Editing. I think I’m actually starting to enjoy the process. Although, by the time The Timekeepers’ War is actually released, I’m going to be so sick of it that I will never actually read the final version cover to cover. Well, maybe in a few years. You guys will have to do it for me. And please don’t tell me if you find any errors at this point, because I may do something drastic!
No, I’m not at that point yet.
But I’m continually amazed at how much a manuscript can change and still come out essentially the same story. It is incredible. I barely recognize my first draft anymore. Who is this flighty, overly descriptive show off? It’s embarrassing! At least no one else will have to read that version every again. Unless I post some before and after paragraphs…
The last time I wrote about editing (read the post here) I explained how I had received a sample of the kind of revisions I will be going through with my editor. Having already gone through the process once before (read about that experience here) I expected that this would be a fairly superficial once-over to make sure there were no hidden typos or formatting errors.
Ha! That was just my conceited writer’s brain talking. I don’t know about you, but when my writer’s brain is not telling me how terrible I am and that I will never make it, it’s telling me I’m amazing and can basically sit on my behind and wait for the accolades to come pouring in. It’s a little bi-polar.
Here’s the thing. No matter how many times you edit something, there is more to fix. Always. Part of that is because everyone’s style is different; some people prefer brevity and some detail, some focus on pace and others on world-building. The important thing about working with an editor is to make sure you both have a similar vision for what the end product will look like. Because you can edit a manuscript back and forth indefinitely if you are not working towards a common goal.
Luckily, my editor and I are on the same page. And that she has a much better idea of how to achieve this end goal than I (apparently) do. Amy, my editor, will be going through my manuscript in detail–just like she did with the first three chapters. But first, she had a little project for me…
She did a search for some commonly over-used words. These culprits are (in my case) “then,” “just,” “look,” and “but.” She asked me to go through my manuscript using the Find feature in Microsoft Word, and to look at every instance in which I had used one of these words (which means going through my MS four separate times, focusing on one word at a time) and to delete them when they were unnecessary, and to rework sentences to avoid them when possible.
Not that you should never use them, but I was grossly overusing them. I used the word “then” over 1500 times in a 130,000 word novel. The word “but” was used over 900 times (this number is somewhat inflated, because the count includes words that contain the letters but, like “button” or “butter,” neither of which are words every used in my novel… so I’m not sure why those are my examples, but you get the point). “Look” in it’s various forms (including “looked” and “looking,” etc.) was used over 500 times. And “just” was used about 250 times. And I never noticed, and none of my beta-readers ever noticed. But once she pointed it out it was impossible to ignore.
The thing about these words is that they are largely unnecessary, particularly “then” and “just.” I was able to get my count of “then” down to only 66 legitimate usages. From 1500. That is ridiculous.
The other trims weren’t quite as drastic, but I cut my usage of “look” and “just” by better than half. “Look” now comes in at 216 and “just” at 126. So the fast majority of “then” and “just” I was simply able to delete and the the sentence didn’t miss them. It’s basically the difference between “Then I opened the door” and “I opened the door” or “Just wait a minute!” and “Wait a minute!” These are simplified sentences, obviously, but the idea is the same. I cut every instance of “then” where the sequence of events was not critical, and in most of the places it cropped up in conversations. “Just” usually came up in conversations as well, because we use it often when we speak. But when we are reading a conversation, it usually isn’t necessary to the context.
“Look” I did not often eliminate, but I replaced with synonyms. Look is a very bland, undescriptive word. “I looked at him” does not have the same weight as “I glared at him.” And there are a lot of different ways to “look”: you can glance, peek, peer, glower, regard, survey, scan, etc. I tried to use more appropriate synonyms, which then allowed me to delete qualifying sentences that followed the “look.” There are also the other kinds of looks: expression, mien, air, etc. which I replaced. Not all of them, because sometimes “look” is the most appropriate word. But I really went through and considered if I was saying what I wanted to say in the best way that I could.
