Why Am I Getting Rejected? Part 2

Hello! How are you? Was the weekend good? Can you believe that thing that the person said or did with the thing about the thing? Yeah, I can’t either.

Okay, enough chit-chat, you’re not here for my palaver.

We’re back at the Rejection Series. On Friday we talked about how the query can reject the MS before the MS even gets looked at, and now we’re going to come at this from a different direction. Today we’ll look at how the early pages of the MS can reject you.

Let’s assume for all these five cases that the query was interesting enough to lead the reader to check out the MS.

Whereas last time I told you to get your query letter, I want you to go get the first five pages of your MS. Yes, seriously. Double-space them. Print them out. Meet right back here when you’re ready?

Cool? Then onward we go …

Issue 1 – The opening paragraphs don’t encourage the reader to go forward.
This might be the big manuscript killer. The opening page is critical, like absolutely vital, to establishing the tone you’re trying to convey to the reader, regardless of the information.

You want to talk about weather, or blow something up, or write a quip, fine, but remember that whatever is in those opening paragraphs is the impression I’m taking forward. Yes, I’m beating the drum on word choice and decision making, but I don’t know any other way to stress to you that if you want me to go forward and ultimately say yes to your MS, that opening has to engage me.

Maybe that engagement is provocative, or it’s funny, or it’s new/a new take on a common idea. That engagement won’t happen if you’re trying too hard to be something or some author you’re not. It won’t happen because despite all camouflaging efforts, that try-hard blanket will hang over you. It’s visible, like a bad comb-over. Just be you, express whatever idea you have in as sharp and as “you”  as possible (this is a great time to mention the importance of voice), and you’ll be engaging.

Issue 2 – The tone of the first page (or so) does not match the tone of the subsequent pages. 
One of the ways people try and correct Issue 1 is by really working the hell out of that first moment in the book and then the next moment or scene in the book winds up feeling jarring and strange because it didn’t get the same intensive scrubbing. My example for this is a TV show, the newer version of Battlestar Galactica, where the SyFy tv-movie presented one feel and vibe and setup, then the first episode (and particularly the second) felt like I was watching a completely different, and not good) TV show.

I use that example because I hoped what I saw in the front would carry forward, and when it didn’t I made a variety of sighs and curses before never watching another second of it. Don’t let that happen to your MS. Yes, word choice and story-decision-making help this, but so does editing. NO, not self-editing, I mean getting other eyes on it. YES you need to get other eyes on your work before it goes out into the world.

Also, let me point out that this problem is fixable by applying the same strategy to every scene/moment in the MS. Assume the reader looks at this page, this moment, this scene, wherever it is in the book. Is it going to be interesting on some level? Don’t confuse ‘interesting’ with ‘perfect’, because interesting things are often imperfect and they’re supposed to be. Every word on the page helps paint a picture in the reader’s mind, so what will you do with their blank canvas?

Issue 3 – The pages have errors, big and small, that don’t encourage the reader going forward.
One of the big concepts I battle with is the idea that editing is both someone else’s job, as well as it being too expensive if you out-source it directly. It’s this duality that keeps authors from investing in things like editing or coaching, so that they can improve what they write, so that when they send the MS anywhere (to publisher or consumer alike) it’s in its best position to have a positive reception. Errors are catchable and fixable, and it’s worth the time (and the money, where appropriate) to get your work edited.

When I blog, I know there are typos and words I skip because I think I’ve typed them. I know I flub punctuation. I’m not perfect. No writer, no editor, no publisher, nobody is perfect. Errors happen, but there are (or there are supposed to be) steps in place to catch them.

For instance, I can send my drafted blog posts to people who will tell me that I’ve misspelled camouflaging again. Or I can get to the desk ten minutes earlier to re-read the sales copy before definitely approving it. These are things within my power to get whatever is in front of me into great shape.

When I open that MS, and the first page has things like tonal shifts, hopping POV, missing words, and/or substantial grammar issues, I sigh and tell myself that here’s one more for the rejection pile and grumble a little that 99% of that could have been caught and fixed if the person gave a shit about their work, my time, and their efforts.

Because that’s the message it conveys to me. I don’t know the writer. I know them by name and email address, but I don’t ‘know’ them. When the first pages are badly tossed word salad, and because I’ve got a lot to do on any given work day, I have to go with my gut-based first impression that this author, no matter how well intentioned, couldn’t be bothered to give me their best. If they can’t treat their work and the jobs we both have to do as editor and author with respect, what other conclusion can I draw?

Issue 4 – The MS has a load of potential and suggestion, but never pays off.
Last week, we talked about the bait-and-switch between query and MS. Here’s an extension of that. This is the MS version of ‘talks a big game and doesn’t deliver.’

If Issue 1 wasn’t the killer, this issue is. And that’s because the issue crops up not on page 1, but in the later pages, after I’ve read a bit and invested my time, interest, and energy. I read it, I start making notes, I start telling people to make time so they can read it and make notes, and then I get a rug pulled out from under me when the “good stuff” never happens.

Maybe it’s the subplot that doesn’t pay off. Maybe it’s a whole book of plot setup that will pay off a little in book 2 and 3 and 4, meaning I have to be willing to take a chance on the whole series (this is especially irksome if the later books aren’t drafted yet, and I’m suppose to take the hope forward that the idea of a series is publishable/saleable.) Maybe it’s the climax that’s not satisfying. Loads of elements in the story can peak too soon, weakly, or not at all and leave the reader unsatisfied, but not in that positive hungry-for-more way. More like how I felt when hype exceeds product, as in restaurants or video games.

And this is another treatable issue. Take the MS to multiple readers who have no emotional stake in being biased. Not the partner, spouse, child, friend, beloved co-worker, bestie (is ‘bestie’ still a thing?). Beta readers. People who aren’t well known. Writing groups. Editors. People who don’t have to say nice things because of non-creative agendas. Fresh eyes, objectivity, and feedback that might not be all rainbows and kittens can help get the MS into better shape.

Issue 5 – The MS turns out to be a soapbox for the author’s agenda. 
Most manuscripts are written by people who want to tell a particular story because the story is interesting and because they think they have an approach to the material that others don’t.

However, there are a number of authors who write stories as vessels and disguises for their opinions about material they otherwise can’t say for whatever reasons. These are the manifestos about government control disguised as protagonist dialogue. These are the stories of sexual violence fetishized and glorified. These are the stories where a hard stance can be taken, but the author can gain some distance from it because, “it’s not them, it’s their character(s).”

There’s a sincerity to seek for here. On the minor elements, the unobtrusive stuff isn’t a soapbox. But when an author disguises (often poorly, though you’ll never convince them of that) their belief under some narrative veneer, and that belief gets brought up again and again as if they’re saying, “DO YOU GET IT, HUH? DO YOU SEE WHAT I AM SAYING?” in a great stage whisper, it doesn’t matter how masterful the other MS elements can be portrayed – the soapboxing overshadows many other elements.

