It Takes a Team to Write a Book

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

According to a political slogan in the 1990s, it takes a village to raise a child. Here’s the version for authors. It takes a team to write a book. So who’s on the team?

The captain

The author is the team captain. He or she is the star of the show. For some, the word, author, may bring an image to mind of someone in an isolated house by the seashore, working away at their typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were so. Most of us are working on laptops in our dens or bedrooms, when we have the time. For many of us, our jobs, families and social obligations take priority. However, those of us who are serious about our writing will make the time.

Team members

The beta reader. The first person on the team is the beta reader. He or she should be an avid reader, but not necessarily a writer. If willing, your spouse, your mom, or your best friend can be your beta reader. The beta reader goes over the early drafts to let the writer know if their story makes sense or if they’re communicating their point clearly. I’ve had friends and family members as beta readers, and they’ve all done a good job. .

Writer’s associations and critique groups. Not everyone will have someone in their circle who’s willing to give them honest feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writers associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups typically meet once a week, either in person or online, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. Like a beta reader, they can help save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend joining a writer’s association, especially if you are a new or first-time author. Some associations, such as Romance Authors of America, are genre specific. Others are open to the writing community at large. Typically, these associations will have monthly meetings with a guest speaker. They are invaluable for learning your craft and networking with other authors.

The first officer

If the author is the captain, the editor would be the first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog about why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct the gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. It’s the editor who separates the pros from the amateurs.

Please note that unless your spouse, your mom, or your best friend has a background in journalism or teaching English, they aren’t qualified to be your editor. When it comes to editing, working with a professional is a must. I found my first editor through my first publisher, and my current editor through a writer’s association. Be sure to find someone you feel comfortable working with, and, most importantly, check your ego at the door. My editor and I have a great relationship. She fixes the problems without changing my voice. As an added bonus, she also makes snarky comments in the sidebar. Over time I’ve learned not to drink coffee while I review her changes, lest the coffee go up my nose.

The proofreader

The next team member is the proofreader. Proofreading is sometimes referred to as the second edit, as the proofreader goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, may have missed. Typically, these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark. If your spouse, or you mom, or your best friend has a good eye they can probably do your proofreading. I would, however, advise against having your beta reader do your proofreading. For this job you really do need a fresh pair of eyes, and again, your publisher, or writing group, may be able to refer a proofreader.

Other team members

Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers, illustrators. Some of you may be tempted to use your own visual art, but I would advise a word of caution. Unless you’re a professional, or have had some professional training, I would leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines which take many years of formal training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you book look amateurish as well. Also be cautious about using stock images, especially for your cover. You won’t have exclusive rights, which means another author can come along and use the same image for their cover.

And finally

The last member of your team is your publisher. You have some options here, and you may wish to read, The Three Options for Book Publishing, as it discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you, the author, to determine which would be the best for you.

Some of you simply may not have the means to hire all these professionals. If that’s the case, and you can only hire one person to work with you, make it your editor. Your editor is the most important member of your team. He or she is the one person you simply cannot work without.

Gayle Martin

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Keeping Readers Engaged

© Can Stock Photo/ sjenner13

We’ve all experienced it. We start reading a novel that got off to a great start. Then we lost interest. My mother was one of those readers who would plow through to end, no matter what. Even if the book was genuinely awful. Me, not so much. Life is too short to waste on a poorly written story.

Keeping readers engaged can be a challenge. Even the best conceived story ideas are useless if your novel becomes slow and boring.

Pacing is an important part of good storytelling. However, excessive back stories, boring or redundant dialog, and trivial details can slow your pace to a crawl. Once the reader loses interest, you’re done. A bored reader will toss your book aside and never come back. So, how do you keep the middle of your story interesting? Here are a few suggestions.

Backstories should only be revealed on a need to know basis

I only include those backstories which are relevant and move the story forward. Then I typically reveal them through dialog. The rest of my backstory remains in my notes.

If it’s been said once it may not need to be repeated

Your character has told another character that his mother died in a car crash. He doesn’t need to repeat himself. If it comes up again, consider using it in the narrative. For example, “as she hit the accelerator, he reminded her about his mother.” Inserting redundant dialog would have ruined a fast-paced narrative. But what if he needs to tell his story to a different character? Consider adding a spin. His mother was driving drunk.

