
The Book Binder – 80k written in 28 days (or so) contemporary paranormal romance
I wrote this book over October waiting for the PitchWars results to come out and the idea of a librarian on the run from the library she used to work was just too irresistible not to work on. Not sure what will happen with the script but I’m looking forward to querying it next year.
I wrote two books during this period and I kept an active Twitter thread of when I was working and how much I did so people could see it was being done, but also to kick them in to doing it too. I have the benefit of no kids, an easy job, and a loving spouse to help me though, and I never hold back on that information or fail to use that gift well.
Read Well the Dark – 79k written in 13 days gothic fantasy romance
I wanted to write a vampire book but one where it wasn’t scary and it wasn’t a once and for all, it has a HFN ending that I wasn’t sure I wanted to build upon but I couldn’t resist the idea of vampires, gypsies and tarot readers and its dark themes and practical approach to life was fun and earthy to write.
Atlantis Abyss – 65k written in 17 days Frankenstein f/f climate change retelling
I wrote this in response to my editor Lorney Tunes giving me a series of random prompts and how I got to this story I don’t know but it was set about 150 years in the future when water levels have risen but all the bigotry and climate change denial is still rampant. Two happily married women try to bring order back into the world of their small Australian country town, but the town’s leaders only want to control the limited resources left.
TEN BOOKS WRITTEN FOR 2019!
And do you know what my first thought was after I’d done it?
I’m going to do it again, and you can too.
I’ve never taken much stock in the 2k a day writing advice by Stephen King but I realised that over the course of the year I’d written some 679k words in first drafts and then added yet more words (Echo of the Evercry ended up topping out at 109k words) when I went back over it and filled in my very narrow endings.
And I’d done it in the space of about five months when I realised I only needed to amp up how much I was doing every day and be sure I wrote two books in Nanowrimo.
So if you take an average size of a novel at 70,000 words, and you times that by ten its 700,000 words.
If you write 2k a day for 365 days of the year you get 730,000.
If you wrote 2k a week for 52 weeks of the year you get 104,000.
There is a middle ground it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you can go back and rewrite stuff, but you’ll never know what you are capable of until you try.
I never knew I was capable of this.
And this year, to show for all my hard work, here is what I got;
- TEN BOOKS
- A publishing contract
- Several NY agent full requests
- Invaluable experience from the agents & editors I worked with
- Amazing support and encouragement from the Writing Community
- A year without regrets because I didn’t stop trying and I didn’t give up
I plan to write ten books for 2020 and if you want to hold me accountable hold onto your panties because I already have seven lined up;
Queen of Hearts Trilogy – This will follow a different character to Ayla from the Queen of Spades, and instead focus on an as yet unnamed character as the Queen of Hearts who can see the deepest darkest desires of the heart.
An Absent Tale – I need to untangle this book and I think the only way to do it is to rewrite it from scratch which I hate doing but its not worth the time to pull apart and rebuild in its current structure, and I want it to be as good a book as Behind the Veil.
One with Hate – If you’ve read One with Rage you’ll know there are a few character that have potential and I intend to focus on the hate fuelled apathy of Giselle and the only person who can read her thoughts and not be afraid, Saul. (For anyone waiting for Ayre and Meyrick to get there moment, too bad, cause Ayre’s not about to open herself to Meyrick only to be left behind).
Butterfly’s Kiss – A fantasy story about the deception of good and evil and all the shades of grey in between.
A Girl of Gremlins and Gargoyles – Honestly if you’re still reading and having figured out my muse is a little bitch this is your clue because I have no idea what this book is about except the title, and a girl who’s ugly without and beautiful within.
This leaves me with three books open for the year, and I like to work on books that inspire me on a moment to moment basis, and I found that though they take a fair amount of polishing they are much better off for the story being fast paced and exciting, full of twists and turns and moments of delight. But that’s just my sadistic side torturing the characters.
If you’ve come with me this far thank you.
Whether it was reading this post, following me all year, or just being one of the many I will never be able to thank enough for your support.
I did interviews, book tours, and reviews of trad and indie books all year.
Next year I plan to keep doing that, but also have a mailing list and a Patreon site to help with the editing fees, and maybe, one day, go back to the story that called to me as a writer.
