Hello to my regulars and to my #AuthorToolbox blog hop friends! Today I’ve decided to share my journey from Book One to my first full manuscript request, which I earned in March or thereabouts. Note: This article has been edited to be more vague than a previous version.
Step One: Get a Stellar Critique Partner
No-brainer, right? Wrong. If your critique partners aren’t making you weep inside, then your CPs aren’t good enough. A good CP will catch things like the following:
- Repetitive Scenes
- Plot Holes
- Unrealistic Dialogue or Character Actions
- Deus Ex Machina
- Confusing/Unclear Settings
- Anything that Takes Buttloads of Time/Re-Plotting to Fix
Basically, a good CP both challenges and hurts you (hopefully with a nice dose of encouragement). There are tons of online articles on finding good CPs, but if you can’t, you can also consider hiring a professional. Finding CPs is often the impasse my own clients face, and so I serve the purpose for them. And yes, I know that a good CP can be truly painful. But you cannot imagine how much better you (and your book) will become with a good critique partner. (I charge $5 per 2000 words if you’re interested.)
FROM MY EXPERIENCE: My first book, The Tower With No Walls, was not at all successful in the query trenches. Turned out it sucked, and I just had to cobble together a few stellar CPs to point out exactly why it sucked, so that I could fix it. As an author, it’s impossible to be objective about your work; so have someone else do it!
Step Two: Set Aside Your First Book
But it’s my baby! you say. And I know it is. But after suffering through the CPs and revisions and general terror of your first book, you have just earned two things:
- A Book One that has suffered so many revisions that it has become a cobbled-together version of your best work.
- The knowledge on how NOT to make about a hundred of those major mistakes next time… if you try again.
I don’t mean to say give up on Book One. I mean set that baby aside (or on relaxed query) and try something new, utilizing your new skills. And if you get an agent in the future with Book Two, they might want to see Book One too!
FROM MY EXPERIENCE: I still haven’t finished revising The Tower With No Walls based on CP comments – because I realized my new book, The Goddess Candidate, had ten times the selling potential. And the only reason it had this is because I learned a metric fudge-ton from the revision process on Tower.
Step Three: Write Within a Structure
(Pantsers, skip a paragraph.) Okay, so you’re ready to write that next book. Hold up a second, and plot that little booger first. Remember all the plot holes, boring parts, character development issues, etc. that your first book had? And all the hours spent correcting those things? Well, if you plan properly, you’ll be able to avoid most of the same issues (at least to the same degree of awfulness). And your first draft of Book Two will be thrice the book the first draft of Book One was. Recommended structure systems:
If you are a dedicated pantser (as in, you despise outlines), then that’s okay – but be sure you are aware of how these structures work and the expectations behind them. They are proven to create successful books. For example, keep in mind that your inciting incident should happen in the first chapter; that you shouldn’t introduce new characters after the 3/4 mark of the book; that you should have a “shapeshifter” character (not literally); and that your characters should have a clear developmental arc. If all you write is word vomit, your revision is going to take ten times longer. The result will will likely be just another cobbled-up work, like Book One.
FROM MY EXPERIENCE: I set aside Tower, plotted Goddess religiously, and wrote it in one month. Then I revised Goddess once, got a CP, and revised it a second (very light) time somewhere around March. At that point it was Draft 2.5 and had taken me only 3 months to write and revise – and I got agent interest. Now I have it out on submission again with an even better draft, so here’s hoping!
Naturally, everyone’s journey is different. But this is what worked for me, and in sharing it, I really do hope to inspire, not brag. Next up on my plate: a final revision on Book One, and a final query run for it. I haven’t given up on my first baby yet!
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