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Push Through: How to Finish Your Manuscript (even when it has lost its shine)

We’ve all been blinded by the shine of a new idea. It won’t leave you alone. You think of it every time you sit down to work on your current manuscript. It’s begging you to walk away from the project you’ve invested your time and energy in for the last few weeks or months.

Or maybe you’ve written the first few chapters and you still love but you don’t know what happens next.

Or maybe you’ve just lost the spark for writing in general.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, finishing the book is just plain hard. It’s tempting to set it aside to work on a new idea, or on a previously abandoned project. Sometimes, it’s even tempting to call it quits for good. So what’s a disenchanted author to do?

Real Talk Time: Do you want to be an author? Do you want to publish your book someday? You can’t do that with a half-finished manuscript. So the only thing you can do is FINISH THE BOOK.

Write when it’s boring. Write when the other shiny idea is luring you away. Write. Write. Write.

But what if you don’t know what happens next? What if you’re blocked? What if you’ve written your characters into a corner?

Then you stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and start an outline.

Some of you out there are groaning right now. I know because I used to be one of you. I was a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants author, wanting to be surprised at what happened next. I wanted the plot to unfold as I wrote.

But I changed my way of thinking. Getting stuck in the saggy middle of a book project got annoying and I wanted to stop wasting my time. Outlining, whether it’s a bare bones outline or a more detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, is going to help a writer push through that first draft and reach those satisfying final words: The End.

My outlines are mini-novels. It’s not uncommon for them to be upwards of 20,000 words. I have dialogue, setting details, and plot-forwarding action in every chapter summary. They can take a month or more to write. But don’t worry—you don’t have to do this to have a successful outline. All you need is to know one thing: What happens next?

A chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline is nothing more than a rope that writers use to pull themselves through a first draft. When you reach the point when you’re sick of your story or it doesn’t feel believable or your main character isn’t as likable as you wanted her to be, that rope is there, waiting for you to just put your head down, reach, and pull.

What does an outline look like? Here is my outlined first chapter for THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE CURSED:

CH. 1

Early December, 1899

INGRID POV: Ingrid Waverly, her younger sister, Gabby, and mother Charlotte de Bruce-Waverly arrive at their new home in Paris, an ancient abbey and parsonage that has lain abandoned for decades. Ingrid is relieved—the more distance she puts between herself and London, the better. She made a ruin of her reputation there after the young man she was in love with announced his surprise engagement to Ingrid’s best friend. Ingrid doesn’t want to think about the spectacle she’d caused afterwards. It’s too humiliating. The ruined abbey, which will be her mother’s future art gallery, provides distraction enough.

The crumbling buttresses and bell towers are covered with at least a dozen stone gargoyles. The winged, dog-headed creatures with their wide mouths and long curved tongues disturb Ingrid. Why would a church have such ugly little creatures upon it?

They reach the adjacent parsonage, across a small churchyard, and discover that Ingrid’s twin brother, Grayson—who has been living at the parsonage for a few months—is missing. He had gone to a dinner, Monsieur Perreault, Grayson’s real estate man, tells them. The guests had noticed him missing and thought he’d left unexpectedly. However, Grayson’s carriage had never been called for. Charlotte isn’t satisfied. Why haven’t the police been called?

“I’m afraid you arrive at a very troubling time for Parisians,” Perreault answers. There has been a rash of unsolved disappearances as well as brutal, Ripperesque murders unfolding in Paris over the last few months. The police are inundated. Perreault advises the Waverly’s to stay indoors at night before introducing them to their staff.

Immediately, Luc, a handsome livery boy, transfixes Ingrid with his pale lime-gold eyes—though his stare is one of loathing. No one has ever looked at her with such pure, unmasked contempt. What could she have possibly done to deserve such a barbed glare? So far, Paris is a nightmare. It gets worse when she looks out a window and thinks she sees one of the horrid gargoyles on the abbey ramparts moving. But that couldn’t be possible … could it?

Not all chapters in the outline are this extensive, but it gets plot, character development, conflict, setting, and more across. When I sat down to write the real, fleshed-out story, the bones of each chapter were waiting for me.

The key is to always be moving forward. Type words. Dig your way through to the end of the draft. And then, when you’re done, think about something author Shannon Hale said:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” ~ Shannon Hale

Now, if that shiny idea is still talking to you with its sultry voice, give it a few minutes of your time. Write down the basics of the idea. Save it in a file and promise it you’ll return. But right now, you’re in a monogamous relationship with this other project!

