Tag Archives: editing

Professional Wednesday: What Matters Professionally, part II

If you follow my blog at all, you know that in this month’s posts I have been asking the question “What matters?” in a number of personal and professional contexts. Last week, in my first Professional Wednesday post of the year, I focused on the big things that matter to us as professionals and aspiring professionals — our ambitions, our favorite projects, our goals, both immediate and longer term. This week, I would like to address the question from a different perspective.

When we’re working on a project, we tend to concern ourselves with different things at different times. Some of those things matter more than others, and I have noticed when working with new writers, that those with somewhat less experience often wind up worrying unnecessarily about issues that really don’t matter all that much in the greater scheme of things. And at the same time, they will often not give much thought to things that really ought to be foremost in their minds.

So I thought I would look at a few common issues and give some sense of how much, in my opinion, these things matter.

For instance . . . .

New writers tend to worry a great deal about being “scooped,” about having someone — in the worst instance, someone more famous and accomplished than they are — come up with the same concept for a story or novel, rendering their idea unmarketable. Does this sound familiar?

Stop worrying. This is, to my mind, a definite “doesn’t matter.” You will not be scooped. Some thirty-plus years ago, when I was in graduate school, my dissertation advisor told me something that has stuck with me ever since. I expressed to him my fear that someone else would publish a dissertation on my topic before I had a chance to finish. (This is a fear that plagues grad students even more than it does fiction writers.) And he said to me, “If you think you can be scooped, you’re thinking of your dissertation topic too narrowly,” meaning, essentially, that all good dissertations operate on multiple levels. They are works of complexity and personal creativity and thus cannot be duplicated by someone else.

Stories are the same. I edit themed anthologies. For our latest collection, Artifice and Craft, Edmund Schubert and I have received over 530 submissions, all of them born of the same prompt. And no two are the same. You and I could start with the exact same story premise, and within ten pages our books would diverge, because we all write from personal experience, from idiosyncratic emotions, from unique imaginations. You will not be scooped.

New writers also tend to worry a lot about genre and marketing, and I understand why. Certainly I have been guilty of telling young writers to come up with elevator pitches for their projects. “Know how to sell it,” I often say. “Know who your audience is going to be.” And I believe this is sound advice as one is revising their novel and getting ready to send it off to publishers and/or agents. Early on, though, as we are conceiving the novel and diving into that first draft, I would argue that marketing and audience identification are secondary to the creative process. Write your book. Write the story that makes your heart sing, that stirs your creative passion. The marketing stuff will wait — and ultimately will be easier if you write the book or story you love. Commercial imperatives should not guide your imagination. You’ll have plenty of time later to figure out how to sell the thing to readers. At the start, our greatest concerns should be character, plotting, setting, pacing, prose. Those are what matter.

What about those things that DO matter, but that tend to get short shrift from too many authors? I would encourage every author, regardless of experience level, to think about a few questions as they begin work on their novels and short stories. First, we should consider who we ought to use as our point of view characters. I like to ask myself, “Whose story is this?” and base my choice of POV character on the answer to that question. If I decide to use multiple points of view — a question closely related to “Who?” is “How many?” — I will ask myself at the beginning of each new chapter or section, “Who is the key person in this scene?” More often than not, that person will be my POV character for the passage. I have run across many scenes that are written from the perspective of someone who is, in my opinion, the wrong character to tell that part of the story. As a result, I, as a reader, don’t have access to the thoughts and emotions I want to read at a particular moment, which can be incredibly frustrating.

We should also ask ourselves,“Are we starting our story in the right place?” So often, I read manuscripts that open way too early in the narrative. For page after page, we get background information and little-to-no important action or emotional content. Or, less commonly, I see manuscripts that begin too late, AFTER what really ought to be the inciting event. Be sure you know where to begin your story — and consider the possibility that what SEEMS like the right spot early in the writing process, might ultimately prove to be less than optimal once you have a better sense of your story. Be willing and prepared to revise accordingly

Finally, we should constantly ask ourselves if the scene we’re writing — if every scene we write — serves the larger narrative. It’s not that we can’t pursue subplots and secondary narratives. Of course we can. They enrich and deepen our stories. But they should also serve the whole. We should strive for coherence, for interconnection among our various plot threads. A secondary story for its own sake will only confuse and annoy our readers, distracting them from the narratives that are most important.

More on “what matters” next week.

For now, keep writing!!

Professional Wednesday: Three Ways To Help Your Short Fiction Submission, and Three Ways To Doom It

The deadline for submissions to Artifice and Craft, the anthology I’m co-editing with Edmund Schubert for Zombies Need Brains, is ten days away. December 31. As of this writing, we are closing in on 400 submissions. The anthology will have a total of fourteen stories, seven of them from anchor authors. Meaning we can accept seven stories from all those submissions. We will likely wind up with about 500 subs — maybe more. They just pour in during the last week.

