Tag Archives: Kate’s (ahem) “Process”

FAQs: The Left-Handed Fate and Bluecrowne

As of today, 35 DAYS TO THE LAUNCH OF THE LEFT-HANDED FATE!

9780805098006_FCAnd, predictably, I still keep forgetting to post here. On the other hand, I do have at least one good reason: I’m working like crazy to get The Illustrated Bluecrowne PDF ready for release before the LHF launch at the end of August. And since Bluecrowne is so closely related to The Left-Handed Fate (and since a forthcoming review actually refers to LHF as a sequel to Bluecrowne), I thought it would be good to talk a little about these two books and how they’re related.

Bluecrowne_Cover2Bluecrowne is part of an endeavor I call the Arcana Project, which is a series of short novels set in the same world as The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, Greenglass House, and The Left-Handed Fate—all of which are related to one degree or another, but all of which are stand-alone tales that can be read independently of the others. The Arcana books are meant to provide additional tales and, in some cases, show how certain books are related to others. I don’t publicize them heavily because I imagine them kind of like Easter eggs—if you find them, good for you! Enjoy. If not, no big deal. I had fun writing them. So far, there are two books, The Kairos Mechanism and Bluecrowne. The Kairos Mechanism takes place after the events of The Boneshaker; Bluecrowne takes place before the events of The Left-Handed Fate. Here are some FAQs I get about how these books are all connected.

Q: I see that some of the characters in The Left-Handed Fate appear in an earlier book, Bluecrowne. Is The Left-Handed Fate a sequel? Do I need to read Bluecrowne first?

A: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO READ BLUECROWNE FIRST. The events of Bluecrowne take place first; however, both are truly standalone stories. (Bluecrowne is also the backstory of the building of Greenglass House, for instance, and explains the origins of two key clues to the mysteries Milo and Meddy solve, but I am completely certain that most people who read Greenglass House are entirely unaware of Bluecrowne‘s existence.) If you have (or do) read Bluecrowne before The Left-Handed Fate, hooray! You’ll definitely have insider information, including insight into Liao’s pyrotechnical gifts and the reason Lucy and her father aren’t excited to return to Nagspeake. But if you haven’t or choose not to read it, no big deal.

Q: Ok, cool. How do I get Bluecrowne if I want it?

A: You have three options.

  • You can get the ebook right now in the format of your choice from any of the usual ebook retailers. You’ll see that there are two versions, and one is more expensive than the other. The more expensive version is called the Kickstarter Edition, and it includes a bonus story from The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book (which you will know of if you’ve read Greenglass House).
  • You can get the paperback very rapidly (how fast depends on your shipping preferences) from McNally Jackson Books, where the books are printed using the Espresso Book Machine. If you want your copy signed or personalized, there is a field in the online order form where you can request that (note that I’m only there once a week, so signed copies might be delayed until I’m next in). Order here, or you can call the store directly to order by phone (212-274-1160). Bonus: on most Saturdays, if you call between 10 and 6, there’s a high probability I’ll be the one answering the phone! Hi!
  • You can read it free (or pay what you choose) starting sometime in August when The Illustrated Bluecrowne ebook is released. Right now I’m waiting for the last few pieces of original art from the young illustrators, but I expect to have it finished and available for download by mid-August or thereabouts. It’ll be a PDF, so it should work for you whatever kind of reader you use, and I’ll add a link here as soon as it’s ready. The art, by the way, is really outstanding. I can’t wait to share it with you. Preorder here.

Q: A free illustrated version? What’s that about?

A: As part of the Kickstarter-funded publication budget of the Arcana books, I included funds for a digital edition that would be illustrated by young reader artists and offered free or pay whatever, with the idea that I wanted the artists to be able to share their work at no cost to their friends and families. (Any money contributed by readers who do choose to pay goes into the pot for the next book’s illustrators.) The artists are between 11 and 21, and each used a style of his/her own choosing. It is, hands down, my favorite part of the project.

Q: I see the Bluecrowne paperback says “Arcana, Volume 2” on the spine. Do I have to read The Kairos Mechanism first? WHY IS THIS SO CONFUSING, KATE?

It was odd because they were strangers, and because they came in on foot. It was odd because of what they carried.

A: You do not need to read The Kairos Mechanism before Bluecrowne (although if you want to, you can follow all the same info above to get it in ebook or paperback (order the paperback here, and the free-or-pay-whatever illustrated version is here). Like Bluecrowne, it’s a standalone story, although it is definitely more closely tied to The Boneshaker. As for why it’s so confusing: I overcomplicate things. There. I said it. It’s just who I am.

Q: I’ve read the Arcana books and I was really hoping you’d have one coming out this year, but I haven’t heard anything. Are you doing another Arcana book?

A: Yes. Two more at least. But not this year. I have discovered to my shock that my ability to turn out three thousand words a day disappeared the day I had a kid. So here’s what’s coming down the pike: hopefully first, possibly as early as next fall, will be The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book. Additionally, I have an as-yet-untitled adventure featuring Sam and Jin from The Broken Lands. Kickstarter backers of Bluecrowne will get an advance peek and free digital copies, because this book arose from a short story I promised as a bonus reward during the Bluecrowne campaign that turned out not to be a short story at all.

Here’s hoping that clears up the relationship between Bluecrowne and The Left-Handed Fate. Any other questions you have, pop them into the comments!

 

Novellablog: Final Revision Stats, Briefly Stated in a Rambly Manner

This is not going to be my most elegant blog post. Mainly I want to write this down so that I can stare at it in an hour when Nathan gets home from work and I wake up from fugue state and wonder where the hell my day went.

