Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Fiction Writing’ Category

Having Too Many Story Ideas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 9, 2018

Writer’s Block is often interpreted to mean that a writer stumbles over what to write next. Or he comes to a complete halt due to outside distractions or loss of confidence. But what about when he has so many ideas, that he can’t complete a single one? This can be conceived as another type of writer’s block.

Story Ideas

“I have too many ideas at once, and I don’t know which one to pick,” an aspiring author wrote to me. “What is your advice on this issue?”

It’s great if you have lots of story ideas. It’s not so good if you allow them to distract you until you can’t write anything. Or maybe you’ll write a bit on each one but never finish a single novel. My suggestion would be to pick the one idea that excites you the most and keep writing until you finish the first draft. Yes, it’s that simple.

“You’ve had two series going on together. How did you manage it, both mentally and during the actual writing? Was it difficult going back and forth? Is it easier to finish one at a time?”

I can only work on one project at a time. Even when I was writing two series in different genres, I would focus on one book until it was finished and in the hands of my editor. When that book was completely done, I would turn to the next project.

What happens when you have so many ideas that they interfere with your concentration? Write them down. Keep a “New Idea” file or a “Plotting” file and jot down your notes. Then put them aside until you finish your current project.

Set yourself daily and weekly writing goals for your story of choice. Then sit your butt in the chair and drive yourself each day until you meet your quota. Do not stop if one of those tempting ideas entices you. Concentrate on the book at hand. Later on, those ideas will either be viable or not. You’ll know better when you gain some perspective. For now, you have one project only that you need to finish. To reiterate:

· Pick your project.

· Set your writing goals.

· Write down all the distracting ideas in your head and set them aside.

· Begin on your daily writing quota.

· Keep writing until you finish the first draft.

Next come revisions, and that’s another topic we’ve already addressed here. Your book isn’t done until it’s done. Edited, Revised, Polished, and Submitted.

Then and only then, you may turn to your list of potential new projects. If you’re writing a series, you will need to begin the next installment. If not, listen to your heart and determine which idea is calling to you. Your passion will shine through in your words. Have some ideas that don’t resonate anymore? Scratch them off the list. You want to be excited enough that the buoyancy will sustain you throughout an entire novel. One idea at a time. One day at a time. One page at a time.

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Mystery Fest Key West 2018 – Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 30, 2018

Panel discussions at the Mystery Fest Key West on Saturday afternoon began after lunch with a panel on Co-Writing a Mystery and next on Writing Historical Mysteries. Below are panelists Alyssa Maxwell, Diane A.S. Stuckart, Robert Coburn, John Guerra, and Charles Todd.

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A panel discussion on Audiobooks followed. After an on-site booksigning run by Books & Books from Key West, we took a conch train from our hotel to the Key West Lighthouse.

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At the historic lighthouse, Shirrel Rhodes introduced Ace Atkins and Otto Penzler, who spoke about publishing and the mystery genre.

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The conference concluded on Sunday morning with a brunch at the Schooner Wharf Bar in Key West’s Historic Seaport district. We hit the road heading north for our last view of seascapes on either side of the highway. It was time to return to reality.

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Mystery Fest Key West 2018 – Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 28, 2018

The first workshop on Friday afternoon at Mystery Fest Key West writers conference had Debbie Richardson and Shirrel Rhodes speaking about the business of writing. Next, we heard author Lisa Black give an informative talk on fingerprints. I learned there are three types of fingerprint patterns, which are loop, arch, and whorl. Glossy, smooth surfaces like porcelain or marble are good for fingerprints while wet or rough surfaces, upholstery, and laminate aren’t so great. However, no matter the surface, it appears there’s a method for obtaining prints. This is good info to know for any mystery writer.

Photos below include Debbie Richardson, Heather Graham, Michael Joy, Suzanne Baginskie, Olive Pollack, Lisa Black.

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Two more panels followed on How to Write and Sell a First Novel with Dianna Collier and Crisis Negotiation with an expert in the field. Then we met at a poolside room for appetizers and drinks. It was nice to have a chance to circulate and meet my fellow attendees. Heather Graham gave a welcome talk and we all got busy schmoozing for the rest of the evening.