Noir, edited by David B. Coe and John Zakour, an anthology from Zombies Need BrainsSo far, we have received some very good stories. We have also received far, far more that won’t make the first cut. And so I thought I would go over again, briefly, the things that can make or break a story submission, at least for this editor.

To start, here are three things an author can do that might well doom their chances of having their story accepted.

1) Fail to follow the guidelines. I have said this before and will continue to say it until I’m blue in the face, because it sometimes seems I’m shouting into the wind. Every market for stories (and novels, too) has guidelines — GLs for short — that they want authors to follow. These are basics: acceptable fonts, line spacing, margins, etc., as well as presentation instructions, such as what information should appear on the first page and what a cover letter ought to say. Following GLs could not be easier. All one has to do is read them and then follow them. That’s it. And yet, you would be amazed at the number of submissions that don’t do this.

GALACTIC STEW, edited by David B. Coe and Joshua PalmatierWill I reject a story simply because it is single-spaced instead of double-spaced? No, I’m not quite that mean. But when reading a story, knowing I have literally dozens more waiting in the queue, I will only tolerate so many flaws before I reject it. Remember, I have 500 stories to choose from. I can and will find what I’m looking for. No story is ever perfect, so ask yourself, do you want to expend one of your flaws on formatting? Or do you want to present your story correctly so that I can judge it on its artistic merits? The answer seems self-evident to me.

2) Fail to write a story that’s on theme. Again, this would seem so obvious as to be silly. And yet . . . . ZNB anthologies are themed. All of them. And those themes are not suggestions, they’re requirements. The anthology’s theme is written out plainly in the call for submissions (along with the GLs). And yes, if a story isn’t right on theme I WILL reject it. It can be the best story ever, but if it’s not on theme, it will not be in the anthology. Period. Full stop.

3) Fail to write a full story. This one is a little less self-evident. The word limit for each submission is 7,500 words. The GLs don’t give a word minimum. But this is my fifth time editing an anthology and never have I given a top rating to any story that was shorter than, say, 2,500 to 3,000 words. It’s not that I’m imposing a minimum of my own. It’s just that these anthologies are not venues for flash fiction. That upper word limit of 7,500 words is sort of a hint telling you that we want to see story depth, character development and arc, narrative complexity. We want to see excellent ideas that are fully realized, and it is very hard to do that with flash fiction. Over the past couple of months, I have read too many pieces of fiction that offered great ideas, but didn’t do nearly enough with them.

Okay, so what three things can authors do to give themselves the best chance of having a story accepted?

DERELICT, edited by David B. Coe and Joshua Palmatier1) I abhor the cliché, but think outside the box. As Joshua Palmatier, owner and publisher of Zombies Need Brains, has said, don’t assume your first idea is your best idea. The most obvious ideas often come to us first, and if they’re obvious to us, they’re likely to be obvious to everyone. Make your story stand out by exploring the second or third idea, by looking for an idea that isn’t obvious but is rich with narrative possibility.

2) Write with emotion and passion. Too many of the stories I’ve read consist of dialogue and almost nothing else. Others take a kind of epistolary approach, by telling the story in the form of documents — court transcripts or product descriptions or something similar. Clever, but devoid of character development, and, as such, often devoid of emotion and tension as well. Stories need to touch our hearts. Clever is fun, but in the absence of passion, it’s probably not enough to gain acceptance to such a selective anthology. Delve into the emotions of your characters, because that is how you will reach the emotions of your readers.

3) Give us a twist or two. Just as your first idea might not be the most original, your most obvious narrative path might not be the most fruitful. Beware writing the pat ending, the contrived plot, the convenient “surprise.” Take your story in directions that make sense without being predictable. Yes, that can take work, but no one ever said this was going to be easy.

Best of luck with your submissions! And keep writing!

Professional Wednesday: Planning For Next Year — Try Something New!

The Chalice War-Stone, by David B. CoeAs you know, early in 2023 I will be coming out with a new urban fantasy series that is steeped in Celtic mythology. Before working on this series, I hadn’t known much about Celtic lore. But I did my research, learned all I could, and then started to imagine ways in which I might blend those Celtic traditions with my vision for the stories I wanted to write. I tried to be respectful of traditions that are not my own, while also having fun and writing something I hoped would be fun for my readers.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)Two years ago at this time, I was revising Radiants and starting to organize my plans for Invasives, the second book in the sequence. I had never written a supernatural thriller before, but I had the idea and wanted to give it a go.

Two years before that I had just released the second Islevale book and was working on Time’s Demon, the second book in the trilogy. These were my first forays into writing time travel and while I knew there were tremendous pitfalls to writing in that particular subgenre, I wanted to give it a try. Plotting a time travel series is probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted as a professional writer; I doubt I will ever try it again, but I’m glad I did it once.

TIME'S DEMON, by D.B. Jackson (Art by Jan Weßbecher)Around that same time, I was also reading submissions for the Temporally Deactivated anthology, my first co-editing venture. Last year I opened my freelance editing business, and a year ago at this time, I was editing a manuscript for a client.