Fine details aren’t always useful information

Readers don’t care if your character is wearing a blue dress or a green dress, or if it has buttons or pockets. Detailed descriptions are only necessary when they enhance the story. For example, “She would wear her royal blue dress with the lace trim. It would be perfect for showing off the diamond pendant Jake had given her.” Boom. That’s all the reader needs to know. Leave the rest of the details to their imagination, and move on.

I think of each chapter as an episode to move the plot forward. It should reveal a character’s motives, or emotions, or something we didn’t know before. If a scene, or even an entire chapter, doesn’t enhance the overall story I’ll delete it. Each chapter, and scene, needs a purpose. If it doesn’t, then it’s nothing more than filler material which will bore the reader, and the last thing you want is for the reader to toss your book aside and leave a bad review.

Gayle Martin

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Creating the Perfect Storm

© Can Stock Photo/ rozum

An essential element of writing fiction is to create an intense climax. It’s the “OMG!” moment readers expect, and like any other part of fiction writing, creating a page turning, believable climax takes some skill.

Set the stage properly

Introduce the conflict early in your story, and start out small. I write contemporary romance, ( as Marina Martindale), so my conflicts begin as seemingly everyday occurrences. Someone meets a stranger who seems familiar, but they can’t place them. Someone has fallen on hard times and has to do a job they don’t want to do. Someone stumbles across something which looks incriminating about someone they know. From there you add more tension and conflict and build your story.

How to Create the Perfect Storm

As you build up the tension there will come a point when it needs to be released. This is where the real fun begins. The following is my formula, and I find it works well.

  • I begin by putting my protagonist(s) in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I don’t make it obvious. My locations have included a courthouse in the middle of a busy workday. A resort hotel on a busy night. A character’s backyard on a beautiful fall day. Wherever it is, I make it the last place where the characters would expect something to go wrong.
  • I try to involve as many cast members as I can. The more people on the scene when it all hits the fan, the more potential for things to happen. Most importantly, I make sure everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong.
  • Miscommunication adds to the drama. Phone batteries go dead, urgent messages aren’t delivered, rumors get started and misunderstandings abound. Someone will inevitably get the wrong information and draw the wrong conclusion.
  • I break up the action as much as I can. If more than one character is involved, I’ll end one scene with a cliffhanger, such as a character waiting for help to arrive, and jump over to another character and draw them in. Or I may go to a character who doesn’t know anything is wrong, and they’re not knowing adds to the overall tension. Breaking up the action while everything falls to pieces creates more suspense and keeps the reader engaged.
  • Timing is everything. I don’t want my climax to end too quickly, nor do I want it to drag on too long. Each story I write is different, so I rely on my own intuition. Typically, my big climax scenes go for two to three chapters. It all depends on how complex the scene is, and how many characters are involved.

So there you have it. The more things go wrong, the more suspenseful, and dramatic, your climax will be, and the more it will engage your reader.

Gayle Martin

 

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You Only Have Ten Seconds

So you’d better make them count

© Can Stock Photo/ stillfx

You have about ten seconds to capture a reader’s interest. Ten seconds. So my advice to you is to make them count. People have short attention spans, and social media is making them even shorter. This means you, the novel writer, had better grab their attention fast. If you don’t hook them within those first few seconds, they are far more likely to toss your book aside.

I think of my opening sentences as, “Lights, camera, action!” I always start with an action narrative. Nothing overly dramatic, such as explosions going off, but with something interesting enough to intrigue the reader so he or she will want to learn more. So, how do I do this? I write an opening sentence that creates tension, and I’ll use the first sentences from some of my Marina Martindale novels as examples.

Strong opening sentences

Rosemary McGee had the next traffic light perfectly timed until a car from the other lane suddenly cut in front of her minivan.

Well, I’m sure that got your attention. What happened next? Did she have a accident? You’ll have to read more to find out.

My openings aren’t always this dramatic, but even if the opening subject matter is more mundane, I can still create tension in my first line.

Emily St. Claire reached for another tissue to dab the sweat off her forehead and grab her water bottle, but the once-cold liquid had turned lukewarm.

Well, that certainly feels uncomfortable. So where is Emily? And why is it so hot? Again, you have to keep reading to find out more.

Opening lines and your characters

No doubt you’ve noticed I’ve included a character’s name in these opening lines, and you certainly want to start introducing your characters as soon as possible. However, you don’t necessarily have to include them in the opening sentences, nor does the opening line have to be about a leading character. Rosemary was actually a supporting character. My lead character is introduced a few sentences later when Rosemary asks her if she’s okay. Emily, on the other hand, is the lead character. My stories are all different, so my openings are different as well.

