Tag Archives: bestselling author

5 Writing Tips from author Harlan Coben

Sometimes so much is going on that I have to step back a little from some things, and that’s what’s happened with blogging. I haven’t forgotten you, I’m still close by, and I’ll keep plodding along. I hope you’ll plod along with me.

Today I read helpful tips from bestselling mystery and thriller author Harlan Coben. Here they are for you:

Working off my Rule 3, I’m going to skip boring you with a long introductory paragraph and get straight to it:

1. You can always fix bad pages. You can’t fix no pages.

So write. Just write. Try to turn off that voice of doom that paralyzes you.

2. Never try to jump on a trend.

In part I say this because by the time you write it, the trend is over, but mostly I say it because you have to love what you’re writing and really believe in it.

3. Write like there is a knife against your throat.

The knife is right there and if you bore us, flick, you’re dead. Write with that kind of energy. Make every word count. The great Elmore Leonard said it best: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

4. The distance is nothing. It is only the first step that is difficult.

I don’t know who originally said this, but the first word you write each day is the hardest, the second word is the second hardest, and so on. Once you start, it does get easier.

5. There are days you just can’t write. Fill them with self-loathing.

What, snowflake, you wanted me to tell you it’s okay to feel this way? It’s not. On the days I’m not writing, I am wracked with guilt and self-hatred. If you’re not, try another profession.

 

I feel quite sure there are one or two points you won’t agree with, so tell me! What would you change about what he said? What works for you?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂 

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Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 34: A Fairy Tale for Writers

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty-four:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 34: A Fairy Tale for Writers

Once upon a time in a deep dark woods, lived a girl named Write-arella. More than anything in the world, Write-arella wanted to write novels, but publishers told her that her books were too long, or they were too short. They were too silly, or they were too serious. And by the way, why was every book set in a deep dark woods?

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Finally after writing and writing and writing some more, Write-arella finished a book that publishers liked, and they published it. Then Write-arella and her handsome prince lived happily ever, eating chocolate-covered strawberries and going on book tours.

The End

Yeah right. The truth is…

The deep dark woods are real. The book tours are real, and sometimes even the chocolate-covered strawberries are real. Write-arella did marry a prince of a guy, but he told her that if she really wanted success as an author, she couldn’t just sit around eating chocolate-covered strawberries and watching football games. (Actually, the Prince was the one who watched the football games.)

The prince said Write-arella needed to do more than write a book and get it published. She had to work for her success.

So after Write-arella’s book was published, she begged libraries, churches, and schools for speaking opportunities. She asked friends and family members to set up book signings in their local bookstores. She judged chili contests, hawked books at boat shows, and attended blueberry festivals. She spoke at writers’ conferences.  She gave commencement addresses at high schools and colleges.  She dropped in for reading week at local elementary schools.

The Prince decided they should also travel all over the country and visit every little bookstore they could find.  At each store, they introduced themselves, talked to the manager, signed stock, chatted with customers, and then went on to the next town and the next bookstore.

After they arrived back home at the castle, Write-arella mailed notes to the bookstores they’d visited and added them to her Christmas card list.

She and the Prince bought copies of her books from her publishers, and they sold them at craft fairs and community gatherings and at local gas stations and restaurants and curio stores. She started her own blog and her own Facebook page. She met a wonderful writer who allowed Write-arella to post how-to columns on the writer’s blog, Polilla Writes.

And every day — or almost every day — Write-arella wrote.

The moral of the story? A writer’s work is not finished just because the book is. If you self-publish or if you sign a contract with a publisher, you need to be ready to celebrate – not only with chocolate-covered strawberries, but also with a lot of hard (and fun!) work.

What out-of-the-box ideas do you use (or plan to use) to sell your books?  What out-of-the-box ideas have enticed you to buy a book?

Strength to your Pen!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back December 24, 2015, for part 35, which is the FINAL installment of this fabulous series.

 

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 33: Alternatives

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty-three:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 33: Alternatives

When I began writing Mother Earth Father Sky way back in the 1970s, options for publication were pretty much the following. You could submit your novel directly to a small publisher or university press. You could find an agent who would begin the submission process to larger publishing houses. You could pay big bucks to a vanity press to publish the book. You could self-publish, which would still cost thousands and pretty much relegate your novel to the dreaded “ignored” category. Ignored by bookstores, ignored by reviewers, ignored by readers.

Today, with the advent of ebooks and print-on-demand, self-publishing carries no loss of prestige, and it doesn’t break the author’s budget.