May 2019 have its silver lining, and 2020 be a rainbow infused sunset of delight and hope.
I’ve been trying to find ways to fill in the time while we watch and wait for the fires.
I’ve written a short story to help relay the events of the last few days and how it feels now, on New Years Eve, waiting for the weather to cool and the fires to fade.
I’m safe, everyone I know is safe. But that doesn’t take away the fear.
The Water Tower
A wall of smoke into NSW waited for us.
“Maybe it’ll clear over the mountains.”
I looked at my husband. “Maybe.”
The thick cloying smoke that swallowed cars on the highway in front of us was a nuisance, filling the filters with smoke and stinging eyes. The pollution from the Sydney fires hadn’t reached Victoria yet but there was hope on the coast things would be cool. I was determined to have my holiday.
“Look it’s clearer through the mountains,” I said hours later, as we wended our way out the other side of Tumbarumba and through the Kosciuszko national park.
“We’ll still be able to enjoy the holiday,” my husband said, and we checked on the dogs in the back who were ready to be out of the car after the eight-hour drive, with still two more to go.
Down through Cooma the skies cleared, and in a moment of relief we were at my parents in Bega.
“Hullo! Don’t mind the dog weeing, she’s just excited to see you.”
“Oh, Lily,” my mother chides, “thanks for doing that on my shoe.”
“She just likes you,” my husband laughs as we unpack and set up the tent.
“Glad to see it isn’t too bad here,” I say as we settle down for a tea. “It was awful on the other side of the Kosciuszko’s.”
“Oh, it gets smoky here too,” Dad said. And it did.
“That’s just ghastly,” I said, spanning my camera across the smoke drenched hills tainting my holiday with their tang.
“Bega hasn’t been that great,” Mum said. “It was clearer before, but we’ve had few good days.”
We talk about the fires. Its okay. They’re far away.
I envy you guys your summer weather! My editor tweeted to me and I chuckle and go outside and take a picture.
Not that great, the smoke from the fires are awful! I send him the picture and he send me a grimace.
That doesn’t look very nice.
Nope, I replied. I’m tracking how thick it gets by those hills and that water tower, its not great but we’ve got air con and whiskey, we’ll survive. The tower has been my gage on smoke thickness, as long as we can see the tower its unpleasant but not too bad.
That afternoon we lost sight of the water tower, but it came back. It was fine.
“I’m going to the chemist,” my husband said, keys in hand.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The smoke,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’s messing with my sinuses and I’ve got an awful headache.”
“Well get some soda water while you are there.”
“While I’m gone, can you move all our stuff into the house?” he asked. “I don’t want to be in the tent again tonight.”
“Not a worry.” I glanced outside. The smoke has retreated enough I can see the hills, the water tower’s a beacon. Its fine.
“I don’t know if we should go to poker tonight,” I said to my husband who shrugged.
“We’ve just got cabin fever.” He rubbed my back. “Let’s get out for a while.”
The drive is calm, the smog thick, but closer to the coast a sea breeze brushes the worst away. At the tables my father introduces us as novices’ players and we’re warmly greeted.
“You’ll struggle to get back to Victoria now,” one lady said, scanning her phone.
“We’ll be fine,” I said, trying to remember how to deal the cards. “We’re taking the Cooma Road up to Adaminaby and over to Tumbarumba after New Year’s Day.”
“No, you won’t,” she said, her succinct and final tone rang in my years. “They’ve shut down the Brown Mountain road.”
At home we checked. The roads are closed, and 11pm at night is no time to leave. We’re trapped in Bega. Its fine, we have the house, even if I can’t see the water tower.
I woke to an orange sky.
“Smoke is a lot thicker,” I said to my husband who nodded. The water tower is clear, but beyond it the sky curls with blackened ash.
“See those two plumes,” my Mum said. “They are the fires at Bemboka and north at Counegany but its miles away.”
I stare at the horizon; it doesn’t look it.
“Let’s go down and get some things from the shops,” I said. “Early before they get too crowded, its New Years Eve. Mum do we need anything?”
“Yes, I’ve got a little list, but just be careful, apparently there are people coming to Bega, they’ve been evacuated from the fires and it’s a bit grim down there.”