I am infinitely more happy with the way it reads right now, and Amy has barely touched it. She’s just guided me. Now she’s got her hands on it, though, and I’m prepared for some serious fat-trimming. Interestingly, I found myself strangely unable to eliminate my usage of the word “but.” So I have left these changes in Amy’s capable hands in hopes that she will guide me further.
Every time I finish a step like this I come out feeling like a better writer. I feel like I’m learning something, and that my novel is evolving into the best writing that I am capable of. It makes me very excited to take what I’ve learned (hopefully I retain some of it) and apply it to the next novel that I write. Much of it will be directly applicable to the sequel to The Timekeepers’ War, Children of Bathora.
So there you have it. Does anyone have similar experiences with their writing? Any weird words that keep popping up without you realizing it? How do you edit? Please share!
If you have been following this blog, you know that I paid to have my first draft of this novel professionally edited. It was a lesson in tough love, for sure. In the end, it was hugely educational and I feel I’m a better writer for the experience. I was able to cut over 20,000 words from my original manuscript, and I completely restructured it with pacing as my main priority. And it worked! I signed my very first (hopefully of many) publishing contract, and my novel The Timekeepers’ War is set to come out this summer.
So, they loved my book. Editing should be a breeze, right? Someone will scour my manuscript for the last few lingering typos and we’re done. Right?
No matter how many times you go through and edit your own work a professional will still be able to tear it down and help you rebuild. I thought that I’d pared down the language as much as was possible and keep my own voice (and my characters’ voices) intact. But I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
My editor, Amy, has given me a detailed edit of the first three pages. She really dug into it. When I’m looking at my document in Word with the edits turned on, it seems like there is more red than black. It’s intimidating. When I first read her changes, with my own words still visible, I felt a pang of sadness. I felt like Ghost was losing her voice. Becoming someone else.
But you know what? When I turn the mark-up off and just read, I realize that’s just my fragile writer’s ego talking. This is still Ghost’s voice. It is a clearer, more concise voice than I had given her. When I can’t see my original wording, I don’t feel that anything is missing in this clean, crisp version of my writing. And I guess that’s what a good editor can do.
I’m very excited to have just gotten my first taste of what this editing process is going to look like. I will be posting the cleaned up version of my novel on the SNEAK PEEK page as soon as the changes are finalized. I will probably write a post with some side by side comparisons–my first draft, my second draft, and my final draft–just so you can see what the process looks like. It might be interesting to any readers out there who take for granted all the work that goes into a novel. And to any writers who are going through the editing process themselves.
It is staggering to think of how much my novel has changed since I first started putting pen to paper nearly ten years ago (Literally pen to paper; I wrote the first hundred pages in a notebook on my lunch breaks when I worked in retail). How much I have learned and grown as a writer. And it is equally staggering to think how far I have yet to go. It is a truly transformative process.
Okay people. I need to toot my own horn a bit here. I just got my first Amazon review (it is also on Goodreads) for my novella Cold Metal War. And it’s not even by someone I know! You’ll obviously just have to take my word for that. But I swear it’s true. I’m just going to copy the review here, but please check it out in all it’s glory on Amazon as well. While you’re there, you can pick up your own copy! You’ll make my day, probably my week, if you do. Here it is:
“S. Jensen’s Cold Metal War tells the story of ValCora Mortlocke, Captain of the Extreme Terrain Specialist with the Canadian Armed Forces, who has been reluctantly pulled out of retirement for one final assignment, much to the disappointment of her partner, Len.
I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting when I decided to read this short story—generally, I don’t read short fiction because I don’t find it nearly as easy to get into. Thankfully, Cold Metal War absolutely does not have that problem. Not only was the characterization fantastic, but the story and setting were also perfect. This story had a distinctly Orwellian feel to me, which is definitely a compliment. From the pacing, to the dark nature of the story, to the abbreviated language (which came across as natural and perfectly suited for the world in which this story takes place), everything about this story drew me in and painted a very clear and vivid picture of this near-future world.
