So, remember how last time on the blog I was feeling “nostalgic” and “zen”?? And, remember in the blog post before that, I was so close to finishing my fourth book, So Far Into You?
My feeling of zen lasted about a week, until my Beta readers started sending me their feedback for the book I’d just finished.
You see, I was so sure I’d wave that book into the world of Beta readers… and welcome their glowing feedback as it flooded back in lucious waves of WOW, WOW, WOW!!
Or not, as it turned out.
It wasn’t that my Beta partners didn’t like my book, they just didn’t love it. They didn’t get my hero… they didn’t particularly like him. They didn’t like the start.
Some of the comments were:
Gina has to go. (Gulp. Gina was the opening scene).
Seth is too nasty. We have to like your hero too.
I loved it from Chapter 8.
The ending is rushed.
The antagonist rolls over too quickly.
Something worse has to happen at the end.
I want another scene with Seth and Remy at the start.
We love Remy. (Everybody loves Remy).
So I cursed the world for about 24 hours, and then I re-read all the gold they’d sent me, and thought about how right they were.
So, with my very best pair of slash/hack editing scissors, I lopped off Gina’s head, and started again.
One of the hardest things I find is to get good distance from my writing. Because I know the story inside and out, and I know what my characters are feeling and why they do what they do, it gets very easy to not take readers with me… to make leaps and jumps that feel like they’re perfectly reasonable, while readers who don’t know the story are left floundering in a world of: “WTF just happened there?”
So tonight, I’ve finished this book AGAIN. Four years, three weeks and one day in gestation. I don’t know how much more of this pregnancy I can take!
I first met my wonderful Beta Reader, Marion, when His Brand Of Beautiful, published by Escape Publishing, was released in March 2013. At the time, I approached Marion (who reviews for the US website, Ravishing Romances, as Musing Maddie) to review His Brand Of Beautiful for me.
That review sparked one of those ‘online’ friendships you sometimes get where two people just click. One of the most interesting things is, Marion didn’t 4 or 5-star rate my book. She gave it 3 stars and a very honest, tactful review that included the things she loved about my book, and what she felt I needed to “unpack” more. I continue to love that phrase!
I remember Marion saying in an email to me after the review that she hoped her review hadn’t “discouraged” me. Why would it? 3 stars meant she liked it. Her review included this section:
“From the outset, their interactions were snarky, heated and volatile. Their attraction – instantaneous and sizzling. His Brand of Beautiful had a little bit of drama, witty humor and entertaining interaction between characters. Lily Malone’s descriptive prose was enchanting.”
How could any debut author not take positives out of a review like that?
Marion and I became Facebook friends and she offered at the time to Beta Read for me at a later date and I’ve just taken that offer up with my new novella, The Goodbye Ride. This time I’m self-publishing, mostly because my book is set over the June Queen’s Birthday long weekend and it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity to publish it in time for May/June.
The way I see it, there is a step between Critique Partner and book Publisher/Editor – and Marion’s Beta Reading & Proof Reading services sit right in that pocket. If you’re self-publishing, the opportunity for your book to be seen through such qualified eyes is gold.
“In the past, authors turned to editors at publishing houses and fellow authors for storyline advice. The self-publishing generation realises the value of cutting out the middle-man and hearing directly from the readers. I’m an avid reader and I know there’s nothing more frustrating than stumbling over errors that detract from a story. It’s very easy to miss simple spelling errors, punctuation or timeline errors when you’re familiar with your own writing.
“I like books with meat, that are not completely predictable and that keep their readers invested. I’m not good at accepting mediocre, so I challenge authors to dig a little deeper. I take time to consider what an author needs from me to help them create the best they’re capable of creating.”
I would add right here: Editors/Publishers read and reject a lot of books and read and accept a fair share too. Generally in this day and age, I think it’s fair to say Publishers/Editors don’t have a lot of time to spend tweaking a manuscript so it’s important it is in the best place it can be when you either provide it to a publisher, or self-publish it. I’ve been impatient before, and I’ve learned the hard way that impatience prior to making submissions isn’t a good mix! Note to self, Lily Malone, DO send your manuscript to Critique Partners/Beta Readers first!
“A Beta reader can provide the author with feedback such as strengths and weaknesses, timeline, character and plot inconsistencies, whether any laws of physics were broken, and whether or not they liked the story. Which scenes did they love? Did they laugh, cry, sigh etc. Was the story believable and was it credible.
