Nano Novels Get Published and Here’s Proof # 11

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November, as well as some old posts I wrote during my first Nanowrirmo in 2011.

Today I’m featuring author Madeline Dyer and her comprehensive instructions on completing a Nano Novel.

How To Turn Your NaNoWriMo Draft into a Complete Manuscript

61acqaksbl-6Given that I’ve found I write best when I’m drafting fast, it’s no surprise that I’m a huge fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Hashing out a manuscript of 50,000+ words in a month (or less) is always something I look forward to—and I regularly complete these month-long drafts, even outside of NaNoWriMo (which falls in November) and its summer camps (usually April and July). Typically, I aim to draft four new books a year, and the rest of the time is spent editing—because there’s a lot of editing, rewriting, and thinking to do.

Before we talk about how to transform a first draft into a complete manuscript there is one thing I want to mention first. And it’s quite an important thing. In nearly all cases, a first draft is going to be messy. Very messy. After all, it’s you telling the story to yourself—you haven’t yet shaped it into the story it wants (or needs) to be. There’ll be scenes that aren’t needed, parts of the plot that don’t make sense, and characters that disappear for too long and then suddenly pop up. Your protagonist’s goal might not be clear enough, or the stakes might be too low. The writing might go off on a huge tangent that slows down the plot in the middle, and the pacing might be way off.

But all that is okay in a first draft.

And I think an important part of fast drafting is accepting that there are going to be mistakes and bad writing. But you’ve still got a first draft done—a complete first draft. Even if it is awful. And having a complete draft (no matter how bad it is) is the first step needed when you want to transform your first draft into a complete manuscript. After all, an ‘awful’ manuscript can be edited and polished into something that you love. And I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t start editing your first draft until the first draft is finished—after all, before then you won’t truly know the shape of the manuscript until you’ve written the ending, seen the conflict play out, and nodded with satisfaction at the resolution (or maybe as you were writing the last scene, you’ve realised it needs a new ending, and now know what that will be).

But once you’ve written ‘The End’ on your first draft, (and celebrated, eaten chocolate, called your friends and family, and caught up on sleep), how do you start editing? Well, this is my method—these are the steps I take when fixing up one of my NaNo drafts into something that is way better and works, a manuscript that I’m really excited about.

First Step: Leave it Alone!

After I’ve finished a draft (and sometimes it takes slightly longer than a month if it’s over 100,000 words), I leave it—typically for a month. During that time, I work on something else (usually edits for another manuscript that’s been waiting around for a while). I find that time away from an idea/world/plot really helps me look at it with fresh eyes and realise what’s really not working. Sure, if I’ve just finished the first draft and I’ve already got an idea of something I need to change (like the ending, for example), I’ll make a quick note about it on the first page of the manuscript, but I won’t change it there and then.

Preparation: Read Your First Draft and Make Notes on the Stuff that Annoys You, Questions, and the Scenes that Don’t Do Anything

I suggest leaving your manuscript alone for at least a month. But when you do go back to it, read the whole thing and just read. The urge to change stuff in the manuscript there and then will be strong, but resist it! Instead, grab a notebook and write down all the things that don’t work, that annoy you, that evoke some sort of reaction in you (whether your reaction is good or bad). And then scroll through the draft again, and write down all the scenes that don’t add anything to the plot or reveal anything essential about your main characters—even if you love the scenes. If you’ve got any questions about how something happened—or why a character would do what they did—now’s the time to write those down in your notebook. (And I suggest having a notebook solely for the editing of this manuscript—it’s much easier than having one notebook for multiple manuscripts).

Preparation: Pull Your Characters Apart!

514qcb4ug4l-5Next, turn to a new page in your notebook and focus on characterisation. Characters are, of course, hugely important. They drive the plot. And they need to be realistic. They need to feel like real people to you (ahem, they need flaws), and you need to know the answer to any question someone might have about them. And you need to know the answer instantly.

I typically have a page in my notebook for each character, and then I write down everything that the draft reveals about them. Most likely, you—as the author—will know more about your characters than is in the draft, and you need to look at this carefully. Have you conveyed enough information about your characters so that their motivations and goals are communicated effectively to the reader? Or do your readers need more information—something from the character’s past, maybe—to fully understand why this character behaves the way he or she does?

The other important thing to look at when analysing your characters is whether, from reading the draft, readers will know why it is essential the characters achieve their goals. What will happen if they don’t? And why should the reader care? Usually, making these notes helps make the characters more real for me, and I really get to know them and why they need to achieve their goals.

These notes are often ones I’ll constantly add to later, when I’m actually working on the manuscript—so it’s always helpful to have these pages nearby. It’s all about getting to know your characters when you already think you know them.

