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The “Cooling Off” Period

So I finished yet another first draft for a novel.  I’ve come to the part of creating that many writers suggest, the cooling off period.  Some call it “letting the manuscript rest” or “getting away from the story for a bit.” This is the time after completing that first draft that you walk away from the manuscript and let it rest for an extended amount of time.  This is supposed to disconnect you from the story and give you a chance to see it “fresh” eyes.

File this under: Reasons Your Book Isn’t Published Yet.

I’ve tried this cooling off period before and I don’t see any point in it. I find it as nothing more than wasting time when you could be getting that book ready for market by starting the second draft.  Instead you waste a month, two months, or even six months waiting for some magic to make you forget the story.  If you are really passionate about what you write you won’t forget the story.  I think this is just a stall tactic for writers to avoid something they hate… editing.  It is also a great way to avoid the even scarier prospect of publishing your work.

Editing is important, and it is necessary to get your work published.  This paranoia that you will miss something if you don’t let it rest is irrational.  You will have beta readers to catch what you miss, you will have an editor to catch anything else that slips through.  So why do we need to waste time with this cooling off period?

I wanted to try this cooling off period.  I really did.  As I finished this manuscript I told myself to give it a rest, wait a month and dive back in.  But come on. A whole month?  There is no way I can do that.  It has barely been a week and I am shaking with the need to reread and edit it.  It is driving me nuts.  I can’t focus on any other projects because all I can think of is Liam, Rachel and Talya waiting for me to share their story with the world.  So all this cooling off crap is going out the window.

I say that you should throw it out too.  Get your book out there.

But a lack of patience isn’t the only reason to skip this.  I’ve talked about those writers stuck in the revision cycle.  They are stuck revising their story again, and again, and again.  The story never goes anywhere.  And I have to say that this cooling off period plays right into this.  As you go back and check over the manuscript and you wait again.  Then you find more.  Then you want to change this.  Now let it cool off again.  Oh, and now I need to change this.  Oh, great now another author has come out with something similar so let me change that.  And now, let it rest again. And, ah hell it has been three years since I wrote this, I know so much more now.

Guess what? You’re still not published.

I don’t think that people realize just how much time they waste on this tactic.  I’ve heard the argument that you can write something else while you wait.  Which I understand.  But if a story is yelling for you to work on it, why hide it in the closet? And even if you do write another manuscript, unless you get past the cooling off period, all you have is a collection of manuscripts with no readers.

Personally I think you should go with what works for you, so long as you keep pumping out fiction.  But I think the cooling off period does little more than waste time and give writers a false belief that they can fully edit their own work.

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Form Rejections

When I started out as a writer, I went to work with short stories.  There are tons of markets to share my stories with.  When I got my first form letter rejection, I wasn’t surprised.  I’d known rejection was part of the game and I had been warned that most markets use the Form Letter for rejections.  The question no one could really answer clearly was: Why?

I’d first been told it was because of the sheer volume of submissions.  Which I wasn’t sure about since I didn’t think it took but two seconds more to tell me why I was rejected.

I was told it has to do with editor policy.  Which is true, but doesn’t really answer the why.

I was told it was just the industry standard.  Again true, but not really why.

The point is, every writer danced around the topic because frankly none really knew why.  We just accepted it as the way of the writing world, and went with it.  After all there really isn’t anything any of us can do to change it, unless we all just stopped sending in submissions.  But I’m not going to stop sending in submissions over the type of rejection I get.

I’ve been running Plasma Frequency now for five months and we’ve put out two issues.  And up until yesterday we offered personal rejections on every submission.  Even as our large volume of submission came in, we continued to provide personal rejection letters.  Why did we do that?  I thought that was what writers wanted.  They wanted to be told why their story was rejected.  They wanted to learn from the rejections.  They wanted to know if the editor even finished manuscript.  And if not, why.  So I thought, lets tell them. 