The pacing was fantastic and it really kept me reading till the end, but I definitely think the strongest point of this story was the characters—especially Cora. This is the kind of story that reminds me of what great fiction should look like—and highlights what’s lacking with a lot of other stories out there. Cora is strong, capable, and also flawed; the relationship between Cora and Len was poignant and believable—utterly relatable and perfectly plausible. Watching two people fall out of love is something that is hard to get right without seeming preachy or judgy, but this story nails it—and given the nature of the climax, it’s doubly impactful. Overall, the story really captured where these characters come from, what motivates them, and truly how they suffer and survive despite that suffering.
Do I wish it was longer? Yes, absolutely, but that’s only because I wanted to read more into the lives and world of these characters—this story feels and is utterly complete and it’s a testament to S. Jensen’s talent that I was left wanting more, but still feeling wholly satisfied and complete with the story. I honestly was blown away by this, the prose, the dialogue, the characters—everything adds up to a fantastic piece of fiction. If you are looking for a snappy, compelling piece of sci-fi leaning literature, you will love this story. I can’t wait to see what else S. Jensen publishes in the future and I eagerly await her new releases.”
I came across this quote by Gina Torres the other day and I thought it described perfectly why I love science fiction so much. Our day to day lives are ruled by social norms and conventions, even when we don’t subscribe to them personally; no one can escape being measured against cultural expectations, even if we define ourselves by our lack of conformity.
Not so in the world of science fiction and fantasy! Good SF pushes and redefines boundaries. I love a book that questions our ideas of normalcy. When reading science fiction I am disappointed when the characters/environment do not defy the confines of current “real life” social/economic/political landscapes. Science fiction becomes the perfect platform to discuss and challenge questions and ideas about gender, sexuality, race, class, spirituality, etc.
Not to say that I expect an author to challenge every convention out there all at once. But please challenge something!
But back to Torres… Can I just say that I love her? She was my inspiration for Mirielle in The Timkeepers’ War (Summer 2014); I harbour a secret fantasy that if any of my novels are ever made into a movie, some brilliant Director will cast Torres to play the feisty barmaid-cum-boxer. Mirielle will be playing a much more integral role in The Children of Bathora (Fall 2015, I hope), so stay tuned.
Any thoughts? What do you expect from a science fiction or fantasy novel? What would you like to see more of in SF&F?
Following yesterday’s post on paying for reviews, I’d just like to share this discussion from “Indies Unlimited.” The series of posts specifically targets Kirkus Indie Reviews and includes an interview and guest post from Kirkus Indie Editor, Karen Schechner. Having read some of the vehement opinions regarding Kirkus Reviews from the indie author community, I am almost afraid that using one would spell an untimely death for a new author. Good to know 😉 Still, it is a very interesting conversation and one I have only just dipped my toes into. Thank you to Francis Guenette at “Disappearing in Plain Sight” for sharing the link. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, please do! Guenette offers many invaluable insights into the world of indie publishing.
Another day, another way I realize I don’t know what I’m doing…
One of the (many, I’m sure) perks of signing with a big publishing house is that they have go-to people to write reviews of your novel before it is even released. These reviews can appear on your book jacket and in promotional material months before the first copy is in your hot little hands. It is an aspect of the publishing industry that I completely took for granted as a reader. I often browse the high-sung praises of a book by review agencies, other well-respected authors, magazine/newspaper editors, etc. before I purchase a book. There is no doubt that these reviewers are paid for their time in reading and reviewing the work, and soliciting professional reviews is one of the many jobs that a publisher takes on when they sign an author.
So what is one to do when one chooses to publish through small or independent presses? I knew that signing with a small press publisher would mean that I would be doing a lot of the marketing legwork on my own. But to be honest, I didn’t have a clear plan for what that might actually look like in practice. I was so focused on finding a publisher that I didn’t look too far into the murky future beyond. Now that I’m popping up on the other side I’m beginning to realize that this whole marketing thing is going to be an uphill battle!
