I don't often give out writing advice. And the few times I have in the past it's been more smart assy than helpful. But not today. Today I'm giving some honest to goodness advice.
And what qualifies me to give said advice, you are saying in disbelief right about now?
Besides the published status which I swear sometimes is a fluke, okay, because I have busted my ass for thirteen years learning how to write a novel. Because I have made tons of mistakes. Because I still make tons of mistakes. That's why...duh!
Seriously, I am going to say this in the best possible way, and I mean no offense by using this word so please take it as such.... I am a comma retard. I can not be taught where to stick those stupid things. One would think after years of being on this planet and having a decent grasp of the language I would know where to put commas in a sentence but I don't. Some not all. That rule about putting one where you would naturally pause in a sentence, yeah, I talk fast, type faster, there's no such thing as a pause in my world. In fact, I've had people add dot com after I've spoken because I run words together. Punctuation, pffft, screw punctuation. Who needs em?
Anyone seriously hoping to publish a book, that's who needs punctuation. I have people who go behind me and pat me on the head and say good puppy now sit while I fix this mess you made. And I sit on my hind legs with my front paws tucked under my chin, tongue lolling, and I let them fix my mess. In return I help them with what I'm good at. Or pay them cash. Or food is a good thing too. Plus there is that whole privilege of reading my books first thing...yeah, I know, I know. My ego is showing.
A good story isn't written in one go through. I good story starts with one go through yes, get the story out, don't worry about the rest while you write the first draft, that's what second, third and fourth drafts are for.
No I'm not kidding. Four drafts. Behind Iron Lace, I rewrote that sucker six times before I submitted it. Then two rounds of edits after that. Wicked Game. Four drafts, and then the acquiring editor at Liquid Silver very politely sent it back to me saying why yes we would very much like to buy this, if you revise it, paying particular attention to punctuation. Ooopsie! I mad dashed through that manuscript adding what I thought was the right amount of commas and then I had a friend go behind me who added more. And the book sold and then on the first round of edits we took all of them out. Banging my head on the desk really hard. Second round we put them all back in again. If I owned a gun.... third round we proofed all of the additions to text and made sure everything was as close to right as we could get it and then the copy editor went behind that and...I was seriously ready to cry. Fix this, change this, we already did this in chapter two...So Wicked Game had nine or ten sets of revisions and I'll bet you there are still one or two things that was missed. It happens. It's going to happen.
I set my ego aside years ago in order to learn how to write as clean as possible but most importantly I learned that my stories are not babies, they are manuscripts written by a flawed individual who can not see her own mistakes. And you can't either. No one can. When you read your manuscript you're not reading the words with a technical eye. You're reading it with your artistic eye. The eye that wrote the manuscript in the first place. You see it as brilliant after one draft. Or if you're over critical you edit all of the good out of it before you even finish the first draft. So writing 101. You are not brilliant, and don't second guess your muse.
As I say many many MANY times. I am not a writer I am this vessel in which strange voices like to recite their stories, they make me sit while they argue and rant and grudgingly tell me this story little snippets at a time. And I let them. It's called a muse. Opening my mind up to my muse and letting my muse guide my story is the way I write. Or as I often say, I'm just the bitch that takes dictation for the wackos living in my brain. And most days that's how it feels. I'm not crazy but the voices in my head are. Good thing I type 90 correct words per minute or I'd never keep up.
Yeah, I rambled off on a tangent, sorry.
So when my crazies are done telling me their story, and I write the words The End (not really, I did that once and it felt silly) I don't immediately start editing. I can't. The story is too fresh in my head. I'm still in love with these people and I won't be objective. I won't be critical. I'll love every freaking word and I'll want to rush it right out to one of my editors.
Uh, yeah, I did that once. I won't ever do it again. Humiliated. Yep. I was. I met that editor last weekend. Even introduced myself. She was nice. Nicer the next day, but still nice.
I've learned over the years what works for me. Writing is such an individual task. No two people do it the same. But I'll tell you this, we edit the same. Or editors edit the same. And that's a fact. There are hard and fast rules in fiction writing. And you have to master those rules before you can decide which ones you can throw away.
First, don't give your manuscript to friends who just want to read your work. And for fuck sake when they tell you it's brilliant just remember that they have never written a manuscript and they just want a free read and it's not brilliant. Find other writers, preferably one or two who understand how to construct a manuscript, to form a critique group with. But just remember that two many fingers in the pot can spoil the batter. For the record I hate critique groups, I prefer beta readers. So why did you tell me to get in a crit group? I don't work or play well with others, I'm not social, I don't like groups, and I really really want to get things accomplished. But that's just me. Crit groups done right will teach you how to be a better writer (or how to plot a murder suspense novel with a smile on your face if nothing else). You're pulling from group knowledge with group experience and you can see first hand how to screw up your manuscript...er forget I mentioned critique groups, those always end in tears.