Back in 2015-2016, again at this time of year, I was working on the Author’s Edit of the LonTobyn Chronicle, my first series. Up until then, I had never re-released any of my old work, but I had the rights back, and I knew I could improve the books with a deep edit of the original manuscripts.

Yes, there is a point to all of this.

Temporally Deactivated, edited by David B. Coe and Joshua B. PalmatierLast week, I wrote about planning out my professional activities for the coming year. This week, I want to discuss a different element of professional planning. My point in starting off with a list of those projects from past years is that just about every year, I try to take on a new challenge, something I’ve never attempted before. I didn’t start off doing this consciously — I didn’t say to myself, “I’m going to start doing something new each year, just to shake things up.” It just sort of happened.

Children of Amarid, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)As it turns out, these new challenges have brought me to a place where I can say, in all candor, that I have never been happier in my work than I am now. Each time I try something new, I reinvigorate myself as a creator. I force myself out of the tried-and-true, the comfortable. With each of the new projects I mentioned above I had a moment of doubt. I wondered if I was capable of accomplishing what I set out to do. Now, I’m a pretty confident guy when it comes to my writing chops and my ability to help others improve their writing, so those doubts didn’t last long. But they were there each time.

Indeed, part of the joy of taking on the projects lay in pushing myself, in overcoming the doubts and getting the work done. As I’ve written before, writing is hard in any number of ways. We help ourselves when we can self-define our successes, rather than relying on a fickle, difficult marketplace to define them for us. Each of the aforementioned projects boosted my sense of self worth.

The Loyalist Witch, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)But those new challenges did more than that. They kept my professional routine fresh. I am a creature of habit. I try to write/edit/work every day, so in a general sense, my work days and work weeks don’t change all that much. By varying the content of my job — by writing new kinds of stories and expanding my professional portfolio to include editing as well as writing — I made the routine feel new and shiny and exciting. And at the same time, these new projects made it possible to return to some old favorites, notably the Thieftaker series, with renewed enthusiasm.

I also made myself better at my craft and deepened my understanding of and appreciation for the nuances of storytelling. I learned a ton by revising my first books. I saw old mistakes that I was still making, and also gained a fresh appreciation for the ways I had improved as a writer. Writing time travel strengthened my plotting by forcing me to look for the loose ends that might have escaped my notice had my characters not possessed the ability to go back in time and undo my choices! Editing has taught me a ton about my own writing by showing me, in unfamiliar narrative contexts, what story elements work best (and worst).

My point is this: As you begin to plan your professional activities and ambitions for 2023, try to put in your calendar something new and different. It is fine to set as a goal the completion of that novel you’ve been working on for a long time, or the publication of a series you’ve had written for a little while now but haven’t yet sent out into the world. Those are laudable aims, and I wish you every success with them.

But maybe you’ve never tried writing short fiction, or you’ve written stories but never submitted any of them. Maybe you’ve written fantasy but never tried science fiction, or thrillers, or romance. Set as a goal for 2023 taking on one of those new tasks. Allow yourself to accomplish something unfamiliar. At the very least, doing so will force you to grow as an artist, which is always a good thing. And perhaps you will discover a previously unexplored talent and passion for something you hadn’t even considered trying.

Best of luck, and keep writing!

Professional Wednesday: Preparing For the Coming Year

December has come to my little corner of the Cumberland Plateau. The trees are bare, days of gray skies and cold winds outnumber the blue, chickadees and nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers and cardinals flock to my feeders. Yes, we still have nearly a month left in 2022, but already these remaining weeks feel foreshortened. The holidays will gobble up much of our time and energy in the closing days of the month, and we will be distracted by all the preparations for family get-togethers and the like.

Which is as it should be. The past two years have seen our holidays strained and, for some, ruined by the pandemic. We deserve a holiday season.

Already, though, my professional thinking has turned to 2023. In past years, I have written about my penchant for mapping out my professional year, trying to plan for the many projects I intend to take on in the months to come. I didn’t write a post of this sort last year, because of the uncertainty surrounding our daughter’s health, and the fresh memory of how so many of my plans were upended in 2020 and 2021 by the pandemic, by family issues, by emotional strain, etc. The fact is, my professional plans are always just that: plans, intentions, hopes even. Nothing more.

And so I approach the coming year with a bit more humility than I did in the years before Covid and before my family’s health crisis. Any work calendar I create will be written in pencil, not pen.

But I also understand that planning out my work calendar helps me, and I believe you might find it helpful to create a similar plan for your coming year.

Right now, I am struggling to decide what major writing project I will take on next. I have posted about this before, and have asked for input from followers of my work and this blog. Yet, still I haven’t been able to decide on a path forward. That’s fine for now. I have stories to read for the Artifice and Craft anthology. I have a story to write for the Dragonesque anthology. I have a couple of editing clients interested in engaging me for some work. In short, I have no shortage of things to keep me busy.