I am surfacing only briefly; I have, however, wolfed down my late lunch (note: it’s after 6pm in Brooklyn) in ten minutes rather than the twenty minutes I promised myself I would take for a break after getting to the end of this draft of The Kairos Mechanism, so I get to relax for another ten minutes. TEN MINUTES. DON’T RUSH ME.

Kairos is going to print this week. Probably Thursday. I did a full read-and-revise about midmonth, then I did two more revisions (without reading through) based on notes from three critiquers and the copyeditor. Then I printed the draft out again. I started reading it on Sunday; you may have seen my picture of the first page with its makeup on, which I posted to Tumblr. I had intended to dog-ear the pages that needed touching up until I realized that I could reverse the strategy and dog-eared the ones that didn’t, and then I wouldn’t have to fold any pages at all.

That’s right. I ended with notes on every single page.

I finished reading and started editing last night. Four chapters in at 11pm I figured I was about halfway done and that I’d go to bed and get up early and finish in time to spend the afternoon writing new stuff. I failed to notice that it had taken me three hours to get four chapters done.

This morning I started at 9:30 a.m. and finished the line edits at 5:50. I have cut 6 pages, bringing the ms down to 149, but that’s without chapter breaks and without front and back matter. The copyeditor’s notes on this draft will arrive this evening. Presumably I have already fixed a lot of what she’ll tell me I screwed up. Definitely there will be work left to do. I also still have one scene yet to rewrite, which I saved until the end because it required going back to the history books. Gonna start that as soon as I finish typing this up. I also have to go back through and search for words and phrases I know I overuse. On the list I made today: strange, odd, little, uneasy, awkward, expression, glance(d), look(ed), turn(ed), “for a moment,” “something like,” seem(ed). I also have to look up what the style standard is for writing years out. Is it Nineteen Thirteen, or nineteen thirteen, or Nineteen-Thirteen, or nineteen-thirteen (which is what I’ve been using)?

One really wonderful thing, though (apart from cutting 6 pages, which is immensely satisfying) is that I managed to add, with only one paragraph, a really excellent moment I’d failed to notice I’d given myself the opportunity to write, and which not only really works well, but ties two other moments together and generally, I think, adds a lot. Go team.

Now I gotta go back and fix that other thing. Also this title is plainly a lie, because after fixing and cutting so much I’m obviously going to have to read it one more time. But if I think about that now, I might go out of what remains of my mind.

Go team.

 

Novellablog, the Toolkit Series: Outbrain, Part One

Having taken some time to decompress post-Kickstarter, I’m now ready to get moving on a group of posts I’ve been very excited about. In the Toolkit Series, I’ll be talking about some of the services that are making this first volume of the Arcana project possible. This is the first of two posts in which I’ll be talking about Outbrain.

One of the challenges I knew I would have was that I’m a haphazard blogger, and at the time I started the project, my website didn’t get much traffic. I definitely needed to make plans to reach beyond my own circle of contacts. Outbrain is a startup that specializes in driving traffic to web content. Now, full disclosure: I had a lot of time and opportunity to get to know Outbrain, the folks behind it, and how it works because my husband, Nathan, has worked there for three years and is currently the US Operations Manager. I follow Outbrain folks on Twitter, I’ve geeked out over bourbon with Outbrain folks, I’ve even traveled with Outbrain folks (like that time I scored a vacation in Israel by tagging along on one of Nathan’s work trips). Along the way, I’ve gotten a really good sense of the company and what they do, so it was kind of a no-brainer decision to look to Outbrain when it was time to start worrying about how I was going to get people I don’t already know to read about the Arcana project.

I knew I would be using Outbrain’s Amplify Self-Serve program. You choose links to submit through your dashboard, and then those links pop up as recommendations on sites that use Outbrain, too; small sites like mine, as well as bigger, fancier sites like Slate, CNN, USA Today, Mashable, and lots more. You can read this article on Outbrain’s blog to learn a bit more about how their automation and algorithms work to serve up content recommendations, but in a nutshell they do a really good job of pointing folks who are already likely to be interested in what you have to say toward your content.

Before I started, I arranged for a meeting with Natalie Chan, who, apart from being one of my Israel traveling companions, is the Marketing Manager for Self-Serve. The basics are simple enough: you set a budget per day (I started with the minimum, $10) and choose a cost per click (CPC). Each time someone clicks on one of your links, you pay the CPC to Outbrain. You only pay for the clicks you get, so some days you might not spend your entire budget, and other days, your campaign might go offline if you hit your budget limit. I started out at a CPC of $0.15, but over the course of the campaign I adjusted that, as well as my budget, a few times. You can change the elements of your campaign anytime as you see what’s working and what’s not.

So, ten bucks budgeted per day at fifteen cents per click equals 66 clicks per day, or an additional 2000 clicks over the course of the month, assuming I was consistently generating interesting content–meaning I also needed to turn into a better blogger. But more on that later.

I launched my Outbrain campaign at the same time I launched the Kickstarter campaign, at the beginning of April. At Natalie’s urging, I had ten blog posts pre-written in an effort to set myself up to blog more consistently. I was able to monitor the clicks I was getting via Outbrain in real-time on my dashboard. I could see what my campaign had spent up to that time each day, what links were getting the most traffic, and where they were coming from. If you like metrics, by the way, you will have a good time with the dashboard.

For the first week or so, my campaign underperformed. I got monitoring emails from Outbrain a couple times during that period with suggestions on how to improve things so that I was getting enough clicks to spend my budget each day. I also emailed quite a bit with Natalie during that time, and I learned two things: that the biggest hurdle I was facing was that my titles weren’t compelling enough; and that the posts that people were most interested in were about craft rather than general updates and musings. Throughout the entire campaign, the post that got the most traffic was this one about my beta-reader Emma, titled “Kid Editors: Because the Kid in the Room Understands Your Book Better Than You D0.” That one must have had the best combination of subject matter and title.

