Timing

Timing is everything. When you’re planning the publication date of your book, make sure you leave enough time for revision, editing, proofing, cover design, and formatting. None of these things should be rushed. In fact, it’s better to have scheduled extra time and be ready ahead of your date than to find yourself crunched for time at your deadline and getting errors when you’re uploading your book.

What a headache that can be!

So prepare yourself by scheduling plenty of time for each of these steps. Beta readers need time to read and give feedback. You may decide to revise something after receiving their feedback. This takes time to do it right. You hand the manuscript off to an editor. They go through it carefully and find some issues you need to tackle. You do so and hand it back. The editor goes through it again and gives it back. You both agree it’s ready to be formatted. It goes through formatting and then gets proofed to catch any last errors that may have slipped by. It happens. Any errors that are found are corrected. You upload the book. Sometimes formatting errors arise that need to be corrected, so back to the formatter it goes… and finally, it is accepted. Whew! Good thing you allowed yourself plenty of time! You’re still a couple of days ahead of schedule, so your launch will go off without a hitch! That was excellent planning on your part!

Too often I talk to writers who want their 300 page book completely edited to perfection in less than a week (at a discount, no less), then need it formatted in three different formats overnight so they can get it uploaded on ten different sites for their launch yesterday because they didn’t plan ahead. No editor worth their salt is going to put their name on a project like that. If the author is willing to do such a rush on the production work, how much do you want to bet they rushed the writing, too? The editor is asking for a major headache ten ways from Sunday to tackle a project like this.

Give your book the time it deserves.

Should You Summarize?

I often come across repetitive summarizing in stories as I edit. It’s okay to do this from time to time in a book, especially if the plot is complex, there’s a mystery going on, or there are multiple characters the reader has to follow.

A character summary is best done in the form of simple dialogue or as an interior monologue. It serves as a great way to help the reader put a lot of pieces together or to show the reader where the character is at the moment before the next scene begins. For example, maybe the character has been dealing with a lot of new information and she has to wrap her head around it all… the summary lets the reader know if she’s able to do that and move on or if she’s ready to have a nervous breakdown. The summary doesn’t resolve her conflict, it just let’s us know how she’s doing at the moment. Remember that. The character’s conflict must go on as the story continues.

At the same time, refrain from providing too many summaries. If you do, you’ll find the reader gets mired in them and the action of the story tends to disappear. Save your summarizing instead as a way to reveal something about a character that the reader didn’t know before or as a way to gather the clues together. Make them count.

Cliffhanger Much?

So Monday I talked about beginnings, today I’m going to talk about endings. With the popularity of book series, especially, endings are really important. With a series, not only do you have the over reaching series arc, but you have the story arc for each book.

I often see authors who want to leave a cliffhanger ending but they don’t have a clue what this means. They leave the reader dangling with no sense of closure whatsoever. It’s like they stopped writing mid-thought and said, “I’m done!”

Endings like this make me want to scream. Then I want to slam my head into my desk, but I don’t, because frankly, I have too much stuff on my desk and I’d probably injure myself. When I’ve brought it up that readers need some closure, at least on the individual book’s story arc, I’m told, “No, it’s supposed to be a cliffhanger.”

They’ve been watching too much TV but they weren’t paying attention. Sure, when you watched Castle a few seasons ago and they left you hanging wondering if Beckett was going to live all summer, that was a cliffhanger. How many of you were angry at the end of The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo was sealed in carbonite and you wouldn’t know what happened to him for another whole year or two?  These are cliffhangers that worked. Sure, you had major questions that went unanswered, but you did have questions answered.

In Castle, Beckett lay seriously injured, possibly dying, but it got Castle to say those three magic words… I love you. Out loud. We’d all been waiting for him to say them. So it took a bullet to pry them out of him, but he said them. Out loud.

In The Empire Strikes Back, sure, we lost Han (much to the chagrin of most of us female fans), but we found out that Han and Leia loved each other and that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. OMG! These were two big reveals that kept fans talking until the next movie came out.

So back to book endings. If you’re going to leave the reader hanging with something big, you’ve also got to give them something big. Something they can feel satisfied with so they don’t feel they wasted all those pages for nothing. It’s like you’ve spent hours preparing a meal, then you dig in and it doesn’t fill you up. You’re still hungry.

Let’s get technical for a moment. Story arcs. These are those pesky little plans that tell a story. You have your giant story arc that is the book (or series). Since we’re talking cliffhangers, let’s say it’s for a series. This is the story arc that pulls us through 3, 6, 9, or more books. Harry Potter’s giant arc was the tale of an orphan boy who finds out he’s a wizard who has to save his world from the evil Voldemort. That’s a tall order for a kid. Then there are the smaller arcs that are each book. These smaller adventures kept us spellbound, but each one helped Harry get closer to his destiny. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban… you get the picture. Each of those books had their own tale, their own challenge for Harry, but he still had that giant arc over his life that prepared him for the final confrontation in the last book. Then, each scene had an even smaller arc with its own goals as he had to make it through Potions class, or catch the Snitch, or face Fluffy, but they all still got him one step closer to meeting the goal of that book’s story arc, and one step closer to meeting the goal of the series’ story arc. Even the angst he went through in book five that some readers complained about fit in there, because he had to doubt himself. He had to doubt his friends.

So, if you want to leave a cliffhanger, fine, but do it right. Give your readers some closure in other ways. Finish the story arc for that book and leave them hanging for something in the greater arc. If you don’t know what a story arc is, I suggest you read the following books:

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld

They’re two of my favorites. And if you want to write, learn the craft, my friends. You wouldn’t trust your car to someone who didn’t know how to fix it, would you? Learn the craft.