I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t missing the allure of the new shiny. One of the things a work calendar does is keep me looking forward. Often a project supplies its own momentum. The desire to see it through to the end, to complete the damn thing, is usually enough to keep me on task. Now and then, though, I need the carrot of the next project to pull me through. “When I finish this, I get to work on X.”

Put another way, I don’t have to decide right now what major writing project to take on in 2023. I am certain, however, that if I can decide and hold that next project out as the prize I get for completing other things, it will make reading anthology slush a little easier.

I also find a work calendar helpful as I seek to manage my own professional expectations. It’s easy to look at a blank calendar and think, “I have all year to get X,Y, and Z finished.” As it happens, this is rarely the case. Already I know that I’ll be editing short stories for much of January and preparing for the releases of The Chalace War books starting in February and continuing through the spring. (Oh, and here’s the art for book I again, just because I love it so much . . . .) Plus, non-writing stuff is bound to impinge on my writing time. We need to do some work on our house, and that will also probably come in the spring. The work promises to be disruptive. There is no way I’ll be as productive as usual while it’s going on.The Chalice War-Stone, by David B. Coe

I need to take all of this into account while planning my schedule. Because even if some of my deadlines are self-imposed (rather than coming from a publisher) I know that missing them can disrupt the work to follow. It can also have an impact on my mood, on my self-confidence as an artist. We should always keep our expectations for ourselves realistic. The last thing we want to do is set ourselves up for repeated failures by expecting too much from ourselves and not taking into account time commitments we have to make to other parts of our lives. This is not to say that we should budget too much time for projects. There is a balance to be found. We want to push ourselves to accomplish tasks that matter to us, without expecting so much that we can’t help but fail. A work calendar helps me with that.

So as the year winds down, and as I sit in front of a fire, or in front of yet another World Cup soccer match, I will be working on my work calendar, mapping out a strategy for getting done all I hope to accomplish, and also for managing the inevitable disruptions that life — both professional and private — tends to throw in our path. It’s easy to do. I receive calendars in the mail all the time from the various charities we give to each year. I always reserve one of those calendars for this.

Best of luck with your 2023, whether or not you map it out ahead of time.

And, of course, keep writing.

Wednesday Musings: Thanksgiving and Some People To Thank

The past couple of years, usually on the Monday of this calendar week, I have written about Thanksgiving — last year a catalogue of all the things for which I’m thankful (the list still holds), and the year before, ahead of the country’s first Covid Thanksgiving, a rambling remembrance of holidays past that still makes me laugh when I read it over. For obvious reasons, I didn’t feel like writing such a post for this past Monday. But with the holiday upon, I thought I would try again.

I don’t know how to approach a Thanksgiving post this year without repeating myself from those previous posts, and yet here I am making the attempt. And maybe repetition in this context isn’t the worst thing in the world. The things for which I am thankful year in and year out remain remarkably consistent — boring for a blog, but gratifying in every other way. My marriage, my children, my extended family and friends and fans, my career, and, of course, the good fortune of having a home, food in our pantry, health care access, and so many other blessings that too many people lack.

As I have said before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it forces me to take stock, to set aside the petty grievances that too often cloud my mood, and recognize that in the important ways, despite real and serious problems in our lives, my loved ones and I are doing okay. We live, it often seems, at 75 mph, the world blurring past as we try to complete our work, take care of our chores, see to our obligations. Even when we are “on vacation” or taking a bit of time off, we try to squeeze in so much that the relaxed times feel rushed.

To me, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, to focus on the now, on those things that matter most. It is a time to inhale deeply and say, “Right now, in this moment, I am grateful for _______.” The things we fret about, the things that inconvenience and nettle and worse — they’ll still be there the day after Thanksgiving (in fact, they’ll probably be on special…). They’re not going anywhere. So why not push them away for a while and accentuate the positive? This from a confirmed, life-long pessimist.

In any case, I will hop down off the soapbox now. And I will share with you a brief list of very important people, outside my circle of friends and family, who have made an enormous difference in my life this year. Their mention here is small thanks for all they have done for me and my family.

1. I am thankful for my therapist, a woman named Rebecca, who has been absolutely incredible to work with. She is insightful, gentle, funny. Best of all she gets me and understands when to push me and when to let me stumble into truths on my own. I have learned so much from our time working together, and feel better equipped than I have ever been to deal with the uncertainties of this crazy world.

2. I am thankful for my editor, the marvelous Debra Dixon, who has been an amazing creative partner, mentor, critic, and booster. She is terrific with artwork. She did the gorgeous covers for the Radiants books, and she has done a fabulous job with the first book of the The Chalice War, the Celtic urban fantasy about which I’ve told you all so much. You’ll see a reveal of the cover not too long from now.

