By Cynthia Leitich Smith
Melissa Gorzelanczyk is the first-time author of Arrows (Delacorte, 2016). From the promotional copy:
People don’t understand love.
If they did, they’d get why dance prodigy Karma Clark just can’t say goodbye to her boyfriend, Danny.
No matter what he says or does or how he hurts her, she can’t stay angry with him . . . and can’t stop loving him. But there’s a reason why Karma is helpless to break things off: she’s been shot with a love arrow.
Aaryn, son of Cupid, was supposed to shoot both Karma and Danny but found out too late that the other arrow in his pack was useless.
And with that, Karma’s life changed forever. One pregnancy confirmed. One ballet scholarship lost. And dream after dream tossed to the wind.
A clueless Karma doesn’t know that her toxic relationship is Aaryn’s fault . . . but he’s going to get a chance to make things right. He’s here to convince Danny to man up and be there for Karma.
But what if this god from Mount Olympus finds himself falling in love with a beautiful dancer from Wisconsin who can never love him in return?
Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?
Revising post-contract is a lot different than pre-contract.
The best part about post-contract revision is you have a clear path set by someone you (hopefully) trust. Your editor!
When my edit letters come in, I like to allow the feedback sit for a day or two before diving into the changes. That feels long enough to let any emotions attached to what she is telling me disappear.
I wouldn’t recommend writing from a place of feeling wounded or defensive. You need to be open.
Once I’m open to the critique, I go through her letter and write a list of all the problems in my manuscript.
After that, I brainstorm possible solutions, making sure my favorites work on a big picture level. The process breaks down to finding solutions within all of my story elements—plot, setting, character, theme—and then onto chapter/scene/sentence level from there.
One thing to remember when revising post-contract is that your book will actually be out in the world someday. While this seems obvious, it’s easy to forget when you’re focused on the work at hand. Mainly, you want your editor to continue liking your book, right? Do not forget that now, in revision, you should also fix the things that don’t ring true to who you are.
Because people are (for reals) going to be reading your book in the near future! Make sure you feel proud and certain about the changes you are making.
Pre-contract is much harder, especially if you don’t have a critique partner you trust. The key is to find at least one.
Trade samples of each other’s work, and see if you like what the other person is saying to help make your story better. See if they work on the same turnaround as you. See if you feel comfortable being yourself when you email back and forth.
My second piece of advice is to trust your story and your gut. Long ago, a valued beta reader of mine suggested that I consider taking the teen pregnancy aspect out of my YA novel Arrows. I decided not to, and that ended up helping my book sell to Delacorte. In fact, my book was pitched as “MTVs ‘Teen Mom’ meets Greek mythology.”
I’m not saying the beta reader was wrong. Maybe my book would sell a million more copies without the teen pregnancy plotline. Who knows. I’m just saying you don’t have to revise according to every comment, especially pre-contract.
Before sending your manuscript to beta readers, I suggest doing at least a couple revisions on your own. One of my favorite revising methods is a modified version of Susan Dennard’s revision method (just scroll down). Take her ideas and adapt them to fit your style.
For me, a simplified approach works best. My plan always starts with printing my manuscript and reading it in one sitting. I might make notes in the margins, or I might not. Then, like Dennard, I paperclip my chapters together and figure out what is or isn’t working with the plot, characters and setting.
This takes time! And this isn’t the place for line edits! Because believe me, for those first revision passes, your deleted scenes file may end up as long as your manuscript. That is okay.
Shed no tears.
This is how all books are made.
“The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
― Ernest Hemingway
How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?
Promoting my debut has been both exhausting and interesting. I’m still a few weeks from publication date (I’m writing this on 1/4/16), but I truly feel I’ve done all I can leading up to this point.
I try to remember that promoting a book is a slow burn, kind of like the publishing process as a whole. It doesn’t happen all at once.
The things I’m doing pre-publication are the things I’ll be doing all of next year.
Promotion starts by figuring out two things:
1. How much time you can devote to promotion.
2. How much money you can/want to spend.
I think every author should plan to spend some time and some money on their promotion, but no one really knows the magic combo. Personally, I devote half of my work day to promotion, as well as some nights and weekends, which I started doing when my book was about four months from publication.
Up to that point, I was working on promotion as things came up. There wasn’t a set schedule or plan. So I guess you could say that about four months to publication, I panicked, created a master spreadsheet and worked really hard to meet my goals.
As far as money, my guess is that I’ll have spent about $1,500 to $3,000 on promotion by the end of 2016. This estimate includes postage (budget more than you think you need), thank you cards, thank you gifts, bookmarks, buttons, postcards, my book trailer, conferences and my launch party. All of this is tax deductible.
I have no idea if this is high or low as far as a marketing investment, but as a debut, when deciding where to spend money, it made sense to go “all in.”
I’m curious how I’ll feel at the end of 2016. My advice is do what feels right for you.
If you’re wondering where to start with promotion, I’d highly recommend joining a debut author group. I’m a member of the Sweet Sixteens and the Class of 2k16.
Being able to ask fellow debuts questions has saved so much time in random Google searches/panicking. Plus it’s a safe place to share failures and successes, and well, meet people who “get it.” My author family is a whole new awesome kind of family.
Another thing you can do is study what successful authors are doing. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Add your personality and style to their ideas. For instance, if they are on Goodreads, you probably want to be there, too. If they are doing giveaways on Twitter, why not try one?
For your own sanity, stay organized. Write all of your ideas on a spreadsheet and add deadline dates so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed.
Work on your promotion in bite-sized pieces. One blog post at a time. One bookmark order at a time. One Tweet at a time.
In my opinion, being a debut is a good time to say “yes”. Try all the blog articles you can. Answer every interview you can.
Yes, you want to make a book trailer? Figure out how to do that. Yes, create a professional website and blog, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. Yes, send a monthly newsletter (I use MailChimp).
Yes, you can do this!
Melissa recommends: Ten Things Nobody Tells You about Being a Debut Novelist by Tim Federle.