Featured From the Archives: The 5 Stages of Writing on a Deadline

As I was dredging the archives for something to post this week (after realizing that I somehow managed to lose almost two whole weeks during my latest venture into the editing cave and that I missed posting anything at all last Friday), I stumbled on what feels like the perfect summation of my current state of mind. It’s a guest post from author Drew Hayes on the 5 stages authors go through when facing a deadline, but I will point out that the same is also true for editing on a deadline. Except, as an editor, you spend your time in a strange sort of stage-meld. Currently, I’m simultaneously on Stage 5 with one project, Stage 1 in another, and verging on Stage 3 with a third. You’ll understand what those mean in a moment. 😉

So, without further ado, I present the encore performance of . . .

The 5 Stages of Writing on a Deadline

by Drew Hayes

Originally Posted on 12/6/13

 

Writing, much like grief, moves in phases. The ideal process for artistic creation is the slow, gentle growth of an idea, watching it bloom from mere idle thoughts into a cohesive, beautiful flower. Then, of course, there’s writing on a deadline. This process is more akin to trying to steer a lawnmower while your drunken uncle fights you for the wheel and a swarm of honeybees swoops about, rightfully angry about the beer bottle your aforementioned uncle threw into their hive. (If this analogy made no sense to you, congratulations on not living in the country.) Point being, writing on a deadline is a crazy, often senseless process that feels as though you’re being swarmed by painful distractions. Though, to be fair, in a perfect analogy you’d be the drunk uncle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stage 1: Stupidity, a.k.a., I Can Totally Handle This

This is a beautiful stage, a wonderful place that you’ll find yourself at time and again. You’ve found a project that you’re suited for and been accepted into the position. You have zero fear you can handle this, because the magic of repression has given you the power to block out what your last project was like. You do everything right in this phase; you make an outline, schedule time specifically dedicated to work on this project, and even make a step-by-step checklist. You are fearless. You’ve got this shit down cold.

In fact, you’ve got it down so cold, you’re not even stressing about it. Until that window you set up to work on the project gets chomped away by angrier, more demanding tasks that are further along in the process and soon, all too soon, you’ve hit crunch time. Now you really need to write. So you finally enforce that window and sit down to truly punch out stuff on the keyboard.

Stage 2: Holy Shit, a.k.a., What Was I Thinking?

Nothing. Not one idea. Come on, you can do this. You had a billion ideas when you took on the project. There has to be one left in your brain. Just one. You’ll do anything. Come on. Focus. Foooocus. Don’t look at the spot on the wall. It’s not mold. Because you live in a dry climate and mold doesn’t look like finger smudges, that’s how I know. And now you’re cleaning the “mold” even though that’s totally not what it was. Feel better? Oh, hey, idea! No, not about the project, butrelated to the project. Remember that outline you did? Maybe there are some ideas in that.

Huh . . . this is wordy, detailed, and totally useless. Look at Point #4: draw out deeper meaning of previous subject. They’re all like that. Everything hinges on something else, and there’s no start point. Okay, deep breaths. At least you’ve got a plan if you do ever think of a starting point. Look, there’s an old truth to writing that if you’re stuck, just write anyway. Just put words down and sooner or later something cohesive will form. Type gibberish if you must, just type something.

Stage 3: Desperation, a.k.a., Shit’s ‘Bout To Get Real

Well, it’s the last day before the project is due, and you’ve written 30,000 words of gibberish. I’ll be honest, I’m impressed with the dedication, though I had hoped eventually real words might come out. Still, let’s not give up hope yet. Maybe you can still pull something off. I mean, you’ve done this before. Go look at notes from old projects. Perhaps the secret to breaking through your block lies in there.

Wow . . . these are . . . wow. I’m around ninety percent sure having this combination of words written down is a felony, along with a serious cry for help. Also, a good half of that isn’t English. Scratch that, it isn’t even language, at least nothing a healthy mind could identify as such. No, don’t throw it out, there are children in the world who could stumble across this. Burn it. Cleanse it with fire and hope there can be forgiveness in your next life. Only when that’s done can we continue to scour for the key to unlocking inspiration.

Okay, those pages are gone, though it took them a curiously long time to burn, and the whole house smells like smoke and regret. After a bit more digging, you’ve found different sets of notes from your last project. Let’s take a gander and see what you’ve got.

