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Writing a book - my process

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Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:17 pm

I've recently finished my first book, and the writing of it was a long and difficult process with hurdles and little victories along the way. I thought it might be interesting to share my process with the group, including some of the things I've learned. If you've written a book or are writing a book, I'd like to hear about your process (in a separate thread). What's the story of your book? Mine is below.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:22 pm

Once upon a time, I was an avid member of Speculative Vision. This was before the change to the current bbs. Back then I wrote some (pretty awful) short stories. Fantasy and sci fi. Just for fun. :)

Then I became a husband and father. Things changed. Didn't come 'round here very often anymore. Not much in the way of writing.

One day I had a conversation with an old friend that started the germ of an idea. Not an idea for a book. Just a little piece of an idea for a story. I started a notebook for it, and I'd add little tidbits here and there. Sometimes I'd write a scene or some dialogue. I'd add some other ideas from folklore, history, or research. And slowly a fuller story started to emerge. I started to think, "This could be a book." I poked at it a little more, and a little more. Usually didn't get past the first chapter or two before pulling away onto other things.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:30 pm

Time passed, and my son grew older and more independent. I had more free time! A lot more. And I started to think, "Hey, I should really do this." So, after writing a few chapters over five years, I hunkered down to really focus on it two or three years ago. I started writing for several hours at a time at least once a week. And the story started to come along. And the characters started to become themselves. New characters appeared and some other characters faded into the background. Some characters turned into totally different people than when they first introduced themselves to me. There were many rewrites. I even got a hotel room for a weekend once so I could just write for two days straight.

It was hard work! A million decisions, and so often I knew when something was the wrong decision but had trouble finding the right one. I'm also not a great writer (lack of practice), so I found myself hunting for the right words all the time. So many awkward phrasings. It slowed me down. So frustrating when you know what you want to say but can't figure out how to say it.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:38 pm

A big milestone for me was when I finished my first draft. Holy smokes, I had a book! Granted, the end was terrible at that point - I couldn't really figure out how I wanted it to wrap up, so I rushed through it. But I finally had something, and I finally felt like it was possible to really finish what I'd started.

For the first time, I passed it along to somebody else to read - two people who I knew would be gentle with me (my wife and my mom). They gave it a read, gave me some feedback, and then I pondered for a month how to fix some of the major flaws, including the sad-sack ending.

One of the biggest changes was point of view. Ugh, it's so important, and so hard to figure out which is the right one. I have two main characters, and I go back and forth between them. In my first draft, the POV for one of them was first person and for the other it was third person. It didn't work, and it was awkward. So, in my second draft, I switched so they were both first person. What a pain in the butt it is to change all of the pronouns and verbs. And guess what? Now that my book is done, I wish I had done it all in third person. Third person allows you to still get into somebody's head, but gives you the freedom to explore other things that your character doesn't know about. It also just seems more literary and professional. Lastly, if one of your characters is young, you can't use your full vocabulary and still be that character's voice. Challenging. All the different POVs have value in different scenarios, but getting it right (ideally the first time) is incredibly important, and I recommend putting a lot of thought into it.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:50 pm

So I worked on my second draft. Even though I had more free time, I've got a full time job and a lot of other things going on, so (unless I sequestered myself) it was hard to immerse. However, editing was easier to do in small sittings. I found that it wasn't too bad to do an hour here and an hour there, which was really not productive at all during the first draft. With gaps and delays, I eventually ended up with a complete second draft. The end had changed and grown much larger, finally having equivalent depth to the rest of the book. Time to get it out to another batch of readers.

This time I looked for readers from a broader background. Some young folks, some friends, some family, another writer, and some folks with scientific expertise relating to the topic of my book. In all, I asked 9 or 10 people to read the second draft. About half of them did. I got a wide variety of very good feedback and dove straight into the third draft. The end got the most attention, but there were changes to be made all around. Some good additions here and there. Some awkwardness and scientific inaccuracies cleaned up. This was the quickest draft so far.

Then back to Mom for another peek. She is a retired English professor, so she's a great resource. I did one last cleanup edit based on her feedback. This time, since I go back and forth between characters, I edited all of one character's chapters in a row, then switched over to the other character's chapters. Helped me stay in their voice.

That was a challenge... voice. Each character had to have her own voice, particularly since I wrote the book in the first person. Writing female characters was a little challenging, but it's just hard to write *not as me*. Because really, they're all me, right? They're all in my head. They're all my voice. So, to write in different voices, I need to be an actor or have multiple personalities or something. :) I think it turned out okay, but it was difficult.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:59 pm

It's tempting for some folks to write and write and edit and edit and never want to finish their book. Not me. I was ready for it to be done. And it was! I have a finished book! Crazy! Hooray!

So now what?

Well, I'd like people to read it. Realistically, I know that it's unlikely that anybody will publish it. There's a ridiculous number of people writing books out there, to the point where publishers don't accept direct submissions anymore. Even the agents are flooded with content. And my book? I love it, but I know that my writing skills probably aren't good enough to separate me from the rest of the heap. This is my first book, after all, and I haven't been writing much fiction over the last fifteen years. I'm like a guy who goes swimming three times a week for two years and tries to get into the Olympics.

But why not try? So, I came up with a plan to submit to some agents and simultaneously plan to self-publish.