Preparation: the Building Blocks of Your Manuscript

The next area to concentrate on (and remember, no rewriting or editing has actually started yet—these are all just notes in a notebook) is the structure of the manuscript. For this, I always get out my copy of Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a book on screenwriting, but it has a fantastic beat sheet that can be applied to almost every film and novel. It highlights the different parts of a story that need to be there (both in terms of how the characters feel, such as where the euphoric and despairing moments should be—as well as overall plot development, which is usually determined by your characters’ actions). At this stage I always play around with the structure, making sure that these different parts/scenes happen at the right time. Often I find that I’m missing scenes, or that my action has happened too quickly and the pacing is too fast for the first half of the book. And although fast pacing is good, I don’t want readers to feel out of breath and not understand what is happening.

I suggest drawing up a storyboard of the main events in your draft (noting which character ignites each event), and playing around with the order. It’s also good to pay attention to which scenes are narrated by which characters—if your manuscript has multiple narrators—and to check that the structure works (i.e that you don’t suddenly introduce another narrating character after the halfway mark as this could jar your reader). Whiteboards are great for working these sorts of things through, or you can write each scene on a post-it note (a different colour for each narrating character is good!) and move it about until you’re happy with the overall order. Really experiment!

And once you’ve got the structure right and are happy that all the important things happen at the correct time in your plan, the work on the actual manuscript itself can begin!

Round One Edits: Character and Structure

This is the part where you act on all the notes you’ve made so far regarding characterisation and the structure of your manuscript (the order of the important events, when your characters fail and succeed, and how and when your main character’s past is introduced to the reader—as well as who narrates what if you’ve got multiple points of view… yeah there are a lot of components to look at in the first round of edits).

A couple of times, I’ve tried separating this into two distinct editorial rounds (starting with character, and then moving onto structure separately), but each time I’ve found that these two areas are closely linked and I’ve ended up addressing them together. After all, the characters drive the plot, and the structural components and set points you need to have at certain points (such as where your character’s backstory is introduced, where the love story starts and develops, where the protagonist appears to fail in their mission, and when the plot peaks) likely depend on your characters and their actions. Similarly, if your manuscript is told through multiple points of view, focusing on—and fixing—the narrative structure at the same time as you address characterisation works nicely.

I tend to start this round by reading over my character notes and reminding myself of the new structure I want, and then I delve straight in!

I’m a huge fan of Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, and I turn it on for this stage, as I cut and paste huge chunks of the manuscript and move them around until I’m happy with the structure. I also delete the superfluous scenes I identified earlier, edit others, and write new ones—usually scenes that reveal more about my characters (or the newly updated version of a character, if I changed one of them significantly, such as if a new backstory works better for a character and thus changes their reaction to an event). At this point, I suggest you don’t worry about continuity and whether some of your ‘old’ MC is still in some of the chapters—you can fix that later in the continuity edits. Right now, it’s best to fix the big stuff (including any plot holes), add in the crucial scenes that are needed to make your characters more believable and develop your subplots. Remember, subplots should build with—and compliment—the main plot.

Once you’re relatively happy with the new structure in the manuscript, you can then go through from start to finish, and concentrate fully on characterisation (using your notes from earlier—and, chances are, you’ll have been thinking a lot about your characters as well, so they’ll feel more familiar and real to you). The crucial thing here is making sure the characters’ goals and motivations still work and make logical sense with the new plot structure, especially if there’s a new order of events.

And remember the characters need to be active (particularly the main character). That’s important. Readers like strong characters. Few want to read about a girl who has loads of stuff happen to her, but who doesn’t react herself. A character can’t be a victim all the time. She has to react and then instigate parts of the plot herself. She has to take control. She has to be strong. So the action of the plot has to be controlled by your characters (and it’s usually controlled by both the protagonist and antagonist). Now it makes sense that we’re addressing structure and characterisation together, right? Because if you find that the new structure has made your character more reactive than active, you can joggle things around again and rewrite some scenes, or add in new ones to fix this problem. Or maybe your character’s new goal means that you need to change some scenes at the end—maybe something happens too early, or a character doesn’t react quick enough?

You also want your characters to be as believable as possible, so an extra pass through the manuscript, checking that your characters have flaws and histories, is advisable. Remember one’s past experiences shape one’s future actions—and it’s true of your characters too. You want your characters to be as realistic as they possibly can be—both in their personality and their decisions.

And, you may find after you’ve done all this that you need to rearrange some scenes again. But don’t worry. That’s fine. It is after all a work-in-progress at this stage. It may seem a bit daunting, but it’s best to do the really big changes early on in the editing process.