Cursing.

Cursing.

Teardrop stains.

Enthusiastic cursing.

A cocktail recipe.

Eh, what the hell, seems like as good a time as any to progress to the next step.

Step 4: Booze, a.k.a., Hang On Just A Minute . . . I Know What I’m Talking . . . Here Shush . . . Just Let Me Say One More Thing And I Will — Zzzzzzz

If it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for you. Furiously hurling vodka down your throat like there’s a gasoline fire in your belly and you have no concept of how putting out a fire works, you take an alcoholic wrecking ball to your sober consciousness. Soon the ideas begin to flow. Unfortunately, they aren’t ideas directly related to the project you’re working on. No, texting your ex is a bad idea; they don’t want to hear from you. I don’t care how unhappy you think they looked in their wedding photo on Facebook, they don’t want to hear from — aaaand you’re texting anyway.

Several drinks later, you’ve worked through nearly all the alcohol stocked in your meager bar, save for the break-in-case-of-emergency last resort: Tequila. You know you shouldn’t do it, but by Faulkner you’ve come this far, and, at this point, you’d rather go down in flames than burn away gently. You guzzle straight from the bottle, downing the well-grade liquor in less time than it took for the under-paid clerk to slap it on the sale shelf. This is going to be bad.

The next few hours pass in a blur. Only snippets and highlights will remain once the alcohol has run its course:

You remember trying to order a pizza on the phone, only for the clerk to consistently reiterate that you have dialed a dry-cleaner. You are not fooled by his lies.

You know you uploaded a clip to YouTube. Unfortunately, you have no memory of what was on it, the name it was under, or even the account you used to post it. You will spend the next six months trying to find it and/or hoping you cannot be identified by the footage. That hope will eventually be dashed.

You fill more pages with the cursed writing, the arcane script that made those previous pages so difficult to burn. This time you hide them so that your sober-self cannot unmake your hard work. There can be no more interruptions, not with the rising so near.

You sit down at your computer, staring at the monitor that mocks your literary impotence with an unsullied white screen. You stick your tongue out at it. This is the last memory of the night.

Stage 5: Completion, a.k.a., Who The What Now?

As you rise slowly from the keyboard, you immediately become aware of three things. Firstly, you have a headache that would send lesser drinkers to their graves. Secondly, you slept with your face on the keyboard and will wear this waffle iron-esque mark of shame for several hours. Lastly, and most importantly, your project is complete. The crisp, neatly edited words stare back at you from the monitor, all mockery quieted. You read through them just to be sure, but everything is germane to the topic, well-worded, and grammatically correct.

You send it off to the client without asking too many questions. Better not to know, you assure yourself. Better not to ask what exactly those pages you wrote signify. Better not to wonder just what it is you might have traded away in a fit of drunken desperation.

Nope, instead you’re off to get a shower and a well-deserved bagel. Maybe you’ll even go see if there are any new projects you might be a good fit for. After all, with this beast done, you’ve got a lot of free time, and you really should try and stay productive.

***

See? Pretty perfect, wasn’t it? For more of Drew’s deadpan hilarity, be sure to check out his website and many novels. Whether you like superheroes, paranormal creatures and vampire accountants, or fantasy characters from table-top role-playing games, Drew’s signature wit and storytelling mastery is guaranteed to shine through. His work is a personal favorite of mine, so I highly recommend giving it a chance if you’re looking for quirky, sarcastic, and different from the norm. 🙂

Featured From the Archives: Writing Mode vs. Editing Mode

Before we get to this week’s installment, I’d like to thank everyone who read, commented, and shared my post from last Friday. Your support was unexpected and very appreciated. Things have been largely fixed and improve daily, but I’m still struggling to fully rekindle that creative spark. So you’ll have to forgive me for dredging up an older article this week. I think (well, hope) that this will still be relevant to many out there, though it would more aptly fit my scenario to talk about what happens when neither mode works. Maybe that’ll be a task for another day. In the meantime, enjoy!

Writing Mode vs. Editing Mode

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 10/5/12

There’s a lot of writing advice out there that says you have to write every day to be successful. And while I’m all for self-discipline (though I suck at it), this strategy just doesn’t work for me. Partly because sometimes (often, actually), my muse takes a sick day (or fourteen), preferring to sip margaritas on a beach somewhere rather than coming to work, and sometimes my characters stamp their feet like petulant little children and refuse to cooperate, resulting in a stalemate of blank pages. But mostly, it’s because I never know which half of me is going to roll out of bed in the morning, the writer or the editor.