By the time May rolled around, I had the combination sort of figured out, and I was getting so many clicks that my ten dollar a day budget was being spent by late morning. I’d added not only links to my own blog posts, but links to each interview I gave on anyone else’s blog and links to blog posts that mentioned The Kairos Mechanism or the Arcana project. I started getting emails from Outbrain suggesting that it might be time to reduce my CPC so that I could get more clicks within my budget. I took a look at the links I was “amplifying” and culled a few that were either not performing well or that were not as relevant, dropped the CPC to $0.10, and upped my budget. This combination resulted in more than 4500 clicks in the month of May and more than 1500 in the first week of June leading up to the end of the Kickstarter campaign.

The net effect is that my blog, which in March, according to Google Analytics, was averaging (are you ready for this humiliating admission?) less than twenty clicks a day, averaged more than 60 clicks in April, 213 in May, and 234 in June until I stopped the campaign on the 10th. For contrast, post-Kickstarter but without Outbrain, my blog has been averaging 85 clicks a day. My total spending for the two months was $705.50. This was more than I had initially budgeted (remember that I had started out with the minimum daily budget of $10/day), but once I was getting so many clicks, I didn’t like seeing the campaign go offline so early in the day, so I decided the extra expense was worth it, especially since the readers who’ve visited the site have also consistently spent more time here, which I believe means I am also getting better engagement with my readers overall.

A side-effect of the campaign, by the way, is that (with the exception of the month I just took off, during which I will admit to having willfully fallen back into my errant ways, but LOOK, I NEEDED A BREAK, OKAY?) I did turn into a better blogger, and that’s pretty much all up to the pep talk I got from Natalie during that first meeting. Another great thing about the folks at Outbrain: they are passionate readers of blogs, and they know what works and what doesn’t. So, without suggesting that I lose anything that I might feel was uniquely part of my own blog-writing voice and style, Natalie was able to help me craft posts that were more likely to get served up as recommendations, and more likely to be read and talked about afterward.

And that bloggy pep-talk will be the subject of Outbrain, Part Two. Stay tuned!

Novellablog: Oh, Hi, July!

It’s been just about a month since the Kickstarter campaign to fund The Kairos Mechanism closed successfully. I have been very sporadic in my posting since then, but I’ve been hard at work, I swear. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Churning out pages of the book tentatively entitled Greenglass House, which is due in October and which comes out from Clarion in 2014.
  • Doing final cleanups on The Kairos Mechanism to get it ready for the copyeditor.
  • Meeting with the good folks at Vook about creating the digital editions of Kairos.
  • Meeting with the good folks at Gumroad about selling the digital editions.
  • Traveling to San Francisco for fun and meetings (which were also fun).
  • Getting food poisoning the morning of the flight back to New York which continued throughout the entire flight (no, I have never been so miserable in my entire life).
  • Sending Kairos to the copyeditor, the wonderful Adjua Greaves.
  • Corresponding with Andrea Offermann about her beautiful cover illustration, and sending the illustration off to the designer, the wonderful Lisa Amowitz.
  • Attempting not to panic at the number of emails that got buried in my inbox for the three days I was out of commission with said food poisoning.
  • Attempting to placate fast-reading reader artists who want to get moving while attempting to gently hurry along those who haven’t finished reading yet.
  • Writing ridiculous, multi-page to-do lists and scratching things from them far less frequently than I’m comfortable with.
  • Going to Maryland to spend the Fourth of July with my family and watch Sir Oliver Patrick Lloyd watch his first parade.

Also I ran a ten-mile race with my sister and introduced Oliver to the joys of wearing pajamas like a cape. Plus today I half-cleaned my writing room. I blame my lack of getting stuff done on the room being messy.

What I haven’t managed to do is to get over my fear of setting Kairos loose in the world. But I’m getting close, thanks to the hectoring of the artists chomping at the bit and a late-night lecture from my little brother, who, on my visit to Maryland, woke me up at two in the morning when he got home from work, demanding to discuss the book in-depth despite the fact that I wanted to sleep. He claimed this was fair play because he’d started reading Kairos before bed one night and hadn’t been able to stop until he was done. He also did a lot of swearing during our discussion, explaining that if he didn’t swear he didn’t trust me to understand the depth of his feeling about things. So, all in all, high praise. He also managed to solve two lingering story issues I knew I had to tighten up before finalizing the manuscript.

So…July. Vacation’s over: it’s back into the insanity for Kate. Here we go.

 

 

Novellablog: Letting Go, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fear of Bombing

That title’s a big fat lie.

I let go of none of my fears (ever), and I’m terrified of bombing. I worry about what people think all the time. There is no learning to stop. It’s just part of who I am. On the other hand, there is a time to let go, if only because if you don’t, the larger project fails. That’s right about where I am now with The Kairos Mechanism.

Last night I finished all but a couple of the final edits from my friend, author and ace editor Christine Johnson. In the grand plan and timeline for Kairos, Christine is the last person to weigh in before the manuscript goes to Adjua Greaves, my copyeditor for this project. And I have a couple hours left this afternoon before I can call Christine’s edits done, but after that, I sort of have no excuse not to send the manuscript on to Adjua.

Now, careful readers will note that there is still a whole other person left to edit the thing, and therefore plenty of time for me to make changes before the text becomes permanent. So why the panic?

I guess because I’m still sort of kicking around the idea of printing some advance copies to take with me to BEA. I still don’t know what I’d do with them–I’m not booked on any panels or anything, and I’m certainly not planning on wearing a sandwich board that says ASK ME ABOUT MY BOOK. But there is a certain temptation in the idea of having a few on hand, which means I need to be reasonably certain the novella is in passably-readable advance copy state.