A descriptive opening line

Some authors like to begin their stories with a descriptive narrative of where the story takes place. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, you still need to create some tension. An opening paragraph that’s nothing more than a flowery, detailed description of the scenery without any action or tension is less likely to capture the reader’s attention. So unless something really interesting happens within the next paragraph or two there’s a good chance the reader will set the book aside. My advice is to end that fluffy narrative with something to suggest things aren’t quite as peachy as they appear. Here is a descriptive opening from another Marina Martindale novel.

The moonlight reflected off the snow-covered mountains, creating a dreamy, picturesque landscape, which could easily hide a deadly hazard.

Yikes! So what kind of hazard could be hiding there? Again, you have to read more.

Remember, when writing fiction, the conflict drives the plot, so you want to create as much tension as you can. The sooner you start creating that tension, the quicker you’ll draw your reader in.

Gayle Martin, aka Marina Martindale

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Revisions vs Rewrites

© Can Stock Photo/ Balefire9

Oh the silly things we authors can have major hang-ups over, such as doing revisions and rewrites. First of all, rewrites and revisions are not one in the same. They are actually two entirely different processes.

I’ll begin by saying I’ve always subscribed to the notion that the first draft is all about getting your ideas down. Having to worry about syntax, grammar, punctuation and so forth while putting your ideas on paper can thwart your creativity and may even result in writer’s block. The first draft isn’t your final edit. Get your ideas down. Worry about the rest later.

Revisions

Once I have my initial idea down, I’ll go back and revise. The word revision means making an alteration. It’s changing a word here, rephrasing a sentence there, correcting grammatical and punctuation errors, or eliminating filler words. In other words, it’s editing. The story itself remains the same. Sometimes I’ll do this at the end of the chapter. Other times I may revise a paragraph as soon as I finish writing it. It all depends on what pops in my head at a given moment. I, for one, happen to enjoy doing revisions as they make my story read better. The better my story reads, the more excited I get about it.

Rewrites

Rewrites on the other hand, are much more involved than simply changing the phrasing or fixing a punctuation error. New ideas may come to me as I craft my story. For example, I may have created a character who I intended to be a cold-hearted villain. Then, as I got into my story, I realized he was a more complex character than I had originally envisioned. He really isn’t a bad person at all, and his motive was never to cause any harm. He simply has the same goal as the protagonist. Therefore, he has to compete against the protagonist, thus creating the conflict. This changes the entire story dynamic, so I now have to go back and rewrite some of my earlier chapters to reflect this new perspective. Instead of a minor alteration to the wording, I’m making a change to the story itself. This sometimes happens, but certainly not with every novel I write.

Revisions are part of the writing process. They help bring clarity to your story and create a better experience for the reader, but they don’t change the story itself. Rewrites, however, add an entirely new concept or dimension to your story. I do as revisions as I write, and then my editor will make even more, but rarely do I ever have to do an actual rewrite. So don’t let anyone chastise you or intimidate you for doing revisions. It’s your story. If you’re not satisfied with it because it needs more work then your readers won’t be satisfied with it either, assuming your editor doesn’t send it back because it needs more work. Trust me, no one ever writes a perfect novel on their very first draft.

Gayle Martin

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Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

© Can Stock Photo/ khunaspix

I still have the last remaining copy of my first book; a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen, which I produced and self-published back in 2005. I learned a lot from the experience, and since that time I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.

Looking back, I admit I was such a little smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, so maybe having been a freelance graphic designer helped. After all, I was able to produce something that looked really cool. However, back then I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are but some of the lessons I learned.

  1. A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  2. If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
  3. 500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.

Ah, I was so naive at the time, but it was a good, yet humbling, learning experience. The following year I wrote Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. That same year I signed on with a publisher, Five Star Publications, Inc. (Now Story Monsters, LLC.) Linda Radke, the company president, was an amazing mentor. I learned a lot about the publishing business from her.

After I finished Riding with the James Gang, the final book in the Luke and Jenny trilogy, I was ready for a change. I wanted to write full-fledged novels for adult readers. In 2011, I wrote my first romance novel, The Reunion, under the pen name, Marina Martindale. Linda Radke was also changing her business model to an exclusive children’s books publisher. However, we both agreed that I was ready to go out on my own. So, that same year, I founded my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.

