I was involved in a Facebook group discussion recently which, among other things, helped me decide to avoid social media for the next week. An author in a science fiction and fantasy group asked about how important it is to describe the main character in a book. I, among others, suggested that being vague in your description isn’t always a bad thing but to listen if you get consistent feedback that readers want more. Now, my definition of vague, means that there is some kind of description happening, also another author brought up a good point, race should be included because readers tend to assume the character is white unless told otherwise. Anyway, another… gentleman, disagreed with me. Which is fine, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and I enjoy debate but he was rude. And he kept saying things that not only will prove harmful in his career but could be harmful to others who might not know what I do. One of the things he insisted was that if you need to get feedback from others you lack confidence as an author. Rather than engage him more that I already did I thought I’d talk to people who won’t jump to conclusions and try to rip my head off. He will never hear what I have to say but you will. So here’s some tips for becoming a better writer. I hope you find this helpful in your career.
What is your best tip for improving your writing? Do you like to reach a certain word count everyday? What kinds of books do you enjoy? Tell us in the comments.
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.
This time of year our social media pages and author groups are abuzz with word counts for National Novel Writing Month—how many words we need today, how many until we win, or (if you’re like me) how many words you are behind. When we’re drafting our work it’s easy to just say “get the words down, worry about length later.” And that’s true to an extent. But what about when you’re revising? Planning your series? Developing your marketing strategy and brand? Manuscript length ties into four of the biggest things to consider when you’re a professional author: genre, target demographic, series or stand alone, and format. Here’s a handy list on manuscript lengths and what to call them (remember page-count is entirely dependent on formatting):
Microfiction: < 500 words
Flash fiction: < 1000 words
Short story: 1000-15,000
Manuscripts longer than 100,000 words are only typical in non-fiction, historical fiction, and sci-fi/fantasy.
Genre is a huge factor in determining where your book should fall on the length spectrum. Each genre has it’s typical range (for novel-length) which is where that huge variation in “Novel Length” above comes from. For simplicity, we’re just going to talk about the broadest of genre categories. Understand that different sub-genres create additional variation, which is why there’s a range. While these are usually defined by the traditional publishing sector—and while we’re all about sticking it to the Big Three, those lengths weren’t pulled out of Simon or Schuster’s dark orifice. Some of it is based on the demographic the genre is marketed to, which we’ll get into later, but it’s also dependant on the pacing, worldbuilding, and other norms each genre entails. Books with one or two main plots, limited world-building, and/or fast pacing like Romance or Thrillers are often under 90,000. Fantasy, science-fiction, and historical novels require more words to develop their settings and are therefore typically longer. If you factor these into sub-genres you can see that a historical romance would be longer than a contemporary, and urban fantasy shorter than an epic fantasy.
Commercial Fiction: 60,000-100,000
Literary Fiction: 80,000-100,000
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 80,000-120,000
Demographic and genre have some heavy overlaps, but in this case we’re mostly talking about the age of your target readers. Let’s assume you haven’t written a picture or children’s book. Your tone and themes are going to determine your audience, but now that you’re revising, what should you aim for?
Children's Picture Book (0-8): 750-1,000
Middle-grade (8-12): 25,000-40,000
Young Adult (12-17): 45,000-90,000
Adult (18+): 50,000-100,000
Another factor that affects where you aim length-wise is whether your piece is a stand-alone or a series. The first books in a series and stand-alone novels should adhere pretty well to the ranges listed above. Later books in the series, however, are often a different story (pun entirely intended). Later books—especially the last in a series—are often expected to be longer. There are more main plots and sub-plots to conclude, and that takes words!
The final factor in determining your target word-count, though not the most important is the format in which you intend to publish. Print books are typically expected to be a certain thickness (though again, this is dependant on formatting). A quick browse through your local bookstore will show you that there are clear trends in each section. Formatting a 230,000 word book in a standard 1.5 inch thick 5x8 cover while still maintaining readability is impossible. Trust me. I’ve tried. (OK, it was only 140,000, but you get the idea) If you only intend on making your books available digitally, and not in paperback, your target length is more a guideline.
We only touched on novel-length norms today, but look for a post on shorter fiction soon! While word-count is an important part of writing, focusing on it early on can cramp your creative voice. Challenges like NaNoWriMo are great ways to establish writing habits, and crank out the first chunk of your manuscript, but drafting isn’t always the place to worry about word-count. Just because you didn’t reach 50,000 doesn’t mean you don’t have a marketable piece, and likewise, 50,000 may only be half of your story. Revisions are where you really need to focus on what you’re goals are—and the story you’re trying to tell.
*Note: Ranges differ slightly from source to source. These ranges are the most common among several sites and have remained fairly consistent as industry standards for the past decade.
We already wrote one post on revision, but I feel like it's a topic that can be covered more than once. Last time we focused on the steps of revision, this time, I'll delve into why it's so important.
Why should you revise instead of slapping a cover on that puppy and hitting publish? Maybe you've already heard how people doing just that has flooded the market with crap and think, I know! I'll send it to an editor first! Well, that's a good thought. But it still falls short of the mark. Revision is something you need to do, possibly more than once.