I just still don’t know if I am qualified to determine what that looks like. For instance, just to show you the kind of thing I’m (irrationally?) worried about: Word likes to configure ellipses without spaces between the dots. My editor at Clarion always re-configures them the other way, space-dot-space-dot-space-dot-space. But when I do that in Word, I end up with situations where there are two dots at the end of one line and one dot at the beginning of the next one. Do it the other way, and it causes problems when I justify the lines. So clearly I have to go through the entire PDF and fix this issue. File under: dumb-but-obvious-in-retrospect layout stuff to panic about.

Then there’s story stuff. I have a note in the manuscript that I’ve been vacillating about for like 3 weeks. Ongoing story issue? Critical thing I haven’t figured out yet? Nope. There’s a reference to Arcane’s schoolyard, and one of my critique mates wants to know where it is in the town. Literally, all I have to do is pull out my map of Arcane and decide on a spot. There are no ramifications to where I place the schoolyard. None. It’s also kind of unnecessary to actually place it; the story works fine without that detail, so I could reasonably just delete that note. But I need to know where it is for purposes of planning (see my earlier post on organization), and adding that one line won’t slow things down at all. So I should do it. It’s not a difficult thing. It’s easy and logically a good thing to do. And yet…I keep putting this stupid detail off, for no reason I can figure out except a reluctance to let go. File under: dumb-but-nagging detail stuff to panic about.

I could give you more examples, things to file under the following categories:

  • historical accuracy stuff to panic about
  • awkwardness-of-shorter-length-manuscript stuff to panic about
  • while-panicking-about the book-am-I-doing-enough-blogging-and-outreach stuff to panic about

And really, I invented all these categories to avoid thinking about the big elephant in the room with me right now: panic that people simply won’t like the story. If people don’t like the story, it’s not going to be because of anything left on any of my panic lists. If people don’t like the story, I have no one to blame but myself. There’s no editor and no acquisitions committee that gave me a measure of validation in advance. It’s only me who thought this was something worth writing, worth my time to complete, worth your time to read. Only me who thought it was ready.

Well, only me, my critique group, the Kid Editors, two in-depth story-editors…every one of them a person I trust. And really, if I’m honest, when I read what I’ve written, I truly, truly love it. If I twist my own arm and make myself answer honestly, however hard it is to let go, I do think it’s ready. So maybe I need to stop worrying after all.

I mean, I won’t–I’m still me, after all–but I’m going to try.

 

Novellablog: Kid Editors: Because the kid in the room understands your book better than you do.

Remember that post I wrote about how I can’t be trusted to edit my own stuff? Well, last week it was time to send The Kairos Mechanism to the last and most critical set of readers before I send it to the critmate who’s acting as uber-editor. These are the Kid Editors: Emma, Luci and Edie, Mason, and the newly-deputized Julia and Talia. Their mission: make sure I’m not going to embarrass myself by putting this book up in front of the world.

I’ve written about the Kid Editors before, but in the interests of cataloguing all the ways in which I’m trying to make this book shine without the benefit of my blue-pencil-wielding editor at Clarion, it’s well worth revisiting these amazing kids and what they do. Especially since, day before yesterday, I had a conference call with Emma.

If you happened to be following me on Twitter on Wednesday, you might have seen me tweet the following:

“I have nightmares where, in 10 years, I submit a MS to Emma (in her new job as Most Senior Editor at the Hugest Publisher Ever) & she says, “Kate, you know how much I want to work with you. But…tell you what. Let me give you some notes and I’ll look at a revision.”

I was mostly joking, of course. I love talking to Emma. But I wasn’t kidding about how tough she is on my work. She will tell me—and has, as often as it’s been necessary—when she thinks I’m being lazy, being obtuse or confusing, or (yes, it’s happened) swearing too much in a particular manuscript. On one occasion, after a lengthy explanation on my part about what I was getting at in a particular scene, Emma replied by asking, “How important to you is it that I get all that? I just thought that part was exciting. The rest of it—does that really matter?” I had to think about that. And then I had to answer honestly: “Nope.” But then, we’ve also had similar conversations where she’s listened to my explanation and then demanded I clarify it. She’s a sharp like that.

Right about the time I wrote my last posts on the Kid Editors, I sent a set of questions to each of the (at the time) four of them. Here are Emma’s responses. These are from December, and Emma was twelve.

K: What do you like about being a beta-reader?

E: I love being a beta reader for very many reasons. Reason A- It makes me feel important, and like I am helping make the book better. Reason B- I love to read and if I can do that and help you then it is double awesome. Reason C- I want to be a professional beta-reader someday!

K: Is it difficult to do? How is it different from just reading a book?  

E: It is a little more complex than reading a book normally, because you are reading it with a critical eye, and always have to be thinking. But it is more rewarding than reading an actual book because you have feel like you have some say in what goes into the finished product.

K: What can a writer do to help you give her good feedback? Do you like to have questions in advance? Would you rather just read the book and have the writer send questions later, so they don’t influence your thoughts while you read the book? 

E: I like knowing a little bit about what you are curious about but not specific questions before I read, then I like talking to you after I read and telling you everything I noticed, and then answering the more specific questions.

K: What steps do you take after you’re finished reading a book–or while you’re reading it–to decide what you like and what you don’t, and what you think the writer still needs to work on?

E: Quite honestly, I don’t take notes while I read even though I should…I just think about the things and sometimes read what you send me again, so that I can notice the specific things more.

K: Do you feel comfortable telling someone (for example, me) that you like or don’t like a particular aspect of a book? Is it hard to do? How can the writer make you more comfortable about giving negative feedback? 