Round Two Edits: Worldbuilding

The next stage in my editorial process is all about worldbuilding, and if you write speculative fiction, this will be quite a big round of edits. You need to make sure that everything within your fictitious world makes logical sense. You need to have just the right amount of detail—but not too much that your readers get bored.

Usually, I do the bulk of my worldbuilding during the planning stage, before I even write the first draft, but I always revisit it here and consider whether anything needs adding, deleting, or developing. For info on crafting believable worlds, take a look at my guest post at the Books and Pallettes site: It’s focused on creating believable dystopian worlds, but the basics apply to all types of worldbuilding, particularly within speculative fiction. And, of course, chances are that your edits on characterisation and the structure of your manuscript might have touched on this area too. These editorial areas aren’t complete, distinct domains—they do overlap. But you still need to make sure you’ve addressed each of these aspects in detail.

Round Three Edits: Continuity and Balance

Next, I suggest you pay attention to continuity and balance within your manuscript. By balance, I mean the length of the chapters, the pacing and how quickly the plot moves. It’s also a good idea to check again the amount of chapters each narrating character has, if you have multiple narrating characters.

Other things I look out for: the ratio of dialogue to description, how characters grow and develop, and how the subplots are tied into the main plot—the shape of them should mirror the primary plot in some way, but also link in.

And, in this round, I also change anything else that just doesn’t seem right or any places where I get bored. Equally, I question each scene again—if this scene isn’t here, does the manuscript lose anything? Ideally, each scene should either move the plot forward or reveal pertinent information about a character (in a non-info dump-y way).

Round Four Edits: The Fixing Up

My next round is what I call ‘the fixing up’. This is where I make sure that the writing itself is the best it can be. That each word is right. Imagery is also really important to me, so I really concentrate on this—making each sentence as strong as possible. But, at the same time, you need to make sure there’s no purple prose (writing that is too elaborate or elongated or far-fetched, writing that is over-showy and distracts the reader from what they’re actually reading).

Beta-Readers and Critique Partners

By now, I’m usually pretty confident in the manuscript and I can see how much stronger it is. This is where my beta-readers and critique partners come in. I ask them to be ruthless—and you should ask yours to be too.

I ask mine to tell me which parts excited them, which bits made them laugh and cry, and which scenes they skimmed through. I want to know all their reactions—as well as any suggestions they have for improvement.

And a note: it’s best to get other writers or experienced readers in your genre to beta-read for you. Family and friends will invariably be too nice.

Revisions: Incorporating Beta-Reader Feedback

And guess what it’s time for now? More work on your manuscript! Here, you should address beta-reader feedback. Any parts of the manuscript that multiple beta-readers have highlighted are parts that most definitely need some work on. But it’s up to you, of course.

I often leave the manuscript for a few days, between receiving their feedback and beginning work again, to get some space and perspective. But then I dive straight in.

And these edits could be focused on character, plot, pacing—anything that you’ve already addressed, or something else you’ve overlooked. If a character isn’t working or seems unbelievable, you could focus on strengthening their characterisation. Maybe the reader needs to identify with them more. Maybe you need to show more of why they behave like they do.

This round can be huge or it can only take a week or so, depending on the feedback you receive. And, if it means you make some huge changes, you may want to redo some of the other rounds, and find some more beta-readers to test it with afterwards.

The crucial thing is to get your manuscript to a point where you feel really confident and good about your characters, plot, worldbuilding and pacing—when you really love your manuscript and believe it’s ready to enter the query trenches.

Proofreading… Nearly Finished!

And when you really love it and think it’s absolutely ready, proofread it. Find any lingering typos or grammatical errors. It’s important, trust me.

So, those are the typical edits I do before querying a manuscript, but even after one of my manuscripts is contracted, I work with an in-house editor at my publisher for two-to-four more editorial rounds.

When people say most of writing is rewriting, they’re spot on.

About the author

Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and holds a BA honours degree in English from the University of Exeter. She has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal, and can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, Untamed (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged. Her second novel, Fragmented, released in September 2016. Madeline’s gothic fairy tale retelling, “The Cursed of the Winged Wight”, is scheduled to release in April 2017 in Ever in the After: 13 Fantasy Tales, an anthology raising money for Lift 4 Autism.

Find Untamed at Amazon:

More about Madeline:

Follow Madeline @MadelineDyerUK on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, or visit her Facebook page:


 As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

“This has to be one of the best dystopians I have read this year – If you’re a dystopian fan add this to your shelf.” — Birds That Love Words

“I really couldn’t fault Madeline Dyer… Untamed is a fantastic dystopian survival story, filled with twists.” — The Literature Hub

“From the first line, Untamed pulled me in. This is the sort of book that is incredibly difficult to put down… as a person who rarely reads fantasy/sci-fi but grew up with it always on the nightstand, Dyer’s book reawakened in me a buried love for the genre.”– Jen Knox, author of After the Gazebo.