Let me just say at this point that my wife has been super supportive. She encouraged me to keep going. She wanted to see all of my drafts. She didn't mind me getting a hotel room for a weekend (might have even been her idea?). Wait a minute... is she trying to get rid of me? ;) She doesn't mind me spending extra money to self-publish. She's been great. If she weren't, I probably wouldn't have a book.

Hooray for family!
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 7:07 pm

So, agents. First of all, I read the SFWA page on agents, which is great. So, I learned to watch out for shysters and that I needed a query. Ann Leckie's query is a great one (and I enjoyed her trilogy as well!). Query Shark is also a great resource.

Here's the query I came up with:

Dear _____:

Genetically engineered to be the first human to fly, Beryl achieved worldwide fame at age seven. Now a teenager, she lives a quiet, isolated life with her family in a Milwaukee suburb.

Maggie is a journalist stuck in a dead-end job writing celebrity “Where are they now?” pieces, but she hungers to tell a real story at a time when reporting the truth can land you in prison.

When Maggie interviews Beryl for a fluff piece, Beryl’s world suddenly expands as she is introduced to other heavily modified teens. Beryl and Maggie decide to investigate rumors of The Home, a secret facility where children whose genetic modifications went wrong are kept hidden from the world at large. In the process, they uncover family secrets that pit Beryl against her parents and Maggie against a powerful corporation.

Strong female protagonists (complete at 113,000 words) lead the reader through a near-future world suddenly much nearer due to recent scientific breakthroughs in genetic engineering. The book questions the definitions of family and humanity as it explores issues of reproductive rights, patenting of life, and the role of journalism in society.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

my name
my professional-sounding email address (created for this purpose)
my phone number
Last edited by WisconsinSFfan on Tue May 09, 2017 8:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 7:26 pm

So now to find agents to submit to, right? So I started by looking at my favorite recent authors to see who represents them. Agencies have websites. You look at those websites and find the agent that seems the most amenable to your work, then you go to the submissions page to see what they want, then you email them or send them a form or whatever. Unfortunately, they all want something slightly different. Some want a synopsis. Some want four pages from the beginning of the book. Some want eight. Some want 50. Some want it doublespaced or with a very particular format. Some want it as an attachment (most don't).

This got me a few leads. But you can't stop there, right? So I went to AgentQuery and Query Tracker (both of which are supposed to be reputable and have some vetting). They both have some rudimentary filters to help me find agents who are AAR members and are seeking clients. So you go to their agency page, and some of them aren't really looking for sci fi or aren't really looking for new clients, and sometimes it's a different agent at the agency who's a better fit, and sometimes it seems shady (any agency that offers services like editing or publishing is fishy). I only end up sending to about a third of the agencies I look at, and on average, it takes me 30 minutes to send out one query.

So where am I at? Well, I've probably sent out about 30 queries. I've gotten approximately a dozen rejections. On the plus side, some of those rejections aren't form letters and clearly indicate that the agent got past my query and actually read some of my pages. On the other hand, those agents didn't want to represent the book. :(

Here's an example response:
"It's an intriguing concept but it felt a little too much like a YA for an adult book and vice versa. It's also quite long and the writing didn't hold up throughout so I have to step aside. Thanks for the opportunity, though. I wish you luck."

When I got this particular response this morning, I had a lot of thoughts all fighting with each other for the top. I was glad that this agent read my work. I was sad that even after reading what was probably a good chunk of it, he didn't want to represent it. I thought that what he wrote was probably spot-on. And I didn't feel like wading through another two dozen agency websites and sending out more queries. The ones I have already sent out are a pretty good sample size, so I'll let them percolate while I push forward with self-publishing.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby WisconsinSFfan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 7:47 pm

Much like querying an agent, self-publishing seems to be its own pain in the butt. I've registered my completed work with the copyright office... not something I needed to do, but I figured what the heck. I decided not to spend more money than I needed to create a good product. Most of the advertising companies seem really shady, and same goes for the editing companies. Really, I just need a cover and to make sure it looks nice when formatted for an e-book. My goal is to have a cheap e-book that my friends and family can buy, and I'll do a vanity print of a hard-copy book for those who want it. On the plus side, on-demand printing is so much cheaper now than it used to be, whether it's Lulu or Createspace or whatever. Back in the old days, you had to print 1000 copies at $20 each and it just wasn't economically realistic.

Anyway, I hired a cover artist. There seem to be a ton of good ones around. I found mine by looking through some of the covers submitted here, though there are other good resources. Many of the companies have prices that are outside my budget, but there are some less expensive options if you look for them. I've gotten to look at a few first drafts of a cover and given feedback and should get a second draft soon. Exciting!

Anyway, at this point I'm just working on getting those last few self-publishing items out of the way while I wait for the last agent query responses to trickle in. It's been a very educational experience, and I'm very excited to have a copy of my book on my bookshelf. I'm looking forward to family and friends having the opportunity to read it. I don't know if I'll ever write another book (probably not until I retire, anyway), but I might write a short story or two if an idea pops into my head. Though I knew writing a book was hard, I didn't know how hard it was. Deep respect for both those who do it for a living and those who do it for fun.
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby Ariel » Fri Mar 17, 2017 4:15 pm

Glad that you found a cover artist for your book that you are satisfied with. Wishing you luck in your writing endeavors!
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Re: Writing a book - my process

Postby Talon Sinnah » Wed Mar 22, 2017 8:19 pm

Way to go brother glad you've about got it all done
I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the Soul. The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me. The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.

-Walt Whitman-
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