Two years ago I got a great gift from a friend. Robyn Peterman had struck it big with a series of wacky supernatural romances and had her own Amazon Kindle World—Magic and Mayhem—and invited me to write a series of spinoff novellas “in” that world.
It was a privilege to be associated with the authors in her world—and a blast to participate in it. The only time I’ve ever had more fun as a writer than when I was writing the first three Incompetent Witch books was when I was writing the fourth and fifth.
And then, Amazon announced it was ending Kindle Worlds.
Amazon was technically the publisher, but Kindle Worlds books could not be sold outside the U.S., and authors could not run promotions or offer print and audio book versions. Robyn generously returned all rights to her authors, though, which means I can now do all of those.
The catch? I had to remove all traces of her wonderful settings and characters. I’d only incorporated a few of her characters, opting to rely on my own in a neighboring village of my own creation. Think of how folks from Hooterville might run into the ladies of Petticoat Junction while shopping in Bug Tussle. Easy-peasy, right?
I made a “scrub list” and found that there was more to change than I had first anticipated. Where would my heroine Prudenzia get the advice she’d gleaned from Robyn’s Zelda? How could I rethink Robyn’s notion that bright red hair signifies a witch whose special power is to heal shapeshifters?
Since Prudenzia is The Incompetent Witch—and a failure at healing arts—I’d given her mostly jet-black locks, with strands of red here and there. I did some research and was delighted to learn that in many societies, people with red hair have long been associated with witchcraft—in general. So fixing references to red hair required only minor tweaks.
Still, there was more to do than fire up the ol’ search tool and make spot changes. I started at page 1 of Book 1 and tackled issues as they arose…and found myself doing things that should be part of any effective rewrite, such as:
I was surprised at some of the “mistakes” I found, since my books are professionally copy edited and proofread. Of course, I have been known to replace mistakes my editor and proofreader find with new ones. Sigh. As an indie author, of course, I’m free to make changes whenever I want to. But in the world of indie publishing, it almost always makes sense to stay focused on the future, especially if your books are selling and getting good reviews
In this case, though, Robyn—and Amazon—have given me a second gift. The chance to rewrite has reinforced familiar lessons that I’ll carry over into Book 6.
Dave Thome has written the Fast Lane contemporary romance series, The Incompetent Witch comedic supernatural romances and stand-alone books including My Fairy Dogmother (coming soon) and See You in Hell under the name DC Thome. He’s also been a newspaper reporter for a long time, had four screenplays optioned, been a presenter at the Writers Institute in Madison and a journalism instructor at Marquette University.
Image source: pxhere.com
I don’t know about you, but I read fiction for the characters and the adventure those characters go through. Like most readers, I want vivid heroes who draw me into their situations and, often when I don’t get into the main character, I put the book aside. But how do writers create those attention-grabbing heroes?
Here’s what some of my favorite writing experts have to say.
I love reading stories that feature intriguing characters and I hope these tips will help you when you write your next tale. Also, if you’ve found the suggestions useful, I hope you’ll consider checking out the resources quoted in this article for further study.
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. Recently, her novel Other Than became a double finalist in the 2018 Prism Contest in the Historical/ Steampunk and Best First Book Categories.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
Spirit Shattered by Tessa McFionn
Kinky Briefs Cinque by Seelie Kay
The President’s Wife by Seelie Kay
Forged Souls of Amathus: Saxton by Jevenna Willow
Growing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.
When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.
For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”
I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.
I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.
When she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer. However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.
I was once asked what success meant. I remember struggling for an answer because I’d never given the definition of success much thought before. Back then, I was in customer support for a software company, so I equated success to a day of answered calls. However, that wasn’t what the asker was looking for. The person asking the question went on to explain that there was no right answer to the definition of success because what I define as success, another person might not.
His words have stayed with me through the years, and as I started my new career as an author, I found myself facing a similar question. What is success to an author? As an industry-collective thought, the answer seems to revolve around landing a traditional publishing deal. By doing so, an author has “made it” as a published author. But was that a definition of success which would satisfy me?
When I first started researching how to become published in 2012, the wheels of change had been slowly turning for years, thanks to the inception of Amazon’s self-publishing platform in 2007. That change had opened doors for many aspiring authors, who had taken a self-publishing route.