I think most authors would agree that writing consists of two modes: Writing Mode and Editing Mode. Two sides to the same coin, neither exists without the other, and yet they require vastly different parts of the brain. Writing Mode is reliant on imagination, slave to inspiration and the whims of muses, and is an organic, joyous process (most of the time). Editing Mode is much more analytical in nature, coming from a place of logic and fact rather than emotion. Sounds like the age-old argument about English and Math, no? But the truly fascinating part is that, while each mode compliments the other, it is nearly impossible to utilize both at the same time. At least for me.

I am one of those perfectionist people that perennially edits as I write. I can’t just glom my thoughts onto the page in a horrific ramble of word vomit and call it good. Which, I realize, is in direct contradiction to one of the Cardinal Rules of Writing. If you remember, I already wrote about this inability to barrel headlong through a rough draft without looking back in my rant about Perfectionism. What does this have to do with the two modes of writing? Well, it means that quite frequently, I suffer from the bipolar nature of the process and flip-flop between the two. Which is how I know that you can’t do both at the same time. At least, not fully. You can tweak little things during the creation part, but a complete overhaul-style edit will derail any hopes you had of being creative that day.

Why does it happen this way? I have no idea. My theory is that when you start to edit, the part of your brain responsible for problem solving takes over, chasing away those little fairies of creative thought much like waking up chases away dreams. Editing is like working on a puzzle, each piece carefully weighed and inspected to make sure it fits with the others. It’s not fun (well, for most people), and it’s not glamorous. More than any other part, it feels like work. It’s one of the only times in writing when you have to conform to rules, and for a lot of people, it starts to feel like an administrative chore. You never hear anyone say they enjoy paying bills or filing taxes, right? Well, I would hazard that there are a lot of writers out there who put editing into that same category of painful-but-necessary tasks. (In fact, I know there are.)

Writing Mode, on the other hand, is fun, and can sometimes be glamorous (if you’re not me and aren’t instantly and completely mortified by the drivel you just put down, amazed that anything that crappy could have come from the beautiful vision in your head). There’s something magical in the process of creation, a freedom in the cathartic expression of emotion. And, like dreams, there really are no rules. This is the part where you’re free to wander down whatever strange, nonsensical paths your muse sees fit. There’s no worry because you know you can just fix it later. (Unless you’re me, and you get stuck like a broken record until you get a scene right.)

I think it’s this disconnect between the two that prevents them from being called upon simultaneously. Creativity can feel like a direct link to the subconscious, channeling beauty from places even the artist might not be able to define. Editing is too grounded in reality, too centered around order and precision to allow for that much unknown. Which leaves every author with two personalities, the writer and the editor. And like Jekyll and Hyde, you can’t always predict which one will show up when.

The good thing about having these two halves of the process is that when one doesn’t work, the other often does. When inspiration fades (and let’s face it, uninspired days happen), you can still be productive. Even if editing is as painful as a root canal for you. It’s easier to do it in small chunks, after all, than deal with one massive fifteen-hour surgery at the end, where you have thousands of words to mutilate and butcher. (Unless you plan to hire someone like me to hack your baby into pieces for you.)

Of course, not every writer is gifted with equal amounts of talent in each mode. Some are brilliant creatively, but horrible editors. Some are masters of grammar and actually enjoy editing (me! me!), but find creating to be like pulling teeth. And some are lucky enough to toe the line between the two. Which are you?

Featured From the Archives: Video Games — The Future of Book Publishing?

The post I was gearing up for this week, featuring a look at the way the author/editor relationship works, isn’t quite ready for the world (though you can catch a glimpse of the same insights in this article by author Drew Hayes). Which means, I had to do the dreaded archive diving again. Sorry!

Fortunately, I have the perfect post to pull back into the light and send through the reading circuit again. See, lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence of people talking about this very thing. Interestingly enough, it seemed to fade away last year, so I’m not sure what’s prompted it to resurface, but once again, I’m seeing people claim that video games represent the future of publishing. Rather than go over the topic at length again, I’ll just post my rebuttal to that assertion from November of 2014, because it’s still as relevant now as it was then.

