Post-Beta-Reader Editing Part 1

Well, I’ve been keeping busy since getting all the feedback from my beta-reader on my novel Not Famous. As I mentioned before, I got some great feedback, and I’ve already started going through the comments in the manuscript, making suggested changes.

In addition to some editorial tweaks suggested by the beta-reader, I was advised to go through the manuscript, clean up redundancies and tighten things up a bit. My plan is to reduce the word count of my manuscript as much as possible by making passages more efficient and cutting things that just aren’t necessary. The manuscript as it was when I got it back from my beta-reader was just under 109,000 words. My goal in this editing phase is to bring it down as close to 100,000 words as I can. At the end of today I got it down to about 106,600 words. So, I’ve managed to trim about 2,400 words in a day. Not bad. There’s more work to be done though.

I know a target word count of 100,000 is still considered pretty high.  Best-selling author Jon Rance saw my recent blog post via Twitter and told me the following:

Can I get my manuscript down to 90,000 words or less? I’m thinking probably not. Okay, I know it’s possible because even though I tried to make every scene matter, I know some scenes, if I was writing for a publisher would likely be recommended for the chopping block. I even thought my beta-reader would call some out. She didn’t, but after telling her a few scenes I thought she might have suggested be cut she agreed that a couple scenes featuring a minor character were, in her opinion “extraneous.”  I can see why she said so, but I still feel at this time this minor character is still necessary and I’m hoping I can reach my target word count without cutting those scenes.

Anyway, if I can get the manuscript down to 100,000 words I’ll be happy. I’m not cutting stuff just to cut it either. Reading through the manuscript again after a break has given me the opportunity to see it with fresh eyes, and I’m definitely finding it easier to pick out parts that were unnecessary and negatively affecting the pace of the story. I’m tightening dialogue, trimming scenes… anything to improve the efficiency of the writing.

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Beta-Reader Update #4

Well, my beta-reader has finished her review of Not Famous.

My beta-reader gave me a lot of insightful and useful  criticism. I’d love to share it all with you, but some of it reveals some key plot points and I don’t want to share spoilers… but she did complimented the the  “excellent story” and “strong characters,” which I was happy to hear.

There were also areas she saw room for improvement.

As I’ve mentioned before, she felt the main character was unlikable at times and she suggested ways to improve that.

And then there was this:

Another issue is quite common, especially in first novels: The first part moves slowly and awkwardly. It’s because you’re getting to know these people and this place yourself, so you have to explain everything to yourself as you go along. But by the time you’ve finished the book, you’ve gotten to know everything. Now you can go back to the beginning and get rid of anything that sounds pedestrian and explanatory. Trust me, the story will work fine without it.

Readers will get to know your characters from hearing their words and watching their behavior, just like in real life. Now, as you reread your ms, you’ll probably start to notice redundancies and unnecessary explanations. Say/explain something once, then delete subsequent mentions. You could really shave a lot of extraneous words from the first third or so of this book.

So, that’s what I’m doing now… I’m going through addressing her comments throughout the manuscript and trying to find areas to tighten up. As Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” What he meant is that sometimes great lines that we’ve written and fell in love with sometimes have to go. For sake of pacing, I now have the task of trying to locate strings of prose and dialogue that, while I find great and successful, must go. The manuscript was clocking in at nearly 110,000 words… which is a bit long. My goal at this point is to try to get it close to 100K… which is still long, I know, but I don’t realistically believe that I will want to trim beyond that. I’ve so far managed to shave off 2,000 words by killing redundancies or axing portions that are unnecessary for readers to endure.

So, I’m gonna read over this manuscript a number of times to make sure I tighten this up as much as possible before sending it off to the next beta-reader.

Responding to Nick Spalding’s Self-Publishing Tips

Yesterday I posted excerpts from Nick Spalding’s thirteen-year old tips on self-publishing, which he told me are all still applicable today. So, today I’m going to respond to his tips with my thoughts.

1. Don’t give up the day job

Of course the dream is to sell lots of books, make tons of money, and quit your job. The key here is that until writing can sustain you it is best to write around your work schedule. Which, is what I’ve done. Of course, that’s a big reason why it took seven years to complete the first draft of my first novel. My final push to finish the first draft was achieved by being extra aggressive in making time to complete it. So, day job is still intact…

2. Be yourself

I have often heard people say that authors should write the books they themselves would like to read. I like the novels of Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Matthew Norman, and other “lad-lit” authors (like Spalding, Dunn, etc.), and that’s basically what I’ve written. My novel is, of course different from theirs books… but it’s one that I enjoyed writing, even when it got difficult. I enjoyed exploring the different characters and making various plot points work together… I didn’t try to write anything bigger than I could realistically pull off. I wasn’t trying to write the next great American novel… just a story I enjoyed to write that I hope others will too.