I’m not an expert at self-publishing because I haven’t  gone that route yet. I believe someday I will, but right now I have too many projects on my desk to pursue that possibility. So this post is not about those steps of pursuit. You can find many self-publishing experts on line. I recommend literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s book, which will walk you through the decision process. How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing (A Field Guide for Authors) is available as an ebook through Amazon for $2.99. Definitely worth the price!

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Meanwhile, let’s talk about the positives and negatives of self-publishing.

Positive aspects:

1. You are in control. You decide what gets edited out of your novel and what you want to leave in. You control cover art. You control font choices. You control length.

2. You decide what time of year to publish your book. If you want to bring it out in time for Christmas, you can. If you want to arrange publication according to your personal schedule,  you can. You’re not in lockstep with the publishers’ other books, waiting your turn.

3. You can keep your novel in print as long as you want. Publishers usually “retire” in-print novels, many times it’s after only a few months on bookstore shelves.

4. Once you pay the costs, you don’t have to split the profits with a publisher.

Of course, there are negative aspects:

1. You pay. If your novel comes out as an ebook, you might pay between $100 and $300 to have your manuscript formatted. Hard copy books are of course more expensive, but print-on-demand allows those costs to come to the author in a more gradual way. You may decide to hire an editor to vet your work before you publish it. Editing costs can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but the choice is up to you. I do recommend an editor, not only for grammar, spelling, and typos, but for content. You want your novel to be the best possible. Otherwise, you may lose your readership for a second book.

2. You must find your own cover art and pay the artist.

3. You may have to acquire more “techie” skills to ready your manuscript for ebook formatting.

4. You must do your own PR work. In the current publishing climate, that’s also true with many commercial publishers. So this isn’t as much of a deterrent as it used to be. Still, you can’t sit back and expect someone else to research the market for you or find bookstores willing to carry your novel.

5. Most national reviewers don’t review self-published novels. On the local scene, though, many reviewers do. It’s your job to find them.

The most important thing for a writer with a completed first novel to know is that self-publishing exists as a viable option. You do not ruin your career if you decide to self-publish. You’re simply getting your novel out there to an audience.

Have you considered or pursued self-publishing? Tell us your experience!

Strength to your pen!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back November 26, 2015, for part 34.

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 32: Let Me Tell You About My Book…

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty-two:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 32: Let Me Tell You About My Book…

The subtitle for this post is “The Query as a Sales Tool,” so I’ll begin the boring way – with a definition. A query is a business letter, sent to an editor, agent or publishing house, as a sales tool to generate interest in possible publication or representation of a writing project. 

That’s it. The query is a sales tool, and you – the writer – are trying to sell your novel, just like Walmart sells dog sweaters and J.C. Penney sells shirts.

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Years ago, my husband and I attended a company Christmas party. I knew very few people there, and I’m not great at small talk. I was standing alone when a woman came up and started a conversation. After a few minutes, she asked me what I did. I mentioned that I was writing a novel.

Her reply went something like this: “Hmmm. Well. I guess I’d better go look for my husband.” And off she went.

I was puzzled by her reaction, but now, years later, I understand. Hearing about other people’s books can be a trying and even boring experience, and thus we have a gem of knowledge to guide novelists both in casual conversation and in query letters. Be quick about it!

During my writing life, I have written some of the most terrible query letters out there, so I’m not going to sit here, all high and mighty, and only tell you how to write one. I’m going to tell you how NOT to write a query letter.

1.      Do NOT scribble a casual note.

DO write a polite business letter. If you’ve never written a business letter before, you can find templates online that will give you the needed parameters.

2.      Do NOT start your letter with “To whom it may concern:”

DO begin with a salutation that is personalized with the agent’s or editor’s name.

3.     Do NOT begin with ‘I have written a novel.” Of course you have. That is exactly why you sent the query letter, and the agent or editor knows that.

DO begin your letter with your strongest sales tool. The first point of your query letter should be to “hook” or entice the agent or editor to read the rest of the letter. Your hook should be precise and quick, one or two sentences. The hook might be the presentation of the protagonist of your novel. It might be the location or the plot. It might be something unusual that you have experienced or accomplished which relates to the reason you wrote the novel. It might be that you have met the agent/editor at a conference or in an elevator, and he or she expressed interest in your work.

4.      Do NOT write multiple paragraphs describing your plot and characters.

DO write one paragraph about the book in which you give a brief overview of the main character (or two), his or her problem, and the setting or time period.

5.      Do NOT criticize another author’s work.

DO cite two or three other published novels that are similar to yours, and then mention what will make your novel stand out to readers of those novels and that genre.