So, I give you:

Video Games: The Future of Book Publishing?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 11/21/14

There are whispers in the halls of publishing about how the future of books will slowly evolve into the business model seen in the video game industry. But no one seems to be able to define exactly how that will happen, or which facets will be adopted. And frankly, I just don’t see it. In fact, I’d even go so far as to posit that the people spreading these whispers have little to no understanding of how the video game world actually works. I realize that’s a potentially polarizing assertion to make, but here’s why I think this: see, I actually come from the video game industry. I have a degree (that I rarely talk about) in video game art and design, and I’ve been to the Game Developer’s Conference multiple times. So I know how the video game industry works. And publishing is already structured similarly; there’s nothing left to glean from the video game industry that hasn’t already been incorporated into publishing, or vice versa.

But, just for the sake of argument (and because no one else out there seems willing to break this prediction down and explain it), let’s do a little compare/contrast analysis.

From where I stand, there are only four possible areas where the business models of the video game industry and publishing coincide:

  • Distribution
  • Interactivity
  • Production
  • Content

So let’s explore each one and see if we can’t figure out exactly what these vague whispers and predictions are talking about.

Distribution

Since I’ve heard these claims from people who are largely on the indie side of the spectrum in publishing, this is my top contender for what they’re looking at. And largely why I suspect people haven’t done their research. There seems to be a misconception floating around about the distribution channels involved in producing a video game. The assumption is that games go direct from the developer to the audience. That’s not exactly true. Even for casual games (otherwise known as the time-killing awesomeness on your phone).

Games, just like books, have multiple parties involved in the making and publishing of a title. It starts with a developer, yes, but that developer then has to secure the interest of a publisher (sound familiar?), and then said publisher needs to find a distributor to actually disperse the thing into the world. So, to simplify, it looks like this:

Game Developer –> Publisher –> Distributor –> Audience

And, in comparison, this is what traditional publishing looks like:

Author –> Publisher –> Distributor –> Reader

There are varying steps that factor into each that I’m not documenting (such as agents in publishing or outside investors in video games), but the basic formula is, at its heart, very similar. Even if you look at the indie side of things in both industries, the model is the same, minus one step in the middle:

Game Developer/Author –> Distributor –> Reader/Audience

Video games also struggle with the same divide between traditional publishing and indie, where the AAA titles (as they’re called) are the ones that are mass distributed to brick-and-mortar stores and garner media attention, acclaim, and the all-important exposure needed to succeed. While, on the other hand, the indie titles are left to duke it out for visibility in the digital jungle of the various app stores. Again, it all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? So where is the innovation and industry-changing business model we’re supposed to be looking to for guidance? Not here, unless I’m missing something. So let’s move on.

Interactivity

This would be another possibility for what the self-proclaimed Seers of Publishing are predicting, and in some ways, I can see why they’d say it. But I still don’t think it will ultimately come to pass, and here’s why:

Video games are a very different form of entertainment from books. Both rely on the idea of escapism, of transporting the consumer to another world where they can step outside their own reality and immerse themselves in someone else’s. But the way they accomplish it is fundamentally different. Games are an active form of entertainment, requiring the user to literally interact with the game world. Books are passive, relying on the reader’s ability to visualize and imagine the words on the page as a real scenario. (Note that I’m basing this observation on a scale of interactivity, and not on the level of imagination/brain involvement required.)

So, in theory, if books were to go this direction, we’d need to increase the level of interactivity to simulate the gaming experience, right? Well, let me point you to these lovely things then, which already happen to exist:

  • Choose your own adventure books: Immensely popular with young readers in the 80s, these books required their audiences to put themselves in the character’s place, choosing how they would handle the scenario and seeing the immediate consequences of that action. Notice I said they were popular in the 80s, though. Meaning they fell out of favor almost as quickly as they rose. They still exist, but they’re rare and outnumbered, by far, by the more traditional forms of reading material.
  • Enhanced books/eBooks: Yes, this is a thing. There are experimental authors and publishers out there who are trying to find ways to bridge the gap between traditional print and multimedia. Some examples include Booktracks (which pairs a soundtrack with your novel, using auditory cues and music to create a richer immersion for the reader), puzzles deciphered while reading, and enhanced books that are almost more like apps, featuring animations and sound effects. Cool ideas, yes, but again, not very popular with readers.
  • Supplemental Materials: These are almost more marketing related than anything, but I’ve seen authors create real-life scavenger hunts and multimedia apps that go along with their story and world, engaging their fans in new and immersive ways. Essentially, they quite literally marry the video game industry with publishing, but not in a way that truly enhances the reading experience. It’s in addition to that basic action, rather than replacing/modifying it.