Believe it or not, that piece you just spent months, maybe even years slaving over, isn't the best it can be. Not yet anyway. Writing is like anything else you do in your life, the more you do it the better you get. I cringe looking back at my first book. Not because it's bad, but because I can do so much better now. Also, because I learned about the importance of not just have a line editor, but that's a story for another time.
Depending on what works for you and what you're looking for in your story, you may rewrite it several times before feeling ready to show it to beta readers or editors. And that's okay. In today's publishing industry, quality is really important. Readers are sick of buying a book and finding forgotten subplots, character arcs that more like nice flat roads, and typos up the wazoo. Taking your time with revision, is the first step towards having a piece you can really be proud of.
So, when you finish that first draft, remember, it's just that, a draft. The first in many wonderful things to come. You might hate your book before you publish it. This is completely normal. After the hating it part, you will read it one last time before publishing (because typos) and you'll realize something. You'll realize how good your story is. How your writing actually captures the things you wanted it to and when you do finally publish it, you'll know you're putting something you can be proud of into the world.
So you have a story idea — an outline, a scene, a character sketch. Fantastic! What’s next? How do you make that brilliant seed on inspiration grow? A book needs three things to be a successful narrative: characters a reader cares about, a setting that feels real, and a believable plot line. We’ll talk about each of these elements in their own posts.
For now, lets discuss setting. Whether you’re a world-builder or not, you can create a real, deep setting with just a few steps.
Step One: Laws of Nature
Every world has laws. In a thriller it could be that it is almost impossible to not leave DNA behind, or the physical limitations of the human body. If your book is set in our world you will need to research these aspects. Fantasy and science fiction worlds have laws too, but these need to be written. Maybe the law is that all creatures or elements have finite energy, and only certain species can manipulate that energy (magic, mana, and element-bending are all examples of this). In science fiction the law might be the speed at which spaceships travel (warp-speed, light speed, worm holes all play into this) and the physics behind interplanetary travel, which would require some research as well.
Once you’ve made your laws you must never break them. Readers notice. You may have heard of “Suspension of Disbelief.” If a world has laws, doesn’t break them, and the entire plot is plausible within those laws, then Suspension of Disbelief remains intact. If some aspect of your plot doesn’t work within your laws, then the plot needs to change. This can add additional hurtles for your characters and that’s always a good thing.
Step Two: Make it Real
Think about all the things you love about your home and the places you’ve visited. It’s not just the history of a place or it’s colors. It’s the way the ground feels under your feet, the way it smells, the sounds around you. If you want a great piece of world-building, (re-)read the first few paragraphs in “An Unexpected Party” in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Include all the senses you can think of, but moreover, include them through your character. Do they secretly revel in the sweet tang of the subway tunnels? Do they miss the sound of wagon wheels on cobbles in the morning?
Our world is a diverse place. We have so many different people, cultures, and biomes. Even if the entire story takes place in a small town, your world should show diversity and richness — the differing opinions of the owners of two general stores and the houses on the main street, versus those in the rural dirt roads. The larger your world is, the more diversity you need to include.
Step Three: You Are a God
I’m sure most of us have heard “God(dess) knows…” when someone refers to something they can’t fathom. You are the creator of your world. You will always know exponentially more about the world than your readers. This means for your readers to know a bit about your setting you need to know (either through brainstorming or research) five times that. A good analogy is that of an iceberg. Your readers see what juts above the surface; you see the entire thing. If you’re worried about how many details to include, ask your beta readers for setting-based feedback. How much you actually share will depend on the demographic you hope to attract and your genre — you don’t need the same scope when writing a cozy mystery or romance as you do when writing a multi-novel epic fantasy or space opera.
Developing your setting can be so much fun and lead to more stories within the same universe. If you keep these three steps in mind your readers will love your world as much as you and keep returning for more.
Since the new year is upon us, lets talk about the importance of setting goals! Not just any goal will do, they have to be attainable goals. I always start the year wanting to earn a million dollars but lets face it, thats not really attainable ;). Earning money, any amount will do, from my writing is an attainable goal. Once that goal is met, then I can say, well I made 1k from my writing this year so next year I want to double it. See how that works? Start small and work your way up! Everyone thinks about yearly goals around now as something to set for the entire year. They tend to make them huge. Like completely unreachable! Because anything seems doable when you have a year to complete it, right? You don't have to set a huge goal just because you have a year to complete it. If you complete your goals before the end of the year, up your game a bit. So, really start small.
Here are my goals for 2016:
1. Complete and publish the first season of The Starsboro Chronicles.
2. Complete and prepare the second season.
3. Complete and publish at least 1 full length novel
4. Earn enough money pay off my credit card debt.
5. Outline all twenty-three novels that are bouncing around in my head.
6. Write a few of those outlines into first drafts.
7. Write two blog posts and create two vlog posts every month
8. Read 12 books by Indie Authors
9. Give honest reviews of those books.
I really wanted to come up with ten but that's a lot! Each season of The Starsboro Chronicles is 10 novelettes and two short stories.
I am pumped about 2016 though. My first year as a published author! And to have 13 products out in my first year will feel amazing no matter what!
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and also writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. The first of her Starsboro Series is due out on January 16th. She can found on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.
The writing Process
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