I read how, with an upload of a file, an aspiring author could instantly reach readers. I remember spending hours researching article after article about the pros and cons of self-publishing and just wishing someone would come out and say which was the right thing for me to do. There was no article with the magic answer, and the more I researched, the more I began to understand that the answer lay in the reason why I wanted to publish my books. I just wanted to share the stories that had so entertained me during their creation.
With the digital age in full swing and rising projections of readers switching to devices, I took the plunge and went the self-publishing route. January 2013, I uploaded my first book, quickly followed by a second in March and a third in April. Did I consider myself successful? Let’s look at the numbers:
No, I wasn’t very successful, but I was persistent and kept researching and learning about the market, my target audience, and my options. October 2013, everything changed when I altered my pricing strategy and my covers. I suddenly had over 2,000 downloads of Hope(less), the first book in my Judgement Series (the second book I published). I was finally reaching readers and sharing my stories.
Today, I write full-time, out earning what I’ve made in any of my previous careers. Although I do consider that a level of success, my income still doesn’t define my success. It didn’t in previous careers so why should it now?
The original reason I started writing and why I continue to write, remains my definition of success. To share the stories in my head. To give all my imaginary friends a voice. To be read. To date I’ve sold over 300,000 books and given away over 500,000 series starters.
Success can be measured in so many different ways. What’s your measure of success?
by: Melissa Haag
Melissa Haag lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. An avid reader she spent many hours curled in a comfortable chair flipping pages in her teens. She began writing a few years ago when some ideas just refused to be ignored any longer.
When I saw this quote late last year, I didn’t realize just how much it would affect my writing from that day forward. It has, however, now become the mantra I chant when I barrel through 5,000-10,000 words a day. That simple sentence changed the way I write… and I’d like to think it’s for the better.
The first novel I wrote took a few years of on and off dabbling. When inspiration struck I wrote a paragraph here, a sentence there, until finally I typed those two magical words. The end. The feeling I had when I finished was a sense of accomplishment unlike any I’d experienced before. I wanted to go back and do it again… to feel the rush of knowing I’d done it. I’d written a novel.
So I started a new one. Again, a paragraph here, a sentence there but always waiting… waiting for inspiration to guide my hand and craft the words into something beautiful. Hours could be spent staring at that damn flashing cursor waiting for that poetic sentence to come together. It was then I saw the quote.
That night I started typing. Fast. I had the story in my head and the characters were off running. Rather than trying to find the perfect words to describe their every move and feeling, I just started pouring words onto the page like a court reporter transcribing everything I saw. I was amazed at how fast the story was unfolding, and how many more layers I could see, smell, and hear when I wasn’t distracted searching for the perfect word. Instead, I was standing inside my story in the middle of the action just scribbling as fast as I could to keep up.
When I was done that night I had typed 11,000 words. There were errors galore. The grammar police would have locked me up and thrown away the key. That road to hell paved with adverbs? I was skipping down it with a grin stretched wide across my face. But even with all the ugliness, I had created something quite beautiful. A story… or at least part of it.
The next day I did the same. Then the next, and the next. In under two weeks my entire novel was done. It wasn’t beautiful… but it was done. The skeleton and skin were laid and now it was time to go back and slap some hair and makeup on that motley looking creature. I was Professor Henry Higgins and my novel was Eliza Doolittle. Charming, but in need of a lot of refinement.
With the story sorted and the scenes set, I was shocked how easy it was to rework my sentences and find those perfect words quite effortlessly that I struggled with before. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t trying to create a story and a sentence all at once. The story was done, now I just needed to add some flourish to it.
Since changing my approach to writing, I am now writing faster than my publisher can keep up. I finished a new novel before they even had time to read the previous one. My “get ‘er done” writing style is not only more enjoyable for me since I get to throw myself into the story, but it has made me much more effective. With this new system, writing a novel is no longer a daunting mountain to climb, but more like small hills I need to jog up and down several times. It’s still the same distance in the end, just broken up into much more manageable pieces.
When I am in a scene, I’m trying my best to write sentences that flow and won’t leave me cringing when I come back through sporting my editor hat. However, when I get tripped up over a word or a phrase I ask myself “Do I need to know this right now or can I come back and figure this out later?” If it’s the latter, which it usually is, I slap down an adverb or an ugly sentence and keep on trucking.