Untamed is very captivating and I found myself racing through it… the imagery Madeline has created is brilliant.” — A Secret Book Lover

“The fast-paced action of Untamed really drew me into the story… readers who enjoy dystopian novels would enjoy this book.” — The Story Sanctuary


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 After the terrible battle against the Enhanced Ones, Seven and Corin find themselves on the run. With the Enhanced closing in, Seven knows they need to find other people on their side. So, when the opportunity arises to join the Zharat, one of the last surviving Untamed tribes, it seems like the perfect solution.

But the Zharat lifestyle is a far cry from what Seven’s used to. With their customs dictating that she must marry into their tribe, and her relationship with Corin breaking down, Seven knows she has to do something before it’s too late. But that’s easier said than done in a tribe where going against the rules automatically results in death.

And, with the Enhanced still out there, nowhere is truly safe for the Untamed–least of all for the most powerful Seer in the world… and Seven soon discovers how far people will go in order to ensure that she’s on their side in the War of Humanity.

Battling against the emerging web of lies, manipulation, and danger, Seven must remember who she was meant to be. Her life has never been more at stake. Nor has humanity itself.

“A YA Mad Max! Fragmented is a great companion to Untamed. […] a thrill ride that continued to develop the characters in interesting ways as well as the wider dystopian world Dyer has created! I had no idea where the the plot was going to go and Seven continued to be the kind of kick butt YA heroine that I love.” – T.A. Maclagan, author of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone


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Nano Novels Get Published and Here’s Proof #10

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November, as well as some old posts I wrote during my first Nanowrirmo in 2011.

Today I’m featuring author Pippa Jay whose Nano novel RESTLESS IN PEACEVILLE was written during Nano 2013. Here’s what she has to say about the experience:

Hi, I’m Pippa Jay, author of scifi and the supernatural with a romantic soul, and I learned two important things in the writing of Restless In Peaceville.restless-in-peaceville-3 One, never say never. Two, trust the muse.

With the first one…well. I’ve never been a fan of any kind of horror. I don’t like being made to jump or to be scared. Forget rollercoaster rides or an Aliens films marathon. *shudders*

And pretty high on the list of things from horror that I don’t like are zombies. I mean, what is there to like about zombies?! Aside from the smell, the lack of lively conversation and their attempts to split open your skull and eat your brains, what possible attraction is there other than wanting to be scared out of your skin? And the last is why I’d never watch or read them, let alone write them.

Until I saw a conversation on Twitter between two of my friends (my freelance editor/cover designer Danielle Fine and YA paranormal author Karen Y Bynum). They were raving on about a book called Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, then Karen mentioned the film. It got me curious, and by strange coincidence I happened to see the trailer on TV.

It didn’t look as gory or horrifying as some zombie films, more cute and funny (though be warned, it does have its gory moments). I got hooked. I straight out bought the DVD (very unlike me) and watched it, and completely fell in love with it. The horror elements were just about within my tolerance levels, but it was such a cute, heart-warming romance (yes, a romance with zombies. Yes, I didn’t think that was possible without being yucky, but it is) that I adored it. Think Romeo and Juliet, except he’s already dead and they both get the happily ever after at the end. I’ve also read both books, and they are two of my most favourite stories ever.

But when muse suggested I write my own zombie story, I freaked out. Nope. I don’t write zombies. I don’t write horror. I’d only just written my first ever attempt at a paranormal romance, and that had been a warlock with a brownie housekeeper. There was no way I could or should write a zombie story, and especially one that didn’t seem to follow the usual zombie apocalypse shoot ’em up type of story that was the most popular.

Unfortunately muse didn’t agree, and while I resisted fighting the story, it meant I couldn’t focus on or write anything else. I gave in and did Restless In Peaceville as my NaNoWriMo project in 2013, planning to get it all down and out of my head, then shove it in a virtual drawer never to be seen again. Until I happened to see a NaNoWriMo critique session offered by a publisher I’d been following for a while–Breathless Press. It seemed too serendipitous to pass up. At least if they didn’t like it, I knew I’d be fully justified in condemning the story to the Files of No Return.

Instead, I got a Fast-track through the submission process. They wanted to see the story on completion! I spent another four months polishing my zombies to within an inch of their…unlife, and submitted it to the publisher. They offered me a contract straight away, and Restless In Peaceville released in August 2014. Sadly my publisher was forced to close less than a year later, but their belief in me and my weird, adorable zombie story gave me the confidence to re-release it myself, now with a glossy new cover from Danielle Fine.