Which brings us to my point, the reason why I don’t see books becoming more like video games — books were never meant to be truly interactive. If anything, they compete with film for their audience’s attention, because film is another passive form of entertainment. Both of these mediums have always been about observing. Yes, they can affect us, making us feel emotions and form bonds with fictitious beings in ways that might have us wondering about our sanity, but their point is to detail observations, impart information, and deliver messages that transcend our day-to-day lives and make us empathize with, or understand, the world around us. Gaming is entirely different, more akin to physical activity in the way it engages the brain. You won’t often find gamers who spend hours mulling over the morality of murdering that NPC (non-player character) they saw appear on the screen for half a second. Because the act of gaming is about reflex, instinct, and less about deep philosophical thoughts and musings.

But that’s a conversation for a later day. Today’s point is that readers don’t necessarily want to interact with books. They simply want to read them. And until that changes, I don’t see interactivity becoming the hot trend publishing will steal from the gaming industry.

Production

Ah yes, production. This is where I most often see a lack of understanding about how games are made. There’s this underlying idea out there that games are easy to create, that the time invested in them is minimal in comparison to the profit. And just like my first point — distribution — that’s not entirely true.

The AAA titles — the big ones everyone hears about, the Halos and Dragon Ages and Skyrims of the world — take, on average, 3-5 years to produce. And that’s with teams of several hundred people. You have game designers, artists/animators, programmers, actors, PR/marketing/administrative staff, and sound engineers all involved, and it’s as time intensive as creating a feature film. The reason these are considered AAA titles is because they have budgets that rival cinema blockbusters. It’s no small feat to release a game of this scale, and with the advances in technology, gamers are becoming more and more expectant of this level of quality. Anything that falls below this often earns derision and ridicule.

The casual games (think the ones on your phone that most people consider mindless wastes of time) are less intense, but still generally require at least a small team of people to invest months or even years of their life into their creation. There are a few really astounding individuals that have found success doing it all on their own, but those are the exception, not the rule.

Now, how much of what I just said sounded familiar to all you writers out there? I’m guessing all of it. Because again, it’s not dissimilar to the way the book industry already operates. You have the Big 5 publishers (with the equivalent of blockbuster budgets) publishing a select few, super prominent titles, and guess what? On average, it takes 2-3 years from the time they sign you to the time your book is in stores. And then we have the indies, where the timeline is much shorter, but you still have a team of experts (editors, cover designers, formatters, etc.) helping you put out a product that is largely under-respected by the world.

So what’s to be learned from the gaming industry here? They’re fighting the same equality battle that publishing is, and frankly, they’re not doing any better than we are on that front.

Content

This is the last possible area that could potentially be what the predictions are talking about. But they have it backward. See, the divide between gaming and books isn’t being bridged because books are becoming more like games, it’s because games are becoming more like books. There’s a movement within the gaming industry to include stronger storytelling in games. Let’s face it, up until maybe five years ago, games were not hailed for their storytelling prowess. And that’s because 90% of games were written by game designers, people who focus more on what makes a game fun than anything else. They created the game mechanics (the rules) and built from there.

And then along came companies like Bioware and Bethesda and Square Enix, and suddenly storytelling started to become more important, leading to the employment of actual game writers. So now we have video games that actually include epic narratives with quality writing, bringing the worlds of literature and gaming one step closer together. But that’s not publishing noticing the strengths in the gaming industry and adjusting accordingly, that’s the gaming industry glomming onto the strength publishing already had — story.

Which brings us to the conclusion of our analysis. As you can see, for someone standing with a foot in both industries, this prediction of publishing turning into the gaming industry makes little sense. I simply don’t see the shiny new path these people are touting. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If someone out there has a better understanding of exactly what this vague statement for publishing’s future means, I would love to be enlightened. Please share  your thoughts on this interesting topic in the comments. Do you see publishing moving toward video games, and if so, in what way? I’m sure I’m not the only one out there dying to know.

