How a Trilogy Becomes More

Author’s Note: I’m sending out my very first newsletter this week and it has exciting NEWS in it, so if you’re interested, sign up here

At the end of last month (where is time going?), my second manuscript was sent to my editor. I wrote about it (briefly). When I sent it, it was 131,000 words, which is loooong. But I ran out of places to cut words and time to do it in so sent it with fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I was in the middle of a serious argument with the third book in my trilogy. My characters did not want to cooperate with my plan. At all.

All of this, combined with a lot of other things going on in my life, including frustrating book sales, led me to overwhelm which led me to stasis. Something to know about me: When I get overwhelmed, I freeze. I didn’t want to abandon my series, because this is my dream, but I also felt the familiar sensation of losing my way creeping in.

Fortunately, I have a good editor who wasted no time in pulling me off the cliff. Although, I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous when I received the email from her enclosing her critique. Katie and I have a great relationship, and I trust her, but something about seeing, “You’ll see that I do make a big recommendation that could change a few things” in an email from your editor can really make your heart rate spike.

Of course, my brain started to go into overdrive as I ran through worst case scenarios such as: she hates my new protagonist (who is a character I’ve been developing for approximately… forever); there’s a gaping plot hole I’m not going to know how to fix; the prose is terrible; the whole thing needs rewritten. All fixable, yes, but not pleasant. I should clarify, none of these were the case, either.

What I wasn’t expecting was a suggestion to expand the trilogy because well… the book is too long but parts need a bit more development and there’s nowhere to find 30,000 extra words. As Katie put it, “The story and characters have begged you to.”

My first thought was: Why didn’t I think of that? Why did that not ever seem like an option?

It’s funny how strict you can be with yourself, how solid an idea can be before it’s even formed. In my head, my series was always a trilogy. That’s just how it was. Period. As I’ve said before, I’m not a plotter, so how that one idea became so solid, I’m not 100% sure, but it was. Three books. No more, no less.

I called an emergency “meeting” with a couple of my most trusted beta readers. Frantically, I spelled out to them via Facebook messenger what my editor was proposing. Then I sat back, wincing as I waited.

Here’s something else you should know: My betas are the best people I know, but they can be a tough audience. That’s what makes them good (and my friends). I expected some kind of resistance from them especially because expanding a series is done frequently in fantasy and sometimes it’s not done all that well. They know that. I know that. I expected them to remind me of that.

Surprisingly, they didn’t. “I like it,” said one.

Hm… I thought, then winced again and decided to poke the sleeping bear. “This would help me fix the problems with book three that were making me want to throw the book out the window. I guess I was just dead set on a trilogy.”

The three dots on the message screen blinked, and my stomach flipped somersaults as I tried my best not to grind my teeth down to nothing. “Trilogies are so passe. Ten million books plus ten novellas are so hip right now.”

I burst out laughing. Just when you think you know what to expect, people throw you a curve ball. Which is, of course, exactly what my characters did to me too, sneaky bastards (and I mean that term literally in at least one case if you’ve read book one).

With my betas on board, I decided it was possible to discuss this thing with my editor. So after taking a night to sleep on her critique to digest what her suggestions would look like, I sent her a sprawling, long-winded email that concluded by addressing the elephant in the room: fantasy series that are expanded poorly.

Everyone who reads this blog knows my policy on not tearing down any specific works by any specific author, and I’m not about to break that now. Instead, I’ll say that sometimes authors expand series because they’re popular, and their readers want them to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. This shows in the writing. The books start to drag or get redundant or the characters no longer seem to be on an arc but more of a flat line path. No one is developing. In short, the writing loses its spark.

This is sort of my biggest fear when it comes to a series. I want my series to reflect the arc in my own writing. Book two should be (and in my extremely biased opinion, is) better than book one. Book three should be better than book two, etc. You’re growing as a writer, and your characters should grow with you. That’s organic. That’s (dare I say it) art.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of fantasy series have more than three books and are absolutely lovely. Obviously, the most famous fantasy series in the history of the world consists of seven books, and they’re all stellar.

That said, there are plenty of series that could have stopped at book two or even book one and been fine. And I couldn’t quite get my professors at UNC out of my head as I started to contemplate a possible expansion. The famous “six-word novel” hung heavy on my heart. For those who don’t know it, it is as follows:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

It’s often mistakenly attributed to Hemingway, but there were stories like this before Hemingway. It’s true author appears to be unknown.

The point remains the same, however. Less is more. This was always an extremely difficult concept for me to grasp, and though I believe I’ve gotten much better at it, I probably won’t be writing any six-word stories any time soon.