Let’s back up a second, because this assumption of agenda also extends to readers. How many great books are marred by one-star reviews because of reader misinterpretation and sentiment? How many authors see sales suffer because of the trolltastic machinery of ne’er-do-wells and the hypersensitive dogpile?

As part of a publisher, I’ve got a responsibility to look for manuscripts that can be made into books that people will buy. As an editor, I’ve got a responsibility to help the author produce the best book possible, not the best soapbox possible.

You can’t totally excise your personal opinions from your work, and it’s folly to think you can, since your opinions and ideas are part your voice. But that voice is for sharing, not for proselytizing. It’s for sharing without the agenda of conversion. The world is big enough for all the voices of all the people, and it’s not a numbers game of social politics. Nor should manuscript development happen with the express purpose of furthering a brand, but that can be our segue to our next (and last) installment in this series.

See you all later this week. We’ll talk soon. Happy writing

Why Am I Getting Rejected? Part 1

Today’s question: Why does my MS get rejected?

I get this question maybe 1 in every 7 emails, and then it usually gets followed up with a question about why I didn’t answer that rejection question.

Today I answer it.

In the past I haven’t been wholly explicit about the reasons for rejection because they aren’t codified or standardized. What might get you rejected in submission #1 might be the thing that gets accepted in submission #2.

So what I have for you today is a few reasons why your submission gets rejected. I’m splitting this into several parts – issues with the query; issues with the manuscript; issues with other author-y things – because otherwise this would easily be the longest and most rambly post I’ve ever written, and judging by my blog stats, my long posts get as much traction as a puppy on a wood floor.

Go get your query letter. I’m going to make a very large and very strong cup of tea, and together we’ll have some realtalk about how that query might be the thing getting you rejected. Meet me back here when you’re ready.

Let’s do this.

Issue 1 – The query does not make me want to read the MS.
When I read a query, I should not want to put the query down and go watch the lawn grow. A dull query, even when it’s just a few paragraphs, can feel like an abstract for a lengthy obnoxious/pretentious academic work that I can’t believe people get degrees for. (Shout-out to all the dissertations about shoes or the comparison of gender and its effects on pasta)

A query’s job is to encourage, tease, and drive the reader to manuscript to see how the promises of the of the query get paid off in the MS.

You can have all the interesting names and ideas and scenes and decisions in the universe in your book, but if your query doesn’t express them in a way that makes the reader want to check them out, then it won’t matter.

This is why queries can’t be slow burns. There’s a minimum of space, and word choice has to be at a premium. Start where the action is, don’t detour into fluffy things, and keep the focus on getting the reader into that manuscript.

Issue 2 – The query is unfocused.
The compensation for trying to keep the query exciting is that there’s so much going on in it, so much stuff described, that it’s unclear what exactly the MS is about, or what’s the more important element(s) warranting attention.

This is not about there being a lack of information, this is about an abundance of information and little (or none of it) is prioritized. And it needs to be.

As the query writer, you’ve got to help the reader get through the query, get excited, and get into the MS. To do that, build us a path we can navigate. Start somewhere exciting, somewhere intriguing, and work us forward through the ideas.

I say ideas, because you can’t keep us orbiting one idea where you just find different synonyms (the MC is brave! the MC is courageous! the MC knows no fear!). Segue us from one idea to another, so we can get a taste for the world, the character, and the plot (not necessarily in that order). Make decisions, lead us in a direction that ultimately gets us into the MS.

Issue 3 – The query is too short.
Scanning my inbox, 80% of the query letters I have rejected have been a paragraph inside an email where they’re also mentioning how they like this or how they read that.

It’s a query LETTER, not a query paragraph. Spend more than 2 sentences making the reader interested. Aim for a sweet spot between 90 and 300 words, and that count includes things like your name, info to reach you by, and the sentence ‘Thank you for your consideration.’

When the query is so short, my first thought is that the person either isn’t really interested in me reading anything they write, or they’re not actually as serious about getting published as they claimed. If they were, why wouldn’t they say more?

Issue 4 – The query is too long.
This doesn’t happen as often as Problem 3, but it does still happen. Much like Problem 2, this is a case where things aren’t prioritized and decisions aren’t made, so every possible idea gets thrown into what is often a block of text in the hope that somewhere in the word-glacier the reader can unearth the interesting bits.

They probably could, but they shouldn’t have to. Here’s another case where the decision-making process is critical, because the reader gets a selection of material that would increase the likelihood of going into the manuscript with an enthusiasm and interest.

Again, sweet spot. Make choices.

Issue 5 – The query talks about A, but the MS presents B.
We’re wrapping up with part 1 with a great bridge element to where we’re going next. The query’s promise of manuscript potential has to pay off. On the surface, this is something as obvious as saying, “don’t bait and switch”, where the query talks about the MS being a fantasy epic about chicken farmers and the MS is actually a bisexual love triangle of teenage poltergeists, to something as nuanced as the promise of an action thriller that misses core genre beats and staples like the villain’s demise or the romantic subplot.

This isn’t limited to insidious skeevy tactics. This comes up in the course of any manuscript that doesn’t deliver on its promises or premises. And when I say ‘doesn’t deliver’ I mean that the elements in the query aren’t found in the MS, not that they’re poorly developed. (Poor development goes back to Issue 1)

Inconsistency, nerves, over-ambition … there’s a number of reasons why this happens (you know how movie trailers have scenes and lines that don’t get into the film, but because they’re in there, you go see the film? This is that, but for books) It’s an entirely correctable problem that you can solve by putting only the stuff that happens in THIS ONE BOOK in THIS ONE QUERY.

You’re writing a series? Great, tell me that you are, but you only have to query this MS I’ve got in front of me, so I don’t need to know the plot of book 4 when you’re trying to get book 1 published. Tell me about book 4 AFTER we say yes to book 1. It’s the horse and cart, or eggs and basket metaphor, maybe a little of both.

This series will continue on Monday, where will look at how the MS can get you rejected. See you then. Happy writing.

 

3 Necessities For Your Manuscript

Good morning creatives. I’m writing this to you from the Ugly Couch (though I believe its technical name is “The Couch No One Really Likes But Never Tells John Why”), while Minnie the Wonder Dog and I engage in our second favorite activity – watching old replays of WWE Raw in between naps.

See?

This was her big moment. Not pictured is the snoring. Pictured here is just how badly I need a haircut

If you hadn’t heard the news from Twitter, over the weekend I formalized an arrangement to work with Parvus Press in a more complete and serious capacity, having removed the “Consulting” out of the “Consulting Editor” title, and take over their Editorial operations. Call me The Managing Editor/Writer Next Door.