Featured From the Archives: What To Do WHILE Querying

I had an entirely different post planned for today — about the good, bad, and ugly of prologues –but then I got hit with what I’m not-so-affectionately calling the Rip Van Winkle flu and was forced to sleep away any writing time I may have had. So the dissection of everyone’s most hated literary device will have to wait for another week, I’m afraid.

Instead, I’m going to give you an encore of an article I wrote earlier this year, which is especially pertinent now, when hundreds of writers with freshly finished NaNoWriMo drafts are preparing to brave the query trenches and Twitter is heading into what’s otherwise known as Pitch Party Season. Be sure you check out the counterpoint article referenced as well, for the full spectrum of both good and bad behaviors found in querying.

Good luck to all those participating in #pitmad today! And until next week, happy writing!

What To Do WHILE Querying

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 7/3/15

A few months ago (okay, six months ago), I posted a surprisingly popular piece about what not to do when querying, detailing all the things authors should avoid, as well as some of the things they shouldn’t (I posted a reprise of it last week too, in case you were wondering). But that only covered the initial part of the process, the actual act of querying. Today, I want to talk about things you, as an author, can do while you wait oh-so-patiently (yes, that was sarcasm, people) for those elusive responses. And in keeping with the tone of the previous post, there will probably be at least a tiny bit of snark, so be ready.

What To Do WHILE Querying

(aka How to Avoid the Finger-Drumming Lure of Bad Decisions)

Let’s face it, waiting sucks. It has always sucked. And it will continue to suck, because it’s waiting. And waiting — say it with me now — SUCKS. Humans aren’t wired to be patient, and the age of the internet, with its instant gratification and its lightning fast access to information and entertainment, has done absolutely zip when it comes to instilling the virtue of said trait.

Well, publishing isn’t the internet. At all. Publishing is a relic, a dinosaur founded on the very essence of patience. Yes, there have been advances that minimize the time it takes for an author to see their name in print, and yes, there will continue to be avenues and improvements that further move us toward that as yet unattainable moment when a decision is instantaneous. But today is not that day. Today, a querying author faces weeks, months, and possibly even years before they’ll finally hold their book-baby in their hands. Today, you wait.

I’m sure you can see how this scenario often leads to behaviors and decisions that can be problematic, many of which I listed in the previous post. No one likes waiting. No one likes that nail-chewing anxiety of having their fate in someone else’s hands. But how do you get around it?

The easiest way to avoid becoming the poster child for what not to do is to find some other way to distract yourself. Agonizing over the wait, refreshing your inbox every twenty seconds, is only going to drive you crazy. So here are some things to try instead.

1. Learn the Ins & Outs of the Industry

This is especially important for the newbies out there, which is why it’s going to be the biggest section. Debut authors are like fledgling birds, testing their wings for the first time. And that’s a special, unique place to be. But it’s also dangerous. Just like baby birds have no idea what waits for them as soon as they leave that cozy nest, debut authors often have little to no understanding of the industry beyond the steps required to query. It’s okay if this sounds like you. We were all there once. I promise.

One of the deadliest poisons to the author/publisher relationship is unrealistic expectations. Let me paint the picture for you: as a kid, you decided you wanted to become a writer. You loved reading and the act of putting words on paper, and stories just seemed to flow magically from your fingertips. You envisioned topping the New York Times Bestseller list, landing that triple-figure book deal with a Big 5 publisher, instantaneous fame, book-signing tours, movie deals, and quitting your crappy day job with money to spare. Right? Don’t lie, we’ve all done it.

Enter reality.

The sad fact is that only the top 1% of the top 1% ever reach any of those things. The rest of us slum it out in the query trenches, find a nice home at a small to moderate-sized press or even forge our own paths and do the self-publishing thing. You will see more rejections than accolades. Sales will be slow because no one knows who you are yet. Marketing budgets, if offered at all, will be tiny and heavily reliant on the author’s own willingness to do the majority of the work. There are no book tours, probably no movie deals, and you’ll be stuck at that crappy day job for probably several more novels. If you’re lucky.

But as discouraging as all that is, you can combat it. Do your research. Learn the way the publishing industry actually  works. Set aside those shiny expectations that will label you a diva author and figure out how to attain success within the system that already exists. Read blogs by industry professionals, attend writing conferences, research publishers and agents and contracts and marketing and every other tidbit you can get your hands on. A firm understanding of the way the industry operates will prepare you for what’s to come when you land that offer of a contract and will help you avoid becoming prey to the cats waiting below your nest.

