15 stages you go through with structural edits

  1. My structural edits have arrived. I don’t think I’m strong enough to cope. Pour a glass of wine.
  2. Open the email, skim through the notes. Feel lightheaded and slightly sick. Close email. Drink more wine.
  3. Take a deep breath and read editor’s notes properly. The changes are enormous. Hyperventilate. I can’t do this.
  4. Pull myself together. Remind myself I am LUCKY to be in this position. Open the document. WHY IS THERE SO MUCH RED? There are track changes EVERYWHERE.
  5. Outrage – this will RUIN my book. RUIN it.
  6. Google self-publishing.
  7. Cry.
  8. Go shopping – can’t possibly edit until I have more highlighters/post-its/notebooks/chocolate.
  9. Make a list. Lists are good. Lists make everything manageable.
  10. Pull the book apart and piece it back together.
  11. Read manuscript – realise editor was actually right all along and the changes ARE an improvement.
  12. Relief.
  13. Email manuscript back to editor. Collapse on the sofa. Hurrah. It is DONE!
  14. Remember there’s still the copy edits to go. Despair.
  15. Open more wine…

If you’ve enjoyed this you might want to hop over to ’15 stages you go through writing a first draft.’

My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me. 

15 stages you go through when writing a first draft

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Obviously I am at stage 6 right now, how about you?

1. Brilliant – I’ve had the single BEST idea for a book. EVER. I’m so clever. It’s going to be AMAZING. Readers will love it. I can’t wait to write it all down.

2. Research – I’m still enthusiastic about my story but while researching I’ll just open a tab for Amazon – we could use some more towels. Oooh Twitter. Wonder what’s going on over there.

3. Not enough plot – How can I have run out of plot? I’m not even half way in. How did I ever think my incredibly stupid idea was enough to fill a book? This is going to be the shortest novel EVER.

4. Rubbish – Even my cat cringes as he curls on my desk and reads what I’ve just written. Nothing remotely interesting is happening. I need to throw in some twists.

5. Too much plot – There are so many different storylines running I have no idea who is who. There are too many twists. This is going to be the longest novel EVER.

6. Procrastination – I can’t possible start writing today until I’ve dusted the skirting boards, pulled hair from the plugholes, rearranged the cans in my kitchen cupboard into alphabetical order, written a blog…

7. My characters are amazing – I am so in love with them. They are quirky and interesting. Everyone will remember them.

8. Excitement – I am genuinely thrilled about this story. This is the one. My big breakthrough. I can feel it.

9. Constantly talking about it – Everyone I meet I tell them I’m writing a book and even in Asda when the checkout girl’s eyes glazed over I couldn’t stop telling her how fabulous it is.

10. My characters are so boring – Really – why did I think that was quirky? No-one ever actually does THAT.

11. Disheartened – I am genuinely despairing of this story. This is not the one. It will finish my career.

12. Never talking about it – When people ask if I’m writing I shrug and look at my shoes, wondering statistically what the chances are of the ground actually opening up and swallowing me.

13. Wonder – I’ve written the most emotive piece of prose. I’m so proud of it. I’ve read it aloud six times. Even my cat looked vaguely impressed.

14. Shame – I can’t believe I wrote that over emotional drivel yesterday. What was I thinking? Delete. Delete. Delete.

15. The end – I’ve finished! I’ve written a first draft. Tomorrow the rewriting starts. Send wine. Lots of wine.

If you’ve enjoyed this you might want to hop over to ’15 stages you go through with structural edits.’

2016 – The year my story found a home

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I am absolutely delighted that within a week of its release my second novel, The Gift has reached No.1 on Amazon both in the UK and Canada, is No.2 on iBooks and is in the top 10 for psychological thrillers in the US. I want to thank everyone so much for all their support. the blogging community is phenomenal and I feel so privileged to be part of it.

It hasn’t been an easy journey to publication. This time last year I was constantly refreshing my emails, waiting for responses to my submissions, and I had that sinking ‘it will never happen for me’ feeling in the pit of my stomach as I read yet another ‘thanks but no thanks’ response. Each and every rejection knocked my confidence further and there were many times I questioned whether I should send out another query. Whether I was wasting my time. I was now in my 40’s and I still hadn’t managed any success at all. Was it too late?

img_0369Receiving an offer last January was such an incredible feeling, My story, The Sister, had found a home. I never dreamed that within a year I would have published two novels, both would reach No.1 around the world, I would sell over half a million books in my first five months as a published author and 10 countries would buy the translation rights. I had to pinch myself again when The Sister was nominated for The Goodreads Debut of 2016 Award.

