Deadlines – from a traditional author’s perspective

Even if it doesn’t actually tick – the clock is always there.

Flowing on from last weeks post about deadlines from an indie author’s viewpoint, here are some thoughts from the other side of the spectrum.

I am a traditionally published author… and I love a deadline. I mean, seriously love them.

Maybe it dates back to my years as a TV journalist. The nightly news went on air at five or six or seven o’clock, according to where I was working. And whatever story I was preparing for that show, if it wasn’t ready on time, it didn’t go on air. The next day, there would be more news. Yesterday’s story would simply be forgotten and all that work would be for nothing. So I very quickly learned the importance of a deadline and in 20 years, I only missed one (and that wasn’t my fault – but that’s a different story).

So – a deadline is a good thing.

Two deadlines? That’s a bit harder, but still do-able with a bit of planning. A lot of publishers these days like at least one full novel and one novella from every author in a year.

Three overlapping deadlines? That’s really, really hard work and likely to induce stress and much need for chocolate or red wine – or possibly both.

And anyone who accepts four deadlines is a crazy person. Seriously crazy. This is usually linked to writing in more than one genre of novel under more than one name. (Guilty as charged Your Honour.)

When I look at my writing schedule, this is what I see:

  1. New Australian novel to be go my agent by September 30th
  2. September or October – edits for book number 10, due to be released in January 2017 (under another pen name).
  3. Something called “the New York Novel”, which I have promised my agent I will start writing before Christmas and finish by next summer. The END of next summer (she says loudly, hoping that’s true)
  4. A follow up to book 10, due for release in January 2019, which must be started in September/October and be in the publisher’s hands by June next year, with edits for that probably around the end of summer (see point 3).

(Did you notice how I combined a couple of deadlines in the last two? If I hadn’t, that would be five/six deadlines. And no-one their right mind ever takes on five/six deadlines, because that’s just impossible.)

So – how am I going to do all this?

Research can leave you a bit overloaded.

I usually write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. 1,500 words is normally a good day. That’s about 8,000 words in a week. It might not sound like a lot – after all there are more than 600 words in this post. But there’s research and planning and thinking through plot possibilities. Plus of course there is real life, which often includes a day job.

In the past few weeks, I have been inspired by all these deadlines. Yes. Definitely inspired. It sounds so much better than terrified.

I have been writing as much as 3,000 words per day. Sometimes more. And as always when the words are flowing that easily, they are pretty good words. Of course they will still need reworking and polishing and editing, but they are right there on the page. There is also the small matter of going back and changing ‘loko’ into ‘look’ and trying to figure out what ‘naviess’ is supposed to be. I don’t type well when I type quickly.

When I’m this terrified  inspired, a few things have to give way to make those deadlines. These include ironing, laundry (except in dire emergencies), gardening, exercise and being social. As for tidying the house… well, best not think about that.

In about three days, I expect to finish the new Australian novel – with the working title of The Homestead. At that point, my level of terror will subside just a little. But the funny thing about all of this is that I love it. I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. Maybe this is the writer’s equivalent of the adrenaline rush that sportsmen and actors and surgeons and stock traders get when things go well and fear is replaced by a sense of accomplishment.

In three or four weeks, I will be able to cross off the first deadline in my list, so maybe I could think about adding that Christmas novella….. after all, I wouldn’t like to run out of deadlines – and inspiration.

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Deadlines – an indie author’s perspective

Deadlines – you think when you’re an indie writer, you’ll be free of them. When I left magazine publishing, I was only too happy to escape the mounting panic as the dreaded date approached, production managers shrieking for copy, editors making last minute changes, art departments scrabbling to find a picture for that impromptu article just slotted in. Entrepreneur.com has an interesting article on it here.

Time urgency,’ they say, ‘kills attention spans, rational decision-making skills and, at its most acute, the body itself by contributing to factors that lead to heart disease.’ Now if that thought doesn’t cause you stress, I don’t know what would.