One of the concepts that is new to me, but which has been around for decades, is the paid-review. There are companies out there who offer professional review services (here is a good link with some examples), similar to what the big publishing houses have access to, but which are geared towards small press and independent press authors. Now, I’m not talking about the shady business of paying for fake 5 star reviews on amazon.com or Goodreads, though there are certainly those kinds of ethically questionable companies out there. I’m talking about paying for a real objective, balanced review by a professional. Services range from about $150-$500 for a review and various marketing packages.
In theory, it seems like a sound investment, particularly as I am not footing the bill for any publication costs. If I’m going to spend money on my book, it might as well be in advertising, right? But the feedback I’ve come across is inconsistent. Some authors swear by these and similar marketing strategies, and some swear they’re nothing but a waste of money. The advice from my publisher is to avoid the higher priced ones as, in his experience, review services are more expensive than they are effective.
But there is a part of me that wants to believe that, if my book is good enough, a quality professional review or two may make the difference. Is this line of thinking over-simplified and naive? I don’t know. Do any of you have opinions or experiences to share? Please comment! Also, if there are any book bloggers out there who would like to take a stab at The Timekeepers’ War, please email me at sc.jensen[at]outlook[dot]com with a link to your blog. I can’t pay you, but I can promise a free review copy!
When I first started this blog, I intended to use it to document the experience of writing and publishing a novel. I was frustrated at how difficult it is to find information on what this process looks like. I didn’t know what to expect and I knew there were a lot of writers out there who were equally discouraged by the lack of open communication on the subject.
I think I started off on the right track. I blogged about the endless querying, the nightmare of waiting, the inevitable rejections, the scraps of feedback… But as the process dragged on the time between my posts dragged out. I now realize why there is so little information out there about getting published. The experience is so draining, you lose the will continue. You begin to feel like you are just going to end up with a detailed account of your failure to be published, rather than a helpful how-to for other aspiring writers. It begins to feel like an exercise in soul-sucking futility. I admit it. I gave up. On the blogging, at least…
After breaking down and paying a professional editor to pick my manuscript apart, I underwent a heavy rewrite. I cut over 20,000 words, more than 50 pages; the surviving scenes were cut apart and reorganized to improve pacing. What I ended up with felt like a completely different novel. And I had to treat it as such. I had to start the whole querying process over again.
I would love to be able to say that the second time was easier. But it wasn’t. You think that the hard work is writing the novel itself. But the writing is the fun stuff. I know, I know. You’ve heard that before. But I don’t think anyone who is writing a book really takes the time to enjoy it. You’ve got your eye on the prize, the final product, the big shiny book deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason that the querying process is so disheartening. It’s like running a race; you see the finish line ahead and give it all you’ve got. But when you get there, you realize you still have another three laps to go and you just want to curl up in a ball and die. Or maybe that’s just me.
I sent my reworked manuscript out to the few agents who had shown some interested the first time around, letting them know I’d fixed the issues they’d had with the original. None of them responded. I realized that the pitiful one-liner “feedback” I’d received from each of them was likely just dressed-up rejection. Only one of my original queries had elicited real, concrete feedback. And that was the editor of a small science fiction imprint called Bedlam Press. It was actually his feedback that prompted me to hire an editor for my manuscript in the first place. So to hell with agents. I sent it back to Bedlam.
And they signed me! The Timekeepers’ War will be coming out this summer. I’m working with the artist on ideas for the cover and waiting for the final changes to be suggested by the editor. It’s going to be a lot of work getting my name out there and promoting my first novel, but I feel confident knowing I’ve got a great team behind me. Again, I find myself at the finish line only to discover that the race has only just begun.
I apologize for how negligent I have been with my blog updates; I’ve had a lot going on. Actually a lot. I’m not just making that up.
But in the mean time, magic has happened and I’m super excited to announce that I am going to be published! I am looking at a June/July release date… so start saving those pennies! I hope to have links up soon for e-book and paperback purchases. I am looking for sci-fi reviewers to take a look, so if you’re interested, please message me and I’ll hook you up with a review copy. I plan to write a retrospective on how this came about, for those who have been following since the beginning… I just need a moment to collect my thoughts. Please leave any questions/comments below and I will try to address them in my next post!