It’s so easy, as a writer, to let the doubts creep in, to wonder if it is worth it, to wonder whether to keep on going. For years I have championed other authors, celebrated their successes, been a shoulder during their lows and pretty much resigned myself to never seeing my name on a cover but still I wrote. I just couldn’t stop.

Whatever stage you are at with your manuscript, never give up. You never know what is just around the corner.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2017,

Nailing that tricky second novel (AKA Second Book Syndrome)

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Last week I put the final touches to The Gift and sent it to my publishers for the very last time. As my finger hovered over the send button I don’t mind admitting there were tears, and I’m still not quite sure whether these were tears of relief or sorrow. I felt a certain amount of loss letting go of the characters that have been in the forefront of my mind every day for months and months. But as there were so many times during this process when I had been riddled with self-doubt, finishing was also the cause of much celebrating.

sisterSecond book syndrome is something I had read much about as I was writing my first book, The Sister, but I couldn’t quite understand it. Surely if you done it once it should get easier, not harder? As I started the submission process with The Sister I was eager to get stuck into something new. The Gift, the story of Jenna who after receiving a heart transplant begins to believe that the donor of her heart, Callie, was murdered and begins her own investigation after learning Callie’s death had been ruled accidental, had been simmering at the back of my mind for quite a long time.

It was a joy to start something fresh and when The Sister was picked up by a publisher I felt so grateful to know The Gift had a home too. All was going well until The Sister was released. I had been scared of course, waiting for the reviews, releasing a debut is daunting and I knew that if my novel wasn’t well received it would knock my confidence. To my delight the response to The Sister was phenomenal. It quickly reached number one in the Kindle chart, number one on iTunes, and was nominated for the Goodreads Awards Debut of 2016.

But the more readers contacted me to say how much they engaged with my characters, and enjoyed my story, the slower my progress got on The Gift. Did people love the characters in The Sister too much? Would The Gift be compared? Was I a one book wonder? I became plagued with self-doubt. Every morning I would open my laptop with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Could I really do this again?

My publication date was brought forward which piled on the pressure and my deadline loomed nearer and nearer. I didn’t have the luxury of taking time away from my manuscript and I questioned everything I was writing. There were many, many times I was tempted to email my publishers who had taken a chance on an unknown author, and tell them ‘I’m so sorry, but I think you’ve made a mistake offering me a contract.’

But afraid of letting people down I ploughed forwards, writing every day, using my mindfulness practice to keep the negative voices at bay they best I could. And little by little, word by word, my story took shape until it became the blend of emotion, fear, love and hope that I wanted. As Jenna found herself in danger I held my breath, and I felt her soaring highs and crushing lows as keenly as if they were my own and when the epilogue left me in floods of tears I knew I’d got it right. And at last I typed the two best words in the world, The End.

The Gift will be sent out to book reviewers next week, and will be published in a little over three weeks on 16 December, and I do hope people will fall in love with Jenna as much as I have. It is incredible to think once it seemed so out of reach to write a novel at all, let alone be published, and now I’m about to start writing book 3. Wish me luck!

You can preorder the digital version of The Gift from Amazon UK or Amazon US. The audio and paperback version will be available to order from 16/12/16.

 

Editing tips from Best-Selling Authors

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Editing my debut novel, ‘The Sister,’ I took the ‘read through a million times and keep my fingers crossed’ approach. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but with no time restraints it didn’t seem to matter I didn’t have any sort of ‘system’ in place.

With ‘The Gift’ the pressure is on. There’s a timeline from my publishers pinned above my desk documenting not only when my editor expects it, but also the copy editor, the proof-reader and the typesetter.

Knowing I have to make the most of every second I have left to work on my manuscript I’ve turned to some best-selling authors for their favourite editing tips and they have helped me enormously. I do hope you find these useful too.

