Reluctantly expanding a manuscript when instincts say cut

Over the last few days I have written and inserted three whole new chapters into my The Murder Plague manuscript and I’m somehow feeling uncomfortable about it.

I’m suffering that mood even though they’re pretty damn good chapters, they add quite a bit, and they slipped in quite nicely, as newly-numbered Chapters 12, 15 and 18, requiring almost no revisions upstream or downstream to make them work.

My Beta readers so far are saying The Murder Plague had inadequate character development for Drs. Mike Andrusek and Tim Crosby, and that there was a plot gap. These new chapters address those concerns. In new Chapter 12 Mike has an uncomfortable phone call with his parents and, through that, sheds more light on who he is and where he comes from. Chapter 15 has Tim dealing with his family, particularly with the revelation that his 13-year-old daughter  Cindy has a boyfriend whom everyone except Tim seemed to know about. In Chapter 18 Mike and Det. Marty Francisco confront the private detective Emily Sanchez, a scene I actually intended when I first created Emily back in Chapter 6, but just never got around to including. I guess the plot worked without that scene in my mind, but Beta disagrees.

Is Beta right? I’m committed now.

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At last a kindred spirit, a writer blogging about the process

Not that I’m looking everywhere but I have been surprised at how difficult it is to find writers blogging about the whole process — not just the writing but the platform-building, agent-soliciting, self-doubt overcoming, rewriting, betaing, etc.

Enter what appears to be a new blog from Kate Dancey, The Writer Writes. Actually she found me and tagged The Naive Optimist to her blog, so this is shameless payback. Thanks Kate.

If you’re interested in how to get started in the writing/getting published business, check her out, and keep an eye on her. I suspect she’ll take us all on her journey and that can only be worth the ride, wherever she goes.

What is a writer? What is a hack? Where do you draw the line between them?

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter in blogs and tweets lately through which writers or agents or editors are trying to define writers.

No, they’re trying to define non-writers who want to be writers.

I suppose it’s always out there, probably a constant in the writing/publishing world that I’m only tuning into now, because I’ve only plugged into this world this year. If so, that’s kind of sad.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, my own declaration: I am a writer. I know it with complete confidence. I’m not going to allow anyone to get away with saying otherwise. Yes, I may be months or years from achieving even my earliest fiction-writing objectives, let alone my goals.

But in the meantime I can` only wonder if I’ll ever have to weather and face down the kind of arrogant, holier-than-thou claptrap I’ve been seeing masquerading as well-intentioned advice.

Here’s how the advice often comes across: If you’re not putting your whole life into this, go away. If you’re not a writer and you say, “I think I have a book in me,” you’re not a harmless dreamer, you’re an offensive fool.

How many hacks are out there trying to break into the writing world? Quite a few, I’m sure. It must be a real problem, frustrating to the professionals busy being or working with real writers, and causing a great many offensive fools to waste their time trying to achieve unachievable dreams.

But that leads us to the real question, doesn’t it? What is a writer?

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Coming soon: video book trailer for ‘The Murder Plague’; I join the video revolution

I have decided to produce a video.

I never expected to hear those words come out of my fingers. I don’t even watch videos. I certainly don’t know the first thing about producing one. And I’m way too cheap to contract with some video production company and say, “Make ‘The Murder Plague’ look really cool.”

Yet pre-publication book trailers, modeled after pre-release movie trailers, are all the rage right now. And I have to admit, they seem to be a potentially powerful tool in building a platform and buzz.

I can hear the conversation now with a potential agent:

“What are you doing to build an audience?”

“Seen my video yet on YouTube? I got 37 views so far!”

It almost seems like a must-do, like this blog, or joining various on-line writer communities. Another new entry fee into the published author world.

Now, how do I produce a really cool, highly-professional looking, exciting, inviting, suspenseful, even viral-worthy book trailer, for, say, $100 or less. Because even $100 is more than I am accustomed to spending on myself.

Here’s how:

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First Beta Reader reports back and I’m pleased but know I have a lot of work to do

So who had Smigs in the Which-Beta-Reader-Will-Finish-The-Murder-Plague-first pool?

I didn’t.

Dave “Smigs” Smigelski, a former editor at a book publisher, former editor of a leftist alternative weekly urban newspaper, and currently a mid-level editor with an Oregon newspaper, is the first of my eight beta readers to report back in on my manuscript. He called me last night rather than send me a written book report. He gave me a couple of surprises.

First, he said he really liked it. I’ve known Smigs for almost 30 years, and he has never been one to sugar coat anything. His reputation for blunt honesty and cynicism, especially with friends, had me terrified of sending him a copy. When he says he likes something, that’s like Mikey liking Cheerios.

Second, based on his recommendations, I’ll be heading back to tear the manuscript apart to make some major changes. And gee, I’ve still got seven more betas out there.

Lesson one: a manuscript really isn’t finished until it’s gone through beta reads.

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Why I am a NYC prude when it comes to finding an agent

I want a New York City agent. Don’t we all?

There are thousands of literary agents. I’m sure some amazing ones are outside the Big Apple, maybe in California, London, Toronto, Chicago, Des Moine, Round Rock, Fort Myers, some tiny town on the rocky coast of Maine, maybe even just down the street from me here in Orlando. And maybe one of them would really want me as a client. I don’t want them. Sorry.

Sure, there is the old, standard saw. The publishing world is centered in New York, and that’s where you want to be. The storyline says that every day NYC agents and editors and publishers are lunching together. They know each other. They know each other’s wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses, fetishes and criminal records, etc. Meetings can be arranged the same day, almost anytime. The cross-pollination is heavy and constant. Blah, blah, blah.

That’s a good reason to want a NYC agent, but that’s not it.

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The siren song or voice from the future of e-publishing

I received a cold-call e-mail solicitation from an indie publisher today offering the services toward a combination e-publishing and print-to-order deal for my books.

Ah, the sweet music. Is it the voice of the future or is it a siren song?

The basic terms are pretty simple and sound so lovely. No upfront charges except for specific add-on services, though some of those seem pretty important. I’d retain all rights, except for a three-year deal for the company to distribute through Amazon and print-to-order paper copies. A generous royalty split. The prospect of quick sales and quarterly checks.

I’m flattered that they sought to contact me. I’m going to assume they saw something in my blog or elsewhere that suggested what I’ve written has real promise. The other extreme assumption is that they’ve got software that solicits everyone on the Internet who puts the words “I” and “have” and “written” and “a” and “book” in the same sentence, but I’m too optimistic and naive to think that for one second.
I’m not there yet however. From a practical perspective, all that I read says I had better develop a “platform” first if I want to attempt e-publishing, and I still haven’t quite figured out what a platform is, let alone developed one. I’m working on it.
Also, honestly, I’m not un-sold on traditional publishing, with all that jazz involving a neglectful agent, a cold New York publisher, an irritating editor and months of emotional yo-yoing before we come up with a book that may or may not sell. I might get un-sold yet on that process, but right now I still find that too attractive to give up on its potential.
And I’ve only just begun.