Photos below include Alyssa Maxwell, Michael Joy, Paul Manuel, Richard Cohen, Diane A.S. Stuckart. Second row has Olive Pollak, Suzanne Baginskie, Catalina Egan, Lou Ann Williams, Patrick Kendrick, Carol Tedesco.

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Saturday started early with a panel on the State of the Publishing Industry. Moderated by Diane A. S. Stuckart, the panel included Patrick Kendrick, Dianna Collier, Alyssa Maxwell, and Otto Penzler. The general outlook was positive, and I was happy to hear that cozies are doing well.

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Next I sat on a panel about Promoting Your Book. My fellow panelists were Lewis C. Haskell and Wayne Stinnett with Patrick Kendrick as moderator. We discussed different techniques that we each found useful and exchanged ideas for getting word out about our books.

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Shirrel Rhodes introduced the winners of The Whodunit Mystery Writing Award, who each read from their work before lunch. Prime Ribs was the star feature on the buffet line. Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author Ace Atkins gave a talk during the meal.

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Fine Tuning Your Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 7, 2018

You’ve read through your novel for the umpteenth time and can barely look at it anymore. Then your advance reading copy or final pdf file arrives, and it’s time for a last glance before sending your baby into the world. Will you still find changes to make? Undoubtedly. Sometimes these are conversion errors. Or you may notice typos or word choices that need a tweak.

Fine Tuning

Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, is set to debut on Sept. 25. Check out the latest changes I’ve made and you’ll gain some insight into the mind of a writer. Caution – There may be spoilers.

p. 74 – bustled … bustle.

A few minutes later, Janet bustled down the stairs along with her housekeeper. After giving the woman an order and watching her bustle off toward another part of the house, Janet turned to Marla.

Change “bustle” to “scurry” so it reads …watching her scurry off…

p. 78 – “get involved” x 2

Janet clapped her hands. “It sounds wonderful. I’d love to get involved. Tony, you could ask Tristan to donate some of his desserts. You cross paths on occasion.” She turned to Marla. “His restaurant buys vegetables from our farm. They like to advertise how their dishes contain ingredients from sustainable food sources.”

“That would be amazing if his restaurant would get involved in our charity event. They’d benefit from the publicity as well.”

Change “I’d love to get involved” to “be included.” So it should say, I’d love to be included.

p. 103 –Marla winced. “I know what you mean. I’m wondering if you knew Francine Dodger, publisher of Eat Well Now magazine.

Delete “Marla winced” on this line. I use “wince” too many times.

p. 125 – “It says, ‘Meet me at midnight by the Living Tree. All hail Osiris.’ “

Last quote mark is reversed.

p. 148 – “You can tell, huh? Your dad called with bad news. Another woman is his case was found dead.” Change “is” to “in”

p. 154 – “Why are you so afraid, Janet?

Add quote mark at end of sentence

p. 161 – “Actually, I came to order lunch. Can get you get me a turkey delight to go?”

Can get you get me. Delete first “get”

p. 165 – “Lynette theorized that Francine would have made an effort to buy the magazine from the conglomerate that owns it.

Made an offer, not made an effort. Change effort to offer.

p. 170 – “I’ll give you a taste of our olive oil varieties after we return.”

Marla’s jaw dropped as she noticed the variety of goods for sale.

Varieties … variety. Change “variety” of goods to “range” of goods

p. 178 – Used “message” x 3.

Chills ran up Marla’s spine as she scanned the message. Mind your own business or you’ll be next.

[Chapter Break]

“It looks as though the message was printed on a sheet of white computer paper.” Marla snapped a photo and messaged it to Dalton.

Change “messaged” to “sent” in this last sentence.

p. 180 – The word “property” is used too many times.

“Without color of title means we’ve been paying property taxes and any liens on the property, as well as meeting the other conditions. Besides occupying the property for a minimum of seven years, we have to be in open use of the property, essentially acting as the sole owner.”

Change “occupying the property” to “occupying the place”

p. 199 – Used “man” x 3.