3. My older daughter’s oncologist, who shall remain nameless so as to protect my daughter’s privacy, is just terrific. He is compassionate, honest, brilliant, devoted to our child and her battle with cancer, and willing to communicate with us whenever we have the need (so long as our daughter has given her okay, of course). We know he can’t perform miracles, but he has our daughter’s complete trust, respect, and affection, and that is all we can ask.

I wish these three a glorious Thanksgiving, and I wish the same to all of you. May your day be filled with laughter, joy, and the companionship of people you love. And may the year to come be filled with blessings large and small.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Professional Wednesday: An Alternative to NaNoWriMo

First off, many thanks to those who offered feedback on last week’s post, in which I asked for input regarding what I might work on next. I appreciate your thoughts. The general consensus appears to be that there is no general consensus. Several people did express enthusiasm for more Thieftaker and more Justis Fearsson. A number were also interested in reading more in the Radiants supernatural thriller series, and a few fans from way back were excited to see an edited reissue of the Winds of the Forelands books. Others liked the idea of a new writing How-To as well as the space opera concept. Which is to say, there was at least some support for pretty much everything I’m currently considering, and that’s reassuring.

We are nearing the end of October, which means Halloween is almost here, elections are right around the corner, and NaNoWriMo is about to start. For those unfamiliar with the term, National Novel Writing Month began in November 1999 as a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The challenge has grown in popularity each year, and now engages literally hundreds of thousands of writers, including kids, in creative writing. NaNoWriMo is also a non-profit that promotes literacy and creativity.

In many ways, NaNo is a positive force in our industry. It fosters community, by bringing together writers of different backgrounds and abilities in a simultaneous effort to be creative on demand. And as I have said in this space again and again, part of being a professional writer is learning how to produce on demand, without “waiting for the muse,” or some such. I have heard many stories of people finally being motivated to write by NaNo, by the communal aspect of the challenge. Knowing others are making the effort at the same time enables some people to write the story that has been burning inside them for so, so long. I think that’s great.

And yet . . . . From the time NaNo first began, I have had some qualms about the concept and the structure. I have written 50,000 words in a month; I’ve done it a couple of times. I know some professionals who write far more than that in 30 days. It can be done, no doubt. And if the challenge and group dynamics of NaNo get your creative juices flowing, more power to you.

But what I remember about those occasional months during which I churned out 50,000 words is that I was unable to sustain the effort. Each time, during the month that followed, I struggled to write half as much. I was burnt out. I know some people have gone on to publish novels they began during a NaNo November. But I wonder how many NaNo participants still have novel fragments of 50,000 words (or 40,000, or 30,000) on their computers, gathering virtual dust. I wonder how many did NaNo only to find themselves unable to sustain the effort beyond the month in question.

As I said, professionals, myself included, can and do write half a novel in a month’s time, but most of us write slower than that. My brother is a visual artist, a painter. And he will occasionally engage in exercises that force him to paint quickly. There is something freeing about turning off the inner critic and just painting fast, to see how an image turns out. Just as there is something freeing about blocking out our inner editor and writing swiftly and in volume. Most of the time, though, my brother’s process looks nothing like that. And I can promise you my writing process — and that of most of my professional colleagues — bears little or no resemblance to NaNo.

Yes, NaNo can jumpstart the creative process for some people, but I would offer this: If instead of trying to write 50,000 words in thirty days, an aspiring writer were to try to write 500 words a day for 100 days, that writer would wind up with the same volume. Yes, it would take more time, but in the snail’s-pace world of publishing the difference between one month and three isn’t so great. Plus, I guarantee you, the 50,000 word manuscript produced over three months will be far, far cleaner than the NaNo manuscript and will require a good deal less editing, thus narrowing the time gap.

Most importantly, while NaNo will leave many writers exhausted and unprepared to follow up and finish the manuscript in question, the 500-word-a-day writer will have developed a habit, a creative routine that is both manageable and sustainable. More than likely, that writer will be able to increase their production over those three months and beyond.

I’m not looking for a fight here, and again, if NaNo works for you, go for it. Enjoy yourself. But if you have considered NaNo, wondering if you might finally kick off a writing career by trying it, I would encourage you to try the slow-and-steady approach instead. As a model, it is much closer to the professional experience than NaNo will ever be and, to my mind, it is more likely to produce a) clean prose, b) a coherent narrative, and c) a completed manuscript.

Whatever you decide, keep writing!

Professional Wednesday: In Which I Ask You, What Should I Write Next?

As I discussed at length in last week’s Professional Wednesday post, I have recently completed a first draft of the third book in my contemporary Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice Wars. The novel needs to sit for a while before I can do a final revise-and-polish and send it off to my editor — six weeks or so, I would think. And since the first book has not yet been copyedited and proofed, since the second book still needs to go through a round of revisions and then the entire production process, and since the third book is still wet behind the ears, I have plenty of work left to do on this series.