Interested in outlining? K.M. Weiland has a book on outlining that you might want to check out. Or you can read author Chuck Wendig’s rather entertaining and informative post on how to outline on his website, terribleminds.

That’s it for now. Write (and outline) on!

4 Things to Think About

4 Things to Think About

So you have a manuscript. You have a critique group and they’re awesome. They’ve given you loads of suggestions and you’ve revised at least ten times. Maybe you’ve even hired an editor and your manuscript has never looked better. It’s finally time, you think. Time to approach agents. Or publishers. Or maybe you should self-publish, you think, because that’s definitely a thing right now.

You stare at your manuscript, uncertain. What’s the best thing for your project?

 

1.) Step back and take a look at your manuscript as if you are not the author.

This is a tough thing to do. You’ve spent months, maybe years, developing the characters and plot. You’ve become a part of this story and it’s your baby. But the hard truth is this: it’s no one else’s baby.

Publishing is a business. It’s a creative business, yes, but still a business. After the sales of my first few books, I started to realize that I could love my stories while still being able to see them the way a future editor or prospective reader might. I developed the ability to detach myself while still being the story’s biggest fan. It helped get me into the business mindset, and that mindset will help you make the best decisions for your project.

 

2.) What kind of story is it?

Have you written a category romance or a young adult novel? Is it a contemporary new adult or a sweeping historical drama?

It’s not the biggest news that new adult has become the “It” thing for self-publishing, but traditional publishers—especially digital-first imprints—are also taking on new authors in this category. So are agents. If you can write two or three solid new adult or adult romance manuscripts every year, self-publishing could be a successful and lucrative option. Keep in mind that romance readers are fast readers, and to stay on their radar, releasing more than one novel a year is important.

Then there are some other categories, like young adult, that don’t generally do as well when self-published. The latest numbers say that mostly adults are purchasing and reading YA—not young adults. But we still don’t hear about a lot of indie YA titles going crazy in the ratings, right? The data also says YA e-book sales are down. Because of that, the best thing for your YA manuscript might be the traditional sales route.

Doing research on comparable projects to see how they were published and how well they seem to be doing is vital.

 

3.) What do you want your role to be?

There are pros and cons to both traditional publishing and self-publishing. These days, authors cannot just sit in their writing caves, closed off to the rest of the world while they create. There are always exceptions to the rule, but social media presence is a must. Even traditionally published authors are required to do a lot of promotion for their books, online and in-person. That being said, traditional publishing does offer some perks: an advance against royalties is probably the best one.

Advances can range from four figures to six, and they depend on many factors. But even a small advance is something to help fund your writing career—even if it doesn’t pay all the bills. Cover design, formatting, copyediting, and proofreading are of no cost to you, and there might even be a marketing budget for your book. Selling copies into brick and mortar stores across the country, and being pitched for book festivals and conferences are other perks.

Then again, many Indie authors I know love being able to design their own covers and release their books when they want to. They have total control over the book from start to finish. They may have to do all the marketing and in-store selling, but even traditionally published authors are being tasked with organizing their own blog tours and signings. Plus, the Indie scene is full of supportive self-starters these days. It’s a real community.

What is most important to you? Are you capable of handling (and funding) all aspects of publishing? Do you want control of your product and pricing? Or do you think you’d rather have those helping hands, even if it means giving up a portion of control over your book? Or maybe you want both. Hybrid publishing is also taking off, and many well-known traditional authors are leaping into the Indie scene.

 

4.) Do I need a literary agent, or can I send my project to editors?

If you’ve decided on the traditional route, yes, I’d highly recommend a literary agent. I do know of a few un-agented authors who are multi-published, but generally speaking, agents are a necessity. The benefits of having an agent far outweigh the disadvantages. For example:

  • Agents can negotiate for better advances and contract details.
  • Most editors at major publishing houses will only accept agented submissions, though there are some smaller publishers and imprints, and digital-first lines, that accept unagented submissions.
  • Agents usually know what editors are looking for and are better able to target a submission.
  • If problems arise, your agent can mediate.
  • Agents often help their clients develop a clearer trajectory for their writing career.

The only downside? They take 12% to 15% of all royalties. But for what an agent does to help advance your career, it is a small price to pay.

Some Indie authors are also searching for agents in order to branch out and go hybrid. Having an agent is like having a business partner. I can’t say enough great things about teaming up with an agent. I’ll write another post soon about querying for agents, and another on how to help make the agent-author relationship work for you.

 

The publishing scene is always changing, and as writers, we have to be willing to change, too. However, knowing your goals and strengths as a writer is going to help you make the best decisions for your current project and ultimately, your career.

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