6.      Do NOT resort to hyperbole. One way to turn off any agent or editor is to guarantee sales in the millions or the advent of an instant New York Times Bestseller.

DO give facts. “More than 2,000,000 people in North America enjoy the hobby of knitting.” (Which may be potential readers for your novel about a group of knitters!)

7.      Do NOT assume the agent or editor knows who you are, even if you are famous.

DO write a concise biography. This isn’t a resume. No need to go on and on about your education or job history unless that information is connected to your novel. If you have writing credits, mention that. If not, mention anything pertaining to writing – a writers’ group, a critique group, a writers’ workshop you’ve attended. Read the brief writer bios on the backs or jackets of published novels to get an idea of what will work for you.  However, be aware that the bios on books are written in third person. For your query letter, your bio should be written in first person.  (As in, “I make my living as a fisherman in the Bering Sea.”)

8.     Do NOT forget contact details.

DO include your street address, email address, and phone number on your query letter. I usually include those details in two places, at the heading of the letter (even if it is an email) and under my name at the bottom of the letter.

9.      Do NOT write one-size-fits-all queries.

DO enough research to know something about the agent or editor you are contacting.  For example, for an agent who is a dog-lover, you might mention in your bio, “I am the proud owner of a very spoiled schnauzer.” The personal touch reminds the agent or the editor that you are a real person, with joys and hopes and goals.

10.    Do NOT  be over-effusive as you end your letter.

Do be polite. I often end a query by writing, “May I send you sample pages and a synopsis? I look forward to hearing from you.” After that, it’s simply, “Sincerely,”

11.     Do NOT  wait overly long for an answer.  If you haven’t heard from an agent in a couple months, you can assume your query was rejected.

DO send multiple queries. The very good news for writers today is that the acceptable practice is to write and send multiple queries. Keep a notebook about where and when you sent queries, and if you received an answer.  Be sure to follow the guidelines for each agent/editor/publishing house. That can make all the difference between acceptance and rejection.

12.     Do NOT write a multi-page query. Although this post is quite lengthy, please remember that query letters should not be.

Do keep your letter to one page if possible, and that page should be well-edited. No typos, no spelling errors, no grammatical mistakes. Use a normal font that is easy to read. No fancy stuff, even if your novel is set in Victorian England. If the agent or editor/publishing house requests a hardcopy query, use white or cream good quality paper. Again, nothing fancy.

Good luck, and remember, rejection is part of the game. Many great novels have never reached their audience because the novelist gave up after a few rejections. A rejection letter with comments is almost as good as a request for sample pages. Agents are extremely busy, and any comment or suggestion means your query intrigued them even if they rejected it.

Next month we’ll address self-publishing — Pros and Cons. Meanwhile,  Strength to your pen!

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back October 22, 2015, for part 33.

 

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 31: What’s a Literary Agent?

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty-one:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 31: What’s a Literary Agent?

You’d be surprised how often I hear that question — from audiences at book presentations, from readers, from new writers, and even from a few long-time writers. So as we tackle the challenge of presenting a book to publishers, let’s start with a post about literary agents. I’ll present this information in a question-and-answer format to make the post more user-friendly.

Q: What does a literary agent do?

A: A literary agent presents his/her clients’ work to companies that might be interested in publishing that work.

Q: Can’t I do that myself?

A: Many small publishers and university presses do accept manuscripts submitted directly from the author. Large commercial publishers do not. They know that literary agents take on only the manuscripts they believe they can sell, so in this way the agent acts as a first reader, weeding out books that are not marketable.

Q: What types of manuscripts do literary agents accept?

A: Most literary agents accept only full-length material. In other words, not poetry, not short stories, and usually not magazine articles.

 Q: How do I find a literary agent?

A: The Internet has become a valuable tool for writers who are seeking representation by a literary agent. Simply do a search for “literary agent” and you will find pages (and pages and pages) of agents. Go to their websites and read their requirements and preferences. Then list those who seem to be interested in the type of book you have written.

Q: How do I know the agencies I’ve selected are reputable?

A: One of the best resources out there for authors is a website called Preditors & Editors at http://pred-ed.com/peala.ht. On their home page, click on “Agents & Attorneys,” which will give you a comprehensive list of literary agents, including those who are legitimate and those who are not. The Preditors & Editors website also explains the “rules” of etiquette between agents and clients and potential clients. Just knowing those usually-unwritten rules can tilt the odds in your favor as you try to acquire a literary agent.

 Q: How are literary agents paid?