Thanks to the successful Kickstarter campaign Zombies Need Brains ran late in the summer, I also have a new anthology, Artifice and Craft, to co-edit with my good friend Edmund Schubert. We already have more than 150 submissions for the anthology, so that work is bound to keep me busy through the end of the year and well into 2023. I also have a short story to write for one of the other anthologies, and I have editing clients in my free-lance business queue.

But beyond the short story, which should only take me a week or two to complete, I have no idea what I am going to write next. None.

Yes, I have ideas. Many.

What are they? Funny you should ask.

The Loyalist Witch, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)One idea is to write my next Thieftaker novel, either in the form of a trio of novellas, like I did with The Loyalist Witch, or as a simple novel. In the Thieftaker novel timeline, the Revolutionary War hasn’t even started yet. There is lots and lots more I can do with Ethan and Kannice and Sephira.

I have also considered going back to the Case Files of Justis Fearsson series, another contemporary urban fantasy that I began in the mid 2010s with Spell Blind, His Father’s Eyes, and Shadow’s Blade. I LOVE these books and have missed writing in Justis Fearsson’s world. I have several ideas brewing for that world.His Father's Eyes, by David B. Coe

I have long wanted to return to my five book Winds of the Forelands series and the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, to revise and re-release those eight novels. They are among my best stories, and they have been out of print for far too long. I envision an “Author’s Edit” re-issue, along the lines of what I did with the LonTobyn Chronicle back in 2016.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)I want to write at least one more Radiants book. Actually, I would like to write several more. Radiants and Invasives are, to my mind, the two best books I’ve written to date, and I still would love to see these books gain come commercial traction so that I can justify writing more of them.

And then there are the new ideas . . .

I have one idea for a space opera series (yes, you read that right), set on a pair of terraformed planets. The plot involves intrigue, mystery, romance, and vengeance, and it is actually based on the work of a well-known, much-beloved, and for-now-secret 19th century novelist. I’m excited about this one. (Actually, I’m excited about all these ideas, which is why I’m considering them in the first place.)

I have a middle grade novel that I first wrote back in 2010 or so, when my kids were much younger. The idea still sings to me, though I know the book needs a good deal of work. But I love the concept and I adore the characters. And I think I would enjoy writing for kids.

My good friend A.J. Hartley has been trying for years to get me to write a non-fantasy, non-supernatural, straight-ahead thriller. He thinks I’d enjoy it. He thinks I’d be good at it. And I will admit I have some ideas percolating along these lines as well. Of all the projects I’m thinking about, this one probably has the most commercial potential, which is not the only consideration, but I do this for a living, so . . . .

And finally, I have considered taking all the Professional Wednesday and Writing Wednesday posts I have written since 2020 and collecting the best of them in a new writing how-to book. I have more than enough material, and I think some people would like to see the advice I have offered gathered in a single, convenient volume.

So there we are. Those are the things I’m thinking about right now. (I should add that I can’t guarantee I won’t have five more ideas tomorrow.)

What ideas appeal to you? Feel free to Tweet at me, or to comment in my Facebook Group! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

In the meantime, keep writing!

Professional Wednesday: Finishing a Book Actually Means More Work

As I mentioned last week, I have recently finished the third book in my new contemporary Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice Wars. This book, The Chalice Wars: Sword, will be out sometime fairly early in 2023. Book I, The Chalice Wars: Stone, is currently in production, and book II, The Chalice Wars: Cauldron, is with my editor. The art work for the first book should be ready soon. I’ll share it the moment I can. I’m excited about these books. They are filled with tension and suspense, but also with humor, and they are quite different from other work I’ve done. And I am proud to add that when this third volume is published, it will be my 30th book.

For today’s post, though, I want to focus on the mechanics of finishing a book, and precisely what that means for me in terms of work and process.

I know. It seems like finishing a novel should be fairly straightforward. We type “The End” and then we drink whisky. Right?

Turns out it’s not that easy.

First of all, I NEVER type “The End.” If we as authors have to tell our readers when a book has reached its end, we haven’t done a very good job with our ending. Just saying.

More to the point, finishing the first draft of a novel is just one step in a significantly longer process. Yes, it’s an important step, but it certainly does not mean the book is anywhere near “done.”

When I work on a book, I have a separate file open on my computer, which is usually called “[Book Title] Edit Notes.” This is a file filled with reminders to myself of things I need or want to change in the book. While writing my first draft I don’t want anything to stall my forward momentum. The most important thing we can do with a book draft is finish it. Let me say that again. The most important thing we can do with a book draft is finish it. Finishing a book is hard to do, and it is all too easy to retreat into edits and rewrites rather than move on toward those looming scenes we haven’t quite figured out how to write. It is also tempting, upon noticing in earlier chapters imperfections of prose or character or plotting, to fix them immediately, to make the manuscript as perfect as possible.

But here’s the thing: No first draft is ever going to be perfect. In fact, I would argue that no finished novel has ever been or ever will be perfect. That, though, is a conversation for another time. The point is, finish your book. It is much easier to edit a finished manuscript than it is to complete said manuscript in the first place. And so, when I think of changes that need to be made, I jot them down in a different file for later, thus preserving my momentum.

