Category Archives: Revising

Revising a project.

A Renaissance Lesson

With Renaissance Calling published, I wanted to take a moment to write down a lesson or four, to help anyone reading this who is thinking of publishing, and to remind myself down the line of mistakes I made. Renaissance Calling is my first book, so I’m not surprised I made some errors. With Book 2, I’m going to get these right.

Taking notes.
  1. Proofreading versus Editing

My editor was a huge help in prepping Renaissance Calling for publishing. She helped me refine my writing voice, clarify my story, and improve the general quality of the writing flow. I’m thankful she’s agreed to stick around for Book 2. But as it turns out, neither of us are proofreaders; we get into the flow of the story without looking at the details. So when several people who backer Renaissance Calling came to me with issues, I cringed.

Despite our best efforts, a number of small errors made it through to the first printing. Some of them were simple things (example: ‘while he attached’, instead of ‘attacked’). Others were a bit ‘how did I miss that’ (example: Horace spelled Horus on several occasions). One was downright ‘I didn’t know that was a thing’ (the single quotation marks would switch between straight and curly, sometimes on the same page).

A bit embarrassing, but a lot of books, even best sellers, have small errors. I’ve still gotten overwhelmingly positive responses to the story, even from people who handed me lists of corrections. So I’ve made the changes and I’m replacing the documents for future printings and eBooks. I’d like to say no one will find anymore, but I’m only human.

Lesson Learned: I need to spend more time and effort on proofreading.

How: A couple of things I can do.

  • I found a few mistakes when I was practicing reading out loud for my launch party, so I have made reading out loud part of my revision process.
  • A number of the detail-oriented people who handed me lists are willing to proofread future books, which will also help.
  • I’ve made some notes about common errors I made, and will endeavor to account for them in future projects.
  1. Publishing Date

The Kickstarter campaign finished in early November, and I had a tentative publishing date of February 10th (the main character’s birthday). All I had to do was write a Backer Book, finish editing Renaissance Calling, get ISBN’s and Barcodes, get final covers from my cover artist, and load all the documents to the printers. I could do all that in three months, right?

Well, not so fast. The Backer Book turned into a bigger endeavor than I thought it would, finishing at twice as long as I planned. The cover was some back and forth due to differences in RBG and CMYK formats.  And it took a lot more time and money to proof test prints of my book than I thought it would (details in No. 4 below).

The date was pushed back to March 8th, then April 8th. As I wrote about before, I got accidentally published on Amazon when I forgot to change the publishing date on one of the publishing sites. This was a bit of a relief, as I no longer had to feel rushed about getting my stuff done and out there.

Lesson Learned: I need to set a publishing date far enough out that I can get everything done.

How: As I’m scheduling my next book, I’m considering how long it took me to get Renaissance Calling into print and adjusting for differences in the book size (I’m anticipating Book 2 to be noticeably longer). My goal is to have everything done, proofed and printed two weeks before publishing.

  1. Figure out prices before committing

A minor error that I should have foreseen, but I assumed the costs of my books were going to be $12 for paperback and $16 for hardcover. I don’t know how I came to those numbers, but I was pretty certain of that going in. So much so that I had the original barcode for the paperback made with $12 on it.

Turns out, however, that after printing and distribution costs (particularly for the hardcover), sticking with those princes was not feasible. If I had, I’d be making less than a dollar on the paperback, and I’d be losing money on the hard cover. I had to raise the price for both formats.

Not a huge deal, except the first round of paperbacks got printed with the price still listed at $12. That’s been fixed and the correct price will displayed on future printings.

Lesson Learned: Do all the math before you set something in stone.

How: Not difficult; most printers and distributors have calculators to help you figure out the math. Take advantage of the tools. Work it out before you commit.

  1. Proofing and Printing

(Note: Proofing in this section was not for content or spelling, but for formatting errors when converting from Word to PDF and PDF to print.)

Proofing printed copies of Renaissance Calling turned out to take longer, and be more expensive, than I anticipated. A lot of this was due to this being my first book, and not being experienced enough to understand what I was doing.

With Createspace, the process is pretty easy. Once a PDF of the internal documents is loaded (and their website can convert Word docs to PDF), it can be proofed through an online viewer that organizes it as if it was a book. I should have spent more time reviewing it online, instead of ordering a proof copy and finding formatting errors in that.