So from the casual office, I put together this post to talk about 3 things that are really super 5-star giant thumbs-up important and should be in the pages of your manuscript (but so often aren’t, for reasons I cannot guess).

1. The opening page YES REALLY, THE PAGE, should involve some combination of character, world, story tone, and your writing style. When I say “character” I mean ideally a character that’s a main character. Think about Watson in Sherlock Holmes; Daredevil in … Daredevil; Princess Leia in Star Wars; or the Sea in Old Man And The Sea. It doesn’t always need to be the mainest of main characters (especially if you have an ensemble story to tell, but that also doesn’t mean the reader needs to be force fed you entire MS roster), it just needs to be a character that isn’t going to get ditched when the “real” characters show up.

How does “story tone” make itself different from “your writing style”? Because you use your writing style to flesh out your story’s tone. Erratic tone, where you jump from (for example) comedic to romantic to Gothic to fantastic, is a killer, because the reader isn’t going to know how to interpret or how to feel about your story. And if we look at this from a publisher standpoint, erratic tone makes the book a hard sell. How do you market a book that feels all over the place?

If we accept the maxim that the average published page is 250 words (I’m willing to take that up to 255), then you’ve got some decisions to make. It’s okay to go skimpy like a bathing suit on world building if you’ve put some word count on your character and style. But there does need to be a little bit of everything. There’s a lot riding on your first page, and when you go all in on something to the exclusion of something else, the void you leave is palpable. And it’s tough to keep a critical reader engaged and determined to hit that second, third or even fifth page. Don’t leave it up to them to “keep reading and see if it gets better.” Don’t pin a lot on the idea that if the reader just gets into chapter 4, that’s where the story really picked up. As the kids say, “Ain’t no one got time for that.”

So what’s the right balance? That’s up to you. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a dick about things, but there’s no magic bullet. There’s no one single formula. I can tell you the best combination of character, world, tone, and style is the one that best serves you and what you’re trying to do.

2. Something more than theTalk Template“. The “Talk Template” looks like this:

The dialogue starts,” a character speaks, “and then carries on to start every paragraph or nearly every paragraph on the page.” (italics mine)

I see this especially with inexperienced authors. Page after page is built out of paragraphs that start with people talking, often to each other and often as a way to describe what they’re about to do. And sometimes the whole paragraph is dialogue. We already have a word for a manuscript that is more character talking than anything else, it’s called a screenplay. If you’re writing one of those, awesome, you’re doing great with all the talking. But if you’re writing a novel, not so much.

We need more than dialogue. We need exposition. We need plot development. We need and so badly want your story to play out beyond just characters talking.

3. A plot that may appear complex, but can be parsed into a simple understandable package. Pick a favorite story. Can you put the plot in a sentence, especially if you don’t use proper nouns?

How about: While never taking a math or gym class, a young wizard student and his magical group of friends are put in constant magical danger as they quest to defeat the world’s vilest sorcerer by breaking his stuff.

How about: A mumbling boxer takes on the greatest boxer ever while learning about love thanks to a pet store.

How about: Kevin Bacon and Remo Williams fight giant dirt slugs with the dad from Family Ties.

A plot can have a lot of moving parts, it can have great nuance and subtext, but it does need to be boiled down to a degree that can be translated into “Hey you, other person, you should check this out.”

That’s not to say it’s simple, or that it needs to be dumbed down at all. But the plot that’s so complex it can’t be boiled down into a sentence is not a plot that’s easily shared with someone else. See, when you put all the material in one sentence, you present everything you need. The proper nouns are window dressing, no matter how cool they are. The backstory behind the plot, all those sweet bells and whistles you’ve built, are just bells and whistles. What’s at the heart of the plot?

If the heart is solid, then I will get into the manuscript to see it unfold and burst forth all its awesome. Keep it simple, keep it exciting.

Let’s talk more about this on Wednesday. See you then. Happy writing

Our Plate And Buffet

It’s Monday, and I hope you had a great weekend. I had a pretty good one, the weather was warm, I got to wear shorts, and I remembered that there were soft pretzels in the freezer. It was awesome.

Today I want to start the week somewhat picking up where we left off on Wednesday with social media, because it was pointed out to me over the weekend that while knowledge of social media is good and critical, you have to make the time to use it. And people frankly suck at that. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about sucking at making time to do stuff.

Normally I think this argument is a load of applesauce and horsefeathers, because if something is important to you, you will make time for it. You enjoy the procrastinating, so you spend an extra hour watching television. You like the comfy spot in bed, so you sleep an extra half hour past your alarm.

Just like a diet or a fitness plan, where you’re trying to change your weight or your exercise habits, there are sacrifices to make. Gone is the double portion of daily dessert fudge. The extra steakchos are given the heave-ho. These sacrifices are tough initially, because we crave the feelings and/or brain chemicals they used to provide, and our brains panic because we’re not getting flooded with the same stuff we used to, and change is scary so let’s all freak out.

It’s right around this time that people start getting a little huffy, because when I say “make sacrifices” they don’t mention the binge watch on Netflix, or the weekly phone call with a family member that just sucks the life and joy out of them. They mention the time with the kids, the bills they have to pay, the spouse who feels overlooked, the house tasks that need to happen. And they get defensive because they make this jump where I’m saying success comes at the expense of “the important stuff.”

Where I think people go off the rails is in how they define “the important stuff”, because when I talk to them, they list other people and other things. Their family. Their job. Their income. Their bills. They skip themselves.

Now maybe I see this because I don’t have a family the way they do, and I don’t have a lot of the bills they do, but you have to count yourself as important, because making that time to create a thing, making that decision to do more than just hobby around, is important.

Your book isn’t going to get out the door if you treat it like the ten other things you’d do if you had more time or more money. People aren’t going to even know that they can buy it unless you take the seconds or minutes to compose a message saying so.

If writing is a hobby for you, great, then relegate it to the time when Tiny House Hunters is over and just before you look at different flowering plants to put in the bucket in front of the house.

But if you want to make that transition from “this is the thing I do when I think I can, and I don’t take it seriously like that (more on that in a second)” to “I’m getting this book out the door, this is what I want to do, it’s important to me”, then Tiny House Hunters and those begonias are going to need to wait.

When the “take it seriously like that” part comes up, and it comes up quite a bit in my workshops and seminars, some people get upset. If this weren’t writing, if we were talking about you spending more time with your kids, then we’d talk about how you’re gonna have make that effort to do more with them on a regular and consistent basis, even when initially it feels super weird and your brain throws off a ton of excuses about why you can’t. But you have to agree that you can’t say you’re committed to spending time with your kids when you’ve only added in an extra 3 minutes every other Tuesday just before they go to bed. That’s an insult to the concept and a disservice to your kids.