Fast forward to that glorious day when we actually finish the first draft. Well, now we have to deal with that file filled with edit notes. Working through my edits can take anywhere from one day to one week or even more, depending, obviously on how much work I’ve left for myself.

After I finish the edits, I next tackle my crutch words. Crutch words are verbal mannerisms unique to our writing, words or phrases that we tend to overuse or fall back on when in the midst of composing our stories. We all have them — I see them when editing the work of others, and I see them in my own rough drafts. I even see them in the published volumes of colleagues. My crutch words will be different from yours, which will be different from your writing-group buddy’s, which will be different from those of your favorite writer. But as I say, this is something all writers have to watch out for. I keep a running list of my crutch words in (another) word document on my computer desktop. And after completing any book or story, I work through this list, checking to see if I have overused any of the usual suspects. How do I know if I have overused them? I do a universal search of each word or phrase, which gives me a count of occurrences. And then I compare that number to the number of occurrences of the same word or phrase in several of my other completed, edited manuscripts, ones I know I have checked for crutch words. If the numbers are about the same, if figure I’m okay. If the number for the new book is a good deal higher, I have some work to do. Dealing with crutch words can be a slow, tedious process. It can take me several full days. Slow, tedious days . . . .

Finally, after seeing to my edits and getting my crutch words under control, I put the newly completed manuscript away for several weeks and start work on something else — short fiction, a new novel, editing projects. It doesn’t matter what. After about four to six weeks, depending on how soon the book is due, I pull out the manuscript again and read it through a couple of times start to finish, doing a full edit of the manuscript, looking for any and all problems — stylistic, narrative, structural, etc. Everything. Only after doing this, when I am convinced the manuscript is as good as I can make it at this time, do I send it on to my editor, or my agent, or my Beta readers. (At some point, I’ll have their suggested edits to deal with. And after that there will be copy edits and proofs. But that is part of the production process and is another subject entirely.)

By this time, of course, I’m in the middle of whatever project I’ve started next, so I’m no longer in the mood for celebrating the completion of the manuscript. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a wee dram of whisky. . . .

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Additional Thoughts On Writing and Teaching

After a wonderful weekend at the Hampton Roads Writers Workshop (kudos to Lauran Strait and all those who helped her make the conference such a success), I am reminded again of why I love to teach writing, to talk about craft and the business in such a setting.

As with so many things in the literary world and publishing business, no one is going to get wealthy teaching at writing workshops. Don’t get me wrong: Those of us listed as presenters for the event were housed, fed, and paid honoraria for our time. The conference charges its attendees a reasonable amount for all that they offer, and they do not in any way take advantage of their instructors. But I can also tell you that I worked hard on my talks beforehand, preparing them with care so that my presentations would take full advantage of the time I was allotted. I know for certain that my fellow presenters did the same. And then we spent the weekend giving our talks and speaking formally and informally with the conference attendees. If we were to take the time to calculate what we earned for all our work on a per hour basis . . . Well, let’s not go there.

In this way, as I mentioned, writing workshops are a lot like other elements of professional writing. If I were to figure my novel writing earnings on a per hour or per word basis, if I were to do the same with my editing work— But no. That way lies madness.

The greater point is that the vast majority of us who write DON’T think in those terms. Because while we do get paid, and we would, all of us, love to earn more as writers than we do, we don’t do it for the money. We do it for the love of the written word.

And so it follows that I don’t teach at writing conferences for the money, though it is nice to be paid, and shown in that small way that our time and effort and expertise are valued, I teach writing because I love to talk with fellow writing professionals and those who hope to be professionals at some point, about what we do. Edmund R. Schubert, my dear friend and colleague, gave a terrific keynote address at Hampton Roads and he expressed this idea so well. He compared it to churchgoers who speak of being spiritually fed (or not) by a sermon or sanctuary service. And he quoted a pastor who said that if one goes to church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) just looking to be fed, without looking for ways to feed others, they are missing the point.

I go to writing conferences hoping that my talks will “feed” those who listen, creatively, intellectually, professionally. But I also go to them because I know that the give-and-take of a writing session will feed me in turn. I will come away inspired, filled with a deeper appreciation and understanding of my craft. As I did this past weekend at Hampton Roads.

My time with Edmund and also John Hartness, who was there as well, as a presenter and book dealer, fed my need to hang with old friends who share my passion for and frustration with this crazy business. My conversations with fellow presenters I hadn’t known before this weekend offered me new perspectives on the writing industry and new friends who I look forward to seeing again at future events. And my interaction with the attending students, a diverse group who varied widely in age, writing level, life experience, and creative aspiration, filled me with renewed enthusiasm for the ongoing “conversation” in which all storytellers engage.