After a particularly long stretch of writing my latest novel, I was in a fight scene and didn’t want to lose my rhythm. When I wasn’t sure how to describe my villain, I threw a sentence in that said “He’s ugly as hell. Work in ways to describe him.” That’s a direct quote. From my novel. Well, it was a direct quote before I went back and edited it to work in a very appropriate description. The point being, rather than lose my momentum by stopping to word-craft, I followed the energy of the story and came back later to pretty it up.
If you find yourself struggling to complete your manuscript, I encourage you to try this technique. Focus on writing the best you can without slamming on the brakes to obsess over what words best describe the color of your hero’s eyes. Just call them blue and move on. Later you can send us swimming in cerulean pools frozen beneath winter’s breath. Just write. Let your story unfold and follow it without delay. When you reach the finish line, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and then sit down in the sand you just shoveled and start building those sandcastles.
Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite past times. When she’s s not on an adventure in her mind with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days…going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures…that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.
Before sending their manuscript out into the world, some writers choose to have their work reviewed by a freelance editor. There are several advantages to having an editor join you in the revision process.
Whether you plan on self publishing, pursuing a traditional publisher, or seeking to find an agent, hiring an editor to polish your story is a powerful tool to help present yourself in a professional manner.
After authors dedicate large amounts of time and effort to their manuscripts, it can become hard to see much-needed changes.
As an author, if you are gearing toward establishing a writing career, then working with an editor is a great step toward building a solid foundation to grow from. Not only does an editor polish your work, but you learn as well throughout the editing process.
I had the privilege of interviewing Judy Roth from Custom Editing. Judy opened the doors for business in 2012. She has been writing and editing for over 20 years. With a New York publishing house background she currently works with a large and diverse group of authors covering most genres of fiction and nonfiction, publishing both traditionally and independently. She takes very seriously the privilege of working with such talented writers—novice and bestselling alike. She is also a conference and writing group workshop leader and thinks she has the best job in the world!
In this article, I have asked Judy some questions about the editing process.
Why is it important for writers to hire an editor to review their manuscript before showing it to the world?
An editor has a practiced eye. She is unbiased and works for you. She has the time, whole days of it often, to devote solely to your work. She has the experience to tell you if something is or isn’t working in a constructive manner and offer concrete examples of how it can be improved if need be. An editor is on your side. She wants you to succeed, and it is her job to help you do so.
What are the most common mistakes you see in a manuscript?
Aside from basic technical errors, I think it’s less about mistakes and more about honing our craft. It’s an ongoing process—an adventure—and a good freelance editor guides authors in this process while respecting authors’ artistic vision.
At what point in the writing process is it a good idea to hire an editor?
The traditional answer is when the manuscript is as done as possible. (When that is, is an entirely different question.) But the beauty of hiring a freelance editor who works for you is that is not always the only answer. An author might want the editor to look at the first few chapters to see if the manuscript is on the right track plot wise and/or style wise. Or, returning to the question of how the writer knows if the manuscript is finished, an editor can help determine that and if need be give suggestions for how to take the story to the next level.
This is an individual process depending on many factors. In any case, it’s important to remember the editing process is as vital as the writing process. With that in mind, try to budget enough time to ensure larger developmental edits are implemented consistently throughout and sentence and paragraph structures are varied and move the story forward. Try to avoid getting bogged down by holding on to something that isn’t working. It could be a plot point that’s dear to you but just feels off in this story. It could be that one perfect sentence that makes you laugh and cry and think deep thoughts, but you’ve moved it to ten different places, and it just no longer works. Let it go—hit delete. It’s actually quite liberating, like cleaning the basement, very satisfying once it’s done, and nine out of ten times we never miss our favorite coat from high school or our kids’ first bikes. And here is the coolest part, it’s no risk. You can hit Undo. If you take it out, you can put it back. It’s your manuscript. And a tip: Keep a separate folder for those wonderful words you have deleted but don’t want to lose. I call mine Hidden Gems. Who knows, those words may come in handy in the next story, or if not you can still go visit them, laugh and cry and marvel at your genius, whenever you want. They are your words!
What advice would you give authors going through the revision process?
Try to keep an open mind and be true to yourself. It sounds obvious, but it’s dang hard to do both at the same time, especially if you are receiving critiques.
And one very practical piece of advice is whenever you make any revision, even as small as a comma change, be sure to read not only the full sentence the revision is in but at a minimum the sentence before and after it as well.
What services do you offer authors?
