Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Waiting for beta feedback

I'm trying to be all organised with the current book - one big challenge has been to get beta feedback from people who are not overly invested ("objective") so I can look at the book with fresh eyes. I did send quite a few emails with the current manuscript to a range of people and set the deadline of 19 June.

The idea is to get as much and as varied feedback as possible (I didn't pre-select at all) and then review all feedback and build an action plan to fix those things that are actually problems rather than personal preferences. That's the part in the process where you saw off all the extra limbs and make sure things will be in proportion, and any plot holes are addressed. It's the structure part of the book, and definitely a separate pass. In traditional publishing, it would be called developmental edits - I call it the "bones". I have a few ideas myself, and will make a scene plan and a timeline and make sure it all hangs together logically - or is even possible.

Then I'll do an intermediate stage - looking at individual scenes and chapter structure. Does this chapter have a right to exist or can I collapse it into another one? This looks at tension, pacing, and scene-based conflict. This is also where I make sure that both POV characters have distinctive voices and don't overlap. This is the "muscles" stage of editing. 

There will be another stage where I'm just going to look at language and metaphor and how the words sound when they're actually spoken. This is also where I hope to chase down the last of the Britishisms (I write in an approximate generic American voice as both POV characters are from the US). Let's call this "skin, clothes, and make-up". 

Proofing happens kind of alongside this - obviously I'll fix all the stuff I spot on all of those passes - but there will also be proofreading from friends and I'll do what many indie authors do and try out some computer software to spot repetitive phrases across the whole manuscript. I do think that a computer is better at highlighting repetitive phraseology (which is one of my pet peeves and really difficult to spot for the human eye in a 100,000-word document).

I've also booked a paid editor as a second line of defense, but really 80-90% of the work should hopefully be done by the time I send her the book, so that pass should just be a general tidy-up. 

I'd say the first three stages will probably take 6-7 weeks, and I'm throwing in August as a buffer for further passes and changes.

This laundry list might horrify some people - I see so much talk of "publish now, fix mistakes later or never, publish, publish, PUBLISH, GO GO GO!" in indie circles (I've been reading a lot of samples outside of m/m, mostly het YA stuff and some het romance, spurred on by what I see being discussed in author groups on Facebook). What I see a *lot* is people publishing what are clearly raw drafts. That said, for many of them, this very much works and they make five and six figures per year that way. Of course, every writing making money and putting food on the table is a bloody hero.

I've worked out for myself that I want to publish books I'd pay to read, and I don't buy books for myself that clearly haven't been edited. It's a professional deformation - I just can't ignore poor prose and "just enjoy the story". I often wish I could. Every time I've compromised on this, I wasn't happy with the book and I've regretted cutting corners, and these regrets linger for decades.

So, next steps:

- pull together self-editing action plan based on my own "notes to self" during the writing and the round of beta feedback by 20/21 June

- Big picture/structural edits ("bones")

- Scene edits ("muscles")

- Line/word-level edits ("skin, clothes, make-up")

- Editor stage by end-July

- Proofreading and final clean-up during August

Still aiming for a release in September. Cover by Lady Tiferet has been commissioned, and I'm looking at writing the blurb so at least I can set up a link with the title and cover for pre-orders.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

The title conundrum

 I'm actually pre-writing this on 24 May - today I've officially finished the first draft of The Book, by which I mean the current book.

I spent a couple hours batting around titles with friends because the book already had three working titles, ie "The Mafia Romance", "Jack & Sal", and finally "Dealmaker". For quite a while, Dealmaker looked like it would be the final title, because one of the character is one of the main fixers/dealmakers in my mafia-riddled little (fictional) city, and we start with his POV. 

Then a friend alerted me to "Deal Maker", a successful and well-regarded m/m romantic comedy published in 2017, and my book might be m/m and is structurally a romance, the tone is really quite different. 