Yes, in recent posts I have lamented the state of the literary market. But writing is not going away. Storytelling is not going away. One need only experience first-hand the passion of these up-and-coming writers, who are not doing it for the money, who are struggling and working and honing their craft without having yet earned much of anything from their creative endeavors, to know that the future of our craft is not about the troubles in New York publishing. It is about the next generation of writers and their collective voice. And the generation after that one. And so on.

The publishing behemoths in New York can change, or at least make the attempt. They can cut advances, and shake up their staffs, and look to the mammoth booksellers with trepidation, wondering what their next pronouncement might mean for the bottom line. But readers still want a great story. Small booksellers still market books because they love literature. Small presses still publish great stories knowing that they are putting something positive and powerful into the world, even if their profit margins are, well, marginal. And writers of all levels still write the tales that burn in their hearts, and give voice to the characters they encounter in their ever-active imaginations.

Storytelling lives. The conversation continues.

Have a great week.

Professional Wednesday: What To Tell Aspiring Writers About The Current Literary Market

If we have to write — and I’ve always felt that writing is an imperative, something I do to tame the voices in my head, the stories burning in my heart — then we should do it to satisfy that passion.

This past weekend, while at DragonCon, I spent a lot of time on writing panels, talking with other literary professionals in front of audiences made up largely of aspiring writers. We mostly discussed ways to improve various elements of our storytelling, but we spoke as well about the state of the current writing market, and the challenges of embarking on a literary career.

Reflecting on those conversations, it occurs to me that much of what we discussed warrants repetition and amplification in this venue.

This has been a summer of bad news for those of us who (try to) make our livings writing books. Book sales are down across the board this year. Barnes and Noble is rumored to be cutting back drastically on what books it will carry and market. The trial to determine the future of the proposed merger between Penguin-Random House and Simon & Schuster has revealed that book sales for the vast majority of volumes published each year are shockingly, depressingly low. Those numbers may or may not be accurate, but if they’re not, that would only mean that publishers routinely mislead authors about their sales numbers, which would also be shocking and depressing. Lose lose.

I have neither the data nor the experience to state categorically that it has never been harder to be a professional writer, but I can say that right now the business outlook for our industry pretty much sucks.

Which has left me wondering — as I attend conventions and get ready to teach at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference — how can I mentor young writers when the market is so dauntingly hostile? I struggle with this nearly daily.

I have been in the business for a long time. I have literally dozens of publishing credits — as a novelist, as a short story writer, as an editor. I have awards to my name, a history of strong reviews, a reputation as a professional who hits his deadlines, turns in clean manuscripts, and is reasonably easy to work with. (Mostly.) And yet, I still get lots of rejections when I shop new projects. My advances are lower now than they were early in my career. My sales numbers have declined with those across the industry. Maintaining my career has never been harder — it feels like all my accomplishments and credits mean nothing at all.

Again, I question how I can, in good conscience, tell people, “Yes! Go forth! Write your books! Try to make a career for yourselves in this crazy, cruel, struggling business!”

If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, and advise young me on the career choice I made back in the mid-1990s, would I tell him/me to embark on this career? Probably. But I have been extraordinarily fortunate in certain ways (and chronically unlucky in others), especially in that I have enjoyed the support of an incredible, generous, accomplished life partner. If I was doing this alone, without Nancy? No way in hell.

If that hypothetical time travel worked differently, and young me was starting now? I would probably advise him/me to find another career, or at the very least to approach this one very, very differently, to look upon writing as a paying hobby, not as a profession, and to keep his/my expectations quite low.

Throughout my career I have spoken often of the importance of loving what we do. And I mean it in several ways. On one level, love what we do means write for the love of it, because the payoffs of this profession, financial and emotional, can be slim and fleeting. On another level, love what we do means we must love the stories we write, and write the stories about which we’re passionate. The market is a moving target. Writing to the market is just about impossible. So we should write the stories that sing in our hearts, because that love will shine through in the final product, and we will enjoy the process more. Finally, love what we do means we must take satisfaction in the stories we produce, because often the artistic creation itself is the lone reward for a job well done.

Strangely, even in this current market — indeed, especially in this current market — “Love what we do” remains good advice. If we have to write — and I’ve always felt that writing is an imperative, something I do to tame the voices in my head, the stories burning in my heart — then we should do it to satisfy that passion. Writing because we think it’s just a good gig, a great way to make a few bucks? If that’s what you’re thinking, I suggest you go back and reread the opening graphs of this post.

As queasy as I might feel about encouraging young writers to go out and try to make a go of literary careers, I feel even worse saying, “No! Don’t do it! That way lies madness, not to mention bruised egos and poverty!” In a sense, there is no good option here.

And so I will continue on this middle course. I will continue to say the following: “Writing is hard. It’s always been hard. It’s even harder now. But it’s also a glorious journey through imagination and emotion and creation, a wondrous alchemy by which we take words and turn them into living, breathing characters and their fully realized lives. And here are some tips for doing that as effectively as possible . . . .”

Enjoy the rest of your week, and keep writing.