Publishing Anniversary

June has rolled around again, reminding me of what a great month June has been for me over the past couple of years. This week marks two years since I signed with my literary agent and one year since I became a published author. I can hardly believe it’s been a full year since Dead Ringer was released, and it seems even crazier to me that in less than a week I’ll have three books published. Three! It’s been an exciting couple of years for me and I’m so happy and grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had.

Looking forward, there are still exciting things to come. I have a new cozy mystery series starting in a couple of months (the Pancake House Mysteries) and I’m in the midst of planning some new projects for the future. The past two years have been wonderful writing/publishing-wise, and I’m hoping the years to come will also be fabulous. 🙂

Dead RingerDeath in A MajorDeadly Overtures          Cover - Crepes

Editing: First Draft to Final Product

All's_well_that_inks_well by Chris Wightman

Photo: “All’s Well that Inks Well” by Chris Wightman

I’m often asked about the process of taking a book from a first draft to a published novel. In a previous post I talked about my drafting process, how I go from concept to manuscript, particularly when writing mysteries. This time I thought I’d talk about the editing process for traditionally published novels. Every writer, every publishing house, and every individual editor will likely have a slightly different editing process, so the following is based on my own experiences and might not be the same for everyone.

Once I have a complete first draft I like to dive right into the first round of editing. Since I don’t like to stop and go back while I’m drafting (so I don’t lose my momentum) I instead make notes along the way of things that need to be changed or added as a result of the new pages I’ve written each day. So my first round of editing involves incorporating those changes and then reading through the entire manuscript and filling in plot holes and changing whatever else needs to be changed. Typically, I’ll go straight from the first round of editing to the second, maybe with a few days in between.

After I’ve gone through two rounds of editing, I like to put the manuscript aside and let it rest, preferably for at least three weeks. Putting the manuscript aside for a while allows me to go back to it with fresh eyes, and I tend to see things that I would have missed without that time away. The break also gives me a chance to send the manuscript to one or more critique partners so I can incorporate their feedback during the next round of editing.

Depending on my schedule, I’ll turn the manuscript in to my editor after three or four rounds of editing. The next stages really depend on the preferred process of the editor. However, so far in my own experience the manuscript has either gone through one or two rounds of editing with my editor before being sent to copyediting.

My editor goes through the manuscript and uses track changes to address things in the document, and I usually get some notes by email as well. Generally, the first round focuses on bigger issues, like the plot. Then my editor goes through it again and either approves it to go to copyediting or does line edits, focusing on more detailed things like repetitive use of certain words, trimming sentences that aren’t necessary, and addressing any sentences or paragraphs that might be awkward or unclear. Sometimes I’ve had these line edits combined with the big picture edits for one round of editing before copyediting, but it depends on the editor and the state of the manuscript.

From there, the manuscript goes to a copyeditor, who focuses on the technical details, like getting the manuscript to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, or whichever style they use. In my experience, any changes that are made are done with track changes so I can see what has been done. After copyediting, I get the chance to review the changes. So far this has always been the last chance for me to make any changes, but sometimes authors get to review a proof, at which point they can make some limited changes.

Before turning in the manuscript for the final time, I get my Kindle to read the entire document to me with text-to-speech. I can’t stress how important this step is to me. I like to feel that I’ve done everything I can to make my book as clean as possible. Even after going through professional editors, there are always a few typos and other issues that remain. Writers and editors are human, after all, and it’s easy to miss a few typos, especially tiny ones like a missing “a” or “as” here and there.

Since my Kindle doesn’t have a human brain, it doesn’t read what it knows should be written, but what is actually written. Every time I’ve gone through this step with a manuscript I’ve found at least a few little typos that otherwise would have made it into the published book. The text-to-speech round can be tedious and it takes a lot of hours, but it’s a step I hope my schedule never forces me to skip.

Once I’ve turned in the manuscript for the final time, it’s out of my hands, and I can work on other projects while looking forward to the publication date! This is where I am with both Deadly Overtures (releases in June) and The Crêpes of Wrath (releases in September). 🙂

Building a Mystery

Power of Words

The Power of Words by Antonio Litterio

Recently I was asked about my drafting process, so I thought I’d share a bit about it here on my blog.

My drafting strategy has changed over time, and I won’t be surprised if it continues to evolve as I write more books in the future. When I first started writing novels, I was a complete panster. In other words, I’d start writing without doing any plotting or planning beforehand. That didn’t work out so well for me though. I’d end up with a weak plot that sometimes dwindled off into nothing as I wrote myself into a dead-end.

When I wrote my first mystery, Dead Ringer (which was my fourth novel), I did a bit of planning before writing, but not a whole lot. That strategy worked at the time, but when I approached my next mystery in the same fashion, the results weren’t so great. I ended up with a manuscript that was way too short and had to spend a lot of time and effort reworking it into a full-length story.