I don’t see much difference between that and writing.

Maybe it’s in our definition of “serious.” To me, a serious writer is someone who sets time out of their day, every day, to do something that advances them towards their goal. If they need to be writing chapter 11, they’re doing it. If they need to communicate with people to build an audience, they’re going for it. Maybe just one thing, maybe both, maybe fifty other things. But they’re not screwing around and talking more while doing less. They’re doing what they want, they’re taking the steps, they’re not letting the excuses keep them back. How are you defining it?

All this is good, but this isn’t the practical side. People bring that up like they’ve trumped me, and the truth is I don’t know your schedule, I don’t know how you work, so I can’t give you (the non-existent) one-size-fits-all schedule. What works for me does so because I can divide my time a certain way to play to my strengths. I figured out this schedule because I was honest about how I spend my time, and took a guess as to what I thought I could do about my goals within that time frame.

I wrote down all the things I did. I spent a Saturday breaking down my not asleep hours in 30 minute segments. I tracked what I ate, when I ate, how long it took me to eat, how long I dicked around on Facebook, how may times I stared out the window. I wrote it all out. I didn’t judge it, I just documented it.

The judging came later, when I looked at my schedule and saw all the places that could get trimmed or changed. Gone was the 35 minutes on Facebook during breakfast where I vainly hoped someone would tag me and say nice things about me. I cut my “number of stares out the window” from 30 to 26.

It’s not like I gained hours. I didn’t. There weren’t hours to gain unless I shifted my sleep schedule and gave up the go-to activities that relax me. But I was able to repurpose those minutes so it felt like my plate – the way I was spending the day – got bigger, because what I was doing was more productive.

Instead of 35 minutes reading about people complaining about politics or social inequality or sharing pusheen pictures, I got 35 minutes to read a book about how to write. Or 35 minutes to read a chapter in a biography. I could sneak in part of a podcast, so I started my day with a laugh rather than a “oh good grief, this is what people are complaining about today? Can they just not be the center of the universe?

Your writing isn’t going to be revolutionized by hurriedly and radically changing your schedule. That sort of massive transformation can often be an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction to perception or anxiety, like a fad diet over a weekend so you can wear an outfit on a Monday. Those changes aren’t often sustainable because you can’t mistake a burst of energy for the inertia of routine.

We talk about “having so much on our plate”, when it’s our plate at the buffet of our own design. These are our choices and their consequences portioned out to us on our plate. Here’s that eight hour chunk of time at the job you sort of like and stay at because it allows you to take those two weeks off and go to Vermont. Splat. Here’s that relationship with the people you grossly disagree with that you maintain only because you’re afraid to jettison it and get flak from other people. Splat. Here’s a heaping helping of impossible goals you set because you want so badly to be praised and be successful while making other people happy so that you aren’t abandoned or ignored or belittled. Splat.

I’m not saying give up the job. I’m not even saying give up the negative stuff that you’ve built into your day to day life. I can’t ask you to do that. What I can ask you to do is look at your experiences, look at where you are, look at where you want to be, and exercise some portion control. Where you likely want to be, what you want to do, that’s going to call for a little less time doing A so you can do a little of B, since B better gets you towards your goal.

Yeah, it’s your buffet, and it is all you can eat, but you gotta be willing to say no to extra spoonfuls of the stuff that doesn’t get you where you want to be.

I’ll see you guys Wednesday. Happy writing.

 

 

The Writer, The Professor, The Worker

Good morning. I know, it’s another Monday, and for some of you that meant commute and re-shackling yourself to a cubicle, something something TPS reports.

For me, I have made the commute from the bedroom to the office, so its now time to rock and roll some blog goodness.

Today I want to do something a little different and show you three different ways editors work. I’m going to do this with three different editors: me, The ProofProfessor, and Old School Editor X, who just wrote me an email saying I couldn’t use their name, because they are too busy being not-an-editor in their very professional career where they have to wear dress clothes all the time.

Here’s the disclosure – no one paid me jack to talk about these methods or their businesses. I am not under any obligation to say people are awesome and that they’re perfect, nor are their methods perfect and flawless. But these two people were nice enough to answer some email questions, so that’s why they’re here. Cool?

Now you be you, and let’s say you want an editor to look at your manuscript. Let’s assume your MS is 75,000 words. Let’s give it a genre … it’s historical fiction. So now we’re going to look at what would happen next, if you picked one of these editors to give you a hand.

Old School Editor X
It starts with an email. You’d hash out a price (.09 a word because it’s the low-end of the old school rates) and a schedule for how the work happens (a chunk of chapters a week at a time or 15000 word sections over 5 emails or one giant email when it’s all done, etc.)

Then the editing happens. The manuscript gets triple-spaced and marked with various editorial marks and lengthy notes in margins, but no in-line editing.

The Pros: There’s no doubt that editing your manuscript has happened, because you get novella-length notes in the margins and a pile of hieroglyphs that you’ll end up googling to decipher.

The Cons: This can be pricey. (.09/word for our sample 75000 would be $6750)  And the length the comments can be incredibly overwhelming, because maybe a comment ends up longer than the sentence or paragraph it references. The lack of in-line edits can seem cold, with a sort of sterile work-at-an-Apple-Store atmosphere. Lastly, the tone of this relationship can be adversarial, where the editor knows best and the writer needs to be led out of darkness and ignorance. (I can speak from personal experience that this sucks. I drank this Kool-Aid, and oof. My bad, you guys.)

The Proof Professor
Let me tell you about Matt. He’s a cool guy. We’ve exchanged a few emails, and I totally get the sense he’d be pretty pleasant to have at a dinner party. He’s the Proof Professor, a UK-based editor with a really unique twist – he’s got software to work through the manuscript and compile a list of edits.

Seriously, dude’s got software. I’ve seen it. I’ve had it run through a manuscript of mine and see the output list of problems and reasons-the-problem-is-a-problem (like this: further || farther when talking distance)  This software doesn’t do the editing for him, it’s a compliment to the rest of his editorial toolbox.

You’ll pay in blocks of words, so for our 75000 word MS, you’re paying £348. (The whole breakdown is on the website here.) and you’ll get your MS edited in-line, software’d, and commented on.

UPDATED INFO: Matt also offers a “pay per error” option, which is the first I’ve seen of its kind. You pay for a set number of errors, in groups of 10, at a flat rate. If they find fewer than than amount (say you pay for 20 and they find 9), they refund you for the 11 you didn’t use. It’s an amazing system, great for those eleventh-hour publishing needs, and really dovetails nicely with the software. (chances are I will figure out my own version of this and shamelessly use it)

The Pros: The software adds a unique touch to this, to the point where I want my own copy of this proprietary material (Matt totally doesn’t have to share, it’s all you dude). Also Matt gives a shit. He care about his clients, he cares about their success, and he’s a genuinely nice person, judging on our correspondence. Editor X also gives a shit, but they’ll never admit to it.