I edit most fiction and nonfiction. I work with authors who want to publish independently and those who want to spruce up their manuscripts for submission. I offer several different packages of full developmental edits, line edits, and proofreading. I also offer coaching services. And I love talking with writing groups, big and small—always a blast.
What is your favorite part of being an editor?
Oh gosh, I love my job. I meet such talented writers, learn something new every day. I get to look up the most outrageous things on the Internet. Chat with authors about body fluids, who wore breeches, pantaloons, or trousers when, and the merits of an em dash—love ’em. I’m a mamma bear and being an editor I’m able to nurture without ever having to send anyone to timeout, no one gets hurt, and when all is said and done authors actually say, “Thank you.” What could be better than that?
Lisa Romdenne has been an RWA(PRO) member since November 2014 and a WisRWA member since September 2015. Currently, she serves as President of WisRWA . She writes western romance under the pen name Lianna Hawkins and is presently working on a historical western romance series.
Each month, WisRWA will announce the new books our members have published. We call it New Release Tuesday.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
The Shopkeeper’s Secret by Nancy Sweetland
To Discover a Divine (Rise of the Stria Book One), by Tessa McFionn
For three years, I had the privilege of working at the public library in the small mid-coast town of Rockland, Maine. I won’t say exactly how long ago it was, but I was young and the classic oak card catalogue and a date stamp machine were not. Over the years, I met many dozens of women who read books by authors on a long list of pioneers; writers who paved the way for all of us in the broad romance genre. My coworkers and I created waiting lists for these authors’ new releases, and in some cases we bought more than one copy, a big deal for an underfunded small town library.
Remember Eleanor Hibbert? Me, neither. But I do remember Victoria Holt, a pioneer in gothic and suspense romance (The Shivering Sands, India Fan); Philippa Carr, author of historical romances (Daughters of England, a 20-book series); and Jean Plaidy, who also wrote historicals. These books were perpetually checked out or on reserve, and some of the shut-in readers would ask me to pick out anything by Holt, Carr, or Plaidy. Another British author, Catherine Cookson (The Lady on my Left, The Bonny Dawn) wrote over 100 books. I recall dragging out glue and tape in our “book ER” as we tried to hold her books together just a little longer. (Cookson suffered a genetic bleeding disorder and other illnesses, which caused great hardship in her life, recounted in a memoir found after her death, Before I Go.)
We also had long waiting lists for books by a Mainer, Elizabeth Ogilvie (The Tide Trilogy), who wrote 40 books for adults and young readers. She lived On Gay’s Island and rarely came to the mainland, but when she agreed to give a talk at the library, her fans showed up in droves. No one could draw a crowd like Ogilvie.
Who can forget Phyllis Whitney (Spindrift, Amethyst Dreams)? In her104 years she wrote 70 books for adults and young people. She was labeled the Queen of American Gothic, but she described her work as “romantic novels of suspense.” Now a subgenre all its own. Born in Japan to American parents, this trailblazer had a penchant for exotic locations. She also wrote A Guide to Writing Fiction—I read this long ago and loved it.
In the 1990s, when I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, I was driving to a speakers’ conference in Florida, but ended up seeing a highway exit sign for St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. Hmm…it sounded vaguely familiar. Curious, I went to have a look and soon realized I was visiting the adopted home of the wildly popular author, Eugenia Price (St. Simon’s Trilogy), and many other books based on historical figures in the region. I ended up visiting the lovely churchyard where she’s buried, now a regular stop for tourists-fans. In a case of serendipity, that day I learned about an annual writers’ conference held on St. Simon’s Island and attended every year thereafter until I moved to Wisconsin in 2001. I later set Island Healing on a fictional version of that island.
When these pioneers began writing, they faced real barriers for women trying to break into the fiction market (let alone garner any respect). Somehow, they took what was a narrow path to success and independence and bulldozed it to make room for all of us. Today, romance, in all its variations, remains the top-selling fiction genre. So, thanks Victoria/Jean/Philippa, Catherine, Elizabeth, Phyllis, and Eugenia…and so many others!
An active member of WisRWA since 2001, Virginia McCullough lives in Green Bay and writes romances for the Harlequin Heartwarming line and award-winning women’s fiction. LOVE, UNEXPECTED, Book 3 of HER Two Moon Bay series, is due out in May. Virginia also writes and edits nonfiction and is a writing coach. Please note: this blog post has been adapted from a post on Heartwarming authors blog, 10-2017.)