Since then, we've gone through multiple potential titles, with the "emergency fallback" title literally "Mobster's Kiss". I also liked "Mobstertown" and "Lucky We Survived that Shit" (this one came up when I was asked to characterise the relationship between the MCs). One of the apparent rules of writing is to indicate the genre of the book with the title - and I'm really not very good at that part, but I guess I have a few more decades to get that one right. (The title for the next book, BTW has been set for 10 years or so and it's a banger and no-brainer.) 

I'm now about 80% set on a title and will roll that one around in my head for a week or so before I make it properly public and set up the book on Goodreads/Amazon/etc. 

Mostly I'm extremely jazzed to have the book done. My "easy, quick mafia romance that will be no longer than 50-60k because I don't have that much plot, lol" (which is how I've been talking about it to friends) topped out at 101k words in first draft and I'm still too close to really understand what this beastie is, but I sure enjoyed writing it a whole lot and I'm deeply in love with the characters. 

I'll be aiming to get it edited over the next 6 weeks and then publish at some point in September ((yes, this will be self-published). Stay tuned! 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

In my defense, I'm writing

So I do apparently need to make a note in my calendar when I should blog. The pandemic/lockdowns have really messed with my perception of time. When I thought about blogging, I thought "I just did that" - but "just" was three weeks ago. 

In my defense, I'm at the stage in the book where I've basically upped sticks and am now living in my book. The characters are more real to me than people I've met in the flesh, and I'm both looking forward to being "done" and dreading it a little. It's a huge investment of energy and focus at this point in time, and I don't have capacity for much else that's also going on. 

So when I blogged three weeks ago, the book was standing at about 80k. I've been going at a solid clip and am now closing in on 97k. So this will be even longer than Mean Machine, which was already a beast. 

My characters are now weirdly adorable to each other. I think my favourite thing about this couple is that they communicate quite seriously and earnestly and are smart enough to really nail down what's going on and how they feel. I've at times written avoidant characters, but these guys feel grown up and mature and they totally deserve their happy ending. 

Then I was approached by a budding writer today to talk about writing. And since that's one of my other favourite things to do in my life, I'm thinking I might go back to developing a workshop to be held over Zoom or Discord to help writers. I might charge a nominal fee (£5/10) or go completely free on this and just take donations (as the pandemic has hit lots of people pretty badly). I'm going to think about that some more, but basically I've always enjoyed teaching/mentoring writers and want to get back into it.

In any case, the book will get done before the end of the month. I know there's going to be 2-3 large scenes of 1-2k each left and that's it. Beyond that, I only see black, so the inner movie is done after that. June will be the month when I clean up the book and get the book off to editors and betas. I'm thinking September could be a good release month - it's the time when the book is set, so that would suit it quite nicely. I'm also still pondering titles, hence I'm just talking about "the book" here for the moment. But - things are moving in the right direction. For the moment, I'm trying to build back up to one novel per year and then speed up again once I've handed in my resignation at the day job. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Almost there

I'm kind of hoping to blog weekly about the book's progress. The original idea was to get the book done by 4 May (my birthday) with an expected wordcount of 80,000 words. Well, I hit the wordcount, but not the deadline - I still have quite a bit of plot left at currently 81,500, so I'm now expecting a 90,000-word book and a new deadline of mid-May. 

So much for "I'm writing a quick 50-60k romance". 

But I'm really enjoying the work right now, and it's generally going well, with a solid amount of days where I write 2,000 or 3,000 words, hence my hope to finish the book in the next 5-10 days. 

I've also lined up editing, and am just off the Zoom with Tiferet, who's designed all my covers and will handle this one, so the idea is to self-publish it at some point after June, but before October, with the exact date likely set once I have a feeling that this is the best I can make the book. Even with my level of perfectionism, there comes a point where I can't find any more issues, and any additional self-editing pass just means digging up some stones and then burying them a few yards to the left or right, so it becomes pointless.  