 

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“It’s my favourite part of the writing process. First drafts are precarious, but once I have a first draft, I can work on it to my hearts content! I tend to go through my work many times, making changes as they occur to me, saving each draft new once I’ve made substantial changes. I usually end up at about 20 drafts in this way. I don’t look at specifics with each read through, but tend to look at each sentence and look for where it could be improved or cut. It’s a lengthy process lasting weeks or months (even years). I’m less keen on the proof reading stage though… that’s when it becomes tedious for me.” Louise Walters

 

51i6rnaeunl“I always print out the structural edits and work on the small stuff first. It is very satisfying to start putting lines through things while your mind continues to work on the bigger stuff. Anything after that, I work on the document itself. I always have a full read through after making changes. It is amazing to me what can still be missed. Blood Lines had been read by me, Julie, Keshini, copy editor and it wasn’t until I was finishing off the copy edits that I realised I’d named two different children in the book Tommy. Also, how can editing use up the same amount of calories as writing when it is much harder work?” Angela Marsons

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“My editing goes through several stages, the first is to read through looking for over use of certain words, phrase repetition and clunky or lazy sentences. After that I’ll read through again several times, fine tuning it. I find it really helps to have a few days break between the read throughs, otherwise you stop seeing what you’ve actually written and see what you think you’ve written, which can often be two different things.” Sue Fortin

 

 

51rxw1asmql“I edit as I go, which means I take forever to get a first draft down! Then when I type ‘the end’ I wait a few days/weeks (depending on time – won’t have THAT luxury with this next one!!) and read through from the beginning. That first read through/edit usually involves me picking up the spelling/grammar errors (that are noticeable to me!) Also on the first edit I’ll write notes as I go for bigger things that I’ll need to go back and alter. That might be continuity errors or a chapter needing to be swapped for novel to read more smoothly. I might highlight chunks of text too if there’s something that needs to be fact-checked or if it needs extra description adding in later. The second edit will be sorting the issues the first read-through picked up! Then I’m likely to send the MS to two of my trusty writer friends to read and they will use track changes to highlight anything that doesn’t make sense to them (they might suggest a better way of saying something), and they highlight any grammatical errors/typos I’ve missed. They also comment as they read with questions/thoughts about the story, which helps me to see where further work may be needed. So, I’ll work on that feedback during the third edit – then send to my agent. I’ll relax for a while before she sends back all of her feedback and line edits! And then the editing begins again…” Sam Carrington

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“I am not very good or fond of editing. I’m dyslexic and have a poor relationship with grammar but none of that stops me from writing. Stephen King say that “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.” I write because I love it and editing is a vital step in polishing your work. I read through a few times, after I’ve finished my first draft, and try to pick up on mistakes or strengthen the plot where I see gaps. But I rely on friends, family, other authors and my editor to guide me through the final stages. If you write from the heart then the rest of it should fall into place, with a little bit of help.” Betsy Reavley

 

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“The best tip I was ever given was to go through and highlight words that you know you use a lot – it’s shocking when you see that one word sprinkled all over the page! Then I can go through and change it to other, more exciting words!” Lisa Hall

 

 

51dlekg5yol-_sx322_bo1204203200_“If I’m doing a detailed review (i.e. after I’ve accepted the changes on the proofread, before the conversion/typesetting) I always print off a clean copy and go work on it somewhere other than my study. I find a change of scenery as well as working off paper instead of a screen helps me really focus on the detail. I highlight the error and put a sticky-note on it then once I’ve finished the whole thing I go back to the screen and make all the changes at once.” Kelly Rimmer

 

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“I download my manuscript to my Kindle for a final read-through, and it’s surprising how many errors pop up, even though I’ll have already read it several (hundred) times. I’ve also been known to read out loud in an Aussie accent (the postman caught me doing it once and looked scared). All ways to fool the brain into seeing things I’ve missed before – and my brain is easily fooled.” Karen Clarke

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“I like to read through it a few times and make notes, then I fix the document as far as I can. I then like to print the document out and stick colour coded post it notes on the errors I find. Whether it’s a pink post it note for dialogue change, a green post it note for plot points I need to check or an orange post it for punctuation. I find when I read it through on paper and I can scribble thoughts on it, it doesn’t take me out of the story and I see something different to when I stare at it on a computer screen. Even after all of that there will still be things that need changing but at least I will have done as much as I can. The biggest and most useful advice I can give is – don’t start editing until you have a complete first draft.” Katerina Diamond

