Monday, October 13, 2014

Questions and Answers with a Cynical Devil and an Understanding Angel

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

So the PPW blog editor suggested we answer some newbie questions on publishing and I realized, almost immediately, that I have two very distinct voices in my head. I figured I’d answer some questions using both voices because the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Where do I begin my book?
CYNICAL DEVIL:  You are new. You don’t know a thing, so just write.  Once you pull your head out of your butt, you’ll figure out where you should start your story. Most likely, you’ll be like everyone else and spend five chapters getting ready. That’s fine. Just write your book, the whole thing, and don’t look back.  f you stop and try to edit along the way, you’ll be like every other person who wants to write a book and never does.
UNDERSTANDING ANGEL:  There are numerous books on plotting, and I’d recommend Robert McKee’s Story. Really, the first chapter should be as close to the inciting incident as possible, if not the inciting incident itself. Really, the seeds of the main conflict should be in the first chapter, but don’t worry too much. Most likely, you’ll have to re-write the opening quite a few times. Look at other books that are similar to yours and see what they’ve done.

Should I include a prologue?
CYNICAL DEVIL:  If you do, no agent or editor will look at it twice. Prologues are despised by everyone in the industry. And why not just start with the story? What? Are you trying to be all fancy? You think you’re better than me?
UNDERSTANDING ANGEL:  The best use of prologue I’ve seen was in the pilot episode of Firefly, the TV series. It set up the whole series. In the end, if the prologue works, include it, and if it doesn’t, start with Chapter One. The nice thing about this industry is that there are no rules. Do what you think makes sense and again, take a look at your favorite books, with and without prologues, and decide what makes the most sense for your story.
How do I know when a book is done?
CYNICAL DEVIL:  Your book is never done. If it’s your first book, finish it, and then burn it. Write your second book. It will be far better.  Edit until your eyes bleed ink and your fingers fall off. Then write the next one.
UNDERSTANDING ANGEL:  This is a hard question because you can chase critiques for years and with a novel in process, everyone is going to offer up their opinions on how to make it better and how to change it. Generally, a novel will take two or three drafts to take shape. Scenes will have to be juggled or cut. Additional material might be needed. Characters might be scrapped or added. But I’m talking two or three major drafts. Again, there are no hard or fast rules. Some books have needed to be rewritten from the beginning, while others were hardly touched. If you read the whole thing, and you can’t think of anything to add or change, then it’s finished. For now. Once you start working with an editor on that final, final draft, well, that’s when you’ll know. Until you start thinking of what you want to add to the second edition.

I’ve finished my book.  Now what?
CYNICAL DEVIL: You’re not finished. Go back and fix it. If you think it’s finished, query agents and editors. Once they all reject you, and they will, write the next one. If you think you have the guts to self-publish, do that. But keep writing, editing, and shopping your work around. If you aren’t doing that, you’re not a writer, and you are wasting everyone’s time. Life is short. If you don’t have to write, don’t. If you need to write, you have my sincerest condolences.
UNDERSTANDING ANGEL:  Talk to other writers and authors and get a feel for their careers and what they have done. Some writers are driven to get traditionally published, and so they will craft query letters, write synopses of various lengths, and they will reach out to literary agents. If you find a literary agent that thinks they can sell your manuscript, they will shop it around to editors at publishing houses. Some writers have found success by approaching editors at smaller presses, at writer’s conferences and other venues. And some writers have self-published their work and have loved the process. You’ll need to hire a cover artist and an editor because self-publishing still requires the cleanest, best manuscript you can deliver. It’s so nice that we have so much freedom and so many options. But it all goes back to writing the best book you can.

Final thoughts?
CYNICAL DEVIL:  Get out while you still have a soul, newbie.
UNDERSTANDING ANGEL:  At every part of the game, there are aspects of the writing process to enjoy and to celebrate. From writing that rough draft, to editing, to querying, and to publishing and the sales and marketing you’ll have to do once the book is out in the world. Holding your finished book in your hands is immensely satisfying. You have done what few others in the history of the world have ever done. You have written and crafted a book. It’s not easy, there is heartbreak and consternation around every corner, but in the end, what we do is a noble endeavor and I wish you all the courage and the luck there is. One last piece of advice; try to avoid the CYNICAL DEVILS inside and outside of your own head.  n the end, they aren’t that helpful and they mostly only offer fear and hate anyway.  They also tend to smell bad.

About the Author:  Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of Long Live the Suicide King, a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite contest. Kirkus Reviews calls the story “a compelling tale of teenage depression handled with humor and sensitivity.” His debut novel, The Never Prayer, was also a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest. His forthcoming works include a new young adult novel from Staccato Publishing and a six-book sci-fi/western series from WordFire Press. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his story The Dirges of Percival Lewand was nominated for a Hugo. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two goddesses posing as his daughters.
For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey.

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