A: Literary agents take a percentage (usually 15%) of whatever money your work makes once they sell it. If your agent sells rights beyond direct publication — foreign rights, movie rights — they will probably  work with another agency that specializes in these areas. In that case, the usual rate is 10% to each agency, a total of 20%. Do NOT ever pay a literary agent to simply read your work. Most agencies that ask for money up front seldom sell anything. Why would they? They can earn a fine income from writers willing to pay $500 or more to have their work considered.

Q: How does the author get paid?

A: We’ll discuss advances and royalties in the next few months, but just to give you a general idea, most monies are paid directly to the agency. The agency then deducts their percentage and a small amount for expenses (for copies, mailing, long distance phone calls) and sends a check for the remaining funds to the author. Most agencies are very good about forwarding money due their authors within several weeks or less.

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Q: Besides sell my book, what else does an agent do for me?

A: I’ve had the privilege of working with three very fine U.S. literary agents (my home country), and each of them helped me in so many ways, including generating enthusiasm among potential acquiring editors; providing information about the publishing world; opening connections to professional writers, editors, and publicists; walking me through the legal complications of contract negotiation; vetting all contracts; and sometimes just providing a kind and encouraging comment in the face of rejection. I also have worked with numerous agents in other countries. They, too, have positively influenced my career. Their services include translating and negotiating contracts, providing information about income taxes in other countries, and sometimes even arranging publicity tours. Once you have an agent, you are part of a team. You’re not facing that large, sometimes vicious, world of publishing on your own, which can make all the difference between failure and success.

Q: How long did it take you to find your first literary agent?

A: Almost five years! Writing books is not a life for the easily discouraged.

Q: Why so long?

A: In those days, prior to the Internet, the querying process took much longer than it does now. Everything had to go through snail mail, and simultaneous submissions to various agencies were discouraged. (Now they are accepted as a part of the “game.”) However, there was a more important reason. My novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, wasn’t yet good enough for publication. Through the suggestions of agents who rejected my queries but were kind enough to explain why (That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.), I was able to shape Mother Earth Father Sky into the novel that became an international bestseller.

Q: If I decide to self-publish, do I need a literary agent?

A: Not unless you begin to receive offers from other publishing entities: audio, movie, foreign, or large commercial publishers. If you are an experienced contract lawyer, you may not need an agent, but in general a good agent will get you a better contract than you can negotiate for yourself.

Q: If I want to procure an agent to represent my work, what do I do next?

A: It’s all about having a worthy manuscript — no multiple blatant typos, a manuscript formatted according to agency preferences, a strong voice, characters who pull a reader into the story — AND a very good query letter. Next month on Writing The Third Dimension, we’ll discuss query letters.

Do you have other questions about literary agents? I’ll do my best to answer them in the comment section.

Strength to your pen!

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back September 24, 2015, for part 32.

 

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 30: Ende, Fin, Mwisho, Loppu, Einde

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 30: Ende, Fin, Mwisho, Loppu, Einde

So here we are, last draft. If you’ve been counting, you know this is Draft  6, but, for me, it’s actually a conglomeration of Drafts 6 and 7. During Draft 6, I add in the corrections, suggestions, and changes from my Beta Readers, those precious folks who read the completed manuscript and give me their input. Draft 7 is my final read-through.

Draft 6: I compile the Beta Readers’ comments, chronologically from the first chapter to the end of the novel. Then I start at page one, making corrections and changes. Usually, I can complete three to five chapters a day. My chapters are about 2,000 words in length, and I have sixty to seventy (or more) chapters per novel. Draft 6 takes me from two to four weeks to complete.

Draft 7: I use a two-prong attack on each chapter. The first time through, I read the chapter aloud, just to be sure the rhythm is what I want and that the words flow. I read from my computer screen, and I make changes as I go. As I finish each chapter, I print out a hard copy. I try to work as quickly as possible through the book so I catch the gaps and glitches in the storyline. Once in a while, I have to stop and rewrite a few pages, but I do it on the spot and continue reading as soon as possible.

When I’ve finished this read-through, printing chapters as I go, I  have a hard copy of the entire manuscript, which I punch and place into a huge ring binder. Then I start again at the beginning with a ruler, a dictionary, and a red pen. This is a slow read, and I generally sit at our kitchen table, which gives me more room for my manuscript (and tea and snacks…).

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By this time in the draft process, I’ve nearly memorized the manuscript, so I have a tendency to read what I think is there rather than what really is there. Therefore, I place the ruler under each line to slow me down and keep my brain from skipping or adding words. I check for typos, spelling problems, and grammar. I also check page numbers, paragraph indents, and I watch for font discrepancies.  It’s a word by word, page by page review, and when I’m done — again this is at least a month of intensive work — I spend the next few days putting the corrections into the manuscript on my computer.

