Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘crime novel’

Writing a Novel in 3 Months

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I wrote my crime novel in the 3 months of winter 2011. I wrote it while working full-time and running a part-time freelance business, and being a mum to a demanding five-year-old and being a brand new wife…

My writing style = fast results

Perhaps it’s due to my inherent impatience, my incubator-style of working, my advertising training and my time as a ruthless sub-editor, but I’ve never been the kind of writer to agonise over sentences, to re-work things over and over, to spend several years writing a book… For example, I write these blog posts in about 5-10 minutes each.

My time on weekly magazines (especially as the Lifestyle Director of Australia’s OK! Magazine) involved a team pumping out an entire 200-page magazine each and every week. I’d have to produce countless articles each week. Similarly, working as a weekly columnist for a national newspaper (Sydney Morning Herald) had equally hairy dreadlines. Neither was an environment where perfectionism to the point of procrastination was valued.

So, I like to bash things out. I like to get stuff down, then go back over the whole. For this reason, I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. I have no problem writing on demand (a far, FAR greater problem for me has been to turn off my ‘commercial writing’ mode, and go into narrative, personal mode).

1000 words a day x 90 days = 90,000 word novel

To write a novel in 3 months, I wrote 1000 words a day. This is nothing new to me in my line of work – and it’s certainly not a new concept in writing land. But I can’t stress enough that writing that 1000 words each day is what you need to do to get a book done.

Writing that much each day forces you to get over writer’s block, it creates discipline and drive, and it maintains momentum in your writing and story.

I would write 1000 words on my laptop – often in one go, and often more than 1000 – without worrying too much about following intricate plotlines. Above all, I wanted to avoid getting bogged down.

I’d then edit that 1000 words – usually in the evening, and on paper (not computer). The next day, I’d revise the previous day’s copy before writing my next 1000 words.

In my time not writing or editing, I’d think about the plot and characters, discuss my book with my husband, and do background research (the crime in my novel is underpinned by a controversial Titanic conspiracy theory).

Is this for you?

Perhaps not. And presumably no-one’s forcing you to write a book in 3 months. I simply chose to – because I was motivated to tell the story (and didn’t want to miss the boat, so to speak), because I was worried about my commitments coming up (and didn’t want to get waylaid), because writing fast is pretty much the only way I know how to work, and – crucially – the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is coming up on 15 April 2012, and I wanted to market my book around the event.

Even if I didn’t have an external deadline, I would probably still have written my book this way. It’s my style.

Some would say that a novel bashed out in speed is one that suffers in style and substance – I disagree. I have always felt that my writing is fresher, quirkier and more compelling when I go with the flow. When I’ve tried to be the considered, ponderous writer, my writing comes across as stilted and stifled. It doesn’t feel authentic – and if nothing else, I want my book to be authentic.

Writing a Book? Please, Delete Your First Chapter…

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Yes, you heard me…

If there’s some advice I’d pass on from my time in publishing –­ especially my time as an editor in book publishing – it’d be for everyone who’s writing a novel to delete, if not their entire first chapter, then at the very least the first paragraph, or the first page.

Why?

It’s an odd fact that most writers ignore the fundamental desires of publishers, or editors, or readers…

And that’s to be in the story from the word go.

Right from your first sentence, the reader should be projected directly into mid-conversation, into mid-scene, into mid-whatever – just don’t dilly dally around.

Too many writers – and I’ve been the editor for some of them – spend pages and pages setting up passive scenes, introducing characters, and explaining the back-story. By the time the reader gets to the action, they’ve lost interest.

Publishers, editors and readers like books that open with an immediate hook – a gripping first sentence that grabs them by the throat. You must make it impossible for us not to read on. To do this may mean you slash your entire first chapter – or three. If that’s what it takes, do it. Be ruthless. You can’t be sentimental with your writing if you want to be noticed.

An opening line I’ve never forgotten (from one of my favourite crime books, Minette Walters’ The Ice House):

“Fred Phillips is running.” Anne Cattrell’s remark burst upon the silence of that August afternoon like a fart at a vicar’s tea-party.

According to the experts, every first sentence – whether crime novel or no – should hint at trouble and raise a question. (Actually, your whole book should pretty much do that – raise questions in the reader’s mind.)

In Minette’s subtly menacing, yet amusing, first sentence… why is Fred Phillips running? What is he running from? Clearly, Fred is not usually to be seen running, especially on a summer’s afternoon… otherwise Anne wouldn’t mention it. And who the hell is Fred Phillips anyway?

The first sentence from my soon-to-be-published crime novel is:

She was six metres down when instinct told her something was wrong.

Why I Won’t Publish on Amazon

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm

If you are considering epublishing, I suggest you read this very thought-provoking article on the phenomena that is self-epublishing…

Considering that I plan to self-publish my crime novel, and produce some non-fiction e-guides later this year, does the article worry me?