I’m giving Undead Reckoning, a debut novel from Canadian author Mike Slabon, 2.5 out of 5 stars. This rating is based on Goodreads’ rating system with 2 meaning “it was ok” and 3 meaning “I liked it!”. Undead Reckoning is a difficult novel to categorize, falling somewhere in between SF and Horror and genre parody of the two, but I can safely say that it’s not a genre I typically read. I’ll try not to let that colour my review too much, though, I promise! Undead Reckoning was better than just okay, and there are parts of it that I really liked which is why I’m sticking with 2.5. But I felt the really good parts were dragged down a bit by areas that could have used a little tighter editing. That being said, Slabon shows definite potential as a developing writer and I will look forward to reading his work in the future.
I should clarify that by “tighter editing” I do not mean proof-reading. I was actually impressed by how few minor punctuation/typo style errors I found in the text. This is a huge challenge for indie press writers who often must rely on beta-readers to catch typographical errors, rather than professional editors (whose services are extremely expensive). I’m referring, rather, to content editing for pacing, clarity, and balance. I’m also going to question a couple of Slabon’s stylistic choices, which could have been used to greater effect with a couple of tweaks.
Tangent/ This review will probably be long. I apologize in advance for that. But I believe that new writers, especially independent writers, need and deserve precise and meaningful feedback in order to hone their craft. As a writer myself, I know how hard it is to come by honest constructive criticism and I hope that some of what I have to say will be helpful to Slabon and any other writers who may be reading. /end tangent.
Okay, let’s begin.
Slabon essentially has two different novels competing against one another in Undead Reckoning, and I feel that each would have been served better had they been given their own space. On one hand, Undead Reckoning is a kind of horror spoof. It’s a parody of the zombie genre, almost a parody of a parody it gets so goofy at times. Which is fine, if that is what it is. And I thought it was, at first. However, the hack and slash zombie slaying is used as a trope to move the subplots along, rather than being the meat of the novel. The subplots themselves are so bizarre and seemingly disconnected that blowing up zombies appears to be the only unifying theme (NOTE: the subplots are one area that could have been aggressively pared down without losing anything of the main plot, but more on this later). The effect is actually quite disorienting at first, and it took me well over 100 pages to get a handle on what was going on.
This is when I began to realize that there was something more to Undead Reckoning than the simple spoof I thought I was reading. There are aspects of the novel which move outside the necessarily simple landscape of a zombie parody and into more serious speculative fiction. The main plot of Undead Reckoning is layered with complexity, and Slabon ultimately does an impressive job of tying his subplots together into a cohesive whole by the end of the novel. But I almost felt that he was afraid to give his main plot, the spec fic novel, the attention and seriousness it deserved. In the end, the underlying parody novel, acted as a defence mechanism to deflect from Slabon’s “real” writing—I actually think Slabon is a better writer than he is giving himself credit for, and the dual-genre does him a disservice in his debut novel.
When we first meet our hero, NFL superstar Eddie Griffin, we land smack-dab in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Griffin is coming to terms with the new world he’s living in as he helps Lieutenant Jim Shrike with a top secret mission investigating Undead activity at a nearby abandoned military base. We jump right into the action with limbs flying and brains exploding in typical zombie annihilating style. Fight scenes are interrupted by the obligatory wise-cracks and expletives, but otherwise make up the majority of the first hundred pages. This brings us to the issue of pacing.
Nothing is worse than reading a novel where nothing happens. It’s boring. I think everyone will agree with me there. So a novel that is full of non-stop action should be super awesome, right? Well, not necessarily. For non-stop action to equal good pacing, a couple of things need to happen. For one, “telling” must be balanced with “showing”. Too much telling, and the action reads more like stage directions in a screenplay than a paragraph (or chapter) in a novel.