So I’ve learned I can never say never about what I might write. And I learned that, even though I thought she was crazy, my muse knew what she was doing even when I didn’t. I’m so proud of myself for completing this story–the hardest, most challenging thing I’ve ever written. I just hope everyone enjoys reading it too.

Here’s a blurb for Restless in Peaceville:

Welcome to Peaceville, population 2067 and rising…from the grave…

rip-bannerLuke Chester has had enough. He’s the school geek, the girls laugh at him, he’s lost his dead-end job at the pizza place, and in the midst of the world’s messiest divorce his parents don’t even know he exists. An overdose of his mom’s tranquilizers and a stomach full of whiskey should solve all his problems…

But they don’t. Instead, Luke finds himself booted out of the afterlife for not dying a natural death, with nowhere to go but back to his recently vacated corpse and reality. How the hell is he going to pass for one of the living without someone trying to blow his brains out for being one of the undead?

And it just gets worse. He’s got to fight his own desperate craving to consume the living, evade the weird supernatural hunter who’s having a field day with the new undeads rising, and there’s this creepy black shadow following him around. Add to that the distraction of female fellow undead Annabelle burning to avenge her own murder, and clearly there’s no rest for the wicked. Jeez, all he wanted to do was R.I.P.


Nano Novels Get Published and Here’s Proof #9

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November, as well as some old posts I wrote during my first Nanowrirmo in 2011.

Today I’m featuring author Denise Jaden whose Nano novel FOREIGN EXCHANGE was published by Evernight Teen in 2014. Here’s her take on Nanowrimo:

On Writing Your Heart Out (and Winning NaNoWriMo)

I’ve been joining in on the NaNoWriMo challenge since 2007, and I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t a lot of work. Writing a draft of an entire novel in a month involves cooking meals ahead of time, making deals with my family, and then the hardest part—sitting down every single day for a month and actually doing the work.

But in this post I’d like to tell you about a time I took part in NaNoWriMo that—strangely–wasn’t so difficult. My dad has suddenly and shockingly passed away that spring. I had also suffered several other tragedies in my life, including a painful miscarriage and my husband’s place of business burning down. It was an awful year, really, and any sane person would’ve probably decided, hey, maybe this isn’t the best year to attempt writing an entire novel in thirty days.

But I’m not just any sane person. I took on the challenge, armed with very little idea of what I was going to write, and no idea how I’d motivate myself to follow through. On November 1st, I took my laptop into the one room in our basement where I wouldn’t be disturbed and I wrote. Like I said, I didn’t have much idea of what to write, so I just started with a couple of characters and asked myself what would be fun for them to do. What kind of characters would I love to read about?

The first difference between this year and previous years of attempting NaNo, was that this particular year, I really felt little hope that what I would come out with on the end would be a publishable novel. I really was just doing it to keep writing, to give myself a break from the day-to-day painful emotions I was feeling, and instead lose myself in the characters’ lives I was writing.

It worked in a way that I was not at all expecting! By the end of the first week, I actually looked forward to retreating into my basement and escaping into my story. I was letting the characters flirt and kiss and uncover exciting mysteries in their lives. I was having fun during a time in my life that had very little fun going on in it.

In the end, this ended up being my longest book (92,000 words in thirty days), and also my favorite book. I love the characters and the scenarios they got themselves into, and yes, it needed a lot of revision when the month of November was over, however the bones and the passion and guts of the story were undoubtedly there.

So I’d encourage you…if you’re writing through NaNoWriMo this year and are thinking of giving up, or thinking this might not be the best year to focus on a lofty goal…try it anyway. Put aside a little time for yourself. Let go of your publishing expectations for this year’s writing, and just write what’s in your heart. It may be cathartic for you, like it was for me, and you may end up on the other side with your best writing yet!

About Denise:

I am, or have been, everything from a professional Polynesian dancer and fitness and strength competitor to a mushroom farmer and church secretary.Most of my time now is spent homeschooling or playing with our eleven-year-old son or in front of my computer writing. I’ve been writing for about twelve years. I’ve published fiction for teens and nonfiction for writers, as well as short stories and articles for magazines.My pet peeves include clutter (somebody please tell my husband this!), wet socks, and being cold (which is a common occurrence in B.C.!)

I LOVE meeting writers and readers of any kind. If you’ve found yourself at my website, please stop by my contact page and drop me a note to say hello.

Nano Novels Get Published and Here’s Proof #8

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November, as well as some old posts I wrote during my first Nanowrirmo in 2011.