Since that experience, I’ve been doing a lot more planning before starting to write, and so far I’m finding that it makes my life easier. I’m not the kind of person who can plan out the entire story before drafting, with every scene outlined in detail, but I do like to have a framework to build on, especially for mysteries, which can get confusing with all the suspects, clues, and red herrings involved.

When preparing to write a mystery, I now start out by planning the basics. I come up with the killer, the victim(s), the motive, and the means. Once I know those elements, I make a list of suspects, people who have a reason to want the victim dead. I also include each suspect’s apparent motive. Then I move on to listing the things that each suspect will do or the information the main character will find out about them that makes that person seem guilty. Sometimes I’ll also make a note of what could end up exonerating that suspect in the end.

I assign each character a colour and then merge all the suspect notes into a timeline so I have a general idea of which events will occur in which order and when the main character will discover each piece of information. That timeline usually changes along the way, but it at least gives me something to work with. The colour coding helps me to see how the things related to each suspect will be distributed throughout the story, and also makes it obvious if one character needs more added to his or her part of the plot.

Once all that is done, I write a basic outline for the first two or three chapters, and then I start writing. Generally, I’ll outline between two and five chapters at a time. That allows me to have some direction while also letting the story take me places I couldn’t have anticipated beforehand.

So while I do work with an outline, that outline changes and evolves along the way. I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between a plotter and a pantster. Probably a little closer to the plotter side now, which is proving valuable in my current circumstances. Now that I have deadlines to meet, I find it far less stressful to end up with a relatively strong plot at the end of the first draft, rather than having to spend weeks later on revising substantial parts of the structure of the story. Of course, that’s just what works best for me. Every writer is different, after all. 🙂

Writing Update

Blue_pen_on_paper

Photo credit: Revital9

Writing-wise, the last few months have been very busy for me, but in the best possible way. I’ve been working on two cozy mystery series, both of which have books coming out in the next few months. In January, the second book in the Music Lover’s Mystery series, Death in A Major, was released as an e-book, and the trade paperback was released in mid-February. While that book was getting released into the world, I was working away at the third book in the series (Deadly Overtures) as well as the first book in the Pancake House Mystery series (Crêpes of Wrath).

At this point, Deadly Overtures and Crêpes of Wrath are with their respective copy editors. The manuscripts will come back to me one more time for final review, and then I won’t see them again until they’re published. (Exciting!) Deadly Overtures is due out in June 2016 and Crêpes of Wrath will be released in September 2016.

I’ve seen the cover for Deadly Overtures and absolutely love it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to do a cover reveal soon to share it with everyone. I hope you’ll all love it as much as I do!

While I’m waiting for the copyedited manuscripts to come back to me for final review, I’m working on the second book in the Pancake House Mystery series. Although I’ve been doing some brainstorming and plotting for a week or two, I only started drafting it this weekend. Aside from reviewing my other manuscripts one last time, this is the book I’ll be focusing on for the next few months.

I hope readers will enjoy both series! 🙂

Book Deal!

I’m extremely excited to say that my agent has sold my cozy mystery Dead Ringer to HarperCollins/Witness Impulse in a three book deal! Dead Ringer is the first book in the Music Lover’s Mystery Series and will be released first as an e-book with paperback to follow.

Here’s the blurb for Dead Ringer:

Midori Bishop’s life is hitting all the right notes. She has her dream job playing violin in a professional orchestra and is embarking on a secret relationship with the symphony’s hot maestro. But when Midori finds a cellist strangled to death, the maestro soon becomes the number one suspect.

Midori sets out to prove the maestro’s innocence but discovers that he and many others have secrets they would rather keep hidden. As the investigation takes Midori closer to the truth, the killer gears up for a grand finale — with Midori as the intended victim.

The release date is June 2, 2015 and the e-book is already available for pre-order on Amazon, Chapters, and B&N, although there’s no cover or other information posted yet.

For anyone interested, I’ve started a Facebook page which I’ll keep updated with news, etc. Here’s the link: http://www.facebook.com/authorsarahfox

I’m absolutely ecstatic that my mystery is going to be AN ACTUAL BOOK! 😀

News!

I’m a bit late with announcing this on my blog because of ALL THE THINGS that have been going on, but

I HAVE AN AGENT!

😀

I’m super excited to say that I’m now represented by Jessica Faust of BookEnds!

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited in my life and things couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. Jessica represents some of my favourite cozy mystery authors and right from the time when I started querying my cozy I told myself that it wouldn’t matter to me if I received 1000 rejections as long as Jessica Faust liked my book and wanted to represent me. So to get an offer from her was pretty much the best thing ever!

*Snoopy dance*

I’m beyond happy right now and very much looking forward to the future. I’m also very thankful for my wonderful critique partners who helped me along the way. You guys are the best!

WOOHOO!

WipMarathon Final Check-in

Last Check-in Wordcount: 31,098.

Current Wordcount: 75,688.