Player A enters on right, weapon drawn. Player B turns at the sound and shouts in surprise. Player A shoots Player B between the eyes and exits stage slowly. Curtains drop.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point. Reading these initial action scenes, and some subsequent ones, was a little like grinding MOBs. Or worse, it was like reading about grinding MOBs—I didn’t even get to level up or loot anything. And with too much “telling” there is little opportunity for the reader to visualize the world and the action for him/herself. Other than knowing that Eddie Griffin was a big guy who used to play football, I had little idea what he looked like. Same with Jim Shrike. This isn’t too much of an issue for secondary characters, but main characters and setting should be clearly defined as soon as possible (I’d say first 20 pages). Putting this off disconnects the reader from the text, and limits empathy for the characters.
So action is great, but too much action is problematic for a couple of reasons: 1) The “big picture” plot gets lost in the grind, and 2) The lack of “showing” limits character development and world building. For example: For the first seventy pages or so, I was picturing Eddie Griffin as a thick, ruddy skinned white boy with a buzz cut and Jim Shrike as a lean, muscular black man who didn’t smile a lot. By the time I realized that Eddie was black and Jim was actually green—my first WTF moment—it was too late. My original pictures stuck with me, and I had to keep reminding myself of what they actually looked like as I read. Which is really too bad, because minority groups are severely under-represented in SF literature.
Tangent/ I think it’s great that Eddie Griffin is a young black man. But I think that it’s especially important to let the reader know that he’s black, specifically because there are so few non-white protagonists in the world of SF and Horror. It’s easy enough to do without rubbing it in the readers’ face. In the first couple of pages, a single sentence such as “My dark skin did little to protect me from the harsh rays of the sun” for example, could have clued us in without being too obvious (the fact that Eddie is a football player wasn’t enough for me—I thought there was a pretty even mix of black/white football players, but I know nothing about football). I know some will argue that the colour of his skin shouldn’t matter, but I disagree. I think it’s important that literary characters are representative of the world we live in: there should be many races, religions, genders and sexualities, and we shouldn’t shy away from defining them as such. Otherwise the tendency is just to assume that all characters are white, heterosexual men because for so long, that’s the way it has been. I had the same problem in my own novel, with identifying my main character as female. I left her gender ambiguous on purpose, but found that too many people were confused when I did finally describe her as “her”. I later ended up identifying her as female early on and then emphasizing her androgyny after that, which was better received. /end tangent.
Another thing that I found detracted from the main plot was that there were too many subplots. Each chapter seemed to have a new villain or conflict which, once resolved, didn’t carry over into the next scene. While some subplots did end up tying in to the main plot in the end, it was impossible to differentiate between the two. Slabon gets extra points for creativity, though. There are some gems hiding in the confusion, lots of good ideas that could have been great if they were working on their own (Juan the spider demon could have been the villain of a Christopher Moore-esqe comdey-horror novel) but just ended up competing with one another for attention. Kind of like a mini-version of the genre competition I mentioned earlier.
This brings us to the two stylistic choices that I felt could have been used differently. One: footnotes. Footnotes are largely unnecessary, and interrupt the flow of the narrative. Unless you’re Terry Pratchett, in which case you have elevated the footnote to an art form in and of itself–rife with sly humour, supplemental story lines, and lessons in magic and/or physics. For the rest of us, 95% of material that could be footnoted could also be worked into the text or simply left up to the reader to figure out. The only exception to this rule would be for language translation if a word or phrase from another language is used without enough context to be understood on its own. Anagrams can be spelled out in full, and then abbreviated later if they’re going to be recurrent in the novel. For example, military anagrams like CFB (Canadian Forces Base) or LAV (Light Armoured Vehicle). Slang, military or otherwise, should only be defined by the context that it is used in not by footnote. I just finished reading Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange, and I never needed to use the glossary once. Language is like that, we’re pretty good at filling in the blanks. Not only slang, but any words that were made up and only exist in the world of your novel should be defined by context or dialogue, not footnotes. Real words should never be footnoted. If you’ve chosen a word that is so obscure you doubt your reader will know it, use a different word. If it’s necessary, have another character be confused by it so that you can explain it in dialogue. Example: thanatology. If your reader doesn’t know what C-4 is, that’s his problem. Let him google that shit and give the rest of us some credit!