Today I’m featuring author Jaleta Clegg whose indie published novel Dark Dancer was a Nano novel. Here’s what she has to say:

Colorful clockwork pattern, digital fractal art design

Colorful clockwork pattern, digital fractal art design

Write that novel! Then hit PUBLISH! IMMEDIATELY!!!

No. NO! Please, no! Don’t hit publish, not yet. Nobody writes gold on their first draft. Nobody. NaNoWriMo is great at pushing people to finish that first draft. It’s wonderful to let your imagination loose and just let the words flow. But that doesn’t mean your novel is ready for prime time. Not even close.

First step after finishing is to celebrate. You wrote a freakin’ novel! That is awesome. I remember the feeling the first time I finished a novel. It was wonderful and exhilarating. I floated around with a stupid grin on my face saying, “I finished a novel. An actual novel, not just a really long short story. I wrote a novel.” Ten minutes later, reality hit. That novel was a complete pile of crap. The story had potential, the characters were shaping up to be a lot of fun, but the novel was total crap.

Same thing happened to me with nanowrimo a few years ago. I wrote a novel! It was my twentieth finished manuscript after eleven published novels and dozens of published short stories, but still, I wrote another novel! Celebrate! Party hard for a few minutes. But no publish button. That came months later, after I’d had edited and re-edited and had friends edit and had an editor edit. I still rushed it. There are a few typos that need fixed. I’ve also realized I need to change a few things around, expand a bit there and nip a bit over there, to make it a better story. I also need to write the three prequels floating in my head.

So, after you finish nano, celebrate! Spend a few days sleeping, talking to your cat, walking your dog, reconnecting with your family. Showering. Whatever you gave up so you could make that November 30 deadline. Let the story sit, untouched, for a while. Write something new. Paint a picture. Whatever recharges your batteries.

Then take your nano novel out and read it with fresh eyes. Find the crap, and there will be a lot of it, there always is. But find the gold nuggets, too. Spend time beating that story into shape. Some stories take a lot of work, complete rewriting is common. But sometimes the story just needs a good polish. Find a friend who can judge your novel.

Find a good artist to help with the cover. Even just someone with a good design eye. Or a website that creates pre-made covers. If you’re serious about publishing, you need to look professional.

Evaluate your feelings, too. If you can’t handle criticism, deserved or not, you aren’t ready to hit publish, even if your story is. People are going to hate what you write. People are going to mock it. People are just going to be mean. But someone will love it. Eventually. If you can handle that, then you are ready to publish.

Now, go ahead and hit that publish button. Sometimes the journey takes a few months, sometimes it takes years. But however long it may be, don’t hit that button until you and your story are ready.

Jbiosmallaleta Clegg loves to spin tales of adventure and intrigue, romance and explosions, monsters and aliens and creepy evil ten-year-old Shirley Temple lookalikes. She writes science fiction, space opera, all flavors of fantasy, and silly horror. Find more of her writing at

Her nanowrimo novel from a few years ago is Dark Dancer, a steampunk elf fantasy –

The Seligh crushed, the captives found,

the barrier broken, the balmorae freed.

A cryptic prophecy. A land in turmoil, torn apart by the power-hungry Seligh lords. A missing Queen. Two young women who can dance magic into being, who have no idea of their true heritage.

Jaleta is still working on the prequels to Dark Dancer, among other things.

From the Archive, Nano 2011: Why Writers Should Visit a Large Bookstore at Least Once a Month

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(Posted 11/11/19)

I stopped in at Chapters yesterday, on my way back from somewhere. I didn’t buy anything. These days I buy most of my books from a small retailer near my daughter’s swimming lesson. They have a limited selection, especially when it comes to middle grade and YA, but I only buy bestsellers that I’m desperate to read anyway (because I can’t wait to get to the top of the waiting list at the library), and they usually stock those.

Just ONE of my bookshelves

I know you can’t have too many books, but really people, I have too many books. I have books in every room in my house, including the bathroom. So mostly I prefer to borrow books from the library, which of course, everyone should visit at least weekly.

That said, I love to browse in big chain bookstores. The bounty of books inspires me, for one. Sometimes as I write I start to have doubts that my book will find a place I the world. The sheer numbers of books on display at Chapters oddly reassures me. It reminds me there will always be room for another book.

I also love the staff at big chain bookstores. While library staff are mostly college educated, and smaller bookstores are often staffed by the owners, mature business people with a sophisticated love of books, chain bookstore staff are regular people, many of them in their first job. I love that you can even find an actual teenager stocking shelves in the teen section.

Many times I’ve had animated discussions with a young bookstore staff member about the latest bestsellers, or some hidden treasure that no one has heard of. I also love their insight about what customers are drawn to, what is selling and what people are saying.  These bookstores are much busier than smaller retailers, and serve more than just the local neighborhood, so the staff there get a broad sense of the market.