2. Befriend Agents & Editors

Social media is fantastic for this sort of thing. Find and follow agents and editors, and even publishers, to see first-hand what they’re looking for. Get to know the people behind the “gate,” as it were. Because we are just people. People who love books just as much as you do.

When you’re on the outside, publishing seems like a big, scary world. But it’s actually not. Industry pros talk to each other as well as to authors, so if you can befriend a couple, guess what? Your chances of success just went up. You’re no longer just a name on the 800th query in the pile; you’re a person. They know you. They may even like you. And when that happens, you can guess what comes next: they dig your query out of that massive pile of submissions.

So don’t fall for the us vs. them mentality. Agents and editors are your friends. Just be careful you don’t abuse the privilege. You can read last week’s post for the cautionary note on that. 😉

3. Read Widely, Both Inside and Outside Your Target Genre

By now, you should be sensing a theme. Research, research, research. All of these are great ways to bide your time during the painstaking months of waiting. If you’re a writer, you really should be doing this anyway. But we all know how few those reading hours become when you’re wrapped in the thrall of writing. Which is why it’s perfect to spend some time catching up on the latest releases while your query works its way through the pipeline.

Why is this necessary? Well, for starters, it will give you a chance to see what the current trends in your genre are, or rather, were. Remember, the books releasing now are a few years old, because unlike the internet, publishing operates at a pace not unlike a sloth on Valium, which is to say, it’s slow. So by the time they’re on the shelf, those trends are pretty much dead. Which means that if your book fits in that trend, you can already guess it’s going to be a hard sell.

But the other reason is that you grow as a writer by reading the work of your peers. You’ll learn new styles, new approaches to storytelling, and possibly even new ways to combine genres. It will also come in extremely handy when an agent or editor asks you for comp titles (comparative books that appeal to the readership you’re targeting) for your work.

4. Start Something New

This is the last piece of advice I have, not because it’s less important, but because it should be the most obvious. Writers write. It what you do. Yes, you poured your heart and soul into that manuscript you just sent out into the world, but there’s nothing more you can do for it. It’s time to turn your attention to the next one. Because it may be years before your first-born novel sees the light at the end of the publishing tunnel, if it does at all. Many writers don’t succeed with their first, or second, or even third novel. Sometimes it’s the sixth or seventh that lands them their first book deal. And that’s perfectly normal. Those first attempts aren’t wasted effort. You learned and developed and grew, and now, now you have a back-list.

Back-lists and archives of “new” content are an author’s secret weapon. Because guess what? Readers are impatient too. Just like you don’t like waiting for agents and editors to respond, readers don’t like waiting for a new installment from their new favorite author. Which is why the best thing you can do while querying is to continue working. Continue honing your craft, be it on novels, short stories, or novellas. Continue generating new content, be it blog posts, contest entries, or platform-building endeavors. Just continue working. Because at the very least, it’ll keep you from drumming your fingers on the desk and falling prey to all the bad choices I mentioned last week. And you never know, one of those other projects could be the very thing that gets you noticed.

All right, those are my top suggestions for ways to make the waiting less agonizing, but they’re certainly not the only ways. I’d like to hear some of yours. So, authors and other editors, what do you do or recommend to keep the query-trench madness at bay? Sound off in the comments below! 🙂

Featured From the Archives: The Difference Between Editing & Ghostwriting

Apologies for the abrupt and unexpected hiatus of the past couple weeks. Between illness and back-to-back deadlines, I sort of lost all concept of time for a bit there. But, as you can see, I’m back. Which means I also have new things to say. (Well, in theory, anyway.)

Coming off the heels of the guest post I wrote about the differences between editors, critique partners, and beta readers seems like the perfect time to pull this out of the archives, blow off the dust, give it a few tweaks, and expand on your vocabulary of book-doctor specialties. So, without further ado, I give you the encore presentation of . . .