Still, those extra words nagged at me. I could see the possibility on the horizon. I wanted those words. The strength with which I wanted them made me shove through the fear and the self-doubt and dare to imagine what this series could look like if I had the room to really open up and let my characters do what they want instead of constantly fighting me.

Ultimately, the decision to expand was born through a combination of that desire and my editor’s sage advice: “Overall, listen to the characters and the story, and don’t worry about trying to fit it in a certain number of books.”

Now, I might not be able to write a six-word novel, but that is something I can do.

Here we go y’all.

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Your Relationship with Your Editor

Author’s note: I currently have three posts ready to go, but all of them are somewhat controversial, and I’m having trouble finding the courage to hit the publish button, so I thought I’d write this one as my second book, The Blood Mage, is headed to the editor on January 30th (11 days, eek!)


In the end, what makes a book valuable is not the paper it’s printed on, but the thousands of hours of work by dozens of people who are dedicated to creating the best possible reading experience for you.

~ John Green

I’ve written about the importance of professional editing before. Recently, however, as I slog my way through edits for my second book, I’ve come to appreciate the relationship I have with my editor much, much more.

You see, as I did some quick research for this post, which was originally set to be a piece on why professional editing is so important for indie authors, I came to realize a lot of writers have a contentious relationship with editors. Some of the things writers have said about editors is… less than kind.

I can’t help but wonder if this uneasy relationship is created more by the writer or by the publishing house. I do understand it’s difficult to have your work critiqued (you can check out a short retelling of the temper tantrum I threw when my manuscript came back from the editor in the blog I linked to above). But I also have to wonder if some of this unease comes from the traditionally published author being forced by his publishing house to work with an editor he doesn’t click with.

Not every professional relationship in your life needs to be the perfect fit. It doesn’t matter so much if you like your accountant, for example. It helps, to be sure, but as long as everything is done properly, there doesn’t really need to be chemistry. There are some professional relationships, however, where chemistry is extremely important. Editors fall into this second category (therapists, doctors, and teachers also come to mind).

And I’m not talking about chemistry in terms of you and your editor are BFFs, although some writers do share that relationship with their editors. I’m talking about professional chemistry which, in my experience, is premised upon mutual respect and, most importantly, trust.

Trust, especially in the self-publishing world, is incredibly important, because let’s be honest, there are a lot of people out there trying to scam indie authors (and succeeding at it). We don’t have publishing houses behind us to protect us from these people. A lot of us don’t even have agents. Publishing houses and agents will protect traditionally published authors because it’s in their best interests to do so. But, as in all things indie, we must fill that void and step up to protect our own interests, which means finding an editor we can trust not only with our money, but also with our writing.

All this leads me to a few bullet points which are indicative of a good relationship with your editor:

  • Your editor is enthusiastic about your work. If your editor isn’t proud to put his or her name on your book, something is wrong. My editor was as excited about my book launch as I was. She shared my book on her social media platforms and put it in her newsletter. If she hadn’t been excited to put her name on it, I would have been very, very worried. Your book is not only a reflection of you but also your editor, and if your editor doesn’t want to claim it, you might have a problem.
  • Your editor takes time to listen to your concerns and questions surrounding her suggestions. The editing process should be a collaboration. We are indie authors for a reason. This is not the way it used to be where editors in publishing houses were handed the manuscript and a red pen, and the author was handed a blindfold and handcuffs. All right, this is an exaggeration, but you get where I’m going. One of the nice things about being an indie author is increased creative control. This means that your editor should never be steamrolling you. Improving your manuscript should be a conversation, and your editor should be happy to participate. My editor is very intuitive about my characters and my writing, so to be honest, I don’t usually have a ton of questions for her, but when I do, her responses are always thoughtful, and most of the time, I end up coming up with something that is a combination of my vision and hers that works better than either of our original ideas.
  • Your editor is interested in your long-term success as an author. This actually is just good business sense. Your editor should want you to be successful so you keep coming back. Also, the more successful you are, the more their reputation grows. An editor interested in maintaining long-term relationships with clients is an editor who is vested in the success of their clients. My editor helped me answer questions related not only to writing, but also to the industry. When she didn’t have the answers, she would point me in the direction of someone who did. She wants me to succeed, because it will help her succeed. This should always be a symbiotic relationship. An editor who couldn’t care less when your next book is coming out, is an editor who isn’t invested in you or your career and by extension, your writing.

If you have these three things in an editor, you’re probably well on your way to a good relationship. And trust me, in this industry, you’re going to need it.

For a list of editors to consider, I will refer you to Joanna Penn’s: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/editors/

For information on my editor, the fabulous Katie McCoach, visit her site here: http://katiemccoach.com/

Have any other advice for a happy and healthy relationship with an editor? Add it to the comments!