Beta readers are not critique partners. I use four or five people that I trust to TELL ME THE TRUTH. Not all of them are writers. One or two are usually technical people. People who can spot flaws in my research. I pick my betas based on what I'm writing about. It's really good to cultivate friends in the fields in which you write. I have two friends who are nurses. Friends in law, hell I have a whole damn clan of law enforcement officers in my family, several lawyers, construction out the yin yang. And I really do believe in writing what you know. Or at least something you have a basic understanding of before you go into it. I have my readers tell me everything that didn't work for them in the story. And I fix it. They can spot when I use the wrong word form, I know the difference in your and you're but my fingers don't really give a rats ass and then I'll never see the mistake.
Following me so far?
Getting your manuscript from that first draft to something that can be published is hard damn work. Editors at publishing houses are not there to teach you how to construct a manuscript. They are there to fix as little as possible. And believe me, there is so many writers out there with manuscripts that are polished within and inch of it's life that that editor would rather have than your first draft baby.
Harsh? Why, yes it is. And when you get that rejection letter and you break down and cry (because you will and I did) and you get that hundredth rejection letter and you break down and cry. You figure out real fast how to stop getting those freaking rejection letters.
You write the best possible story you can then you edit that story until you have one continuous story from beginning to end. You do not head hop. Alternating point of view is absolutely fine. Do not head hop in the same scene. Editors hate that. Read through for continuity. In other words make sure character A who has blue eyes and brown hair and is from anywhere USA ends up as character A with blue eyes and brown hair at the end of the book. Keep your plot moving forward, don't repeat the same things over and over again. We got it the first time. Move on. Grammar is important, unless it's not. How to figure out what grammar rules you can break is always half the fun. Dialogue is one place to break the hard and fast rule. I mean no one uses correct grammar when they speak unless they are completely uptight anal retentive a-holes. Okay, some people do, but I'll bet you in casual company even that uptight English Professor will fall back on his native way of speaking in a pinch. Everyone has a regional accent. Everyone says things that aren't grammatically perfect. Some people are more precise than others. That's voice. And that's what you play with to distinguish your characters from each other. Other wise they all sound the same to the reader.
Perfect your manuscript. Let other people read your work. Don't let ass kissers tell you it's brilliant, because believe me, it's not. Hmm what am I forgetting. Oh yeah.
RESEARCH your shit. If you don't know exactly how police procedure works, or what one branch of the military does, or what to do for sun stroke or heart attack or what the fuck ever, do not make things up. If you are going to write about something that isn't something you have hands on knowledge of don't just assume that you can write whatever you want and no one will know. If you're going to write about horses, you need to know something about horses. Or sailing or how a gun works. Do you have to go into great detail about the subject? No. Unless you do go into great detail and it's the wrong detail. Research applies to romance writers.
And yes I took pains with each of my books to get as much right as I possibly can. I studied football, of course I grew up with it, hung out with half the team, I knew stuff, but I didn't know STUFF. And then rules changed and that scene in Wicked Game with Jaime talking to Cass before a game well, there's a rule about that now, that I couldn't find when I wrote the book. No phones on the field 90 minutes before or after a game and especially not during. The Cajun dialect is something I hear down here, not often but enough that I don't need a translator, writing it was a completely different thing. I went through several Cajun sites looking for phrases and spelling and then I ran it by two people who are or are married to Cajuns before I let that book go. And I still got slammed for not using real French or having an editor who couldn't fix my Franglish mistakes.
Make damn sure that when you write you cross your Ts and dot your Is because someone will know if you didn't and that someone will not hesitate to call you on it.
Hard and fast rules. There are no rules, but there are things you can do right or wrong. Learn how to do it right the first time or the fifth time. Just learn. And never stop learning.
So why have I just written all this? And are you still reading?
Short answer is this; Earlier this year I judged self-published novels for a contest, and I've bought several self-published novels over the last few months, and every single one with the exception of maybe two were a mess.
I just finished reading a book I bought from Amazon and while the story was very nice the technical issues with this book were horrendous. Completely wrong word usage. Missing words. Changed features such as eye color and once even a name. One of the best stories I've read this year had the FBI handling the Witness Protection Program when that's the US Marshals. I knew this. But I'm one of those annoying people who my mother called a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. And I am. I know a little bit about a lot of things. I think most people are like that.
So please, if you're going to self publish your book, and I know that it's hard to sell books to publishers, but there's a reason for that, so if you are going to self publish please for fuck sake hire an editor. And if that editor points out things that you aren't happy about hearing, well, then that's your right, but just remember, there are people like me out there who know how to spell and know how the military functions at least in theory. And well, live and learn. But get an editor. Editors usually know their shit.