The Cons: I’m not a fan of the per-block editing payment system, it’s always felt square peg-round hole to me, but it works for other people. Also, if you’re in the US, don’t forget there’s not only the financial conversion but also the time delay between here and there. I know those sound like minor points, but they’re worth highlighting if you’re racing a deadline of some kind or have a tight budget.

The Writer Next Door
We’re wrapping this part of the blogpost up by talking about me, because it’s my blog, and because I felt like putting myself first was way too obnoxious.

Just like the other editors mentioned, we toss some emails back and forth to establish a price (let’s go with .03/word) and a schedule (you want this done in 60 days), then put all the relevant info into a contract and I get down to business.

Editing is both in-line and marginal comments, along with emails detailing points when they’re egregious or I think I wasn’t clear enough within the orange-salmon comment box in Word.

The Pros: I care about your success. I am not out to rub your nose in your mistakes like the puppy encountering a carpet that needs to know who’s boss. I do my best to be clear about flagging the problems as well as why they’re problems, because  I think the knowing the “why” helps prevent the problem from perpetuating itself, and people feel better with a reason instead of just “because someone else says so.” I’ll also help spread your marketing goodness, show you how to do it (or do it better), and walk you through any part of the process you have questions on.

The Cons: Even at 3 cents a word, it can be considered expensive, which can make people think that editing is luxury, to which I counter that a plumber is expensive, and do you consider a not-leaking sink a luxury? Also, sometimes, I come in like a ball of fire, and that can off putting for some people, but that’s just because I want to see you be your most awesome creative self doing your most awesome creative work.

*

So, writer, what should you do? Which editor is best for you? I can’t say. I so badly want to say I’m the best, but I know I’m not. I’m human. I make mistakes. (Even Matt’s software isn’t perfect, but nothing’s going to be).

I believe you should use an editor, even if you’re going to traditionally publish and they’ll have an editor in their process too. I think getting your manuscript into the best shape possible, and getting better at the craft of writing will only benefit you in the long game of your career, even if that career ends up being one or two books ever. Being better at something never hurt anyone (if you can prove that false, someone will give you invisible internet dollars).

Shop around. I DO NOT MEAN send 2 pages of your manuscript to 40 editors as a “test drive” so that you don’t have to pay for a whole edit, because that’s completely reprehensible. I mean talk to the editors and see if you can get along with them. I’m not a fan of “test pages” because while a few edited pages can give you a technical awareness of the problems the MS has, it doesn’t say much about the person you’re going to work with, and that relationship is critical, so find a good fit.

My great thanks to [EDITOR NAME REDACTED] and Proof Professor for letting me talk to them and mention them on the blog, I hope I’ve done them justice where appropriate.

See you guys Wednesday for a swim through the inbox … I think we’ll do a social media question.

Happy writing.

A Short Friday Post

Hello! It’s Friday. Go celebrate. But before you do, take a few minutes and check out 3 games I can recommend, please?

First. the digital version of Sentinels of the Multiverse is crowdfunding a second season pass of content, and it looks to catch up to the tabletop version. I spend a lot of downtime playing this game, as it’s something I can do on a tablet while in bed, or while sitting up at the desk during not-work hours. It’s fun, it’s kid friendly, and incredibly enjoyable.

Second, the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game. If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s novels, and/or a fan of the Dresden Files roleplaying game, you’re going to like this. Gameplay is fast, easy to learn, and by all accounts, incredibly satisfying. They’re blazing through stretch goals including a reduction in shipping costs, so it’ll only make it easier to get this game into your hands.

Third, Katanas and Trenchcoats is wrapping up. Remember the 90s? Remember all the leather pantsed action of immortals and the supernatural where there could be only one, and the world seemed pack with gritty urban rainscapes with people making tough emotional choices? Well, now it’s a game you can play with your friends, again!

Let’s do some disclosures:

  1. I’ve never worked on or been paid by Sentinels of the Multiverse or any company associated with them. I own the tabletop game, I have played the tabletop game, and some time between the time you’re reading this and when I wrote it, I have played the digital version on Steam. 
  2. I have done and continue to do freelance work for Evil Hat Productions, the company producing the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, but I’m not affiliated the game’s development or Jim Butcher’s IP. 
  3. I have written content for and been paid for creating that content by Ryan Macklin, the publisher/developer of Katanas and Trenchcoats. He didn’t even know I’d be including his project in this post today, because I didn’t realize I’d be including it until I saw it still had time for people to back it.

See you on Monday. Hopefully the fever and whatever sickness I’ve got brewing today will pass by then.

Happy writing.

Support Within The Echoes

It’s Friday. I assume you’ve begun appropriate celebrations, be they pants removal or really luxurious visits to office bathrooms, or writing out the plurals of various acronyms when you’re supposed to be paying attention to a sales meeting. (No really, pay attention, those fourth quarter projections look scary, and I think someone needs to do a little something to synergize and optimize their workflow, if you know what I’m saying.)

Today, while you’re reading this, I’m trying to relax. I can tell you that I’m probably not relaxing, that I’m worried about a whole pile of things, and probably anxious about being worried. I do that sometimes, and even when I take vacations, I worry about taking the vacation and missing time away from the routine I’ve built – video games, my dog, the random trips to the fridge for water, the staring out a particular window at particularly annoying kids doing particularly and spectacularly stupid things without a chaperone … you know, the usual stuff.

When those feelings rise up, when I start worrying about worrying, when I can’t relax despite even instruction to do so, I go find support. And today we’re going to talk about support as creatives.

There are loads of places you can go for support. There are friends, family, religious groups, communities of people who share interests, fan pages, websites, forums, and social media. You can talk to someone who likes what you like, someone who thinks along the same lines you do, someone who has been in the spot you’re at and who can be encouraging or constructive when you need them be.

But, for every great avenue of support available, there a few absolutely terrible places masking their awfulness under the veneer of being helpful. Places that rally a victim attitude, or cater to the negatives, or distract and discourage through buzzwords and social pressure. These places don’t actually support you. They restrict you. They pen you in. They make you feel like you’re joining a group of like-minded people, but then they don’t want you to leave that group, because then someone somewhere wouldn’t have you to complain to or about.

That’s not to say that every place has an ocean of crap you have to sail through before you find the paradise island. Assuming that is no different than assuming you’re forever going to be climbing a lava flow uphill barefoot, with Lego blocks wedged between your toes. The doom and gloom brigade runs their banner pretty high, and it’s easy to forget there’s a sun shining behind it.