The problem is this.  Authors don’t really want to know.  Not truly.  When they find out from the editor that the opening was boring, it upsets them more than the form letter did.  When an editor say the manuscript wasn’t formatted and submitted correctly, they get aggravated they were rejected on a technicality.   When the editor says the story was great but doesn’t fit the publication, they get mad that the publication doesn’t accept “great” stories.

I realize this is an over generalization.  I get upset at personal rejection from time to time, but I really appreciate that they took the time to tell me why.  And in the end, like most writers, I just move on.  I fix the problem, or don’t, and send it off to the next place.

The problem is that there are a significant number of authors who are not professional enough to move on.  They have to say something back.  Those authors should read my blog post, “Inside an Editor’s Mind (Tips for Writers)”.  The problem is they are rarely correct in their anger, and it is almost always misplaced.

My staff and I have been threatened, cursed at, CAP LOCKED, and cyber bullied.  I already nearly lost one editor because of it.  Here are some of the things we’ve gotten back from authors.

“Well you would know about “overly sexual” you whore.”

“I will find everything any of you have ever written and I will ensure everyone I know rates it as poorly as possible.”

“You can suck my dick!”

“I consider myself above your petty opinions.”

“You must be sleeping with the Lead Editor to get your job.”

“I will tell everyone about your lack of professionalism.”

“YOU CAN ALL EAT SHIT!”

“You are by far one of the UGLIEST people I’ve seen.”

“I will find you and you will regret rejecting ME.”

Your first thought might be that we are doing something wrong.  That we are rude in our personal rejection.  But I discovered I am not the only one getting this behavior, we just rarely talk about it.

John Joseph Adams, editor for Lightspeed, and in my opinion one of the better editors in the business recently tweeted: “This week, have been both called a “tool” for rejecting someone & had a writer reply “FUCK YOU!!!” Still so surprising when people do this.”

While he is one of the only ones I know to publicly say so, many other editors have privately shared the same types of stories.  Writers who complain about how unprofessional we are, while writing to us in an unprofessional manner.  Frankly it is embarrassing to writers as a whole, and if we editors wanted to be truly unprofessional we’d share with you their names so you could rise up against them.  Because the fact remains that the main reason editors stop providing personal rejections is because of the abuse that writers like these give us.

The problem here is the professional divide.  There are many websites warning writers of bad editors.  Editors that take advantage of writers.  There should be.  There are also plenty of people who take to the internet in persecution of an editor or a company simply because of a rejection letter.  That is not right.  I personally have yet to find a website that warns editors of unprofessional writers.  Writers who say things that I’ve mentioned above.

Why?  We have to take the high road.  We have to be professional and accept that is is part of our job.  We are trying to give our opinions to help you understand why your story didn’t make the cut.  They are our opinions.  We are then persecuted, bullied, and abused for giving those opinions.  We just wanted to help.  It makes many editors quit.  And as their boss, I can’t really allow it to happen.  We can take limited steps to protect ourselves, such as switching to form rejection.  That is why we, at Plasma Frequency, stopped providing personal rejections to first read rejections.  We hope to continue to provide them to second and third read rejections.  Hopefully the writers at that level can handle our opinions.

Once again, I recognize that most writers don’t behave this way.  This might come off as a bit of rant.  And in a way it is.But the point is, it is my opinion that many publications use form letters simply because of the abuse the get if they used personal rejections.

Of course, as an editor I still very much respect writers.  I am thankful for the submissions we get.  I couldn’t run my magazine with out them.  I’ll likely still send out a few personal rejections to those who might appreciate the opinion.

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Distinguishing Yourself from the “Steaming Piles of Crap”

On of the members of the writer’s group I belong to, and a person I follow on Google+, recently released her first eBook.  I offered my congratulations and she mentioned that anyone can put up an eBook, “…from Stephen King to steaming pile of crap.”