Finally, sometimes the books themselves help me write. Yesterday I opened about a dozen popular teen sci-fi and fantasy titles, just to see how they start. I don’t want to read most of these–I can tell after reading the first few lines–but it helps to see how other authors are doing things these days. And a few of them seemed good enough that I’m going to get them from the library.

I managed to resist buying anything though. I can’t afford another bookshelf. Speaking of bookshelves, check out this awesome YA readers blog One of my fellow NaNo writers is a contributor. They have great reviews of recent and upcoming YA releases.

Nano Novels Get Published and Here’s Proof #7

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November.

Today I’m featuring Rebecca Roanhorse, whose Novel Trail of Lightning will be published by Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press in the summer of 2018. Trail of Lightning is set on the Navajo reservation in the near future, after the collapse of society. It follows a young Navajo woman who hunts monsters with the help of an untested medicine man. The book was pitched an indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road.


Rebecca Roanhorse is a writer of rez-based Fantasy and Indigenous Futurisms . She’s a VONA/Voices alum, pug owner, and Yale undergrad. She has theology and Law degrees, too. Rebecca is Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo + African American, and a Navajo in-law. She is based in Santa Fe, NM.

I’m looking forward to meeting Rebecca on the sci-fi con circuit in 2018!

From the archive, Nano 2011: #YA Saves

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(Originally blogged 2011/11/23)

It all started, I think, with a snarky article in the Wall Street Journal, bemoaning the bleak and violent content of Young Adult literature.  The response was, among other things, a Twitter campaign called “#YA Saves”. Thousands of Tweets, hundreds of blogs, and commenters galore rallied to the support of dark YA books.

I posted last year about why I think kids like dystopian books, and I think this answer extends to why kids are drawn to all types of dark, bleak books. Disenfranchisement, let’s call it. But the #YA Saves campaign takes it further than that. The premise of #YA Saves is literally that READING SAVES LIVES and many comments enumerate books that helped a young person get through a difficult time.

So let’s get this straight – books save my life everyday. If it wasn’t for books I would be drooling in a padded room somewhere, unable to stop the constant cacophony of nonsense in my brain. Books sooth me and relax me, and quite literally, drown out the crowds of people vying for attention in my head. What can I tell you?  Growing up, I thought everyone lived like this. Now I know that when someone has a vacant look, they are often just that – vacant, something I can never hope to be. But reading helps. Thus I read almost everyday. I should be able to claim my books back from my health insurance.

When I was a teen, it was the same, and I read widely and often. I loved to read books over and over. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle was one of my favorites, and one which I frequently read in one sitting. I also loved the Narnia series well into my teens along with other middle grade books I had enjoyed when I was younger. I was an advanced reader though. At some point, possibly in grade six, I remember reading Roots.

Three books stand out as books that powerfully affected my life, beyond just keeping me out of the loony bin. The first, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, was Go Ask Alice. I bought this falsity, hook line and sinker. Rereading again as an adult I had to laugh at some of the preposterous plot points and characters. But I do think the book made me think carefully about using drugs. I used them anyway, don’t get me wrong, but at least I stopped and thought about it.

The second is actually a series, by Lucy Maude Montgomery. No, not Anne of Green Gables, Emily of of New Moon (No, not THAT New Moon!). Compared to the bleak and realistic historical fiction being written today, this series is quite tame. But there was one horrifying (at least to me) scene that I will never forget. You see, Emily is a novelist, and when she finishes her first novel, she tries repeatedly to get it published. I can’t remember all the details of why she does this SPOILER ALERT but at one point she is so discouraged and despondent about her writing that she throws her only manuscript into the fire! Then, blinded with tears, she runs down the stairs and steps on a pair of scissors, which causes her to get nearly fatal blood poisoning.

Well you can imagine the effect this had on me as an aspiring writer. I identified so much with Emily in that scene and was captivated by the Gothic romance of nearly dying of blood poisoning, which was really just an analogy for giving up. Sigh, Emily…

Finally, not a YA book, but one I often recommend to advanced readers over sixteen is The World According to Garp. This is a very dark book, and much of it is taken up with Garp’s childhood and teen years. This book changed my life simply because, like Emily, Garp is a writer. I have read Garp so many times that I quote from it, the way some people quote from the Bible. This is one of my favorites:

If you are careful,’ Garp wrote, ‘if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.
― John IrvingThe World According to Garp

A strange trilogy, I admit, but I was a strange young woman. In the end is doesn’t really matter what I read as a teen, or what any teen reads.  Just that they read something.


Nano Novels Get Published and Here’s Proof #6

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It’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November.