“A proof reader can go a step further providing light copy-edits, and highlight text that might require re-phrasing, deletion or inclusion. Often, as authors become familiar with their work, it is easy to fall in love with a scene, thus becoming blind to its shortcomings. A proof reader can lend the scene a new set of eyes and give options for the author to consider, if it is not working in their eyes.”
In her Beta reading of The Goodbye Ride, Marion gave me what I like to term, “a lightbulb moment’. I like writing dialogue and while people tend to say that dialogue is one of my strengths, I can also be guilty of ‘telling’ my story through dialogue.
To illustrate, let me show you the version Marion read as Beta Reader, with where this scene is now.
Scene 1: (and the ‘chunk’ he refers to is a chunk of hair, for your context). The comments in bold are Marion’s.
Owen moved closer, trapping Liv between his big body and the Hyundai’s back wheel. “This damn chunk falls across your eye all the time. I can’t look at it without wanting to do…this.” He picked it up, tucked it behind her ear, and turned her insides into butterfly jelly.
“We’re going out tonight.” Owen scorched a kiss across her temple, so that it felt like a circle of flame branded her skin. “I’ll see you at your place about seven.”
“Where are we going?” I was expecting a ‘she breathed’
“It’s a surprise.”
She could feel pink flushing up her throat. “Do I need riding leathers?”
“Wear them if you want, but we’re not going riding tonight.” His mouth feathered from her temple, down her jaw, each breath hot with promise.
Liv shivered. “I never really liked surprises.”
“You’ll love this one.” I haven’t read the next bit to this yet, but what is happening for Liv at this point? What is her response to his proclamation of a surprise? I don’t know if it really matters, but you want to avoid letting the dialogue do all the talking if that makes sense.
Did it make sense? I thought dialogue was showing not telling… but when Marion picked this particular point up a few more times in the manuscript, that’s when it clicked. I also kept remembering that keyword from her review of His Brand Of Beautiful.‘Unpack more’. So here is this scene now. No doubt about it, when Lily Malone unpacks… she shakes out the whole dang suitcase!
Owen moved closer and Liv lost sight of his aunt’s retreating back and the camellia trees flanking the front steps. She couldn’t see anything but the solid wall of his chest and the mesmerising rise of his hand as he lifted it toward her face. “How can I think about transfer papers when this damn chunk of hair falls across your eye like that? How can I look at it without wanting to do…this.”
He tucked the stray hairs behind her ear. Roughened fingertips skimmed her earlobe, caressed the skin of her neck, and Liv felt all the breath squeeze from her lungs. Could Owen feel her pulse? Surely he could hear it?
“How should we celebrate all our hard work, Liv?”
“I don’t care,” she said. And she didn’t. Anywhere with him was fine.
“Should I surprise you?”
Liv had three pairs of jeans in her wardrobe, including the pair she now wore. She hoped he wasn’t thinking of anywhere too ritzy.“I never really liked surprises.”
Owen’s eyebrows arched. “You’ll ride the flying fox in the school playground but you don’t like surprises?”
“At least give me a clue about what to wear. I can hardly drag out the party heels if we’re riding the bike again.” That’s if I owned party heels.
“You’d look good in anything,” Owen said, banishing all thought of footwear from her brain as his mouth brushed her temple. “You’d look incredible in nothing.”
The husky promise in his voice—his hot breath on her skin—it turned her knees to jelly.
Owen breathed her scent, his nose in her hair. He nibbled a path around her ear. A shudder racked her body and she surrendered to the delicious things he was doing with his lips. Liv closed her eyes, slid her hands up his bare arms, great arms, shaping the muscles she felt there, loving the underlying strength.
It took a raucous whistle from the house to break through Liv’s trance.
“Bloody Mark,” Owen muttered against her jaw, lifting his head.
She took the chance to sidle sideways and hook her fingers under the door handle, her face flushed from a hot mix of embarrassment and desire. Owen held the door for her while she settled behind the wheel, glad to be sitting so he wouldn’t see her legs shake.
“Drag out the party heels if you like, Lovely. We’re not going riding tonight,” he said, big fingers splayed loosely against the window. “Tonight I want to end up somewhere with you that’s much more comfortable than the back of a bike.”
Another up and coming Aussie author, who is a great proponent for self-publishing and for self-promotion is the author of A Beautiful Struggle, A Beautiful Forever (with a new book, Alter, about to be published) Lilliana Anderson.