A supportive community is only as good as its contributors. You know that saying about monkeys, typewriters, and Shakespeare? Similar to that, you can’t take twenty unhealthy unhelpful unkind people and expect them to be bastions of wonder and support. Remember that unhealthy seeks out and feeds on unhealthy, propagating a culture of demolition and inadequacy over one of encouragement and development.

So, when looking for a community, here’s some stuff to look for:

1. How good are the good people? Is their advice sound? Not if you agree with it, because you don’t have to agree with all of it (but we’ll get there in a minute), but is what they’re saying orderly and rational? You’d be surprised the number of echo chambers that exist on the interwebs where people toss around all kinds of specious and vacuous ideas about why they can or can’t or must or should do this or that: Lizard people; invited malady masking legitimate mental issues; planets existing in certain positions in space that somehow mean they’re affected; a certain number of sugar granules spilled on the kitchen counter; a shift in invisible energy-wave particles making it harder to sit back and receive rather that broadcast, etc. etc.

2. How bad are the bad people? In every group, you’re going to find people who aren’t just super negative, but aggressively detrimental. They’re caustic and corrosive in their encounters and the gravity of their negativity warps everyone around them. This isn’t just “stay away from Carl until he’s had his coffee”, this is “all the person does is complain about how someone should do this hard thing for them because entitlement/victim complex/because reasons of special snowflake-ness.”

Now I’ve framed these first two points as good/bad because I mean good/bad relative to your desired goal. If you’re in a writing group, and you want to produce the best manuscript possible, then “good” anything that progresses you and “bad” is anything that retards you. This isn’t about identity, orientation, gender, age, location, social economics, race, persuasion, or flavor. This is just about progressing towards a goal. If you’re going to conflate good and bad along those identity lines, I suspect the problem would then not be with the community but rather the filter and lens you’re using. (Not everything is grand battle unless you go make it one, remember)

3. What’s the rhetoric like? I’ve been in groups that I now regret being a part of, thanks to an atmosphere I co-created as a member. I’ve been in groups I wish I could return to but the zeitgeist has collapsed and people have moved on. In all those cases, there was a vocabulary and common communicative thread tying things together. The same jargon, the same phrases, a common cirriculum or mindset reinforced from tons of angles and points. This allows groups to reinforce rules and normalize (even incentivize) behaviors because “it’s cool to do/to say that because you’re a member of XYZ.” And that’s great … to a point, but when those rules shift or you change and you’re now distanced from that group, it can be very hard to break back in, partially due to the rhetoric and connective threads. Look for groups that are as welcoming to new members as they are gracious to exiting ones. Look for groups where the encouraged behaviors align with that stated goal of yours. If the conversations or efforts always derail because Susan has to keep bringing something up from three weeks ago since it’s further evidence of some people not being worthy of group membership, think twice about participation.

4. Is it an Us vs Them? What’s the culture like? A lot of groups form out of the ashes of other groups. Former members, excised cliques, and castaways band together because Group A couldn’t or didn’t want them. This separation creates the idea that one group is superior to another, despite shared goals. But now there’s an axe to grind, because management was wrong, or they disagree on operations, or whatever else. Too easily a group can fall into an Us vs Them philosophy (I maintain a few myself, thanks to my own attitudes, fears, and disagreements), but while that can be periodic fuel, to prove other wrong by your efforts, it can be just as exhausting or demoralizing to seeing others succeed with you just looking on. There’s only an “Us”, if you remember that there’s plenty of room at the table for everyone to succeed, so long as we don’t start competing like our individual success is subject to collective rarity.

5. How comfortable can your contribution be? Since you’re about to develop, join, and ideally improve this support network, you’ll need to contribute to it by doing more than just raising the membership count. So, will it be difficult to do that? Are there a lot of hoops? Will it be an chore because (as in some places) regular contributions are not just expected but required? A support network is only as useful as its interactions and benefits. If you turn to a group of people and they actively exacerbate your problem (and no, this isn’t the same as telling you what you don’t want to hear), how supportive are they going to be if your situation takes a downward turn? There have been times I’ve had legitimate crises and not talked to certain people about them, despite them being ideally suited to help, because I knew that along with the help, I’d get a lecture about how I should have not had the problem in the first place. And that’s not supportive. Which brings me to the last point …

6. Does how you define support warrant affiliation with this group? Support is defined as “providing assistance often but not limited to moral or psychological aid”, since a group that encourages you to make progress may also show you some techniques or ideas to help advance your progress with less difficulty (as in the 4 people you consult for cooking advice could suggest cookbooks or recipes for that fancy dinner party you want to throw). The specifics of moral and psychological aid though are left open-ended. What supports me may not support you, for any number of reasons. And if a particular group isn’t benefiting you, you don’t have to stick around with some false hope that one day they’ll get their act in gear. While the extrication process may not be as simple as “stop going to a website” or “delete your account”, you don’t have to maintain attendance in any group that actively makes your life suck. You matter enough to take good care of yourself, which means you matter enough to be able to pick and choose your associations.

I do want to wrap up with one last point that you might be thinking: But John, if I’m going to this one group of people over here for help, will the people over there be upset or judgmental?

You have zero control over what other people do, or what conclusions they draw. If they want to say since you talk to person X that you’re a terrible person and shall forever be blacklisted, then I’d point that it says a lot more about the blacklister than the blacklistee there. If you’re friends with A and that makes B upset, then honestly, B needs to understand that B is not in charge of you, and that B doesn’t get to choose your friends for you, nor should they. Be friends with who you want, even they disagree with your other friends. Be a member of any group that helps make your goals and dreams happen. Seek support from people who actually want to help. You deserve that.

For an example of a group that’s trying to get off the ground, and would love to see you there, check this out.

See you next week. Enjoy your weekend. Happy writing.

What To Do When You Think The Writing Sucks

Good morning, wait is it morning? Why the hell is it so grey outside? Is it raining again? Isn’t it summer? Why the hell am I not wearing shorts and a t-shirt? What’s going on here?

Since I’ve said these things out loud, it must be Monday, and that means it’s time for a blog post. Today’s post comes out of my own experience, and maybe you can relate.

Have you ever thought that what you’ve written on a particular day sucks? I don’t just mean like you wrote one weak word among a dozen strong paragraphs, I mean like the day’s whole word count is an absolute joke, and you’d be better off chucking the keyboard in the closet and taking up competitive licking as a livelihood?

Yeah, we’re talking about those moments, when you think there’s little difference between your writing and driving a garbage truck on fire off a cliff into a sea of gasoline and tourists.

I think those moments come out of a comparison. We take our work, in whatever stage it’s in: idea, roughest first draft imaginable, super over-thought-out seventh set of revisions, two hours before submission, whatever, and compare it either a finished product, or the expectation we have for our book. That our MS needs to be at least “this good” to ride the ride that is being published, and then it needs to be at least “that good” (I assure you those are two totally different measurements on an invisible ruler) in order to have a person who isn’t related to you purchase it.