Still, deadlines can be both a blessing and a curse to authors. How many writers have taken their own sweet time to craft a masterpiece of a first novel only to find themselves hopelessly blocked and paralyzed by the need to produce a second masterpiece within their publishing contract’s allotted schedule of 12 months? Some like Margaret Mitchell never go on to write another book but for writers who work within the traditional publishing system, the deadline is both a goad to action and the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

So if you’re an indie writer, can you put all that behind you? Of course, you could. Most likely no-one’s demanding to see the first draft of your next novel or calling up to check on its progress. Take the week off. Heck, take the month or a whole year off if financial gain or productivity isn’t all that important to you. But still, most of us set targets. If you’re a serious writer, you’ve probably come up with your own discipline. Readers expect a follow-up book and competition is too fierce to make them wait for years. But at least whatever goals you set are your own self-imposed pressure. And when life interferes as it always does – like Lorraine’s husband’s unexpected knee surgery this week or the demands of Pam’s elderly in-laws – you can usually give yourself a little breathing room without feeling like the world is crashing down on your head. And that’s a good thing.

Unless of course you have a blog to write…SaveSave

Changing Direction

The map of Coorah Creek

For more than four years, I’ve had a sheet of cardboard stuck to the door of my office.

On this cardboard, I’ve slowly been building the town of Coorah Creek – the setting for five of my outback Australian novels.

With each book, something else has been added to the map. Houses and the names of the people who live there. A property and a national park. A church and one statue. I started the map when I started the series, because I knew I would be coming back to Coorah Creek again and again. I wanted to make sure I was consistent, and didn’t forget where something was, or accidentally move something.

I didn’t want Max driving across the creek in a place where there wasn’t a bridge. Or I didn’t want Jess landing her plane on the wrong side of town.

Saying goodbye to Coorah Creek – at least for now.

After the first couple of books, I used the map less and less, because the town was so fixed in my mind. It was so very real to me, I could simply close my eyes and see it.

With the publication of Wedding Bells by the Creek this year, I’ve taken the map down. It was a surprisingly important and emotional moment.

I am writing something different now. I am working on two books, one set in England and one in Australia, but that Australia book is set somewhere else.

So now I have a new map. It’s the map of a horse stud called Willowbrook on the Hunter Velley of New South Wales.

I’ve marked a house and the creek. There are stables and an old stone fountain. An old wooden church has been converted to a home on the other side of the creek. These are the places where my new characters live. I’m started to get to know those places now. They fill my head, and will soon be attached to my door.

My new map – it’s just staring to develop.

The map of Coorah Creek is now safely rolled up and stored with my research notes on top of one of my bookcases. There are times when I miss Trish at the pub, and Jack and Ellen. Max and Tia are still on my mind, but for now, I am enjoying exploring a new place and meeting new people.

It feels just a little bit like when I left home to study at university. I left my own small country town and family and friends to move to the big city. It was a bit scary… but it was exciting too. Finding new stories to tell is just like that – both scary and exciting.

Inside the old barn – a photo from my research trip through the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

I will never forget Coorah Creek and the people who live in the town. And I am not saying that I won’t return. There are still more stories to tell there…. maybe one day I will put that map back up on my office door.

Editor? Proofreader? What’s in Your Indie Budget?

So you’re hot on language, your grammar is impeccable, your style puts Strunk and White to shame and like Akeelah you could win any old spelling bee. Why would you, as an indie author, need to pay for outside help? Well, you only have to read a few Amazon reviews to know that readers can be an unforgiving bunch, quick to spot a typo or a missing space between paragraphs. As an indie author you have to make some difficult choices about how much assistance you can afford to enlist. We wrote a whole post on the importance of a good book cover and we still feel that unless you’re amazingly hot stuff at art, you’re probably wiser to leave that to a professional. But here’s Ellie Campbell’s take on things.

 

Having a good editor is brilliant. Our first editor, Emma at Arrow Books, was instrumental in whipping How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go Bad into shape. She pointed out that the endings were too short, the middle was too long, told us which characters needed motivation or fleshing out, where we’d over-described, repeated ourselves, or missed some vital information. After our rewrite, she did a massive line edit, cutting, stretching and pulling those babies until they cried uncle and turned into halfway decent novels. And did we learn a lot from her! These days we rely on our two sets of eyes, multiple drafts and hard-won experience to get the story tight and hopefully catch any glaring errors. We might then send the book to one or two amazing friends who can be trusted to say things like ‘your hero’s a bit of a creep’ instead of just ‘it’s great, honest’. BTW, if you have discerning friends like that, never let them go. They’re pearls beyond price.