And truthfully she is right.  Anyone can do it.  They can go on Smashwords, KDP, or even PubIt and throw together an eBook and sell it in about ten minutes.  I just got done setting up Dissolution of Peace for eBook sales on KDP and was surprised just how quick it was.  I was set up and done in about an hour.  And I spent some time debating the price and royalties options.  On the other hand, the print version has taken almost a week now to get set up and it still isn’t done.  But even that is only because they review the file for “print-ability” but not for content.

So one might wonder how they separate themselves from the crap.  The simple answer is not to be crap.

If you wrote a book in a week, and published it the next week.  Chances are your story is going to be garbage.  You simply miss way to much when you spend so little time on a project.  I’ve talked a lot about the steps you have to take to get your work ready for publication.  If you start cutting corners, it will show.  All told, I will have spent nine years (or more) working on Dissolution of Peace.  From the original manuscript written in 2003-2004 to the final product you will all see October 16th.

Do I recommend taking nine years?  No, not necessarily.  From the time I made up my mind to finish, and see published, Dissolution of Peace  it took almost exactly one year.  In that year, I spent most of that time editing.

The rewrite of the manuscript cut out 30,000 words of pure crap.  Words I might have missed if I didn’t reread the original manuscript.  Next, I read it again.  I corrected the mistakes I found, and read it again.  Then I sent it off to a few beta readers.  They made their comments.  I fixed some things, and read it again.  Then it went to a professional editor.  He sent me back a boat load of suggestions.  I fixed those, rewrote some passages, corrected the plot holes and confusing information.  Then, you guessed it, I read it again.  I fixed a few things and put it in format for publication.  Then I ordered a proof.

ALWAYS ORDER A PROOF.  I know many people who skip this step.  They figure they have caught everything by this point.  They look at the digital proof for format errors and then approve it.  They never hold a proof copy in their hands.  Well I ordered a proof.  And I read it cover to cover.  There were exactly ZERO formatting error.  However, there were twenty-two other errors.  Missing words, typo words, and other things.  Things four beta readers, an editor, and five of my own readings missed.  All of which were just things your eyes miss.  When you see a word in its context you might not notice that “closest friend” was typed “closet friend” in the book.  The fact remains that as I read it in book format, these things came out because it was the first time I had read it as an actual book.  In print.  Not on a computer screen.  I saw my novel in a new way.

And now, as I get ready to approve the final draft I am confident it is ready to be read.  Will I miss something?  I will almost bet money I did.  But even the professionals miss something.  It is one of the ways book experts can detect what edition many books are.  They know of certain misprints, typos, ect in each edition.  The point to this is not to spend forever making the novel absolutely perfect.  The point is to spend enough time with it to make it the best you can possible put out.

I read my story six times in this last year.  If you are not reading your book multiple times to prepare it for publishing, how can you expect buyers to read it once?  If you wrote it and you find it boring to read more than once, it may not belong in the steaming pile, but you should figure out what needs to be fixed to make it readable.

I will also say this.  Grammar and punctuation do not make a book readable but they can may a book unreadable.  If your book is overly riddled with grammar mistakes, they can distract a reader.  However, you can have a grammatical masterpiece, not one grammatical error in the entire manuscript, and still have a steaming pile on your hands.

You need a plot.  A story that starts where the real story starts.  You need a conflict of some type.  You need a resolution to the conflict.  And you need a satisfying ending.  You have to be able to tell a story.  A story readers want to read.  A story with characters people love (or hate for the right reasons).  You need a world for this to all take place in.  Once you master that, you can go back and fix the grammar.

The point is you need to take time with you works.  He who publishes the most books, does not win.

You need to put together a quality novel before you submit it for publication.  If you do that, your work will stand out for the steaming piles of crap that come out.  But also remember that some people will simply not like your novel for their own reasons.  While others may love it.  You can’t please everyone.  We’ve all bought a book we thought would be good only to be disappointed.  But if you take your time to put your best work forward, you will find a following of readers who will love your story.

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