Lilliana also has Marion on her team of Beta readers, and this is her take on what Marion can provide:
“I need someone to pull apart my work and ask lots of questions. While it’s great having someone take a look at it and shout ‘Yay! Awesome!’ it’s not really conducive to the type of work I am trying to put out there. Some may have been happy with me releasing the book on the first draft and I’m not happy enough with that. That’s why I need Marion! I NEED her.”
Marion has now made her services more ‘official’ and has set up a new website with more information. She says her aim is: “To provide authors with an affordable proof or beta reading service, which helps produce a clean manuscript, enabling readers to remain engrossed in the story – rather than distracted by avoidable editing blips. I offer kind, honest comments laced with good humor and integrity.”
While she can tailor her services to each author, she identifies three levels of service:
I finished rewrites of The Goodbye Ride this afternoon. It’s now 28,000 words exactly. I had this ‘thing’ about getting it to 28,000 words when I realised how close I was. I went 28,028; then 27,992 and up and down and then, 28,000. Thank you delete key. Thank you word-count function.
It’s silly really, but when you have a nice big even number like that, it’s fun to hit it exactly.
It’s funny how The Goodbye Ride has inched its way into this very special place in my heart. I think it’s because it’s a story based on true events. I’ve written elsewhere about my inspiration for it, but if you’d like to read it, you can here.
I am going to self-publish it. This has been another momentous decision and there have been various factors influencing that decision.
At 28,000 words it’s a novella, and testing the self-pubbing waters by starting with a ‘smaller’ book seems a good plan
I love the idea of having more control over the book, its cover and marketing
Events in the book take place over the four days of the June Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend, and no publisher even in this digital age, can turn a book around that fast.
Tonight I emailed the manuscript to my Critique Partners, and to Musing Maddie (a book blogger and avid romance reading enthusiast who offers a Beta Reading service).
I’m so excited to see what they think. I’m so excited about self-publishing it.
So excited by the cover of my new novella, The Goodbye Ride.
This is designed by Wendy Johnston of Bright Eyed Owl. Wendy is from the Barossa in South Australia and she loves a good red… a good white… a great bottle of bubbles. She’s the perfect cover artist to design a book that has wine in its veins.
I’m blessed to count two wonderful graphic designers as friends, Wendy and Lu. (Lu is convinced though, that she is destined to be a nurse).
Now the trick for me is, stop cover gazing and start writing. I need to push through with my revisions…
If you would like to read the start to The Goodbye Ride as an excerpt, click here.
When I told my Mum that my book was going through the “Revision Process” she was rather taken aback.
“But I thought you’d finished it,” she said.
“Yes, Mum. But I have an editor now. A real, proper one. She goes through it and then I get to see what she thought was good or bad and that’s called Revisions.”
I think you can tell from my answer – I really had no idea what to expect! So for those people who have found my blog because they’re doing just what I’m doing… working and writing with that great overhead goal of becoming published, I’m going to share as much of the process as my limited knowledge of WordPress technology allows! If you’re an author who has been through this process, I can already see you nodding and perhaps getting a giggle over some of this!
First: This is the email that accompanied my Revisions. If you read it, I think you’ll see why my Editor “had me at hello.” She could have red-lined the entire book from there and I’d still think she was wonderful!
Please find attached the edited copy of His Brand of Beautiful. I have used track changes in Word to make all the edits and I have queried anything other than minor changes (spelling etc) so you can see why the change is suggested. Please could you use track changes to make your own revisions? Please accept any changes you are happy with and comment with any that you prefer to leave or that are confusing etc. (Although you can also email me if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, of course!).
I don’t think there is anything major here – I really loved this story and got completely sucked in! I think the tension and suspense is handled perfectly; all the story strands unravel at just the right pace and I really enjoyed the mix of love/lust and angst, balanced with such snarky quips. I had quite a few laugh out loud moments and I like the fact that none of the characters are perfect but are still likeable.
One thing the publisher has mentioned (as a general point, not specifically re: HBOB) is the use of song lyrics and the concerns re: copyright and legalities. I have marked up all the lyrics quoted throughout as well as the book section as I am not sure whether you have sought permission for any of these already.
Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting this back to you – I know you’re rushed off your feet with moving and getting organised for that. If you could have a look over the edit and let me know when you think you can get it back to me, I shall plan accordingly.
Along with the edit you’ll also find my notes and style sheet, which just clarify some of the changes made throughout.
All positive right!? By now I had already rung my husband who was at work to read the bit about “I really loved this story and got completely sucked in!” And chucked a couple of cartwheels over the couch. (Figurative ones, you understand).
And then I opened the file and started scrolling down.
AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! The comments column on the left hand side was filled with blue and yellow. Comments. Deletions. Corrections.