“Rightio,” I called, and we collected only what was needed.
At 8:30am there were still a few shoppers about, tired, bedraggled but enjoying the cool. More than one gaze met ours, a friendly smile and curse at the smoke. And then we look to the horizon were a dark smear is worse than the haze that has shadowed our skies for days now.
We collect our things, buy a bit extra, not much, there will be others in more need than us.
They’re selling water at the front, loads of it, and several people pass, filling their trolleys.
“My parents are on town,” I said to my husband. “But they’ve got the tank.”
I paused. “Lets just grab some small bottles for the trip on Thursday.”
“Not sure the roads will be open.”
“Let’s grab them anyway.”
At home my parents have taken down the tent we haven’t stayed in for the last two nights, the heat and smoke too much.
We take it all down, pass jokes about how if they are evacuated at least they’ll have the tent to themselves. They tell me its why they took it down, in case they are evacuated.
“Let’s have a break,” my Mum said. “Time for coffee and the sudoku.”
“After coffee we’ll get fire ready,” my Dad said. “I’ll get the hoses out and some buckets with towels.”
And in the distance, the water tower is fading.
I film the sky. It turns darker and redder.
A hellish landscape with no relief in sight. The smoke has permeated everything, and I can’t smell it anymore.
“I’ve uploaded all my books to a Google Doc file,” I said to my husband, on the way out the door. “I’m going to wet the garden down for Mum, she’s about to get on the roof and clear the gutters. Do you want to pack our bags? Mum and Dad have already packed go bags.”
“Yeah, but can you hug your dog? I think he’s nervous.”
I hug the dog; he whimpers at me with little groans and I pat him and tell him it’s okay.
When I go outside the water tower is gone. There’s just the haze, and on my shoulders soft as snowflakes are the grey edges of ash.
“They just went to break for that ABC news presenter,” I commented, lying on the couch with my phone after failing to concentrate on the sudoku. “The poor bastard’s been reporting for hours now, sounds like he ran out of words and I don’t fucking blame him.”
“Eat something.” My Mum puts an omelette in front of me, but my stomach is churning so much I don’t want it. But I eat it, and its good, and I know I need protein. I can’t remember if I ate this morning.
I’m watching the water tower. Its been gone for hours.
“Have you got any empty bottles?” I asked Mum, refilling my water bottles from the desk I’ve been pretending to work at while I flick through Twitter and Facebook.
“There are reports further north that the power’s out and the sewerage lines ruptured so the tap water isn’t safe to drink.” I walked around the kitchen, collecting empty soda bottles and washing even milk bottles out.
“Oh dear,” Mum said, and together we find and fill what empty bottles we can, check for torches and light.
The sky is darker, the creeping edge of smokes persistence eats away at it like the finger of time, inevitable as the smell soaking through our clothes into our skin.
“It’s alright,” Mum said after a moment. “As long as people are safe. The rest is just metal and money.”
The light grows and fades. Black leaves fall from the sky. We’ve started spot checks every half hour or so.
The smell of banana cake is a sweet and hope fuelled contradiction to the constant pervasive smell of smoke. It bathes my face as I come inside, eyes stinging and wondering how people have lived in these unbearable conditions.
“I’m taking cakes down to the Bega emergency centre,” my Mum said. “And I’ve got another one in the oven. Can you take it out a little after 5pm?”
“Why don’t I go with you?”
“No, you need to take out the cake.”
“Can’t someone else do it?”
“I’d like it better if you stayed here.”
The sky is still orange.
I still can’t see the water tower.
I wont tonight, the sun is going down.
I stare at my clothes; all cotton. My mother’s boots with thin socks so they’ll fit. Jeans that aren’t cotton, but they’ll have to do for my thick thighs. A white cotton shirt, and I’ve stolen a business shirt of my Dad’s to put over it.
There is nothing left to do but eat our New Years Eve dinner of soft cheese and smoked salmon, maybe have some champagne.
Hopefully the cool weather will stay.
My Dad walks in. “They say tonight we’re going to lose our telecommunications some time tonight.”
I nod and smile. “Yep, no worries.”
There’s nothing else to do.