Stylistic Choice Two: Sound effects. Less is more when it comes to BANG! SMACK! RATTATATAT! and/or KABOOM! This isn’t a comic book. Again, this is just my opinion. I can see how the onomatopoeia lends itself to the parody genre, but I also preferred the non-parodical stuff, so that’s just my take.
Okay, I hope you’ve stuck with my ramblings this far, because now I’d like to talk about what I really liked about this novel. There are three sections of Undead Reckoning that really stood out to me. The first is in Keek’s lair. Slabon does a great job of describing the underground lair and entrance to Nabisusha. The novel started to feel alive to me at this point. And it is because of this scene that I feel justified in wishing there were more descriptions of characters and settings earlier in the book. Once I realized that Slabon had all this great imagery up his sleeve, I felt extra ripped off when I didn’t get it. The next scene that really stands out is in the Anomalies Amok fantasy that Eddie gets trapped in. Slabon shows real potential for world building here, and I’m curious to see what he would do with a high fantasy novel. Not only this, but the characterization of the AA players trapped in this fantasy are better developed, and the fight scenes better realized than anywhere else in the novel up to this point. Finally, the flashback scene explaining the fate of the Masters and Custodians—much high fantasy and speculative fiction potential is demonstrated in this scene. Again, Slabon is a much better writer than he gives himself credit for, or than he seems to, by hiding behind the goofier aspects of this novel. The complexity of the final plot actually stunned me, and I really wished that this main plot line had been more heavily invested in throughout the novel.
Really, Undead Reckoning had all the elements of a strong SF novel, but they were obscured by the sillier subplots and could have been enhanced by aggressive editing. Slabon could easily have written a spoof novel akin to Night of the Living Dead, a couple of Christopher Moore style comedy/horror novels, and have an SF trilogy started with the material that is in this book. It’s a little much for one novel to bear, but there’s no denying Slabon’s potential as an up and coming writer. I’d like to see him move with confidence into speculative fiction. Or parody, for that matter. But I think we’ll find that his strengths lie in those areas he was reluctant to meet head on in his debut novel—complex plots, intriguing characters, and fascinating worlds—and it’s my opinion that those strengths will be best realized in an SF or fantasy series. Whatever he chooses to do, though, I’ll be reading.
PS This novel and future novels need more ladies! Undead Reckoning was a serious sausage fest. I realize that half the world has been zombified, but shouldn’t half the survivors still be women? Especially with the reveal at the end of the novel about why some people turned and some didn’t. I doubt Slabon intended to make a comment about how fulfilling women’s lives are, and how many of us are essentially “dead already”. But that’s the conclusion I was forced to draw! I want to see chicks with machine guns riding on dire-wolves in the follow up. Make it happen!
Well, I’m sure some of you were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen (myself included)… but I finally completed the final edit of my novel, The Timekeepers’ War! Again.
Editing is really the hardest part of writing a book, I swear. I’d heard that before and I never believed it. But that’s because what I thought was editing was really proofreading. And the two are very, very different beasts. After I finished my behemoth of a first novel (it came in at 503 pages, and almost 147,000 words…) I gave copies to a few trusted people to read for consistency, grammar, spelling, and readability. They came back with lots of little changes. I went through TKW three or four times with suggestions from various people, making what changes I deemed necessary, and TA-DA! Final edit complete (pt. 1)
I was feeling pretty good about myself, as a first time author. I’d gotten some really great feedback from my beta readers, along with some constructive criticism that I was able to apply to make my novel the best that I could make it. I sent it out with quiet confidence to agents and publishers alike. And waited… and waited…
And then the rejections started to roll in. I did receive some interest though, which was encouraging. I had requests for the next 10 pages, the next 30 pages, the next 50 pages, and even a couple of requests for the whole novel. I must be doing something right, I thought. They want to see more! They must like it! But nothing panned out. Eventually, each of those requests for more ended in yet another rejection. I was heartbroken!