The Difference Between Editing & Ghostwriting

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/22/13

I’m sure the more astute of you already know that I moonlight as a freelance editor (there’s a handy little tab at the top of the page that will tell you all about it if you somehow managed to miss it), as well as working on the editorial staff at REUTS Publications. But I’ve also been known to work as a ghostwriter (very infrequently; it’s not really my cup of tea). This week had me doing both. And it got me thinking about the differences between the two; how they can often be confused by those outside the literary world. So, in the interest of clarity, I’m going to take a moment to break each of them down, starting with editing.

There are three types of editing a freelance editor (or an editorial staff) will perform:

  • Developmental Editing: This deals with the underlying structure of a piece, focusing on things like flow, POV, character consistency, and plot. Sometimes called Substantive or Structural Editing, it’s usually the first part of the process, as there’s no point in fine-tuning a scene that will just get cut later on. Developmental Editors have a firm understanding of storytelling basics and can rearrange a work like pieces in a puzzle, requiring dramatic changes that will ultimately make the story stronger. It’s the part that most feels like honing a diamond from a rough piece of rock and is my favorite style of editing. (2015 addition: The key thing that makes this different from ghostwriting is that it requires at least a base of story to work with — a first draft, an outline, something the author has already put on the page.)
  • Line Editing: The second stage of the process, line editing dissects individual sentences, working on tightening the prose and overall smoothing, as well as things like spelling and grammar. Similar to the layered approach of painting and sculpture, line editing builds on the foundation developmental editing provides, focusing on the details rather than the work at large. This can be extremely painful for people that dislike dealing with minutiae, but it’s an important step in creating the final outcome.
  • Proofreading: Generally the last stage of the process, proofreading gives a manuscript a final pass, looking for any typos, misspelled words, or wonky punctuation that might have slipped through the cracks. There should be relatively few revisions made in this stage, and often, the proofreader will simply make the necessary changes without requiring the author to step in. Proofreaders are the last defense before a manuscript heads to the printer, so it’s a good idea to have them be a fresh set of eyes from the prior stages.

You’ll notice that none of those definitions included rewriting. That’s because it’s not the editor’s job to actually fix the problems. This is where the confusion kicks in. It’s a common misconception that editors help with the actual writing. But editing isn’t that kind of hands-on, instant fix. In fact, most editors won’t even look at a piece that hasn’t already been completed and polished to a high standard. (2015 addition: Except for developmental editors, that is, whose job is often comprised of brainstorming advice and other coaching.)

An editor is like a personal trainer for words. And just like a personal trainer can’t lose weight for their client, an editor can’t rewrite a manuscript for their author. The author does all the heavy-lifting in the relationship, working out the kinks and fixing the rough spots under the editor’s guidance and moral support (even though it can feel like the complete opposite when you get your manuscript back covered in red “delete” suggestions). When they do their job well, the end result is like the movie-star version of the original work, but it’s the author that actually gets it there.

So who, then, helps the people that can’t quite articulate their brilliant idea into words on a page?

Ghostwriters.

Ghostwriting and editing are two completely different things. Editors are passive observers, guiding the author from the sidelines, while ghostwriters are active, aggressively transforming the author’s loose, un-articulated thoughts into a commercial literary product. Unlike editors, a ghostwriter’s job is to actually write the manuscript. To take the vision, voice, and generalized, messy thoughts of the author and actually write in their stead. In short, ghostwriting is hard. Which is why I only do it on very rare occasions, and why you won’t see it listed in the services I offer.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some small similarities between the two, though. For instance, both require the ability to see past a rough exterior to the heart of the story, to be able to understand the final vision for the piece and the best way to present that to the world. They both require a firm grasp of language and storytelling (although ghostwriting mostly happens in the non-fiction world), as well as a keen understanding of voice, so that the final product sounds like the original author, not the ghostwriter/editor.

They both have their place, but editing is more akin to reading with annotations, while ghostwriting involves the more rigorous creative process of actually putting words on paper, complete with stipulations and expectations attached. They both require someone well-versed in the craft of writing, but rarely will you find someone who likes to do both. Just like writers have preferences when it comes to style and genre, those on the book-doctoring side of the fence have preferences on the types of surgery they like to perform. So before you ask for help, make sure you’re asking the right person. If your manuscript is finished and you just need polishing, you’re looking for an editor. If you have a brilliant idea but something just isn’t quite clicking, you’re looking for an editor. But if you need help actually constructing your manuscript, as in literally writing the words, you might actually be better off looking for a ghostwriter to collaborate with. Knowing the difference will save you a lot of headaches.