So You Want To Write A Book, eh?

I’ve been an indie author for just over a year now. I’ve sent 4 books into the world and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Recently, people have asked me about my experiences in self-publishing so I thought I’d share some insight. I’m a workshop and conference junkie. I attend them in person and online. I want to pass some of that very expensive knowledge onto you.

#1 Rule in Self-Publishing:  Hire an editor. For the love of God, hire a professional to edit your work. I cringe when I think about the work I queried back in the day. I sent out unedited, backstory riddled, middle-school level pieces of crap. It’s no wonder I didn’t get signed. Knowing what I know now – they probably didn’t even get past the query letter. There are programs like Grammarly that are useful as a tool before you send to the editor. It is NOT something I suggest you use AS your editor.

#2 Less is More: Tell your story in as few words as possible. The first draft of Thizz was 120,000 words. To put that in perspective – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was only 77,000 and we all know how big that book is. Once I weeded out the backstory (see #4) and fluff, everything came together. This is going to be very hard for you, but it really makes the story cleaner and easier to read.

An example: As I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house. I had two things on my mind – Paul Newman and a ride home.

You learn two things from this opening line. He was at the movies during the day and he’s walking home.

Bad example: I step out into the bright sunlight, its warmth coddling me like a hug from my mother. I squint against the cloudless sky giving my eyes time to adjust after being in the darkness of the movie house all afternoon. I glance down the somewhat empty street thinking about Paul Neman and the long lonely walk home.

Too many descriptions pull you from the story. The reader knows its daytime from the first line. Unless the cloudless sky is about to be filled with alien ships then it’s just fluff. A little fluff if okay, just use it sparingly.

Tip: Leave some things to the imagination. Some readers like a lot of description and some don’t. I personally skip over stuff like that. Especially, deep into a book. By page 210 I don’t need to know that she’s wearing her favorite pink sweatpants, the ones she bought at the mall the day after Christmas, as she curls up on her sofa to eat Cheetos and watch the Bachelor.

Note: An average romance or young adult novel is 50,000 -90,000 words. 90k is a big book. Thizz is just under 90k, about 327 pages at 9 x 6. (Yes, I cut 30,000 words from my first draft. It hurt. A lot.)

#3 Always move forward: Backstory is for the author not the reader. If something that happened in the past is relevant to the plot, then work it into the story. If you have to tell something in retrospect, keep it short and to the point. We don’t need details about clothing or the color of carpet unless it’s relevant to the story.

An example:  I’ve been binge drinking coffee all day while planning our tenth wedding anniversary celebration. We’ve finally locked down the location so I can take a break. I rinse out my coffee mug and place it in the rack to dry, recalling the day my mother gave it to me. It was my eighteenth birthday, the same day I met the love of my life. He worked as a busboy at my favorite restaurant. Their tacos are the best in town, which makes it the perfect place to have the party.

Bad example: We decided to celebrate our tenth anniversary at the restaurant where we first met. I rinse out my coffee mug, the one with the funny saying that my mother gave me for my eighteenth birthday. We had a huge party at my favorite restaurant. They have the best tacos in town. Crunchy shells and lots of cheese. My best friend and I were coming out of the bathroom after she smeared red velvet cake with cream pink cream cheese frosting on my face. I was kind of mad because the icing dripped off my chin onto my brand new white and yellow sundress with a sweetheart neckline. That was the first time I saw my husband. He was wearing a busboy uniform covered in stains. His grungy demeanor didn’t take away from his signature smile. 

The kind of cake, the dress, the cheese – all unneeded to get the point across.

#4 Never start a book (or chapter) with a dream: Or waking up. This is a HUGE pet peeve of literary agents and publishers. Dream sequences trick the reader and slow down the story. I actually had my book and a main chapter start with a dream and waking up. I removed the dream and added something like the example below. If you pull an example of an opening dream sequence and send it to me to prove that it works – It’s the exception, not the rule.

An example: I roll over and hit the snooze button on my alarm. The room spins slightly as last night’s dinner stirs in my stomach. This is the last day of my vacation I won’t waste it in bed, not alone. Time to get up and land me one of those hotties on the beach.

Bad example: I’m sitting on the beach enjoying a cold beer. A beautiful woman emerges from the water and makes her way towards me. Could it be the same woman flirting with me from across the bar last night? I squint to see her face. She’s just a few feet away and…wait a minute. What’s that sound? I’m ripped from the serenity of the beach by my alarm clock. I wake up alone in bed. The room spins slightly as I feel the steak and asparagus I had for dinner stir in my stomach. This is the last day of my vacation. Time to make my dreams a reality.

Everything goes back to less is more. When self-publishing you don’t have to adhere to as many “rules” but if you want your book to compete with traditionally published books, then you have to at least consider them.

Also – think about these things as you write your first draft, but don’t obsess over them. That’s what the second, third, and fourth draft is for!

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