We look at the raw stone barely out of the ground and look at the finished statue. We don’t always see the path, we don’t always see the statue hidden in the block. But it’s there, and we have the talent (or we’ll work on developing it) to educe our vision from the raw materials.

So where’s the comparison come in? If we’re focused on making the awesome happen, how insidious does the doubt have to be in order to make us look twice at what we’re doing?

We compare because we just don’t know. We don’t know how good the thing we’re making will be. We don’t know if we’ll get a review, let alone a review with stars associated.We don’t know if our sales will measure in the ones or 2+. We don’t know… we don’t know … we don’t know.

And not knowing, politely, is a motherfucker.

The unknown is always a greater volume than what we know. That’s not because we’re stupid. That’s not because we’re bad creatives. It’s just that we’re finite. We’re bounded by the time we spend, the choices we make, the priorities we choose, and the decisions that cement us as creatives and people.

Now add to this, the idea that some people are really not interested in a truly egalitarian successful industry or society. They’ll form a group and call another group names. They’ll make unfounded claims. They’ll draw all kinds of lines between an “us” and a “them.” And then say if you don’t read this article, or share that post, or agree in the comments, or retweet this or that, that you’re part of “them” not “us.” Divisions dominate doubt.

Because we’re tribal. We’re seekers and developers of community. And we think, that if we build our community out of these paltry words, these feeble syllables and lines on a page, that our community will be blown down by the big bad wolves that so many people claim lurk just at the edges of our campfires.

I don’t know if there are wolves. The internet says there should be. Loads of blogs and writers and hacks and professional victims and complainers and sages and experts say I need to be careful of this thing, that scam, this writing technique, that book. Plenty of people want to talk about the wrongs and red flags. That all leads to a lot of doubt. A lot of potential, a lot of unknown.

And we can’t let that define our words. It’s what we know, what we can do that will trump the unknown. We tame the blank page a word at a time, we make the statue happen.

No, we don’t know if we’ll be successful.
No, we don’t know if we’ll be rejected.
No, we don’t know if we’ll be paid well.

But if we put our guts on the page, if we write heart-first, if we take all the risks, if we do our best to make the best art, the art’s going to be great.

Eventually.

One word at a time. One brush stroke at a time. One day at a time.

Keep writing.

 

See you later this week, happy writing.

Stop Aspiring, Start Doing

I’m an aspiring author.”

I hear those words a lot. I read them a lot in tweets and emails. And we’re going to talk about them this morning.

Good morning, welcome to Friday, good job getting through another week. Got any good weekend plans? I’ll be playing video games and editing manuscripts, which is a pretty good time. Oh, and I might treat myself to a steak.

Today we’re going to talk about aspiring, and why that word isn’t doing what you think it does. Because I don’t want you to be aspiring, I want you to be doing. Doing what? Doing whatever it is you do creatively.

So many people talk about aspiring, so let’s look at the definition first. Here:
Aspire1Aspire2Aspire3

Aspiring, from what I get in these 3 definitions, is wanting to do a thing or having a plan to do a thing. I don’t see in these definitions the actual effort, just the preparations.

There’s nothing wrong with preparation, it’s how we improve and effort towards success. But preparing to do X isn’t actually doing X, and that’s the important point.


I want to take a second to point out that moving forward from aspiring to doing can bring a lot of people and their opinions into whatever you’re doing. They may say things like “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” or “Are you sure you want to do X that way?” or they become some sort of oracle when previously they had just been critical. Take their feedback with a few handfuls of salt. Critics are not the boss of you. It’s okay to move forward and do the best job you can, even if that job requires time, patience or learning some new stuff. You’re allowed to make mistakes, and you’re allowed to get better. Okay, sidebar over.


We use aspiring to talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, but we’d really like it to happen. As if we’ve placed the order with a server, and we’re waiting on our entrees. This suggests that what we want is subject to external forces, and while that is partially true depending on circumstance (selling a million books means a million books need to be produced), the bulk of what we aspire to do is within our ability.

Maybe it’s not automatic. Maybe we’ll need to raise money, get training, change a habit, start a new habit, talk to some people, take a risk, fill out a form, get on a plane, write an email, or whatever. But we can still do those things. We’re not wholly incapable of performing the task, it’s that we’ve mentally resigned ourselves to a position where we think we can’t accomplish the task.

It would be expensive to travel. Equipment to do that thing is expensive. Getting something done takes time. You don’t know who to talk to. What if people laugh at you? What if other people, society, the universe, determines you’re awful? Note: It’s been pointed out to me that awful people can run for President and get their party’s endorsement, so don’t give up hope.

We imprison ourselves in a little comfortable low-risk cage, with shackles made of fear and excuses and projection. We could be doing stuff, but “our place” is over here where we don’t let ourselves take whatever steps necessary, or even take the steps beyond those. Because we might fail. Because we might be rejected. Because we might find out we’ve wasted time or money.

Says who?

Who’s going to laugh at you for taking that vacation? Who’s going to think you’re a failure because you’re taking noticeable steps towards your goal? How is making an effort the same as failing?

It’s time to stop aspiring, and start doing. This is how we got to the moon, landed a dishwasher on a comet and know what DNA looks like. This is how we created national parks, got a black guy elected, and learned that graham crackers get even better with chocolate and marshmallow.

But how? How can we excise this word and this idea out of our heads when we see it repeated over and over?

We prove it wrong. We prove it to be an inadequate descriptor of what we’re doing.

We’re not just people staring out the window, diddling around, with big hopes and blank spaces. We’re creatives. We make stuff. We tell stories. We make art out of cheese. We shake our moneymakers. We hammer metal into shapes. We do stuff, sometimes with pants on.

Every day, every chance you get, not just when convenient, not just when you remember to, do something substantive that gets you towards your goal.

A writer? Get more than 1 word on the page. Aim for multiple sentences. Not revising them. Fresh ones.

A maker of stuff? Sketch, prototype, develop.

What I’m saying is do more than just think about it. Do more than fire up the imagination and wouldn’t-it-be-nice engines. You can make this stuff happen.

No, not right away, nothing happens right away. It’ll take time. But you have time, more than you realize. And you’ll accomplish the goal, you’ll get where you want to be, you just need to make progress.

No, it won’t always be easy. Some days you’re not gonna wanna do anything. Some days you’ll feel like you haven’t done nearly enough. The goal is going to look a million billion miles away.

But that’s when you look at the work you’ve done. The actual work, not just the time spent thinking or staring out the window watching the neighborhood pass you by. See the words on the page? They weren’t there before. See the sketches? They didn’t poof into existence. You did that. You took a step forward. Good job.