I quickly discovered my use of commas sucks. I also discovered the book that I’d written thinking its best opportunity for publication was with an American audience, now needed Australian English spellings. I also discovered I was being overly descriptive, which slowed the pacing through my first two scenes.
These are some of the first comments and I hadn’t yet made it to page 2:
Since this story is largely told from either the POV of Christina or Tate and we are in their heads during these scenes, direct inner thoughts are rarely necessary and should be avoided. It means when a character does make an aside, it stands out more.
Love this description, too, however, this has become a very long description about the car and it slows the pace and distracts the focus. We’ve been instantly hooked by Christina’s own curiosity and now the reader will want to know who she’s looking at and why. Creative description is excellent, but if used too much in any one spot can feel heavy handed.
As above, description needs simplifying to tighten flow. Suggested changes have been made. Eg: we don’t really need all the precise details of how characters move from one location to another; readers will fill in blanks and add detail themselves. Simplifying some description allows more poetic lines to resonate better and avoids doubling up – ie: if his jacket is flapping in the wind, we probably don’t need a description of how the wind affects his hair; if he prowls across the road, this is itself a catlike movement and doesn’t need qualifying further.
The banter between Tate and Christina is witty and sexy, but it works better if we can see them bouncing quips back and forth. The sharp back and forth is slowed and lost if it is repeatedly broken up with lengthy asides and descriptions. Sometimes simple is better – keeps the flow clean and lets the more lyrical descriptions pop when they are used.
That famous phrase which I think I first heard in Stephen King’s On Writing, springs to mind. Kill Your Darlings! I actually thought I was reasonable at cutting stuff out, but obviously! No! So like a knight of the realm I leapt boldly forward, sword high, and started an almighty slash, hack through the start of the book.
Once I reached Chapter 2, life got better. Many of the comments about me being overly descriptive stopped. I was into a big stretch of dialogue which seems to be something people feel I do okay, and the yellow boxes at the side of the page stopped turning my computer screen into a banana.
Here are some more gems that I thought I knew, but obviously, was still guilty of including now and then!
Speech tags are best kept simple and to a minimum. Here, for example, we know it’s a greeting. “Said” or “replied” is better, if tagging is even necessary.
Try to keep the flow tight and sharp. Eg: in dialogue sandwich a line of dialogue with a line of action then another line of dialogue (or the other way around). This is done pretty much perfectly throughout but keep an eye out.
These are some of the things that made me laugh:
My book: “Come here.” He reached strong arms for her, tucked her against his hard length. His heartbeat thumped her shoulder-blade and the heat was instant. She felt her body mould itself to his.
Editor’s comment: “hard length” is frequently used as a euphemism in romance and could be misconstrued here!
My book: Leaning her elbows on the rail, she let her fingers dangle. The Acrylic nails shone. They looked ridiculous here.
Editor’s comment: Throughout – watch out for disembodied body parts. (Her Acrylic nails shone).
My book: On a shelf, slivers of multi-coloured soap were mushed into a single larger piece, all cracked and dry, leached of colour and cemented with God-knew how many pubes. The idea of it anywhere near her skin made it crawl.
Editor’s comment – (linked to my multi-coloured, leached of colour soap!)
And yet multi-coloured?
There were more – but those might be a bit x-rated to share here!
The good thing for me was, the bulk of these comments were early, and then it was really a case of picking up small inconsistencies and errors (like the multi-coloured soap and the disembodied body parts) and times when my descriptive fingers just got way too over the top.
One thing I found, and I suspect most writers do this: the opportunity to take that one final read of your book (especially as I hadn’t read it for a couple of months since making my successful submission) is that it is hugely tempting to make further changes. I know I did. I also found I didn’t feel I’d nailed the climactic scene in the book, and really went back through that with a fine-tooth comb.
Right now, my revisions are back with the editor. I hope they hold together. I hope I get one more chance to see it before we fly out to the West on Wednesday. (We’re moving from South Australia to West Australia this week and my computer connections won’t be quite so easy.) But I’ve been promised one more look before it gets locked-in and submitted, on the road to being published with Escape Publishing in March.
That thought itself is terrifying me! It’s like presenting your baby to the adoring (or not so adoring) masses… who are all then going to check it has ten fingers and ten toes… and make snide asides about multi-coloured disembodied birthmarks…
Let’s hope this thick skin that I’ve grown during the past two years of submissions, rejections, and now revisions, holds me in good stead!
If you have a LOL revisions comment to share – I’d love to hear it!