Monday, February 26, 2018

Been There, Done That: An Indie Author Panel on Writing and Publishing (Part 1)

As you may know from reading this blog, I tend to stay away from traditional "writerly" topics because I know most readers don't care. However, a few months ago I attended a post-NaNoWriMo panel discussion and I realized that I did have some things I wanted to say publicly. I also knew that, with a little bit of begging, I could get some of the other indie authors I know to share their thoughts as well.

Today we're going to be discussing what I call the craft side, and tomorrow we'll touch more on the business side. I hope this is of some use to people even if you're not an author; a lot of this is applicable to any small business.

The Panel

Erin Cawood
Erin Cawood is a commercial women's fiction author, with a taste for dramatic storylines and a passion for strong lead characters she really gets behind, cheering on right to the very end of their story. Her specialty is taking romance into the darker, edgier side of contemporary fiction.

Jami Deise
A lifelong resident of Maryland, Jami moved to St. Pete Beach, Florida, in 2012 with her husband Tom, son Alex, and dog Lady. A baseball mom for 15 years, she self-published “Keeping Score,” about a divorced mom whose 9-year-old son starts playing select baseball, in 2013. In 2015, Evernight Publishing released her urban fantasy “The Ties that Bleed,” about a vampire assassin working for the FBI. “House Divided” was released in November 2017, about a Democrat married to a Republican. Jami is an associate reviewer at and a freelance developmental and copy editor. She is represented by Rachel Beck at Holloway Literary.

Caroline Fardig
CAROLINE FARDIG is the USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR of over a dozen mystery novels. Fardig’s BAD MEDICINE was named one of the "Best Books of 2015" by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

Part 1: Writing, Revising, and Editing

Here's an ice breaker: who is your favorite author?

Deb Nam-Krane: I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, but I just got hooked on Donna Leon’s 
Commissario Brunetti series. It’s set in Venice and has been going strong for about twenty-five years. It’s a mystery series, but it’s as much about modern Venice as it is finding out whodunit.

Erin Cawood: I'd have to say Amy Andrews. Every one of her books is pure escapism.

Jami Deise: Right now I’d have to say Liane Moriarty. I’ve read everything she’s written and eagerly 
await her next book. Second place goes to Laura Lippman, who writes a PI series and stand-alone 
thrillers, and is also an amazing teacher.

Caroline Fardig:  I love Tami Hoag.  Her mysteries are dark and twisty and at the same time give you all the feels.

And what's a random fun fact about yourself?

DNK: I’m a really good cook!

JD: I’m obsessed with karaoke.

CF:  I love to paint.

EC: I love to get creative with cakes.

Onto business...What typically is your writing process? Does your genre affect it?

DNK: It’s hard to say which comes first—character, universe, or story—but once I have a rough idea of those I “spend time” with my characters as much as I can so I can get to know them and figure out how they ended up where the story begins. That invariably means that I end up with a bunch of other characters and then I figure out how their stories fits into the larger story, and how that larger story has been changed by the smaller stories.

JD: I’m an outliner. I have to know where I’m going before I can get started. I even make changes to the outline when I’m making revisions to the book. I like to be able to see the entire story in several pages rather than hundreds.

CF:  The more twisty a plot, the more outlining I do.  I find that I write faster when I’ve outlined everything and have a sense of where each scene is going.  I used to edit what I wrote the previous day, but writing goes a lot faster if I wait and edit (at least most of the work--I haven’t been able to totally break away from that habit) at the end.

EC: I write down as much of my idea as I can before I can forget it. Then I try to plan it by scene. But most of the time I end up getting in deep so I have a very rough first draft. Then I go in deeper and add the interesting stuff, set the scene, build the emotional journey and the conflict, getting a really good feel for my characters and their current world before I destroy and rebuild it.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

DNK: I don’t like to start creating the story until I know as much as I can about my characters and their world, but I still find that as I write the characters will reveal more details to me. Channeling those details is pretty cool!