And celebrate when you take that step forward. I know, it’s not the goal, but if goals were only one step away, you probably wouldn’t be lamenting them not happening, would you?

This is all predicated though on taking your goal and breaking it into reasonable steps. And the key there is “reasonable.” Reasonable means not only a manageable size given the current time frame and all the other stuff you have going on, but it also doesn’t require extraordinary intervention. Winning the lottery so you can pay off your crushing student debt is not as reasonable as say, having 2 and not 3 drinks when you go out, so that eleven dollars doesn’t leave your checking account is reasonable.

Your goal shouldn’t always means an end to your life as you know it. Sometimes, yes, it can, if you wanted to become a monk and live in a cave, you probably don’t want to living in downtown Seattle going out to microbreweries every night. But on the whole, you can develop incremental steps towards your goal (those steps are goals themselves, don’t forget), where the rest of your life doesn’t detour.

My point is, you don’t have to keep aspiring. You can go do it. One step at a time. Set up your own steps, and make your goal happen. I believe in you, even if I’m just a guy on the internet blogging three times a week and tweeting a lot.

 

Have a great weekend, happy writing, I’ll see you back here Monday.

Manuscriptus Gigantus

Good morning. Welcome to Friday. So prepare for a lot of jokes about things being big, or small, or just good enough. Yes, it’s time to talk about your manuscript’s length. We can do this. Maybe without too much snickering.

manuscriptphoto1.png

Whenever we talk size, and then make a move to clutch our pearls because we feel our hard work is under attack or is automatically termed inadequate by people who haven’t experienced it, it’s important to remember that size is subjective within an objective range.

It’s given as a range because no one can agree on a single length, a uniform measurement that everyone adheres to. And this is because you can’t ask a writer to produce every book the same way. Even when you give word counts, not everyone writes exactly to the limit. Sometimes they don’t want to, other times they don’t have to. We compensate for this by using ranges. Here then, are the ranges I’d expect and tell people to use:

Picture Books
I talk to a lot of authors who want to make books for kids, either their own, or their kids’ kids, or just young kids in general. And it’s a nice market, frankly. The art does the majority of the idea delivery, but the accompanying words give moms and dads something to sound out so that future generations can be exposed to the awesome idea that reading is a good part of life and is totally okay to do.

Your magic number is 32 pages. That’s become a rough standard. Now on those pages you may have 1 line, you may multiple lines, so if we’re talking word count, aim for under 500 total words.

Early/Easy Readers
These are the books that, not surprisingly, easy to read. They’re based on a level system, with the higher levels having more words, and each level increasing by 200 words. So if your level 1 book has 100 (most level 1s have either 100 or 200 words), your level 2 will have 300. (100 + 200)There’s a plus or minus here of around 30 words. (Though no one’s going to flip out if your level 3 book has 509 words.)

The Short Stuff
“Short stuff” refers to the group of less than 45k fiction, and there’s a lot of variations and definitions, so I’ll break this down and define things as needed.

Microfiction is a complete story that ranges from 140 characters (Twitterfiction) to 200 words.
Flash fiction is a complete story of 201 to 1000 words.
A short short story is a complete story of 1001 to 4000 words.
A long short story is complete story of 4001 to 8000 words.

A novelette is a complete story of 8001 to 17,500 words
A novella is a complete story of 17,501 words to 45k.

When I say a “complete story” I mean it has all the stuff you’d expect in a full novel, just in a smaller package, and that it all works. It’s not just a chunk of a draft (you wouldn’t take the first 18 chapters of your MS and call it a novella, it’s not a complete story)

Young Adult
Here’s a fertile workspace for authors. And as a result, there’s a lot of variation in the MS size. Likewise, the average MS is coming in larger than ever before, so expect this range to increase over the next two to three years.

It’s a safe bet to have your YA at 55k to 70k but it’s becoming more common that YA weighs in around 75k, with a ceiling somewhere near 80k-81k (though many people take the upper end there to mean the MS is bloating, so mind your mileage.

I’ve been asked if there’s a basement level on YA, and I’d say 45k. Some blogs and people will say 40k, but 45k feels better .

New Adult
Another fertile space for authors, New Adult arose from the expanding reader pool that weren’t tweens, but not yet comfortable diving into the literary classics that secondary education keeps insisting are the only “true novels.” Like Young Adult, these labels then absorb other genre labels, so you can for example have “New Adult Paranormal Romance” or “Young Adult Crime Thriller” without being completely laughed at. They range from 60k to 85k.

The Adult Novels
Here we get to the sweet spot. It’s important to remember that there are far more genre than I could easily list out here, so I’m just going to list the ones I come most into contact with.

Science Fiction and Fantasy novels (not counting the epic novels) run from 90k to 120k. The “epic novels” (think supersized versions) take that upper number up to 175k, but they also call for increased scrutiny, especially from first-time authors who want to use “epic” to disguise MS bloat or an inability to /disinterest in trimming down their work.

Westerns (which are coming back, thanks to the current political climate romanticizing past America) run from 50k to 80k.

Mysteries and Thrillers (different than Crime fiction, which is below) run from 70k to 90k.

Crime and Noir fiction run from 90k to 100k, thanks to a strong resurgence in the last 20 years across multiple media. There’s also a lot of crossover into urban fantasy here.

Romance is a huge genre with a lot of very popular off-shoots, more than I could easily account for. This diversity leads the range to be 40k to 100k, with Regency, Inspirational, Romantic Suspense, and Supernatural Romance ranging from 40 to 80k typically.

Horror as a genre is often left broad, because things that scare us are numerous, whether we’re talking splatterfest books of the 1970s or the more cerebral stories of impending tentacled horror. The typical MS spans 80k to 100k.

Memoir, Biography, Autobiography
Jumping the fence to non-fiction (I’ve never handled the comedic alt-autobiography where you’ve got the fictive history of a not-real person, but I’d consider that comedy which could be 60k to 90k), the range opens up to practically Romance lengths, anywhere from 50k to 110k usually.

There are a lot of numbers here, so I’ve put them together in handy downloadable chart form. Download your copy here.

As we wrap this up, it’s important to remember that these are guidelines, and that a novel can easily not fall into these categories as a standout. But as a range, it sets an expectation for author and reader (whomever that is) alike.

Come in over range, like way over range, and you’ll give the reader the impression you’ve written a bloated MS that you can’t possible pare down. Come in under range and you’ll give the reader the impression you’re nervous and that the MS is starved for anything other than a bare story skeleton with only enough info as to tell the plot in the simplest terms.

Let’s all celebrate that we talked about length without too much giggling, and at no time in the last 1133 words did I mention anything about motions on oceans. Go us.

See you next week. Have a great weekend writing and doing stuff.