E: Since I know you, and I’m not an extremely shy person, no it does not bother me. I like to think of it as constructive criticism, disagreement leads to better discussions and in the end, a better book!

K: How do you involve your parents in your reading? 

E: As you know, my parents are almost as invested in this as I am, and like me are dying to help you write more books, so they usually read them too!

K: Any other thoughts you’d like to share? 

E: You know that nothing makes my day more then receiving a new book from you to read.

This time, partly in response to Emma’s comment above that she preferred not to read with specific questions in advance, when I sent the Editors The Kairos Mechanism, I had only one specific question. I asked them: if I had ten more pages to spend expanding or adding anything to this story, how would you like to see me use those pages?

Wednesday night we spoke by phone. Emma’s first comment, right out of the gate, was, “It’s so short.” I suppose it’s better to leave readers wanting more than wishing you would get on with it, so I decided to count this as a positive.

Other comments:

She asked for more reminders about what’s come before. Not so much a re-hashing of the story, but reminders about the town, Natalie’s family, what certain terms (introduced in The Boneshaker or The Broken Lands) meant. Despite how much she loved The Boneshaker, Emma had forgotten many of the details. This was eye-opening. Possibly I’ve forgotten how most people read; my husband, with whom I discuss books and reading and details more than anyone else, not only reads books several times, but he memorizes details. And frankly, so do I. I’ve always tended to feel my eyes glaze over when books in a series stop to re-hash what’s gone before. I wonder if I’ve never had a real sense of how people really read related books. My critique group had asked for some specific reminders, but what Emma wanted went a bit beyond that.

She asked for more description. Interestingly, the place she specifically wanted more was a place where one of my crit mates had specifically wanted me to cut back. I mentioned this to her, and she protested loudly. Even more interestingly, the reason she wanted more in this spot was not that she felt the story needed it, but because it was a section of the story related to Simon Coffrett, a mysterious figure in the town of Arcane. Emma has a particular interest in Simon, because there are so many unanswered questions about him, and she wanted as much information about him as I was willing to give, even if it meant slowing the story down a bit in that spot.

This was also particularly interesting to me because in another book Emma read for me, one in which I had two characters exploring a really (I thought) fascinating underground city, she really gave me the third degree about keeping things moving, adding action, adding tension, etcetera. Granted, there is a difference in scale; in The Kairos Mechanism we’re talking about turning two pages into three, and in Wild Iron we were talking about cutting back what ran twenty pages over the course of about two hundred and fifty. Still. Interesting.

She pointed out a few missed opportunities. She wanted more description of the mechanism referenced in the title, and thought I’d missed an opportunity to bring Natalie’s love of machines—a very important part of her personality—more fully into the narrative.

She thought I’d also missed an opportunity to allow Natalie to behave unselfishly at a critical point, and to take an action that she takes anyway for the sake of protecting someone else rather than herself. The scene, according to every reader including Emma herself, works just fine as written; Emma’s suggestion, however, adds a nice layer and requires one sentence of revision. Nice.

Certain places where she was confused or had questions were really fascinating. Some of them would involve spoilers to explain; others were more like questions about backstory—where certain characters came from, whether I planned to bring them back. I take this as a positive, too—the whole point of this project is to give me a chance and a way to return to characters I love outside of the big, overarching narrative of the hardcover releases.

The best compliment of all: she claims she’d like to marry one of the new characters. That is a satisfactory response, I think.

And then, the final question: ten pages, Emma. Assuming I haven’t spent them all fixing the stuff you’ve given me to fix, where do you want more story?

Emma was quiet for a minute, and then said she’d rather I kept those ten pages and put them toward a story about Jake Limberleg (the villain of The Boneshaker).

Duly noted.

Novellablog: Dear Kate, Organize or Else. Love, Your Future Books.

With great reluctance, it’s time I admit that it’s become evident to me that I will have to get organized. A girl can only double-check so many times whether a character’s cane has an alligator’s head or a crocodile’s head for a handle before she has to face the fact that she’s wasting her own time.

I have, therefore, again with great reluctance, begun to assemble a Binder.

In the same way that I don’t willingly write synopses, I also don’t write character histories or descriptions, except into the text of the manuscript itself. This is because I like learning about the characters as I go. I don’t know what they’re really like until I see them in action. I don’t know what traits they have until I learn what traits they need. I don’t know what their histories are until I find a reason to investigate. This is not to say that I know nothing about a character in advance; but by not forming pre-conceived ideas about that character, I can maintain the greatest possible flexibility and give myself room to work in future stories.

An example of this is Old Tom Guyot. Readers of The Boneshaker might remember that Tom has an old injury in one knee that gives him some arthritic pain. You might have assumed that, although the actual circumstances of the injury were not disclosed in that book, I, the all-knowing writer, certainly knew how Tom got hurt.

Nope.

I do know now, but I only discovered the circumstances about a month ago, after my husband had finished reading the first draft of The Kairos Mechanism. He said I needed something to raise the stakes, and the scene I came up with to accomplish that turned out to have the added benefit of revealing the nature and history of Old Tom’s injury. And believe me when I tell you, what I came up with I would have had no way of anticipating two years ago. Absolutely no flipping way.

On the other hand, I have had to look up what kind of cane Doc Fitzwater carries twice now, and just because I don’t want to be pinned down about things before it’s absolutely necessary, that doesn’t mean I like doing the same extra work over and over and over.

So I’ve come up with a compromise. I’ve made character sheets, I’ve put them in the aforementioned binder and I’ve alphabetized them. But I’ve decided that the only things that go on them are things that have already been committed to in print and things that are so mission-critical to the ongoing story that they’re really unlikely to be changed. Anything else can be recorded as ideas and notes in a designated section of the page, so that I don’t forget that those things can be changed at will. But so far I haven’t written much in those sections. The same is true with the map of Arcane I drew when we were editing The Boneshaker–up until this week it only showed places I’d referenced in that particular book. Because I added references to one or two new places in The Kairos Mechanism, I’ve added a few things to my drawing.