Then — finally — The End, Ende, Fin, Mwisho, Loppu, Einde!

My big, thick, imperfect novel has taken on a life of its own, apart from me, with characters who I hope will live in the hearts of my readers as they have lived in my heart. For that time before the submissions, the critiques, the reviews, the loud voices that praise and those that don’t, I am content with my creation.

Next month and through to the end of the year, we’ll talk about the business side of writing a novel: the agents, the editors, publishers, and your options as a writer. Do you have any questions or particular areas you would like me to address?

Strength to your Pen,

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back August 27, 2015, for part 31.

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 29: “Are We There Yet?”

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month twenty-nine:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 29: Are We There Yet?

So I’ve sent my novel out to my beta readers, who are struggling through the manuscript, bless their hearts. While I wait for their opinions, I work on my fifth draft. For this draft, I work from a printed copy, not the computer screen, because during the fifth draft I’m adding in extra research information and checking out every little fact. I have a tendency to trash my office during this time, piling research books, papers, articles, artifacts, and notes on every available surface.

IMG_1878A copy of the Vocedol Dove from the Eneolithic culture that once flourished near present day Vukovar, Croatia. This copy graces one of the bookshelves in my office.

Here’s an example of how I attack my manuscript during the research-revisions phase. The following segment is the current opening paragraph in my novel-in-progress BONE FIRE, which is set in Eastern Europe, 5800 B.C.

The size of an eight-winter child, that old man, smaller even than Awna. Since the earth was frozen less than a hand-length down, Awna used only half a morning to chop away the soil and the tree roots to carve out his grave. With the wide, flat blade of her digging stone, she pried up pads of moss under the oak trees that spread their winter-broken leaves against the sky. Webbed with the night’s meager snowfall, the moss carried the heavy scent of rich, wet earth, a smell the old man had loved, so Awna layered it as a bed at the bottom of his grave. She pulled his body to the hole, her fingers cupped gently over his brittle bones. She let his feet ease in first, and after, the rest of him. Then she crouched on the edge of the grave, as if she might slide down and claim space for herself.

1. The size of an eight-winter child, that old man… The old man in BONE FIRE is a primordial dwarf. I will check out my notes and sources to be sure this size is accurate. Yes, I’ve already checked this, but I will check it again.

2. Since the earth was frozen less than a hand-length down… This period in Eastern Europe was warmer than the current climate. I need to consult temperature charts and find information about how quickly the  the ground freezes in winter. I also will need to double check soil types. All this I’ll find on the Internet, but I’ll also talk to my dad about it. He holds a master’s degree in Soils.

3. …only half a morning to chop away the soil and tree roots… I’ll use a couple of resources for this segment — my husband who has dug a lot of post holes in his life, and our friend who is a mortician and has supervised the digging of graves.

4. …wide, flat blade of her digging stone… I’ll be sorting through artifact photographs my husband and I took at a museum visit during our recent trip to Eastern Europe.

5. …moss under the oak trees… For this, I’ll resort once again to my very handy The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of the World book by Tony Russell, Catherine Cutler, and Martin Walters. I’ll also do a bit more research on moss. Does it grow under oak trees? What types of moss are native to Eastern Europe?

6. …the night’s meager snowfall… Back to Internet resources and climate data.

Even if you aren’t writing historical fiction, you’ll still need to check out some of the facts you present in your novel, because one misstep can make readers –  at least a few of them — close your book and never come back to it. If you’re using some controversial happenings or opinions as fact, don’t be afraid to mention that in your author’s notes. Readers will forgive educated guesses, even if they disagree with your conclusions. However, it’s difficult to overlook those blatantly wrong statements presented as fact.

Remember, readers are a novelist’s life blood. When you complete a book and release it into the world, you are in effect making a contract with your readers. They give up one of their most precious commodities — time — to read your book. In return, you, the writer, should give them your very best effort, which includes accurate research.

Novels which require extensive research will have mistakes. No matter how hard you try to uncover the facts, you’re going to miss something. It’s not the end of the world. If a reader calls you on it, apologize and thank them.

So, that’s my fifth draft. For some writers, a research draft will take no more than a few days. For me, it’s usually a couple of months, but it’s a fun couple of months, the culmination of all the research travel, reading, and gathering I’ve done over the year or two it takes me to write the novel. In the case of BONE FIRE, I’ve invested nearly a decade into the research. The same for my Alaska books. But that’s one of my quirks. I love research.

My question for you: Do you love to do research, or do you consider it just a necessary evil?

Strength to your pen!

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back July 23, 2015, for part 30.