Lea Wait, answering that question. And I know the picture you have. No doubt I’m sitting on a chaise longue on my porch, overlooking the river, scribbling brilliant thoughts and phrases into a notebook or perhaps typing them into a laptop. I pause, perhaps for a sip of wine, and then continue. My muse is with me.
Ah — no. Unfortunately. (I like that picture, too.)
My first book (STOPPING TO HOME, an historical for young people set in 1806 Maine) was published in 2001. By January 2015 I’ll have 13 books in print … an average of about one new one a year. Not a lot, compared with many authors. But enough to have a feeling about how the job of writing (and publishing) goes.
Even a writer who hasn’t yet been published knows the first 25% of the job: planning the book. Plotting, setting the stage (time and place,) creating characters, and doing enough research to establish a stage for the story. Although research is clearly necessary for an historical, even a book set today requires a great deal of thought and research. Will the location be fictional? real? What about the characters’ occupations? How will they contribute to the plot? Can they be written about credibly? If the book is a mystery … what are the laws of the state or country in which the book is set? What can lawyers, law enforcement officials, forensics experts, do? What can’t they do? If there’s a death: who will die? how? Who is the killer? The author may not know everything about the plot before beginning to write, but if there’s a murder, he or she should know who dies, who dunnit … and have 4-6 other characters who also have motive, opportunity and means.
The next 25% of the job (and the most arduous for me,) is actually keeping one’s rear in the chair and writing 250-350 pages. Or more. Yes, it’s a first draft. (Although many writers, including me, revise along the way to save time in the next step.) I loved writing my first two or three books … loved the thrill of writing sentences as well as I could, writing story that was more than just a story, and seeing those pages add up.
I’ll admit that now, having written not only those 13 books in print, but also 5 that haven’t been published, the first draft isn’t quite the thrill it once was. Yes, it’s still exciting to begin again with research and plotting. Yes, there are days when pages come more easily than others. But there are also days when I’m convinced (sometimes correctly) that everything I’ve written is rot. Before I was published, I might have given up, or started over. But with a deadline looming … now I keep going. Waiting for the moment when I can start on the third 25% of the job.
Editing. Re-writing. Going over the plot, the characters, the structure, the individual sentences. How they look on the page. What words (or pages) need to be deleted. Tightening the action and the dialogue. Perhaps adding in the sensory details I often forget. Checking transitions. Cliff-hangers. Taking the lump of clay that is the first draft and sculpting it into something worth reading. I edit pages on my computer screen. I print pages out and edit the hard copy. I read the entire manuscript out loud to check for flow and phrasing. I check about 30 over-used and weasel words and kill as many as I can. Truthfully, the crafting is in the editing, and this stage is my favorite. (Although research is a lot of fun, too.)
But the final 25% of the writing life is the part most published writers resent most. It’s marketing. Keeping a mailing list up-to-date. Sending out newsletters, postcards and email notes to announce a new book. Blogging. (Guess what I’m doing now?!) I’ll admit I don’t tweet or do Pinterest, as many authors do. But I am active on Facebook and post on Goodreads. I blog here and at http://www.mainecrimewriters.com. I do guest blogs. I write articles and press releases for various publications. And I speak at bookstores, libraries, schools, conference — basically, anywhere I can. I don’t mind this part of the job. I love talking with others who love books. And I love sharing my books with readers. But setting up appearances and getting to them eats up time. Time I’m not writing. So marketing is a major drag on the wheel of production.
And, before I stop: I’m traditionally published and right now I’m lucky to be writing under contracts. If an author isn’t under contract, marketing means selling their book(s) to an agent … or, for those who choose self-publishing, focusing on distribution. Figuring out how to get name recognition for themselves and their books, and then getting books into stores, or e-books up on a variety of platforms.
So — what am I doing right now? My latest book, UNCERTAIN GLORY, an historical set in 1861, was published in April. This week alone I spent one day at a school and one at a Barnes & Noble two hours away (with a stop at a shop where I’ll be doing a talk later this summer) talking about UNCERTAIN GLORY and my other books. I have other events scheduled for later this summer.
But right now I’m going into a 4 week hiatus to just write. To finish the first draft of THREADS OF EVIDENCE, which will be published in the summer of 2015. I’ll take some time off when my grandchildren visit this summer … and then I’ll spent August in heavy editing mode. The book is due September 1.
This summer I’ll also be starting promotion (addressing postcards, ordering bookmarks, setting up fall signings) for SHADOWS ON A MAINE CHRISTMAS, which will be out in early September. I have a book for young people I’d like to finish, if I can fit it in.
And in September I’ll start working on the next in the Mainely Needlework series, due in March of 2015, do appearances promoting MAINE CHRISTMAS .. and start letting people know about TWISTED THREADS, the first in my Mainely Needlework series, due out in January, 2015.
So … that chaise on the porch is waiting. And if I get my ten pages done today, maybe there will even by a glass of wine nearby. But for the moment … I’m in my study, surrounded by notes and outlines, grinding out a strong first draft.
See you in July!