JD: That eureka moment when I’ve come up with a great idea for a new book, or for the revision.

CF:  Same as Jami—the moment when I get an idea and can’t wait to get it down on paper.  A close second is my own first edit, when I get to look at what I’ve written for the first time in its entirety.

EC: That moment when the characters come alive. You'll be bobbing along and suddenly your character will say something or do something that makes you go ‘Oh you so did not just do/say that!” from that moment on the story becomes theirs and you're just the vessel they use to tell it.

How do deadlines (e.g., writing for a publisher, participating in NaNoWriMo) affect your writing?

DNK: It’s all about preparation: if I know the characters, the universe, and the basic plot outline, then it’s work, but it’s not torture. But when I only have a vague idea of the plot, that will kill me sooner rather than later.

CF:  It depends on whether or not I really like what I’m writing as to whether it’s adrenaline fuel or sheer torture.  Knowing I have a deadline keeps me from putting things off, but it can also cripple my creativity and cause me to have to work extra hours.  Last year I had a lot of tight deadlines.  I’m hoping this year it isn’t the case.

EC: I hate deadlines. They seriously mess with my mojo. So I don’t have any. As an indie author I have that flexibility to set (or not) my schedule.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

DNK: The first manuscript I wrote took about four and a half months, and the next three books took less time. By the time I was on the fourth installment, I could finish in two weeks. The sixth full-length took me about three weeks, but the fifth and seventh books took more like three months. Again, it’s about knowing what you want to say before you get there.

JD: That’s a hard question to answer, because I usually end up revising it before I’ve finished a complete actual first draft. I’ll get halfway done and then realize I need to make a major change. Since I’m an outliner, these things shouldn’t happen, but they do.

CF:  Actual writing, I can do around 2000-3000 words a day, five days a week (barring distractions).  So depending on the length, I’d say around two months to just write the thing.

EC: Barring distractions, I can write a first draft in a few weeks.

How long do you let a first draft sit before you touch it again?

DNK: Since I write for the most part in series, ideally I don’t touch the first draft of the first installment until after I’m done with the last installment. That’s a big help as far as continuity, and it also gives me the distance I need. Having said that, I need time to walk away from that universe altogether. Ideally, at least two weeks.

JD: Depending on what else I’ve got going on, anywhere from a week to a few months.

CF: I used to let them sit for a couple of weeks, but I don’t have that kind of time these days.  Lately, it’s been only overnight.

EC: My editor recommends a minimum of 6 weeks. If I’m working to schedule, then I write draft one, write the draft of a second book, then go back to the first.

What’s the first thing you do when you go back to your draft?

DNK: I end up reading the first chapter or few pages and see if it sounds right. I don’t just mean whether the POV has a strong voice, but also if the words have the right rhythm for the kind of story I’m trying to tell.

JD: I read it as quickly as possible, the entire book, just as if I were reading a published work. I use the comments function to make notes about what I need to change, but I don’t start making actual changes until I’m done with the read.

CF:  Re-read the last couple of pages, or more if needed.  Like Deb said, I need to get back into the rhythm of the narrator’s voice.

EC: I print it out and edit by hand. I get tempted to start rewriting if I'm working on screen.

Typically, how many drafts does it take for you to be finished?

DNK: I don’t even want to count how many I went through for my first book! At least ten, and by the time it was done, I was done too. I had too many competing opinions that I was trying to accommodate, which was a valuable lesson right there.

Since then, I’ve been able to get most of the books done within two or three drafts.

JD: There is no typical. But we’re talking double digits.

CF:  I don’t count drafts.  Mine is a continual work in progress.  But I will say I edit/read through it at least twice before I hand it over to an editor, then do the suggested edits and read/edit at least two more times myself.

EC: No comment. Seriously? Too many.

What is your favorite tool when editing?