Today I’m featuring Elizabeth Schechter whose Nano Novel Heart’s Master comes out in December 2016. Her Nano experience was a cautionary tale.

Breaking the NaNoWriMo Curse

I was cursed. That’s the only way I could explain it.

Okay, let me back up.

These days, I’m a multi-published, award-winning author. Back in 2003, though, I was an artist, and I was one of those “I have always wanted to be a writer” people. Someone had told me about National Novel Writing Month, and it sounded like fin. So, in 2003, I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose? I had a story idea, I had an outline, and I was self-employed, so I had the time.

It was Columbus Day weekend, 2003. We went on a four day cruise to the Bahamas — a business trip for my husband, if you could believe it. Tromped around Nassau, went to the Pirate Museum. Had a really good time. We flew home to Baltimore, and I called my mother in New York to let her know we were home.

Three hours later, with no warning at all, my mother died.

Needless to say, I was devastated. Still am, to some extent. You really never get over losing a parent.

The following year. I had a story idea, I had an outline. I also had a job that I’d just started in September, but I thought I could make it work. After all, what did I have to lose?

Halloween weekend, 2004. I get a call at work from my sister. Our father, who was in a nursing home at the time, had been having trouble breathing, and had been taken to the hospital. Now, he’d done this before, to the point that I teased him once that if he wanted us to come up from Maryland to visit, he could just ask. He didn’t need to go into the hospital. At the time, he thought it was funny. I told my sister to keep me posted, told her we’d come up that weekend, and went into a meeting.

By the time I was out of my meeting, my father had died.

At this point, I swore that I was never, ever going to attempt NaNoWriMo ever again. Period. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. No.

Fast forward to 2010.

I am a fan of Ursula Vernon, and it was she who introduced me to the concept of National Novel FINISHING Month. It’s also in November, and it’s where you take that UFO that’s lurking on your hard drive and actually finish the blasted thing.

Hey, I could do that. I had a half-finished novel on my hard drive. It had stalled out, and I’d had to go back and rework it and see where I’d gone wrong. I had just sold my first novel to Circlet Press. Maybe I could do it again. And since I wasn’t writing a full novel, just finishing one that I had started years before, then maybe I could avoid the curse?

October 28th. My sister got hit by a car. Thankfully, she was fine, but honestly, Universe? What do you have against me doing NaNoWriMo?

Since no one actually died this time, I started in on finishing the novel on November 1st. And by the time November 30th rolled around, I had a word count of 50,103. The novel still wasn’t done, but I’d defeated the Nano curse.

That Nano novel, Heart’s Master, was acquired by Circlet Press, and will be released in early-to-mid-December, 2016.

And, no. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo again.

From the Archives, Nano 2011:Query Hell(p)

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(First posted 11/11/17)

Here’s the deal: I love writing queries.  I’ve also never written (and sent)  a query that didn’t get requests, so I must be doing something right.

I often write queries before my manuscript is even finished. Some writers are scandalized by this, accusing me of putting the cart before the horse. But just because I’ve written the query doesn’t mean I’m going to send my manuscript out into the world unfinished.  For me writing  the  query is a helpful part of the process of developing the plot of my books. Often my process in writing a new manuscript begins with two ingredients essential to a good query – a short synopsis and what we query writers call ‘The hook”. Then I expand the short synopsis into a longer summary or outline – sometimes. Sometimes I just pants it.

Query writing is not rocket science. I often advise writers to start with WHO, does WHAT, WHY, HOW,WHERE with WHOM and WHO tries to stop them, then build their queries from there. But you’d be surprised by the number of queries I see that don’t include these ingredients. I’ve even read queries that don’t mention the protagonist at all.

And this is why query writing should be part of your manuscript writing and editing process.  If you CAN’T answer the above questions in a nicely worded letter, there’s a very good chance there is something seriously wrong with your manuscript. In between first and second draft is a good time to write a query, but I like to write them earlier.

So if you are looking for help writing queries there is a wide range of help available for free right here on the web.

I and many other experienced writers critique queries here. Queryshark tears queries apart hilariously here. Slush Pile Hell teaches what NOT to do here. Query Quagmire does more of the same here.

Don’t forget, QueryShark, Slush Pile Hell and Query Quagmire are all agents or editors so if they sound snarky it’s because they ‘re FRUSTRATED! Just imagine some of the stuff they have to look at. Please, before you send your query, check these sites.

Oh and BTW, if anyone is game to post their query in comments, I’d be glad to tell you what I think.

Late edit. Betsy Lerner, agent/blogger extraordinaire gives some classic “don’ts” in her latest blog post, Top Ten Query Letter First Line Misfires. Read them and weep.