I’ve also started making notes that will become a style sheet. These include things like is gingerfoot capitalized? Do I refer to Doc Fitzwater as the Doc or the doc? And what reptile gave its noggin so that the doc’s cane could have a handle? 

Grudging, baby steps toward organization. I suppose it was time.

Become a backer of The Kairos Mechanism‘s Kickstarter campaign here, so that I haven’t compromised my principles and become organized for no good reason. Thank you!

Novellablog: Yes, You Can Edit Your Own Work, but You Will Probably Frack It Up.

It will not surprise my nerd audience that I’m watching Battlestar Galactica as I write this. But that’s neither here nor there. We are now progressing into the portion of this series I like to call

From Beta Readers to Copyeditors; In Which Kate Panics About the Editing Process. 

Here’s a list of things I am worried about with this project:

  • 1)   Finishing the novella. (April Kate checking in: done and done.)
  • 2)   Raising the money. (June Kate, did you want to weigh in? . . . June Kate . . . ? You there? Or do we not have forward-going time travel budgeted into this thing? April Kate: No, we do not.)
  • 3)   Does anybody actually want to read this thing? (Anybody? Bueller….?)

Then, right on schedule, (I KNOW!!)  I finished the first draft of the novella, and a whole new set of panicky things set in.

  • 1)   Without running the agent/editor gauntlet, how do I actually know this thing is any good?
  • 2)   Who’s going to edit the thing?
  • 3)   Who’s going to copyedit the thing?

I had already decided I needed to have someone else copyedit the manuscript. The biggest complaints I have been reading about self-published works all have to do with poor or absent editing. Heck, traditionally published books get poorly edited all the time, too. So, yes: having editors involved=critical. But I worry that the challenge is bigger than just having a strong copyeditor come in at the end.

We all make mistakes. I’m good with grammar, spelling, and apostrophes, but I’m bad with who/whom and further/farther. I have a tendency to use the words odd, strange, and bizarre too often (if you have read any of my books, you will understand why). I am fascinated by the different kinds of glances and smiles and grimaces that people use to communicate wordlessly, so I tend to overuse those devices when I write. I have characters fold their arms too often, and my first drafts have an excessive number of paragraphs begun with a character’s name. And this is just the stuff I know I do. Let’s not even think about all the awkward writing stuff I do that I don’t know that I do until someone hits me with a rolled-up newspaper and says, STOP THAT.

All of these things get fixed because someone other than me looks at the manuscript in a particular way. Awkward sentences that turn out to be a paragraph long? My husband usually catches those before they go to the critique group. Random missing words and bogus references to antibiotics prior to World War One? Thank you, critique group. “I don’t know why I think this, but I wish you would do this part differently, ’cause it bugs me”? That would be the Kid Editors, weighing in.

And yet. And yet.

A page from the revised final draft of Ellen Raskin's THE WESTING GAME. There is no such thing as a clean draft, evidently.

The last time I got a manuscript back from my editor at Clarion, it was prefaced by an email that said (I am not paraphrasing), “Great job, Kate! This manuscript is in great shape.” And it was still covered in blue. I mean covered. (She uses blue pencil, she told me once, because she figured if any author got a manuscript back with that much red writing on it, they might go into a cave in panic and never come back out.) And that was a manuscript that was in great shape. One on which I did a great job.

What would it look like if she thought the manuscript quote-needed work-unquote? The evil truth is this: even the cleanest, sharpest draft I’m capable of turning out needs several passes of editing before it’s ready to be picked over by a copyeditor.

And I think my critique group will confirm that I turn out fairly sharp drafts before I share them with anyone. This is not boasting. Remember that thing I said before about not always knowing where things are going in my stories before I get there? This means I don’t always even share a draft with my crit group until I’ve gone back and cleaned up the results of my (ahem) particular process, read it back through, cleaned it up again, revised a bit, read again–you get the idea. So who’s going to go three rounds with me with the blue pencil this time?

Then there’s this to panic about: catching potential historical mistakes. I’m a good researcher, and I do my due diligence with everything, but I’ve made some bizarre mistakes before. Only a couple weeks ago, I caught an error I’d made about the use of sugar in fireworks and had to send a frantic email to catch it before The Broken Lands’ ARC materials went into production. I sent the novella manuscript to my critique group still full of notes to myself like (CHECK THIS) or (ERA-APPROPRIATE ANTIBIOTIC) or (COLOR OF STITCHES?).

And how about the moment I realized was that I couldn’t remember whether the word “gingerfoot” had been capitalized in The Boneshaker, or whether Doc Fitzwater was referred to as the Doc or just the doc? I couldn’t immediately find my hand-drawn map of Arcane, so all of my locations were going to have to be double-checked. Last week my friend Lisa noticed that I changed the spelling of one character’s name midway through the manuscript. I fixed the inconsistency, then had a moment of doubt and went back to double-check how I’d spelled this guy’s name in The Boneshaker. Get this: when I’d “fixed the inconsistency” in The Kairos Mechanism, I’d changed all the spellings to the wrong variation of the name.

This nearly sent me into a full-on panic attack as I was reminded suddenly of a series of (incredibly, incredibly bad) fantasy novels I read last year in which the spelling of a character’s name was inconsistent from one novel to the next. How the hell does anyone make a mistake like that? I’d thought at the time, stunned at how very, very bad this writer was.