“If his column is losing readers, it’s because the man has lost his edge.”

“Could he have wanted to get her out of the way?” Dalton studied the other man’s face.

“Are you kidding? Man, that guy couldn’t hurt a fly. He doesn’t have it in him.”

Remove this “Man” and just say, “That guy couldn’t hurt a fly.

p. 204 – She could have quite a list of personal indiscretions hidden away. Change to: She could have had quite a … Add “had” in this sentence. This refers to the victim.

p. 231 – Used “took” x 2

The camera wasn’t in Francine’s purse and hasn’t been turned in by anyone.”

“Do you believe the killer took it?”

“It’s possible. The pictures Francine took could be useful to the case.”

Change to, Do you believe the killer kept it?

p. 249 – Referencing Marla’s stepdaughter in this paragraph:

Meanwhile, it promised to be a bumpy ride. Dalton likely wouldn’t approve of any guy she brought home for them to meet until he’d done a thorough background check and conducted a personal interview. She couldn’t blame the girl for being guarded about her love life and had to trust her to make the right decisions.

Change “she” to “Marla” in the beginning of this sentence to clarify: Marla couldn’t blame the girl for being guarded about her love life and had to trust her to make the right decisions.

Recipes:

p. 274: spice cake mix is not capitalized

p. 275: Yellow Cake Mix is capitalized

Choose one or the other for consistency

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It is not easy to scrutinize your work line-by-line and word-for-word, but this is part of the writing process. You want your book to be the best it can be, and this is the way. Positive feedback from readers makes it all worthwhile.   CLICK TO TWEET

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Where Do You Write?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 25, 2018

“Where do you write?” is a common question for writers during book talks. Readers might imagine us toiling away on an old typewriter in some attic with a tiny window. Or perhaps they see us working on a sleek laptop while enjoying the breeze from a seaside veranda. We could be creating our masterpiece in solitude while viewing a lake and sipping tea on a screened patio as crickets drone in the nearby woods. Or maybe we pound away on our keyboards while drinking coffee at the local Starbucks. Don’t you see folks there working on their laptops and wonder if they are aspiring writers?

My work environment is more mundane. I work at home. I have a dedicated home office. I am surrounded by things I love, such as books and memorabilia and gifts I’ve bought myself to commemorate my published works.

I love my corner desk so much that I don’t ever want to leave this house. As I sit here now, straight ahead is my Dell computer monitor. I use an ergonomic keyboard by Adesso that has saved my wrists. On shelves above, I have writer-related gifts from my kids and others, and a collection of trolls to represent the Trolleks who are the bad guys in my Drift Lords series.

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Looking to my left, down below are lots of drawers. One extension to my desk serves as a printer stand. Above this are my latest plotting notebooks, some books on writing, and proofs for my latest works in print. On the very top are a collection of novelty pens and a train locomotive from a fan painted with the cover from Murder by Manicure. Most treasured behind a glass door are my Flamingo Award from MWA Florida Chapter and a Lifetime Service Award from Florida Romance Writers. Behind these awards is a signed photograph from Star Trek star Jonathan Frakes.

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To my right are how-to writing books in the crime fiction field, copies of all my books in various print formats, a jeweled calculator, a world clock, and a pencil holder from Area 51. Flashlights, emergency radios, and portable lanterns stand at the ready on every surface in case we have a power blackout during hurricane season.

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Bored yet? We’re not done! I have a separate mahogany desk for correspondence, and this is where I pay bills and do the household accounts. Above this is a bulletin board and various medals and framed certificates for accolades I have earned.

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The closet in this former bedroom had been converted into bookshelves before we moved in and was one reason why we loved the house. The shelves are totally full. Besides my reference books on all subjects and more books on writing, I have a paperweight collection, an onyx chess set, a sword I bought in Spain, and other tchotchkes.

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The room is completed by three more sets of plastic drawers from office supply stores, mailing supplies, two tall bookcases, and more reference materials.

I spend all day in this room. It’s my home within a home. Can I work elsewhere? I’ll dabble at marketing and revisions when away from home, but I can only create in this environment with silence for company. No background music or coffee house chatter for me. I need quiet.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into my work space. Now for those stacks of papers that need filing…. Until next time!