No, for 3 reasons:

  1. I was never going to publish on Amazon – I’m retaining control of every stage, thanks very much
  2. I believe in my persistence
  3. I believe in my ability to be prolific

I have not mentioned talent. That’s because persistence and ‘prolificness’ are more important than talent.

And that’s something I quickly learned when I worked in-house as a book editor, and sat in the Monday morning ‘slush-pile’ meetings, where all the publishers would put forward their cases for which authors the publishing house should offer a book deal to next.

I was startled – perhaps I shouldn’t have been – that those authors who could argue a case for several follow-up books and that they’d be able to stay the distance (through publicity tours and changing trends) easily trumped those who could ‘merely’ write incredibly beautifully.

Of course, having talent, persistence and the ability to be prolific is the best combination.

In that instance, Amazon can go to hell.

How to Edit Your Book

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

It’s D-Day. Today’s the day I start editing the first draft of my crime novel. I had a nightmare last night that involved packs of Tasmanian Devils attacking me in a dark garden. Coincidence? I think not.

After having done nothing but the prologue of my novel for years, I wrote my 70,000-word novel in winter 2011 – in 3 months, while working full-time and managing a freelance business and a family.

I make these points (which I will turn into posts at some date) because they mean that, while I got a novel written quickly, it’s in a state you’d expect of something written in a flurry.

It will need countless revisions, but this first thorough edit will be mammoth.

I’ve worked as a magazine and book editor for about 15 years. So, therefore it follows that it will be near-impossible for me to edit my own book. Sort of in the same way that chefs don’t like going home to cook for their family…

But, as I plan to self-publish, I am committed to doing this thing. All I can do is approach my book in the same way I approach a stranger’s manuscript.

The 7 Stages of Editing

  1. I read the entire manuscript in one go – straight through, without stopping or worrying about obvious errors.
  2. I start structural editing – onscreen, in Word or InDesign if it’s an illustrated book – tracking my changes as I go. I love, love, love structural editing.
  3. After the structural editing, I do a copy edit (for grammar etc) – all the way through, making a Style Sheet as I go.
  4. I do another structural check, and cut the clutter (unnecessary words and sections), as well as make a note of anything that needs to be padded out. I know the book pretty darn well at this point, and I find this stage easy, and exciting.
  5. I do another copy edit, making sure I’ve adhered to the publisher’s specific requests.
  6. I do another full read through, ignoring minor errors, to make sure the story makes logical sense (I remember one crime novel I edited, where a murderer killed the victim on a Sunday, when it turned out later that the victim was still alive on the following Monday… Actually, that author mistake is not such a bad idea for a book…).
  7. Final tidy up – a proofread – and it’s off to the author and publisher.

I spend a while on stage 4, especially as I need to liaise with the author on what I recommend be removed, and also what I need from them.

Of course, every book is different and I don’t necessarily follow this exact recipe with each – an illustrated book, for example, often requires work on the appearance and the typesetting, and the writing of captions; I also do a lot of ghostwriting for authors at the editing stage – but it’s my tried-and-tested method for most of the author books I am privileged enough to work on (I get paid to read books!).

Hopefully it’s a method that will work with my book.

A Novel Decision

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

People will think I’m mad (nothing new there) but, after thinking long and hard, I’ve decided to self-publish my crime novel. There are a variety of reasons for this:

1. I’ve edited and published lots of books for other people, and worked as a book publicist at one time, as well as working in-house at Random and freelance for HarperCollins and Murdoch Books… ie, I know what I’m doing.

2. I have an April deadline I want to meet for plot reasons – going the traditional path will mean I’ll miss this deadline.

3. I’m not publishing a novel to make money – I’m doing it because I want to tell a story. Breaking even would be sufficient!

4. I have a large network of people who I can tap into for assistance and support – creative friends for cover design, for example, and also the media (my colleagues).

5. I’ve recently won a Scarlet Stiletto award for a short crime story, and now’s a smart time to leverage a novel off that.

6. And I have come to the realisation that trying to fit myself into the conventional publishing model was sapping my inspiration and just feeling plain wrong. I just couldn’t get interested in it, it was frustrating me, and I realise it’s one of the reasons why this project has dragged on longer than I wanted it to.

But mainly, this decision is all about cutting out the middle man. I’m over having to give away my power to people who are gatekeepers of contrived conventional processes. Just because I’m told it’s the way to do things, doesn’t make it right or true. Thanks to the magic of technology, I can do things my own way. This is not to denigrate traditional publishing, by any means. Traditional publishing works for many, and it’s an industry I’ve loved working in – but I know it’s not for me when it comes to my book(s).

So, I’ll be selling my book online – both as an ebook and as a physical hard copy. Maybe I’ll sell it through a couple of bookshops (but then maybe not, as I’m not that keen on giving them 40%).

I’m very curious to see how things go.

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