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“Make a list, read multiple times and hope for the best.” Renita D’Silva

 

 

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“Always, always print out on paper. At very late stage, always find something potentially libellous, factually incorrect that sends me into a huge hot sweat and cannot believe that I have only just noticed it.” Kerry Fisher

 

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“I always print it out. My thing is that I highlight in green parts I should’ve mentioned earlier and purple those that need to show up later in the book. Orange font for the stuff I’m not sure of. That was before Scrivener, of course! I read it several times, one for sp/ gr, one for consistency/ continuity and the finally time for the general FEEL of the story.” Nancy Barone

 

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“I read through on Kindle, making notes for changes. I make those amendments … and rinse and repeat. When I feel reasonably ‘happy’ I print off and also get my husband (who is an eagle-eyed sub editor….handy!) to read through separately. I ALWAYS find things when reading on paper that I don’t spot on screen. Hubby and I are both journalists by background so it gets quite competitive (and funny) at final stage. ‘You spot anything?’ ‘Aaaaaaagh! HOW did I miss that?’ Even after the ‘final, final’ copyedit/line edit…I always do a quick extra read through on Kindle…and usually find something. Perfectionist? Moi? Er…trouble letting go?” Teresa Driscoll

 

 

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I edit each chapter as I write it. I print it out, go through with a fine tooth comb for structural stuff as well as anything grammatical. Once I’ve got about six chapters together I send to my Kindle and go through it again, before doing the same for the next batch. I send the whole thing to the Kindle and that helps pick up any further nits, before it goes to my editor for ripping to pieces! Actually, there was very little grammatical stuff to edit when the first lot came back and she said how “clean” it was. But I had to add a few more scenes so that made it a bit out of plonk while I made certain dead people didn’t suddenly re-appear after burial. lol. I think I have editing OCD and wish I could just get on with writing the story! Pam Howes

 

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I’ve printed and not printed. But either way it’s an endless slog of repetition really. I re-write/correct every day the stuff I did the day before. Then two days later I might re-write again. That’s probably why my word count is so incredibly slow these days! When the edits come back, I do the big structural stuff first, and then start to go through with a fine tooth comb. Even when I get the final, final version I still find mistakes. It’s one of life’s perennial unanswerable questions – why can we never see all the mistakes at one time? Debbie Rix

 

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“I print, read, change, print, read, change, print, read RUN OUT OF TIME.” Claire Seeber

Why a book review changed my life

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As a child, when the school reports were handed out, my stomach churned with anxiety. It’s not that I was a bad student, but I was very shy and this was something teachers were quick to point out. Every. Single. Year.

‘Louise has a good grasp of English but doesn’t join in the class debates, and needs to…’

‘Louise excels at maths but is very quiet in class, and needs to…’

‘Louise produces some excellent work but fails to put her hand up, and needs to….’

 But. But. But. And it didn’t matter how much I studied, the exams I passed, or the homework I always (nearly always) handed in on time. It was never enough. I was never enough. There was always a ‘but’ no matter how hard I tried. My results were good but my personality was always in question and my fragile confidence shrunk year after year, and the more I was told to speak up, the more insular I became.

Last month when my debut novel ‘The Sister,’ went out to Book Bloggers I was literally shaking with fear, and for days and days I couldn’t face seeing if there were reviews. I was writing my second novel and I knew I should look and take anything constructive and use it to improve my writing, so I took a deep breath, and logged on to Goodreads and clicked on a review which said: –

‘The Sister is Louise Jensen’s first novel but shows the maturity of a writer who is already very skilled at her craft.’ ‘Louise’s writing style captivated me instantly. I could hear and see each scene as it unfolded.’

So that was the good bit and I read on waiting for the ‘but….’ and ‘she needs to….’ but there wasn’t one and I’m not ashamed to admit I cried. Throughout this process I’d felt that if one person enjoyed reading Grace’s story it would all be worthwhile and suddenly it all was. Not everyone will like my story I know. Not all my reviews will be glowing, but that’s ok.

Publishers and authors talk about how important reviews are in terms of sales, of getting your name out there but I never thought they could have such an impact on the way I feel about myself.

The reviews have eradicated the memory of sitting, hands trembling, while my Mum sliced open the envelope containing my school report. That feeling of never being enough. I finally feel that I might be, just the way I am.