Two good things came of this process. One: I received some really great feedback from a small publisher who highlighted my strengths and went to the trouble of explaining exactly why The Timkeepers’ War wasn’t working for him. And suddenly, all those vague rejections started to make sense. I had a great story idea, I had likeable characters, I had an intriguing setting. But I needed to seriously work on my pacing if I wanted to sell this as a commercial novel. But I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that issue. I read a lot of long-winded fantasy and sci-fi, and I enjoy them. Pacing isn’t something I knew how to do, it isn’t something I look for in a book. It isn’t my style. But as a first time writer, you have to be able to market your work to a wider audience. And agents and publishers like to see action, they like pacy, they like movement, they like all these things I didn’t know how to deliver (and in many ways, felt I shouldn’t have to). But that brings us to good thing number Two:
I decided to hire a professional editor. One who specialized in SF and worked in the publishing industry. And it wasn’t cheap. But it was totally worth it. My editor echoed some of the feedback that I had already had regarding my strengths as a writer. And he really, really drove home the point about my weaknesses. It was hard to read at times, but I had decided when I hired him that I would listen and learn from what he had to say. So I had to suck it up. And that can be very hard to do when you read “Boring! Get on with it!” and “I’m losing interest here” and “I’ve forgotten what this story is about now” and “I really want to throw this book at the wall!” written in the margins of your baby. Okay, so that last one never happened, but I that’s how I interpreted it.
But when I started going through some of the changes that he made, I got it. Slowly it dawned on me that my readers don’t need to know everything I know about my world and my characters. I’d spent so long envisioning them, and building a world to hold them, that I found my self rattling off inane details about everyone and everything in my novel. As the person building the world, these details were necessary to me. They helped me to visualize my world and my characters, and kept my environment consistent and believable. But what we need as writers is not the same as what our audience needs as readers. Lesson learned. I started cutting like a crazy person.
At first, this was difficult. But I saved all of those little scraps of imagery, unnecessary scenes and characters, and I told myself “They’ll still be here for me when I need them.” And as kept cutting, and rewriting, the process became cathartic. Sometimes less really is more, and I finally was able to see what this meant in relation to my own work. The middle of my book required extensive rewriting to deal with info dumps. I rewrote about 200 pages of text just to get the pace moving again after I had killed it dead and beaten it’s corpse like the proverbial horse.
And it didn’t always go smoothly. There were good days and bad days. Good months and bad months, really. The hardest part of editing like this is the urge to give up and move on to something new. I was so disheartened some days to be still working on the same book when I have so many ideas for my next projects. I have new projects started, waiting for me, calling out my name! I had thought The Timekeepers’ War was done, I had cut the strings and moved on. I felt stuck.
I started procrastinating. I started to fear finishing it, actually. I was afraid that I would go through all of this, only to find that my novel was still nonpunishable. That I would be a failure at the one thing I really wanted to do. That I would let down everyone who had believed in me and supported me up to this point. Even thinking about my novel started to make me feel anxious and depressed.
Luckily those people who believed in and supported me, continued to do so. I was ready to throw in the towel on more than on occasion. But after a serious kick in the ass from my partner and biggest supporter, I realized that the only way I was going to fail all of these people, and fail myself, is if I stopped trying. I was going to quit because I was afraid to fail. That didn’t make sense. That didn’t even leave me a sliver of a chance to succeed. I’m no gambler, but those are some shitty odds. So I made myself do it.
And as I plowed through I realized that it’s a better novel now than it ever was. And what I considered my best before is sorely lacking compared to my best today. I have become a better writer for this process. And every time I have to do this in the future, I’m going to come out ahead. This is what it’s all about. Blood, sweat, and tears, no lie. Lots and lots of tears. It’s no cakewalk… no wonder so few people make it in the publishing game. Will I be one of them? Only time will tell. But I’ve learned so much in the process that, if nothing else, I can say that my attempt wasn’t a failure.
So the final result? I cut over 20,000 words from original text. I’m down to 127,191 words, down over 50 pages of info dense text. And I feel like a new person with a new and better book. I’m read to start all over again.
I will be looking for beta readers for this round, if anyone is interested in helping. Please send me a message.