Ingram Spark is much more complex. The files being uploaded have to be corrected by you, the author, which can result in some issues when the formatting is off. Issues that are a pain in the ass to correct, since Spark is so particular. Luckily there is an option to ignore the issues and continue, so when you’re black and white PDF is being kicked back as having color (Yeah, I never figured out what this was), you can tell it to continue with a little waiver. They do provide a PDF to proof, but not the snazzy online program Createspace does.

In both cases, it took a bit longer to get physical proofs than I expected. It also cost a bit more, since I had missed that Ingram Spark requires $50 to set up a file and $25 to correct. With two books set up at Ingram (hardcover and backer book), one correction each, and two proof copies of all three books, I spent well over $200 just proofing. If I had been on the ball, I could have saved about $100.

Lesson Learned: Give enough time to proof and print thoroughly, and be careful before you print off a copy.

How: There are a number of things I can do for this one.

  • Both: Convert the document to PDF and check thoroughly. A lot of errors come from this step, so checking the PDF should catch most of them. Check it several times.
  • Createspace: Proof the online program several times before confirming.
  • Ingram Spark: Proof the provided PDF several times before confirming.

Conclusion

As this was my first novel, I’m not surprised I made a few errors. But the point of an error is to learn a lesson. By writing these down now, I am going to remember them when I get back into the publishing process, which should be sometime next year.

If you’ve got any of your own tips, feel free to share. Thanks!

-Michael

When is a project done?

I recently had a bit of a crisis of confidence in regards to my work.  While a large chunk of my 3rd draft is new and in need of extensive revisions, the first thirteen chapters have been written, revised, rewritten and revised again.  They’re pretty solid chapters.  But I still found things to change.

I’ve been working to publish for years, and I’m close enough I can almost taste it.  I would love to be able to finish this and move on to the next project, but I don’t want to wrap this up just for the sake of moving on.  This needs to be a good attempt, not just throwing it at the wall and hoping it sticks.

The question is: how will I know it’s ready?

I expect that every author has this crisis at some point, so I can’t believe I’m unique in this feeling.  But it’s hard to imagine Hemingway sitting at a typewriter and not knowing exactly what he was going to say.   That King or Clancy didn’t just write out a book and say ‘Done, what’s next,’ that they had to revise and consider and research.  I’m so used to the final product I have to remind myself each book starts with a simple idea.

In response to my own question, I don’t believe I will know it’s ready.  I could spend years revising and always find something wrong, something I want to work on, something to defer the next step again.  Maybe that’s why an editor is such an important part of the process, so that an author can take a step back and say ‘this is it.’

But for now, I still have a lot of work to do.

On getting feedback

Plenty of people have started my book, but until recently no one had finished it.  Many people offered their services, but most people are busy: they have lives and jobs and houseplants, and critically reading a book is much different than reading it for enjoyment.  Luckily, someone I know had the time to read my book, for a decently modest fee.  During a nice summer evening, we floated on a boat drinking beer and discussing the particulars of what my book needed.

The fact is, for any novel, you need someone who has gone from start to finish.  Yes, an editor will do that, but I mean earlier in the process, when you don’t have a book you are ready for an editor to see.  You have questions about your story that need to be answered.  Does this work?  Does that make sense?  Did you get the right response to this event?  Did you realize what I needed you to realize at the right time?

Getting someone you know, who you can trust to give you good advice, is invaluable.  If you can get someone to do it for free or for fun, great, but it is certainly worth the money if you need to hire someone.

And now, with a number of important questions answered, I’m better prepared to finish my book.

Cutting a Project in Half

There are a number of options an author has when a book is too long.  There is steam lining the story, removing little bits here or there.  There is cutting arcs and whole scenes.  And there is dividing the book into multiple parts.  Operating under the belief that my book is too long (153,000+ words), I’m using all three options with a goal of having a publishable book, but mostly I’m going to write about cutting the project in half.

It isn’t as simple as simply finding the halfway point and making the cut there.  Not every story will have an adequate break point in the middle, and cutting the flow of the story can make for a jarring division.  So you have to find a point where you can divide the story.  The best place to make a break in my story comes about a third of the way through.

Second, I look at the arcs involved in the story.  One of the arcs was written to produce conflict and explain the world more to the reader, but it doesn’t quite work cut up, so I’ve removed it (at least temporarily).  The main arc works, but needs a lot of clean up.

The third step is to look at what is left and ask yourself: is this a book?

My modified story is not.  It needs some expansion, and not just because it is so small, but because it needs to be able to stand on its own.  So I’ve sat down and considered how to change the book, planned and outlined and established what I want to have happen so the second book will work.