Okay, to be fair, it was also an adult series from the mid-Eighties, and the name thing was the most minimal of the reasons why these books were so very bad. I mention this because I’m now certain that guy and I are not the only ones to have made this mistake. And a mistake like that doesn’t make a book–or anyone’s writing bad; but it does make the writing in question look careless.

So what’s the answer? Well, among other things, I’m starting to compile a style sheet for myself and for the copyeditor, so that I can at least try to avoid calling a character Wylie when I’m already on record calling him Wiley. But more on that in my next post. I think I feel another panic attack coming on, and I’m going to see if going to the diner to get some new writing done will put a stop to that, at least temporarily.

 

Novellablog: How to Write a Book in 30 Days.

It’s funny that this was the post I had lined up for today. Last night I got a lovely mention by the venerable Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, and after the obligatory commenters being angst-ridden about the fact that The Boneshaker shares a title with Boneshaker (hi, Cherie!), another commenter spoke up warning people away from backing authors on Kickstarter because he backed an author once and that author didn’t deliver for a long time. So here stand I to reassure you, world, that the manuscript for The Kairos Mechanism is done. I have plenty of editing left to do, but don’t you worry. It’ll be ready for you digitally sometime in July, and in print sometime in August. You may confidently back the project if it strikes you as worthy.

Want to know how I wrote it so fast (she asks, batting her eyelashes)? Sure you do. On to the post promised in the title.

For clarity, the title should really read: HOW TO WRITE A BOOK IN 30 DAYS, FROM FIRST VAGUE IDEA TO FIRST HORRENDOUS DRAFT; WHICH IT’S A PROGRAM IN FOUR PARTS, ESPECIALLY USEFUL FOR WRITERS WHO STRUGGLE TO WRITE ANYTHING IN UNDER 300 PAGES.

From my title, you may glean that finishing things isn’t my problem; my problem is keeping things short and simple.

Ready? Right. Here we go.

This is also where I should admit to you that 1) I only outline or write synopses when forced to, so outlining and synopsizing will not be major parts of this program; and 2) I don’t know the ending of a story until I’m halfway through it. Ever (unless I’ve written a synopsis; see #1).  If you are reading this and you are one of the people who have at one point or another instructed me to write one (meaning, if you are either my agent or my editor), obviously you made me do it for a very good reason, and I’m sure I’m grateful now, even if I spent the entire time I was writing it quietly cursing and drinking too much rye. (Also, I’m sorry if getting me to do it was like making a child eat broccoli.)

I like to dive into an idea, write to find out where I’m headed, and discover the ending, like a buried treasure, somewhere along the way. And I do always find it, but not always within the first couple weeks of working on something. So the great thing about what I’m about to say is that you can do this even if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Not everybody likes to write this way, and I totally respect outliners and planners even though I am not cut of that cloth. But I do think there’s merit in realizing that you can start writing even when you don’t have the whole story planned out yet.

The one thing you do have to have, obviously, is a place to start, a premise or character or simple what-if, something that galvanizes you enough that you simply cannot wait to start writing. Because any piece of writing you’re going to stick with long enough to see it through to becoming even the roughest of drafts, you have to love so much you can’t stand to be away from it for longer than a few hours. And God help you if your love starts to wane after that, because the transition from draft to finished book is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

For me, that idea, that galvanizing thing was a note I found in a book of Civil War folktales about how sutlers (itinerant peddlers who followed army trains) would from time to time use dead bodies (and the soldiers who carried them) to smuggle goods in and out of prison camps. Because I have kind of a thing about itinerant peddlers, this was enough to set my brain going in like five directions. It doesn’t always happen this fast, but within two days I had twenty pages and a rough idea of where the story was going, and I was ready to start writing in earnest.

So, strategy number one, obviously: once you have your idea in place, start writing immediately, and keep writing.

When I’m trying to finish something, I automatically put myself on the “I’m on a deadline” word count quota. This means five days a week I expect to put a minimum of 3000 new words into the manuscript. Two days a week I get off easy with 1500ish. This is what I consider a moderate but not head-wreckingly challenging pace, and with those numbers, even assuming some false starts and bad days, I know I can clock around 150 pages in a month.

Last fall I discovered a magical hashtag on Twitter: #1k1hr, meaning a thousand words in an hour. It connected me with a ton of other writers trying to get through their daily wordcount goals one hour at a time. In this way, I found I could do my 3000-word days easily, and when I needed to really push through a tough spot or catch up after a tough day or two, I managed 6000-word days without breaking too much of a sweat.

The key, of course, is not to expect polished prose at this stage. The key is to keep the words coming, and keep the story progressing toward a climax. There will be false starts and crap pages, and that’s ok. The editing, of course, comes later, but that’s as it should be. If there’s no draft, there’s nothing to edit.

But Kate, I hear you ask, what about the part where you said this program was geared to keeping things under 300 pages? If you’re just writing for the sake of racking up a word count, isn’t that counter-productive?

Enter strategy number two: feel free to skip from important scene to important scene, and worry about the connective tissue afterwards.

Look for the simplest ways to get from point A to point B. This is not only a way of making sure I can keep churning out new words—let’s face it, many times the transitions are the tough bits—but it (theoretically) ensures I’m focusing only on set piece scenes that move the story forward. While writing these scenes, I keep in mind that thing my old boss Craig, who was one of my best writing teachers, told me once: enter the scene late, and get out of it early. This keeps the pace moving right along. And every scene must either advance the action or present a new obstacle the protagonist must overcome. In this way, you keep the plot moving right along.

Strategy number three: if it should happen that the ending materializes before you figure out how to get there from wherever you are, make a list of titles for the chapters in between.