Okay, so I’m a terrible wipmarathoner and haven’t checked in since the second week BUT despite getting sick in December and thinking there was no way I could meet my original goal, I actually ended up surpassing it! My goal was to write 40,000 words and I’ve written 50,000. Not only that, I’m within 3000 words of finishing this draft. So, despite the fact that I’ve been terrible at checking in, I’m super happy with what I’ve accomplished. 🙂

WIP Issues this week:

I did have a moment of panic the other day when I became aware of a potential problem with my story and suddenly decided that maybe the whole thing was a piece of crap. But once I calmed down I realized that the problem isn’t a huge deal and can be dealt with during edits. Other than that, this wip entirely took over my life this week. It was like I was possessed or something. I couldn’t stop writing, the words wouldn’t stop coming out of me. On Thursday I wrote around 3000 words, which is more than I’ve written in one day ever before. I’ve written about 35,000 words this month, which smashes my previous monthly record of 25,000 words. So, yay!

What I’ve learned during the marathon:

I’ve learned that I’m capable of writing much more in one month than I realized. I’ve also learned that even though a massive rewrite is extremely difficult, I can still handle it. Hopefully knowing that will help me with future projects.

Even though I didn’t participate much on the blogs, I’ve enjoyed being part of this wipmarathon. I hope everyone else is as happy with their progress as I am with mine! 🙂

Strong Female Characters

Ever since I joined the online writing community a couple of years ago, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of talk about strong female characters. Most of the talk is about how agents/publisher/readers want more such characters in fiction.

And that’s great. It really is.

The problem I have is that it seems as though the phrase “strong female character” is regularly equated with “kick-ass female character,” with “kick-ass” meaning physically strong and regularly beating up bad guys or supernatural creatures or whoever the enemy/antagonist might be. I’ve even come across submission guidelines that said (I’m paraphrasing), “I only like strong female characters so if your MC isn’t totally kick-ass don’t bother querying me.”

I don’t mind that an agent might only want to represent novels featuring kick-ass female characters. What I do mind is that, once again, physical strength and a propensity for fighting seem to be the only characteristics that can qualify a female character as strong.

Honestly, I find that sad. There are so many types of strength aside from physical strength.

Strength can be simply getting out of bed and getting through each day when dealing with chronic illness, a serious injury, a traumatic event, or any number of other circumstances.

Strength can be staying calm and keeping a family together during a crisis.

Strength can be continuing, day after day, to do what’s necessary to look after your loved ones or pursue your dreams in the face of great adversity.

Not being a physical fighter doesn’t make a character weak. Showing emotion doesn’t make a character weak. Male or female.

Yet, over and over again, I see strength equated with physical strength and lack of emotion when it comes to female characters in fiction. I refuse to allow that narrow definition to stifle my writing, my stories, or my characters.

I believe that I do write about strong female characters. Maybe they don’t always fit the definition of “kick-ass” but they’re strong nonetheless.

WIPMarathon Check-In #1

Starting Wordcount = 24,600.

Curent Wordcount = 27,847.

WIP Issues this week:

This week my issues weren’t really with my wip. The problem was that I came down with the stomach flu and wasn’t able to write much. So I’m way behind on my goal. I still don’t have a lot of energy but I’m going to do my best to keep moving forward, whether or not I can catch up on my wordcount.

I won’t post my last 200 words this week. They need too much work at the moment and I would just embarrass myself. Maybe another week though!

Hopefully next week I’ll have made more progress than I did this week!

WIP Marathon Intro

Marathon Goal:

This is my first time joining in on a wip marathon and I’m excited about it! My wip is currently sitting at about 25K and I’d like to add 40K by February 1st to bring it to 65K. At that point, I should be within 15-25K of the end.

Stage of writing:

This is a major rewrite of a story I first wrote 2-3 years ago. A good chunk of the plot has changed and I’m really trying to focus on making my writing more engaging so that readers are drawn into the story.

What inspired my current project:

My wip is an urban fantasy story set in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. For a long time I wanted to write a story about a girl who could see through magical disguises. I also wanted to write a story featuring two brothers with a fun sibling relationship. I meshed those two ideas together and started writing the story as a pilot television script. After getting stuck partway in, I decided to change it into a novel and wrote the first version. This time around I’ve changed much of the plot and have also incorporated magical/supernatural creatures that aren’t as over-used as the ones in the previous version.

What might slow down my marathon goal:  

The holidays! I love decorating for Christmas and I’m already spending time doing that. I always like to take time out to play Christmas music on the piano during December, since that’s one of my favourite things to do. Also, I can say with almost absolute certainty that I won’t be writing from December 24 to the 27th as I’ll have friends from Japan visiting. However, I set my marathon goal with those things in mind. If not for the holidays, I probably would have set my goal at 50K so I’m hoping that adding 40K will be manageable.

Best time of the day for writing:

I prefer to write in the morning, but I can’t do that on days when I’m working. On work days, I typically write in the late afternoon.

I look forward to getting to know everyone else who’s involved in this wip marathon! 🙂

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