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Self-Publishing Tips From Nick Spalding

Nick Spalding is a very successful author with indie roots, who went on to sign a six-figure book deal. Back in 2003, he gave us his top 10 self-publishing tips. I’ve posted them below with excerpts:

1. Don’t give up the day job

“Everyone wants to live the dream and write full time, but it is a very difficult industry to get into and a very difficult industry to stay in. Learn to write around your day job in the beginning, that’s what I did.”

2. Be yourself

You have to be yourself in your writing. You have to pick a genre that suits you as a person and you as a writer. If you are a happy go lucky person it might not be best to write about a serial killer or vice versa.

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Beta-Reader Update #3

Well, my beta-reader is now about sixty percent through Not Famous.

Today I got some useful critiques that I have to work on. All of them center around issues she has with the main character Nick. She says he’s “jealous and self-centered sometimes” but she’s noted areas where I can easily tone it down.  His jealous towards another character he suspects is making moves on his girlfriend is definitely an important part of the story, but it seems I may have overdone it some.

And then there’s his relationship with his sister. His sister is eleven years younger than him and actually his half-sister. While these two facts contribute to him not being close, I’ve apparently made him too mean to be very likable.

So these are two issues I need to address in order make him more likable. Now, my beta-reader, who is a woman, has often prefaced her critiques by reminding me that she’s not part of my target audience. In one respect, no she isn’t. However, one thing that has become clear from our conversations is that she’s remained very engaged with the story, is empathetic towards the characters, and has been reacting to various scenes and characters the way I want readers to react to them. So I’m glad about that. And she’s probably right that my main character needs to be a bit more likable—and plan to address that when I edit the next draft.

Is The Key To Selling Lad-Lit Marketing To Women?

Wow, I had no idea that the publishing world was writing off “lad lit” fourteen years ago… but it’s true. In 2004, Publisher’s Weekly published an article titled “Lad Lit Hits the Skids”, and it was kind of frightening to read.

What if publishers created a subgenre and nobody read it? In the case of “lad lit,” the answer appears to be that they would produce even more titles. Despite disappointing sales of fiction and nonfiction that turns chick lit’s self-deprecating gaze on young men and their dating woes, a slew of new books are on the way. Whether that’s a result of stubbornness or sexism, the bottom line for booksellers is “the only place lad lit exists as a viable genre is in the imaginations of publishers,” as Borders’s fiction buyer Leah Rex put it.

The author of the column, Natalie Danford, notes that despite ample media coverage for “these boy books” sales were disappointing.

If there’s a patron saint of lad lit, it’s Nick Hornby, whom Brad Thomas Parsons, senior editor for literature and fiction at Amazon, termed “the go-to guy in this genre.” Yet even Nick Hornby isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. While Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (Viking, 1998), launched the chick-lit category after selling more than two million copies in hardcover and paperback, it took Hornby six titles in trade paperback to hit that level of sales.

Wow. Who knew? I certainly had no idea. What’s the answer to the lack of sales (at least compared to chick lit)? It seems to me that appealing to women readers is the way to go. This article hints this as well, though doesn’t quite commit to this theory.

Pocket’s Downtown Press imprint is publishing three paperback originals with announced first printings of about 25,000 copies apiece: Mike Gayle’s Dinner for Two (June), John Scott Shepard’s The Dead Father’s Guide to Sex and Marriage (July) and Simon Brooke’s Upgrading (Aug.). Louise Burke, executive v-p and publisher, doesn’t expect the titles to draw male readers. “These women are reading chick-lit books like popcorn, so you have to keep giving them an eclectic selection,” she said.

But it’s far from clear that focusing on female readers will spark sales of lad lit. There don’t seem to be enough young male book buyers to allow the subgenre to survive without crossing gender lines. And so far, it hasn’t consistently attracted enough female readers to become commercially viable. For women, the appeal of lad lit may be “spying on the other side, getting a look into the locker room,” said Lynda Fitzgerald, events coordinator for the 10 Barbara’s bookstores in Chicago.

So, at least in 2004, the answer wasn’t entirely clear. That was a long time ago, and certainly things have changed. But, maybe the truth is more obvious than those of us who write “lad lit” and read it are willing to admit. Nick Hornby may be the king of lad lit, but in the past several years, he’s been dabbling a lot more in movie writing than novel writing. Jonathan Tropper’s 2009 breakout novel This is Where I Leave You offered hope for the genre, but he’s only published one novel since (which honestly was not his best work) and has been doing a lot more with television writing lately it seems. Are two leaders of the genre telling us that those of us trying to write and sell books that might be described as lad lit are wasting our time?

