I’ve read through the last few days’ comments and have compiled a list of 31 questions that we’ll be tackling in detail over the next months. Our goal will be to come up with some “Best Practices” on how to do various practical tasks in this fiction writing game.
I think we’ll start with time management. I’ll put together some thoughts on that over the next few days. For today, I want to tackle some of the “easy” questions you all have asked that can be answered in a paragraph or two. The “hard” questions are going to require several days or maybe a full week to work through, but I can do most of the easy ones today and tomorrow.
When you’re planning your outline, how much stuff do you need to put in to get an 80,000 word novel? Or is it something that comes after the outline? Real books have all kinds of minor glitches for the main character, and the outline only hits the highlights. So I know other problems have to crop up, but I don’t have a good guess for how many between disasters.
Randy sez: If your outline gives you a list of all your scenes (as I recommend in the Snowflake Method, using a spreadsheet), then figure an 80000 word novel would be 60 to 80 scenes. If you prefer longer scenes, then you might only want 40 scenes. I don’t think it’s good to have super-short scenes, because readers don’t like being yanked around from scene to scene too often. If you average 4 to 5 pages per scene, that’s probably about right, but remember you can have an occasional long scene (10 or 12 pages) and an occasional short one.
How do you get a published author to read your novel with the hope that they will recommend you to their agent? Besides the obvious of meeting them at a writer’s conference.
Randy sez: It’s best to let them volunteer. That’s tricky, because they won’t volunteer unless you know them pretty well, and it’s a big time investment to get to know somebody well.
That’s just life. The fact is that all published writers get asked to read manuscripts all the time by people they barely know. And they just can’t do it. Imagine getting asked 100 times per year to read a manuscript. Could you do that? Would you get anything else done if you said yes? Now imagine getting asked 1000 times per year.
Honestly, I think the best way to find an agent is to go to writing conferences and make some appointments with agents. Of course, the agents tell people to get recommendations from their clients, because that saves a lot of time for the agent. The problem with getting recommendations from a writer is that an agent who’s effective for THEM might not be effective for YOU.
Once in awhile at a conference, I’ll find a writer who’s ready for an agent (but that’s fairly rare, and the ones who think they need an agent often just aren’t ready.) When that happens, I’ll introduce the writer to one or two agents who I think would work well for them. That generally isn’t MY agent! Every agent is different. I’m looking for the agent that will “get” this writer’s work and will love it.
Warning: If you meet me at a conference, please don’t ask me to introduce you to the “right agent.” I only make introductions when a writer is READY for an agent, and only if it’s my idea, because then I don’t feel like I’m being pressured into being a matchmaker. I really hate having to say, “No, you’re not ready for an agent yet, because you need to work on this aspect of craft first.” That gets awkward.
Bottom line: When you are really ready for an agent, you won’t have to work hard. At any good writing conference, they’ll be crawling out of the woodwork to find you. If they aren’t doing that, (this is going to be a hard thing to hear) then you aren’t ready for an agent yet.
An agent has offered you a contract. Another agent is still reading your stuff.
I’ve put out questions and am talking with clients.
How do I know which one will be better if I haven’t heard from them both?
How long do I keep the one waiting?
Randy sez: Which agent do you click with better? If it’s the one who offered the contract, then hire that one.
If you click with the other agent better, send them an email saying that you really are interested in working with them and that you’d like to know how long it’ll take to reach a decision. I don’t think it’s wise to say you’ve been offered a contract. If you don’t get a response, or if the answer is “a long time,” then that agent really isn’t all that into you. In the meantime, you don’t need to answer the first agent right away. You can wait a few weeks. They are not sitting by the phone waiting to hear from you.
This sophomore needs help on EVERYTHING. How long should a novel be? I was told that there isn’t a prayer of getting published if it is over 100,000 words. I’m at 113,000 and don’t see where I can cut!
Randy sez: That’s not a show-stopper. You can submit it to publishers and let them know that it’s 113,000 words and you know they’ll probably want to cut it. Or you can hire a freelance editor who specializes in cutting novels to size. Most of my novels have been over 100,000 words. (OK, all of them have been.)
Sorry Randy, but I have one more question – Should you hire an editor to review your novel, and if so, when? The expense seems formidable.
It depends how well-rounded you are as a writer. If you have a serious weakness in your writing, then either improve that weakness or find an editor who can address it for you. I would not do this until you’re a “senior.” Freshmen and sophomore writers don’t need editors; they need teachers and critiquers; they need to put in a couple of thousand hours of actual writing. Let me be selfish and say that a lot of freshman and sophomore writers need my courses “Fiction 101” or “Fiction 201”.
Many published novelists work with freelance editors. I have for my last several books, and I think that’s helped my writing. I don’t need help with punctuation, but I do like to get a high-level critique, so I use an editor who specializes in that. (Meredith Efken at FictionFixitShop.com. She’s extremely good at that kind of critique.) You should use an editor who does the kind of editing you need. My blogroll has a small list of freelance editors. There are lots more out there, and you can find one who’s right for you. Make sure you ask for references and check them.
That’s all for today. I’ll answer some more of the “easy” questions tomorrow. We’ll start discussing “best practices” on time-management for writers when we’re done with all the easy questions.
Daan Van der Merwe says
Is it okay to begin a second scene with another POV character directly after the disaster ending the first scene and after the second scene proceed with the sequel to the first scene?
Randy, Thank you for answering my questions. It is helpful to know. I guess as I work on my craft, I’ll save my pennies and see what I can do in the end.
Mary E. DeMuth says
Randy, you get twenty-eight gold stars for what you said about reviewing and recommending. It’s a funny thing. I’m happy to read an unpubbed piece if it’s my idea. But I simply don’t have time to read everything folks want me to read. Same thing at conferences. I love recommending writers to agents, but it’s a pretty rare thing. But when someone asks me to introduce him/her to my agent, I shut down. It’s no longer fun, and I feel pressured.
What Randy says is right, folks: If you have spent time honing your craft, and have graduated from Freshman to Sophomore to Junior to Senior, you will stand out. A great deal of what I see at conferences (when I’m critiquing) is simply not ready for publication.
DC Spencer says
I know you’ve moved on from male POV, but I just want to tell you how your information and discussions improved my male character. It was primarily verb choices that were affecting his image. As a female writer, I think I was subconsciously using softer verbs, so I edited them out for stronger verbs. For instance, my character whispered a prayer under his breath. After reading your teaching (that’s what it is to me) I changed “whispered” to “muttered” and it read more like a guy sort of thing. Thanks so much for your great email/website/blog/Snowflake/etc/etc/etc!
Carrie Neuman says
Thanks for the numbers, Randy. I realized my problem was my first fourth was too short. I even found an organic way to stretch it out without forcing it. Hooray for structure!
Mary Burch says
I have a question that I hope someone has an answer to. What doors are open to the disabled writer. My disability has kept me chair-bound for four years. I had spent the time improving my craft and have a short story coming out in an anthology soon. I don’t have the ability to go to conferences and meet agents and publishers. I have finished two science fiction/fantasy novels for young adults, and am currently working on book 1 of an adult sci-fi trilogy.
As my health allows, I research publishing houses until I find one that sounds like it prints what I write. Then I send my manuscript. To this point my health has only permitted me to submit by e-mail.
I know I will need to have an agent in the long run because of my poor health. I have started two new treatments that promise to increase my energy so I can start submitting to agents. But from what I read, agents don’t usually like unsolicited manuscripts from unknowns any more than publishers do.
Thanks for any suggestions you can make.