Happy editing everyone!

❤ Aimee

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I shared this on my Facebook the other day and thought it was appropriate for this post. I’m so proud to have published my debut novel with an all female team. Girl power, y’all.

 

Editing: 5 Words to Purge

The first draft of anything is shit.

~Ernest Hemingway

There’s no rest for the weary when it comes to writing. Yesterday, in between tweets, Facebook posts, nervous jitters, and somewhat obsessive checking of Kindle Direct Publishing and iBooks (side note: not recommended), I worked on finishing the third round of edits for my second book in the Changing Tides series. That book, working title of The Blood Mage, is set to head to the content editor on January 20th.

If this process has taught me anything, it’s that precision in language is an oft talked about but highly underrated concept. Every author has words he or she uses too frequently. These are your “crutch” words. Some are common to almost all writers (and people in general). For example, one of my crutch words is “so”. When I got The Wheel Mages back from the copy editor, I was informed there had been 495 instances of the word “so” in the manuscript. The final word count for the version that went to the copy editor was 104,117 words, meaning I used the word “so” about once every 210 words. It doesn’t seem like a ton but it is. In the final version, there were approximately 300 instances of the word (or once every 350 words or SO).

“So” wasn’t my only problem, though—not by a long shot. The following is a short compilation of my most commonly overused crutch words. I hope it helps!

1. Just:

An interesting note about “just”: I know we think we know what it means but it’s used incorrectly all the time.

“Just” as an adjective means: “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” This is the form of the word used correctly (mostly).

“Just” as an adverb is the form I often use incorrectly. It means: “exactly” or “very recently; in the immediate past.” Often, I use “just” to mean “simply” or “only”. Think of the phrase: “I just don’t want to do [x or y thing]”. We don’t mean, “I exactly don’t want to do” or, “I very recently don’t want to do” we tend to mean, “I simply don’t want to.”

Ex: “A knock on the door made me jump but she just sighed.” This can be revised to say: “A knock on the door made me jump but she simply sighed.”

“Simply” is actually what I mean. That’s not to say “just” can’t be used in an incorrect or colloquial way it JUST means if it can be avoided for more precise language, it should be.

2. That:

This is a filler too often used. Most of the time, “that” isn’t necessary at all and can simply be removed. My most common use of the word “that” precedes a verb.

Ex: “…the odor of mold that seeped from the walls.” This can be revised to say: “…the odor of mold seeping from the walls.”

Less words are always better. It strengthens your writing and your wallet (many editors charge by the word).

3. And:

This might be unique to me but I have a tendency to enjoy conjunctions. I like compound sentences. There’s something about them that flows better in my mind when I’m writing. By the time I get to editing, however, it’s time to cut the shit as Hemingway so eloquently put it. Oftentimes, an “and” can be eliminated by a simple period.

Ex: “They were narrowed with suspicion, and I couldn’t blame her.” This can be revised to say: “They were narrowed with suspicion. I couldn’t blame her.”

I think I use the “and” to join the two thoughts in my head but it isn’t necessary. The second thought comes directly after the first without a paragraph break in between so they are joined without the need of the unnecessary word.

4. Then:

“Then” was a killer with me with my copy edit as well. It was my second most overused word. I think this probably relates back to my love of long sentences. For some reason, short sentences sound jarring in my mind the first time I read them. Therefore, I tend to avoid them. Interestingly, “then” can be replaced with “and” in many instances (at least in my writing) so if you’re overusing “and” replace it with a period and use some of those extra ands you’re gaining to replace thens!

Ex: “I threw a ball of water into the air, then pulled my hands apart to break it into rain.” This can be revised to say: “I threw a ball of water into the air and pulled my hands apart to break it into rain.” 

Neither the word count nor the meaning of the sentence changed much but if “then” has been overused in your manuscript (as it was in mine) this is a handy trick.

5. Very:

I don’t think this one requires VERY much discussion. It’s almost always on these lists. It’s unnecessary fluff in almost all instances. Treat “very” like an exclamation mark. It will have a greater impact when it’s used sparingly.

Bonus Word(s):

Was + Verb(ing) This is common in my writing and I’ve seen it used a ton. A much stronger action combination is the simple past tense of the verb.

Ex: “His anger was eating away at him.” This can be revised to say: “His anger ate away at him.” 

Think of “was” as the flimsy word propping up another flimsy word. Instead of two weak words, combine them to create one strong word!

Double Bonus:

Could + Verb is something I use frequently as well and the advice is the same as my advice for was + verb. “Could feel” is my most common error and can be replaced by “felt”.

Happy writing!

Aimee