This is as close as I willingly get to outlining, and as I was doing it for The Kairos Mechanism, I realized I acutally have written a novella before. It was about six years ago, and the only outline I used was a set of note cards with chapter titles written on them. It was really more of a short novel; it came in at about 145 pages, and I’m not sure what the wordcount was because back then I didn’t track that, but I wrote it in two weeks. It was the first draft of The Boneshaker, which at that point was called Gingerfoot.

Anyway, the benefit of the chapter-title strategy is that it allows one to create a path to follow to a finished draft that’s more like a bunch of rocks across a stream than an actual path: the title is just big enough to be something you can confidently jump toward, even if you have no idea what the waters around it are like until you get there. Is that taking the metaphor too far?

Strategy number four: don’t stop until you get to the end.

This is the tough part, I acknowledge. But by not being afraid to start just because you don’t know where you’ll wind up, by being willing to jump toward that next stone in the stream even though it’s a small target and even though it requires faith that, once you’re there, you’ll be able to see the next rock big enough to jump for–by having faith in yourself that if the story is there, you will find the pieces you need to be able to tell it, you can get to the end.

It might be a really crummy end. You might go back to read that first draft and be crushed at how much work is left to do. You might shake your fist at me and curse me because you realize after the fact that if you had just sat down and forced yourself to plan things out in the first place, you could’ve cut out a lot of retrofitting and a ton of work that you’ll now have to face. That’s fair. You’ve just figured out something about your process, which will necessarily be different than mine. Be happy. That will make people like your agent and your editor much happier with you than mine (bless them) tend to be with me when I start something new.

The day that I wrote the bulk of this post (minus the first paragraph, obviously) was the day I was ready to print out the first start-to-finish draft of The Kairos Mechanism. On that day, I wrote this to end my comments, and I think I’d like to leave it unedited, even though it’s now a month later:

Today I will print my new book out for the first time. I will be amazed at how little paper and ink it takes up. Then I’ll read through it and panic about how much there is to clean up, but then I’ll take a few calming breaths, remember that I knew that would be the case. After that I’ll make a list and realize it’s going to be less work than I expected. Or more work than I expected, but that it still won’t take more than a few long days, maybe as much as a week. Then I will send it to my critique group, and while I’m waiting for their comments, I will sharpen my colored pencils, get out my sticky paper flags and my set of special page-marker paperclip tags that are labeled CHAPTER ONE, CHAPTER TWO and so forth, and get going.

Office supplies make everything better.

A month later, I can tell you that this turned out to be exactly what happened. So if you take away nothing else from this post, just remember: start writing and trust that the ending will come; and office supplies fix what ails you.

To learn more about The Kairos Mechanism on Kickstarter, click here.

Novellablog: Keep it Under Two Hundred Pages, Milford.

In Which Kate Frets about Short Fiction and its Perils

A couple of days ago (I’m writing this on Friday, March 23) I finished the first rough, start-to-finish draft of what I’ve been mentally calling The Keeper of Sanctuary. (April 17th Kate here: If you’ve been following my adventures in the last couple of weeks, you know this story as The Kairos Mechanism.)

This is a huge, huge relief.

I started writing this thing on February 25th, and this was the assignment I gave myself: write story. Must be a self-contained adventure that not only helps readers to understand how The Broken Lands relates to The Boneshaker; it must relate to the Natalie trilogy I’m outlining in my (haha) spare time. It must contain no spoilers, although it may contain clues. It must come in under 200 words. Really, though, it ought to come in under 100. Don’t panic.

I went into this with two things worrying me. The first, of course, was raising the money that would be required to publish the thing later. Just as panic-inducing, however, was the idea of writing a novella. Meaning (theoretically) something shorter than a novel. And I have trouble keeping my novels down to a manageable length.

This is not because I think a book ought to clock in at a minimum of 300 pages. I think a book should be as long as it needs to be, and I think that length is generally somewhat less than what the writer thinks, which is why I thank God I have a brilliant critique group to whip me into shape even before a manuscript goes to my equally brilliant editor.

My problem is that once I get going with an idea, I tend to let that idea become complicated. Last year I told my husband I was going to write a short, simple book over the summer, something under 200 pages. He laughed and told me to my face that he didn’t think I could do it. And guess what? Let’s just say…I struggled.

Dramatization of what Nathan does whenever I say I'm going to write something short.

This time, well…by the time I had this idea and had written enough of it to be pretty sure I could finish it, I had boxed myself into a place where if I was going to go through with this novella project, I had to immediately start putting the pieces in place, even if I was far from certain about the end of the novella. I had to start sending emails and making phone calls to line up the friends and colleagues who would lend their voices and their time to the project. If I was going to call in those reserves, I couldn’t ask for their help and then not deliver a story of the right length when it was time for me to produce it. Which, conservatively, gave me a month in which to have a finished draft. It could be rough, but it had to be readable.

And it had to remain short. The SFWA’s definition of a novella is handy enough, and it gives an upper word count limit of 40,000 words. That translates to something in the vicinity of 140 pages.

I have never written a novella. What I should have done was talk to some of the brilliant writers I’ve met in the last few years who do write them, and beg for some guidance or (even better) an inoculation against pages 150 and up. But there wasn’t time. What I did in the end was come up with a three-part strategy, and (cautiously) it seems to have worked. More about that on Thursday.

Today, before the tough editing starts, it runs a lean 108 pages. I expect it to balloon up to about 120, then shrink back down to right about 110. Just for kicks, I’ll take a copy and dice it up fine and try and bring it down to 99, just to see if I can (when my husband reads that part, he will stop reading and laugh until he cries).

Laugh it up, Nathan. I did it in less than 200 pages, and in less than a month. No matter what happens next, I win.

(April 17th Kate here again to make sure March 23rd Kate mentions where you can help with April 17th Kate’s major concern: go here, learn more, become a backer if you choose, spread the word if you don’t mind. Thanks!)