 

Then copy editors, what an amazing job they do. Who knew that you’d been misquoting Shakespeare or the words of that pop song for your entire existence? Or what year Madonna adopted her black biker jacket, cropped bleach hair, ‘bad girl’ look? How could the fact that your own heroine changed from blonde to a redhead halfway through the manuscript escape you? A copy editor will check facts, correct misspellings, grammar and punctuation, notice when you switch from British to American English, or say ‘10’ instead of ‘ten’, warn you of potential lawsuits and altogether bring clarity and consistency to every element of your manuscript.

 

In fact Ellie Campbell has been saved from all kinds of awkward bloopers by copy editors, and anything they might have missed (or we’ve introduced in the flurry of a last-minute re-write), our proofreader, Wendy Janes, will spot. Traditionally proofreaders come along at the end of the process, when the edited manuscript has been printed as a proof, looking out for printing errors, spotting those awkward word and page breaks – and of course the dreaded typos.

 

Meanwhile, about those typos – isn’t it amazing how you can read and re-read the book numerous times, scan each word line by line, yet still those little devils slip past you? Apparently the reason it’s so hard to spot your own typos is because your clever busy brain skips over details like transposed or missing letters because it knows the meaning you’re trying to convey and focusses on that. In other words it sees what it expects to see. And that, more than anything, is why we need outside help. But perhaps you have a different experience. Or another professional you – and your writing career – couldn’t live without?

 

What makes authors smile?

As Julia Andrews once sang…. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and so forth.

Brown paper packages too – if they have books in them.

I’ve been smiling a lot this week. Authors are like everyone else when it comes to things that make us smile. Lunch with good friends, finding exactly the right birthday card for a family member, progress on my knitting project. In my case, watching Say Yes to the Dress on TV. (If you haven’t watched this – you really must. It’s my secret guilty pleasure.) All these things, and more, make me smile.

But this week has been full of ‘authorial’ smiles. Those are very special. As a rule, we authors can be a tad insecure. Especially about our work. There is often more tearing out of hair than smiling involved in writing a book. But… we do have our moments.

So – what are these mysterious things that make an author smile? Here are my top five.

Seeing a very small number next to your new book on Amazon is a smile worthy event.

1. Publication days.

Letting go of a book you have spent months working on can be hard. I always wonder if it’s any good. Will my readers like it? Are there any things I could have improved? Are there any (heaven forbid) typos or spelling errors or grammatical errors? The answer to the last question is… possibly. Sometimes one slips through the reading and re-reading that goes into a book before it’s published. But…. despite all those fears. Publication days are wonderful. This week my 9th book was officially published. I smiled. A Lot.

 

 

2. Reviews.

Hard on the heels of publication day is the breathless wait for the first reviews, and more obsessive checking on Amazon. When that first review comes – and it’s good. The sigh of relief is quickly followed by a broad smile. Someone likes my book! My characters have found new friends. Definitely smile worthy. Think about that and if the urge strikes you – please do reviews for your favourite authors. They are important to us.

These had me reaching for my handkerchief.

3. Messages from readers.

Up there with a five star review are messages from readers. Authors are pretty easy to find. Websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter make it easy to send a favourite author a message. I send messages to some of my favourite authors when I’ve enjoyed their book. When I get messages from my readers, it is quite possible that I get a bit misty.

This came from one of my Aussie readers. He sent me a screen shot of him ordering my book How cool is that!

4. Planning a new book.

Thinking about a new book is always fun. There are so many possibilities. I sit at a desk with computer, notebook, sketchpad, coloured pencils and a cup of tea. I doodle while my brain goes into overdrive. Then I Google the things I am thinking about – just to make sure they really are feasible. Research is important and can be so much fun. I love it when I stumble across something when researching and realise there’s a whole plot strand there.

My desk in book planning mode…. and yes that IS a Dr Who pen with a TARDIS on the end of it. How could anyone write a book without one?

5. And something very exciting and super secret that I am not allowed to even hint at yet.

I promise I will tell all as soon as I can.  There is one other thing that always always always puts a smile on an author’s face. It usually involves an email. I had one of those emails this week – but I can’t tell you anything at all about it. Not yet. I can almost hear you gnashing your teeth and wanting to know more. Guess what – that’s another thing that makes an author happy – putting a reader on the edge of their seat, desperate to know or read more.

Stay tuned – there will be more news coming soon.