Editing tip: Isolate character arcs and edit separately

First drafts are great fun but publishable fiction is produced through the editing process. There are a lot of great resources to learn what other novelists do to edit their stories but we *must* develop our own process in order to succeed. This week, I share with you an editing tip where I isolate individual character story arcs and edit them separately to get a better book.

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On designing a book cover

As an independent novelist, I need to take control of all the aspects of the publishing of my novel. Besides writing the best novel I can and getting editorial and other help, the cover must be impactful, resonate with my genre, and stand out in online marketplaces. This is my journey to designing the cover for Succubus.

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All I have left to do is Work and Publish.

Today is the best time in history to be a novelist.

Back in the alternate reality of the past, Self-publishing fiction used to be frowned upon. It was seen as the only path to publication for someone with a book not 'good' enough to be selected by the gatekeepers at publishing houses and literary agencies. It was called Vanity Publishing.

It wasn't hard to do. There were no shortage of companies ready to charge you to source the printing, help you with editing, cover art, ISBN filings, and all the other things a person needed to take their heaps of words and turn them into physical hard or soft-cover book. It took tens of thousands of dollars, but you were a published author at the end of the process.

But no matter how many resources you threw at getting your book made, it still had to be sold.  You couldn't buy readers as easily as you could buy printed copies of your book. You'd invest a lot of money only to find that what you really bought was the right to be in direct competition to gain access to the market (bookstores) against all those publishers and their clients.

Today, self-publishing is no longer so much of a challenge. All the production work can be done alone, at a computer, for little or no up-front investment. An independent author taking a professional approach to their work can hire freelance or independent editors, copy-editors, cover-designers and marketing pros to replace much of what they lose by not being picked up by an existing, traditional publisher. And the final work can be published directly to your audience in marketplaces like Amazon, iTunes, Nook with no barriers or gatekeepers in the way. And authors today has direct access to an audience through social media and other person-to-person communications tools.

The only challenge that still can't be bought is the work of selling you novel. No matter how well you executed on your novel, you must have a strategy and tactical plan to sell their book to readers.

So here I am. Less than 30 days away from putting my first novel into the world, at the end of the production phase, ready to fight for my share of reader's attention. It's time to begin to build that foundation of contact with readers that will help me fulfill my dream.

I have a habit to put things off, to let the ambition slip, to loosen the grip on momentum that can see a project through to the end. I have four unpublished novels in my hard-drive that can attest to this. I will beat this habit this time.

I've set a deadline to publish, September 1st). Until then, I have a lot to still accomplish. I am expanding one character's role in the novel, changing a little of the outcome, and plan to read the entire book aloud as my final copy-edit. I need to scrub my website and social-media channels so they are focused on presenting me to the world as a novelist and novelist only. I need to start posting content to attract potential readers and influencers.

I have charted all these tasks out over the 30-days. I have no more thinking to do. No more planning. No more anticipating, No more putting it off. All I have left to do is work and publish. Work and publish

Work and publish.

Work and publish.

See you in 30 days.

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Sometimes we need professional help


This article is about writing...

I am at the stage with a novel I've been working on for a while (called Succubus) where I have given it a much as I can. I have written three drafts but I know in my heart it is not quite ready to publish. I have written the best story I am capable of but I am reluctant to send it off into the world. I feel like I need some feedback before I can make that final revision. Should I try to round up beta readers? Should take the advice of successful indie authors and hire a professional editor?

Beta readers seem like a nice idea but I don't know where to start. And wouldn't I get the kind of advice I would give? Meaning, the advice I can already offer myself by doing another read-through of my own story? So I reached out to a few editors to try and understand what they do and how much it costs. They were nice and helpful. One even did a free edit of the first few pages and pointed out some excellent fixes. But I find myself reluctant to move forward.

When I challenge my reluctance, cost is the bigger part of it. Quotes range between $1,500 and $2,500 depending on the editor. I know its a worthy investment. I know that if I were published traditionally, my work would be edited by the publisher. But I'm having a tough time with the cost for a few reasons:

  • I feel selfish spending that kind of money on myself, on my pet passion, on my project.
  • There is no guarantee that if I make this investment, it will get me a finished, publishable novel.
  • When I think about the work (and look at the kind of results a professional edit would get), I wonder if I have done everything I can with the book yet. Have I given it my best and most-perfect final edit?
  • Investing that much also kicks the financial equation for the book out a ways as well. I've invested time, sure, but spare hours, found hours, early hours, hours that if I don't make a ton on, I can live with in the pursuit of my goal. But spending real, hard, family cash that may or may not come back is tough for me.

So what do I do?

A sign from the car world

My brother is a mechanic. A very good mechanic. He's worked at it since he took an aircraft mechanic's Associates Degree in high school. He's advanced enough to be the head mechanic on a semi-professional rally-care race team that competes nationally on television in the RedBull RallyCross series.