Writing novels isn’t a hobby. It’s a business. My advice to any novel writer, or prospective novel writer, is to treat it like a business. Kudos to you if you’re lucky enough to beat the odds and sign on with a traditional publisher. However, as I explained in my earlier post, The Three Options for Publishing Your Book, the odds of a major publishing house signing on a first-time author are extremely slim at best. Most of us will either sign on with a partnership publisher, or start up our own publishing business. This means you need to do your homework and learn as much as you can about the book publishing business.

I’ve learned a lot, and I have no regrets.

Gayle Martin

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And Now for the End of our Story

Every story ever written has two things in common; a beginning and an ending. It’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines which will impact our readers.

Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One which ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. More often than not, this is what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome. Then, once the conflicts are resolved, everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. Then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after.

Remember Romeo and Juliet? This timeless tale of two star crossed lovers ended with a double suicide, which compelled their two warring families to put an end to their bitter feud.

More recently there was Gone with the Wind. After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett the entire time. Unfortunately for Scarlett, Rhett’s response is to walk away and slam the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending certainly left us wanting more.

Another famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually based on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, (“Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.”), we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead he puts her and her husband on the plane and sends them away for good. The final scene ends with the plane taking off while Rick walks away with Louis Renualt saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Good stories aren’t always about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can also be said of real life.

Gayle Martin

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Think You Don’t Need an Editor? Part 3

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

In my first article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part One, I described what a book editor does. In my second article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part Two, I talked about who would be the most qualified to edit your book. In this final article of the series, I’m going to discuss what readers expect when they buy your book.

Readers really do notice

Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. He or she has paid good money for your book. He or she used to reading well written and edited books and expects your book to be well written and edited too.

It’s also a given that not everyone will like your book. The subject matter may not be of interest to the reader, or the reader may not agree with your point of view. As writers we expect to have a small percentage of readers return our books and ask for refunds. It’s part of the business of writing and publishing books. However, the last thing any writer wants or needs is for a reader to reject the book because it was poorly written or edited. 

Don’t let the joke be at your expense

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, but because we can’t view our work objectively we oftentimes miss our gaffes. The list below came from one of my writing forums, and it’s typical of the mistakes we all make. I’ve paraphrased it to protect the guilty. 

  • A character gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
  • The lead character is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners. No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
  • He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual here. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
  • During a sex scene a character is having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After the tryst is over he or she will need to see a doctor.)
  • He would gather her up in his arts. (What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures? Like Vincent Price did in the movie Wax Museum? I’d much prefer that he gather her in his arms.)

What do all these faux paus have in common? They all, allegedly, were found in self-published books. And while it may be funny to us, it’s certainly not as funny to the authors who wrote them. These are just a few of the mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.

So you still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you need find yourself a good editor.

Gayle Martin

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And Now for a Time Out

Photo by Gayle Martin

I’ve finally completed my latest Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel and now I’m ready for a much needed break. In fact, I typically go on a long hiatus after a new novel is published.

While writing truly is one of my life’s passions, I’m also aware of the thin line between creativity and burnout, also known as the dreaded writer’s block. Burnout can happen when we overextend and push ourselves too hard, but sometimes we’re so into what we’re doing that we’re not aware we’re overdoing it.

By the time I finish one novel I’m already formulating the next one in my mind, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is starting page one of that new novel the day after my current one goes to press. Like the tide, creativity ebbs and flows, and none of us want to ebb unexpectedly. I’ve learned, through experience, that for me the best thing to do after finishing a novel is to put my creative writing muse on the back burner, even as ideas for the next book pop into my head. Or, should I say, most especially when those new ideas are popping into my head. I’ll jot them down, but I won’t take them any further anytime soon.

I enjoy my down time between novels. It can last for a few weeks to a few months because I’m no longer on a time schedule. Then, when I feel I’m ready, I’ll start my next book. Until then, however, it’s my time for me.

Gayle Martin

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The Three Options for Book Publishing

© Can Stock Photo/ Baloncici

So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work in reader’s hands. Your next task, if you haven’t done so already, is to determine how you want to publish your book. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

traditional publishing

Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This certainly is the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”

If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.

Partnership Publishing

This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.

There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It’s up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.

For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I had to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, printing, and distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.

Self publishing

Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.

The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their in house self publishing tools. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.

I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. We both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. For me, this was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.

Marketing Your book

Please note that regardless of which option you choose, book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing your book your responsibility, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Book marketing can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.

Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’ve included it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.

Gayle Martin

Good Oak Press, LLC

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