DNK: I usually draft in Google Docs and then edit in Microsoft Word. (And right now I’m drafting in a notebook!) One thing that made a big difference for me was using the Outline and Comments features, both for myself and my beta readers. It makes it much easier to find the parts I want to change.

JD: I just use Word.

CF:  Word.

EC: I outline in Scrivener, write and edit in Word. Finely edit with Pro-Writing Aid. Then I use an Android app called Voice Aloud which is a text to speech app, you pick up quite a few things by listening. And proofread by converting to ebook and read on my Kindle or phone.

Beta readers, critique groups, and editors: how do you use these people and when?

DNK: I have never used a critique group, but I’m not opposed if it were the right group of people. I do use beta readers, though, and I lean heavily on Erin and Caroline. They’re good at being honest yet constructive, and they can zoom in really quickly to what isn’t making sense.

I do not give anything to my editor until it’s at least passed muster with those two, and maybe my husband. I like her to take two passes at my manuscripts and she’s great about catching continuity errors and what I call “a logic check”. One of the most fulfilling moments of my life was when she gave me my manuscript back with no comments, even after two checks. Thanks, Caroline and Erin!

JD: I’ve tried critique groups but they tend to fall apart. There are a couple of friends who are able to give me the big-picture notes that I look for. I do hire professional editors and other writers when something isn’t working and I can’t figure out why. And my agent gives notes too.

CF:  I don’t have a critique group, but I’m lucky to have some awesome beta readers!  Deb and Jami have been awesome, and I have a few other friends (authors and non-authors) who have been amazing as well.  Couldn’t do what I do without them.  I always use an editor, whether it’s through my publisher, someone I pay, or my cousin, who’s got a doctorate in English.

EC: I have a couple of beta readers, Deb is one of them. These are the first to read. I then have a developmental editor, copy editor and a proofreader.

How do you find beta readers and editors?

DNK: Before I left social media, I met Erin in an open authors group. Later, Erin introduced me to a Chick Lit writing group. It turned out that many of us weren’t writing straight chick lit but the moderator let us in anyway. That’s where I met Caroline (and Jami!).

I found my current editor through another indie author I know (Diantha Jones). Her stuff is always well-edited, and I finally asked her who her editor was. I’ve been really happy with her (Mia Darien) ever since. (And FYI, I met Diantha on Goodreads.)

JD: Workshops and conferences.

CF:  They’re friends who I’ve met either in real life or along my journey in publishing.  It’s important to find someone you can trust and who knows what they’re doing!

EC: I have met all of my team through social media and recommendations from authors I know.

What is your favorite revision trick?

DNK: Print! Get yourself a CreateSpace account and upload your manuscript into one of the templates. (Don’t worry about the cover for now.) Order a revision copy for yourself, then read it like a novel. You will find so many errors that you wouldn’t have seen on a screen.

And for the love of god, use your word processor’s spelling and grammar checks before you give anything to anyone. Enough said.

CF:  A different twist on Deb’s idea, I email myself a copy of the Word document and let iBooks turn it into a PDF so I can read it on my iPad like an ebook.

EC: As I said above, I print to paper and read aloud, then I listen via a TTS device and then I read on a e-reading device.

What is one piece of writing or editing advice you wish you were given early in your writing career?

DNK: Believe in your story over market trends. I fought with a number of people about changing the age of my main character from 19 to under 18. That was when Young Adult was hot and people didn’t know what to do with characters between the ages of 19 and 26. I did end up sticking to my vision, but I wasted a lot of time trying to make everyone happy.

JD: Don’t get cute with dialogue tags.

CF:  I wish I’d researched as thoroughly for my first book as I do now.  There were a couple of things I’m now stuck with in the series that I wish I’d thought through a little more.

EC: Write for your readers. My first novel, I wrote for the market and what I expected agents and publishers would want. But it affected my creativity. Someone said to me to write for my readers and it revolutionized my writing.

And that's all for today! Please have a think on all of the knowledge my friends threw down and come on back for tomorrow's conclusion.

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