I’m going to write the books I want to write, but it seems to me that the issue with lad lit is not a problem with quality or content, it’s marketing. So the answer must be not to market specifically to men or women, but to market to both. Look at the cover for Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You. It doesn’t appear to be meant to appeal to men over women or vice versa. It’s got big bold letters and doesn’t feel too masculine or feminine. It did very well and was made into a movie. His earlier books, on the other hand, their original covers (not the post-TIWILU redesigns) felt very much like they were designed to appeal to men. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

I recently wrote that I was giving thought to an alternate design for my novel’s cover… one that was a bit more in line with other lad-lit… illustrated… bold colors… maybe that’s not the answer. Maybe my gut was right in the beginning.

Or, maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. When I look at the covers of British writer Matt Dunn, (both the UK and US versions) I see an interesting pattern. Several of his UK covers have a chick-lit feel to them, and others more masculine and neutral. All of them are illustrated, so clearly that route clearly works for him.

My favorite cover from his books is for What Might Have Been. It’s bold and simple. It definitely feels like lad-lit while also not being overly masculine. As for the covers that appear more like chick-lit… that probably  was intentional, because there have been many words written documenting the success of the chick-lit genre, and I’m sure those covers were designed with that in mind. Since Dunn has written more novels than Nick Hornby or Jonathan Tropper each have, and has a new one coming out in September… I suspect what he’s done has worked just fine for him.

Perhaps I’ll invite Mr. Dunn to chat about this issue sometime on this blog.

Who Will Buy My Book?

I just came across this article from The Millions by author Tom McAllister, and was immediately drawn to this paragraph:

Before I ever published anything, I’d assumed that if I ever finished a book, there would be so much demand from family and friends alone that we’d have to go into a second printing before the release date. But I am here to tell you: most people in your family will never buy your book. Most of your friends won’t either.

The last sentence really struck me. I’m probably still many months away from self-publishing my first novel, and, sure, there was a time where I assumed that friends and family alone could guarantee a few dozen sales without any effort or investment. If that were the case, other self-published authors I know on Facebook with over 5,000 friends could easily get themselves in the top ranks of Amazon just by posting on social media. But, it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve heard lots of stories from indies who are barraged with requests for free copies of their books, with the promise of “I’ll tell everyone about it” in return for the gesture. Writing a novel is no easy task, and yet the people who should be the most willing to support you are not willing to cough over a few bucks to buy your book, and even if they did they probably won’t read it anyway. At best, they’ll offer to share something about your book on social media, and expect their freebie in exchange for the free PR. But, as McAllister notes, this doesn’t help authors one bit.

People will like your Facebook statuses and retweet your tweets and they’ll even leave very nice comments. These likes and comments do not translate to sales. It’s the most passive way for anyone to show support. Over time, the novelty wears off. It’s exciting for non-writers to say they know an author, or for writer friends to remember back when you were starting out and working on your first, bad stories. Very little can sustain that enthusiasm over the six (or more) months during which you’re posting about the book.

And, if we’re honest, we’re all guilty of not being supportive all the time. McAllister acknowledges he’s guilty of this as well.

I admit to having felt betrayed by my friends’ indifference, especially after the first book, but I remind myself that I do the same thing all the time. I have friends in bands that I haven’t seen live in years. I’ve never been to any friends’ improv shows. I skip a lot of readings, even when I know the readers. I have friends with books I haven’t bought or read. I have explicitly lied to colleagues about having read and enjoyed their books. The book industry is partly kept afloat by a shadow economy in which the main currency is bullshit.

McAllister says, and I agree, “I don’t think there is any way to convince all the people in your life to buy your book, let alone care about it half as much as you do.” Truer words cannot be spoken. A book is a significant time investment, and the name on the cover is not enough to convince anyone to invest the time it takes to read it if the story isn’t compelling to the potential reader. Honestly, I know a lot of indie authors through Facebook, and I absolutely would love to support all of them. But, I have specific tastes, and if they’ve written a book that I know is not my cup of tea, am I going to buy it and read it? Maybe I’ll buy it if it’s on sale, but I won’t read it. Why would I read a book that experience has taught me I won’t enjoy? I know it sounds terrible, but it’s true. I’ll maybe buy the book when it’s free or on sale on Kindle for 99 cents, but I’m not spending the time to read a story I won’t enjoy, and I won’t be posting a review on Amazon.

Is that what the author really wants?  Sales are great, but readers are better. When you target friends and family, you’re going for sales. So, don’t bother. Target people who will actually want to read your book, because they’re the ones you won’t need to beg. They’re the ones who are far more likely to care about the story you’ve put all that time and effort to create.

So, I’m not going to bother pushing my book to friends and family. I’m taking the steps now to find my target audience… the people who are likely to take a chance and read my novel.