Meanwhile, it's a pretty odd beast. I was discussing how strange the book is with my alpha reader, and she allowed me to share her comments with you:

“Hi, my name is Aleks and I’ve written a... romance... <.< where a Boss kidnaps and tortures another Boss’s Consigliere, only they kind of fall in love during the torture, and now they’re. Together. Kind of.”
“And my beta reader is in love with both of the characters, but doesn’t have a clue how to market it either, because the romance is all twisted up in deep feelings, and it’s more of an abiding love than superficial romance—everything hurts and then it’s all gorgeous, blissful happiness in the middle of all these really dark elements, memories, and actions.”
“Also, the boss is slightly feral, and the consigliere is a gentleman, but they’re both broken-hearted, and they just... fit. Beautifully.”

So yeah, that's what I'm writing - "everything hurts and then it's all blissful happiness". 

Hope to report in in a week with a (messy) first draft completed. Meanwhile, I'm also hanging around on Discord here, and posting snippets, etc (they're too long for Twitter and vanish on Facebook). 

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Is this thing on?

First things first: the pandemic has been pretty good to me. I started a new side gig doing translations, and I'm apparently back in the saddle in terms of writing. Just not having that commute has been a super positive change in my life and overall stress levels. And last week, I got my first AstraZeneca shot - the second shot is 10 weeks away - so I should be able to travel again in about 13 weeks. 

Between October and now, I've also written about 70,000 words of a new book. I've actually written more than that, but those are fragments - this book looks like it's actually going to happen, and fairly soon. I'm in the last 10-15k or so, the stage I like to call "bringing the herd home" - getting everything to a satisfying end, wrapping up sub-plots, etc. The goal is to have a reasonably clean first draft at my birthday, and then hand it off for editing, so currently casting about for editing talent. 

I'm just keenly aware that this is going to be the first all-new solo book since Witches of London - Lars, which was published in 2016, and really the main reason why very little has happened is that the day job plus commute just drained me. Plus, of course, a couple crises of confidence and a complete re-organisation of my creative life - where to publish, how to publish, and more importantly, why and what. 

I've looked at classes and so. much. advice about writing faster and "making it" in the new e-book environment, but none of it works for me. Thanks to Becca Syme and her Write Better Faster platform, I also know why - I'm just wired in a way that makes this "rapid release" stuff impossible and actively destructive to me.

(And there will be esteemed colleague who read this and go "balderdash! Everybody can write a book in a month if they want it enough, if they need to pay bills, if they're properly disciplined, etc ..." but I'm going with "Know Thyself", and I've spent a lot of time to try and tweak my process - ending up in a place that's no longer creative, immersive or even fun.)  

As an example - the current WIP. I started this in October as a "fun side project", while I was working on my mainstream genre novel. It was going to be my take on "mafia romance", darker than Dark Soul, proper "dark romance".

Yeah. One of my beta readers has described it as "a surprisingly uplifting, warm novel about family". I'd add it's an exploration of self-worth and authenticity, but the main thrust stands. It's not the thing I thought it would be. The characters gathered too much depth, too much soul, too much baggage for a simple dark thrill. And the dark stuff - didn't really happen. The characters just didn't go that far. Too much empathy at play. It's still very much "enemies to lovers", but instead of a simple book I had a complex book - that has so far taken six months to write and should soon be finished.

While I still can't quite walk away from the day job (but I'm getting much closer), that's going to be the modus operandi in Casa Voinov - I'll focus on one book at a time and just write it the way it wants to be, regardless of tropes or marketing or genres. I was originally going to throw this up on Kindle Unlimited, but I don't think this is the kind of book that does well there, and I continue to loathe and despise KU anything. Mostly I'll have to find a way to finance editing and cover. That'll become a much larger consideration once I do walk away from the day job, so I'll need a solution I can use again and again afterwards.

But for the moment, I'm happy to be writing again, and I'm hoping to be blogging about the process again - likely just short updates, mostly so I can look back how far I've come and also so you know what I've been up to.