I have an old pick-up truck that I picked up from my mother, who no longer needed it. It was rotting in the damp Seattle climate and now lives in the brittle dry of my Southern Arizona driveway. It doesn't have air-conditioning, or modern safety equipment, but I drive the truck weekly and love it irrationally. I call it Hank. Hank the Tank.

I am not a mechanic although I try to maintain the truck myself as best I can. In the past year, for fun (and because it needed it), I've replaced the alternator, water pump, power steering pump, brake master cylinder, had the carburetor rebuilt, replaced all the major tune-up parts (spark-plugs, wires, coil, distributor cap, etc.). I've adjusted the timing, changed the oil, bled the brakes; all tasks within grasp of the average, shade-tree wannabe. Despite my efforts, the truck runs frustratingly rough, takes forever to warm up, and squeals like a hog being murdered if I drive faster than 64 miles per hour.

My brother was in town for a night last week. He flew in to pick up a second-hand truck and trailer for his rally-racing team. After he concluded his transaction, I picked him up, we ate at an Irish bar, and I brought home to hang out. He asked about the truck and I whined about how imperfect it was. "Well let's take a quick look," he said. "What else are we going to do? Just sit and watch TV."

The Truck Whisperer

The 65mph squeal hinders how I use the truck, keeps me local, off the freeway. I've pondered and tinkered and posed the problem online. To no avail. I finally came to the conclusion that the noise was some kind of hard-to-isolate vacuum leak and given up hope on anything other than an engine rebuild would fix it.

My brother spotted the problem in about sixty seconds. The tension in one of the belts was different enough from the tension in another, that the imbalance left that belt vulnerable to slipping under heavy load. "See this belt (the power-steering belt)?" he said. "It's only contacting about 15% of the pulley that drives it. At high RPM, that's slipping and causing the squeal." He adjusted the tension. Squeal went away.

The crappy running engine was surely not something as simple. I pointed out my rebuilt carburetor, the tune-ups I did, the brand-new air filter. I bragged how I cleaned up all the vacuum hoses. "I've done everything," I said.

He took a quick drive. Checked my adjustments. Removed a vacuum hose that had a check valve on it. Blew air through it. "This is backwards," he said and reversed it. The idle smoothed out. The truck ran cleanly off a dead stop. And since, has run so much better. "That's connected to the idle advance on the distributor," he said, and explained what that does.

He's the truck whisperer. His fresh eyes and lifetime of accumulated experience meant he was able to work through my truck problems in a highly-efficient and compressed manor and resolve something that stumped me. He's kind and tells me I've done well with the stuff I worked on myself but I have no illusion that I could ever be as good with these things as he is.

And this relates to writing how?

His work on the truck was the answer to my question about whether or not I should invest in having my novel professionally published. I am in the same place with my writing as I am with being my truck's mechanic. I can put my blood, sweat, and tears into my novel and get it to be the very best versions I can make it but I accept that I am a novice, someone trying to work out how to get the job of writing novels done and done well. I want to be proud when I publish, to know I did everything I could to do my best work, so I owe it to the story, to myself, and to anyone who will be gracious enough to buy and read it, to let a professional fresh eyes and a lifetime of experience polish my work before sending it off into the world.

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Christopher – a short story





by Steve Medcroft


Christopher knew they would be coming for him soon.

He sat on the wooden porch in front of the trailer with his back to the door. His head throbbed. He wore threadbare Ninja Turtles pajama bottoms and nothing else.

The television in the room behind him was left too loud as usual. It was tuned to a re-run of a five-year old episode of Saturday Night Live; two actors as mentally-challenged children annoyed a group of adults at a dinner party.

The trailer-park was dimly lit by the yellow light from the lamps out on the main road and the flashes of blue thrown through his trailer's doorway by the television. Christopher tapped the last Marlboro Lite out of a soft pack he had taken from Father's jacket pocket and fished a purple Bic lighter out of the front pocket of his pajamas. He held a flame to the tip of the cigarette. He lingered on the first draw and filled his lungs with the sweet smoke. He exhaled with a sigh. His head dropped with the weight of the past few moments. He noticed a three-dot spatter of blood just above the waistband of his pajamas, wiped it with his thumb, then put his thumb in his mouth. It tasted like a penny.

A car with an ill-tuned exhaust passed by on the street and he looked up again. Cool air tickled his skin. He shivered. He realized he hadn't felt anything in the last few minutes, like his mind was an appendage that had fallen asleep and it was just getting its feeling back.

Christopher knew his life had just changed in an irreversible way. He also knew that it was inevitable. His fourteen years of living led up to this one moment of fatal violence. He knew that from this moment forward, he would live a completely different life. A second life. He wasn't sad about this fact. He wasn't happy either. It just was. It couldn't have been avoided from the moment he awoke to who he who he really was, the day he figured out the difference between the existence he was living and the existence he was supposed to live.

Read the entire story here...

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