A large portion of the work is based on the realization that the character who would head into the second book would not be the same one as from the rough and first drafts.  She’ll have more time to grow and expand, become a unique individual.

But there’s still the question of plot.  The start is good for the first ten chapters, then begins to muddy up and wobble a bit.  And the ending needs a nice climax, something that the character can work towards and learn from.  I’m working on one that will make sense with the stories I want to tell, but I haven’t fully developed the concept.

I’m working, aiming to be done with this project by the end of July. I’m hoping this is the draft that I’ll submit to an editor and work out for publication. If not, at least I’m writing.

Rule Three: If it feels wrong, fix it

Rule 3

I write what I know and what I’m good at.  A look at my collegiate and personal studies, books read, movies and shows watched and video games played, it would come to no surprise that my writings usually have a military theme.  Don’t expect horror or romance novels with my name on them anytime soon.  I think most writers are the same: they write what they know and are good at.

Recently, while planning ahead for a project, I had to admit that the big bad guy organization was not working.  It was too clunky.  I had put a lot of work into it, so  I wanted it to work as it was, but it didn’t.  I started working out an alternative, and throw out all I had done before.

Now I’ve have problems with stories I’ve written.  I’ve wondered if I could rewrite this scene, reword that response.  That’s normal, a part of every writer’s concern over his or her work.  This is more about that gut feeling that something about your story is just wrong.

When you write what you know, you feel comfortable with it.  So those strong feelings that something is wrong shouldn’t get ignored.  Some of your readers will also have experience with your genre, and they’ll probably notice it too.  So pay attention, and when necessary, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get back to work.

Write on! 🙂

My Revision System

Revision

So you have finished your rough draft.  You get some congratulations from family and friends, treat yourself to a nice meal, and stand at the top of the world.  But you know you aren’t done.  If you are anything like me, reading your rough draft will run to both extremes of the spectrum, from ‘Pulitzer Prize, here I come!’ to ‘I need to delete this sentence, format the hard drive and burn the computer so no one knows I did this.’  There’s still work to be done.

Revisions can be overwhelming to contemplate. It was hard enough finding works and breaking through writers block the first time, and now you have to question everything you’ve written?  But it is something every writer has to learn to do.

The first time I had a rough draft to revise, I printed it out and decided to read right on through.  I did not want to stop and start and work through every problem until I know how many problems I had.  I puzzled out a system to identify what revisions I need to make, once which works surprisingly well.  Read on and tell me what you think.

What you need:

  • A printed copy of your draft.
  • Pens: Red and Black is a must; other colors handy
  • Highlighters: At least three colors.
  • Post-It Notes:

Ideally you want to have the post-it notes and highlighters be of similar colors, but it’s not necessary.   Keep these things nearby when you are rereading your work.

How it Works:

It’s pretty simple.  When you read through your draft, you will use the color coded pens, highlighters and post-its to color code the errors, corrections and ideas you come across.

So what are you looking for?

General Proof Reading

Don’t hate the red pen.  Embrace it.  Every spelling error and incorrect word, every grammar mistake and punctuation problem gets marked.  Even with today’s computer spell checkers you’d be amazed what can slip by.  And the internet is full of help.

Short Re-writes

Sometimes no amount of red ink can save a paragraph, and the only thing to do is delete and try again.  Often I’m violating the KISS Rule, or it just doesn’t sound right.  Or (in one instance), I discovered a topographical map of an area that showed my description was incorrect.

Highlight the sentences, paragraphs or pages in a color (I usually use pink) and stick a post-it note out the side so you know where your rewrites are.  Don’t worry about rewriting them now.

Language

Not everyone speaks in the same voice.  Accents, education, and second languages can impact how a character sounds.  Ask yourself if a character’s lines actually sound like that character.  If you think they don’t, highlight them.

Continuity

Any story of length should worry about consistency, and a book is a long story indeed.  You will have ideas later on you need to go back and prepare for, or notice details about characters that have changed from one chapter to another.  Even if you are one of those writers who writes thousands of words of background information before you write your book, you’re going to run into such issues.

Highlight the passages and mark them with post-its.  Once you’ve finished your read-through, make a list of the continuity issues.   Spend some time planning what corrections and additions you will need to do.  I usually use green to mark these, since I can use a green pen to make the changes necessary.

Conclusion

I’m sure that as I continue writing my revision process I will change it to meet the demands of my writing.  I’m already prepared to add a ‘Check Your Science’ color when I first write a Science Fiction story.  But it is a solid system.  I’m interested to know what systems you use, and how you might personalize this system.

Have fun and keep on writing!

-Michael