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The In-Between Game

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 11, 2018

What do you do when you’re in between books but you have too much going on to start the next novel? You might be waiting to hear back from your editor or beta readers or cover designer if the book is done.

Between Books

I’m in this situation now. I have four projects pending release but am in a holding pattern until I hear back from various sources. As I write this piece, Body Wave Audiobook is complete and waiting publication by Audible. Trimmed to Death is awaiting feedback from beta readers and a mockup design from my cover artist. Hairball Hijinks, a short story that includes an epilogue to Hair Brained, will include a teaser chapter from Trimmed to Death, so this one has to wait until there’s a pre-order link for that title. And Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition uses examples from Trimmed to Death so is best to come after that title is published.

In the meantime, I don’t want to get involved in plotting the next project. Instead, I am spending time on some of the following activities. Here are suggestions for what you can do when you’re in a similar holding pattern before a new release and you don’t want to work on another book:

· Prepare your book launch announcement

· Write all the blogs for a blog tour

· Do an optional book trailer as a bonus for your readers

· Start a Pinterest storyboard for your new release

· Prepare for speaker engagements with handouts and PowerPoint presentations

· Update your reviewer list by marking which people reviewed your last title

· Review your front and back materials for each indie book project

· Determine if you’ll have an online launch party and plan ahead for this event

· Update your mailing list and work on your next newsletter

· Create memes relating to your new book

· Write a Reader Discussion Guide for book clubs

· Update your bio on all social media sites

If you’d rather engage in brainless activities for a break, you can always clean out old files, update your blog index, rearrange your online photos, or go through the stack of papers in your to-do pile. As soon as your book is ready to go, you’ll be plenty busy. So take advantage of this lull while you can.

What else do you do in between book projects, besides doing preliminary research and jotting down plot ideas for the next story?

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Mystery Fest Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 6, 2018

Mystery Fans, don’t miss this fabulous event in Key West!

 

Key West

Register Now for Mystery Fest Key West
June 22-24, 2018 in Key West, Florida
Panels, Workshops, Speakers, Meals, Fun!

Two Dozen of Your Favorite Mystery Writers
Featuring Ace Atkins, Otto Penzler, Heather Graham
Friday – Sunday Only $195

Celebrated mystery writers, acclaimed storytellers and the fans who love them are set to infiltrate the tropical island where so many have found their inspiration during the 5th Annual Key West Mystery Fest, set for June 22-24, 2018 at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West, Florida. You’re invited to join them!

Why is Key West such a popular incubator and setting for generations of authors – from Hemingway to Heather Graham, Tennessee Williams to John H. Cunningham to Roberta Isleib? Maybe it’s the archipelago’s history as a haven for pirates and drug-runners, its salty off-the-grid renegade energy – or simply the hypnotic effect of swaying palm trees reflected against water on a tiny island surrounded by endless miles of ocean. Whatever it is, the locale has spawned a multitude of tales and a small army of authors.

Mystery Fest Key West was founded in 2014 and while it has grown in fame since then, “It still has the intimacy of a boutique-sized convention with lots of direct interaction between authors and audience,” commented author, publisher and Fest co-founder Shirrel Rhoades.

During the weekend’s series of panels, presentations and social events, Mystery Fest attendees will have the opportunity to learn first-hand how to craft their own tales of crime, murder and mystery from a stellar line-up of high-profile mystery and suspense luminaries and true-crime experts.

2018 headliners are Keynote Luncheon Speaker Ace Atkins, the multi-award winning, New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including the recent Robert B. Parker “Spenser” mysteries…

Special Guest of Honor, the multi-award winning editor and publisher Otto Penzler – proprietor of the famed The Mysterious Book Shop in New York City…

And Special Guest Presenter, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham.

Other featured presenters include New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black, bestselling and award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen; New York Times bestselling author Diane A.S. Stuckart; New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, award-winning authors Patrick Kendrick, Lewis C. Haskell and many others.

Event highlights include presentation of the 2018 Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition Award, workshops on the business of being an author, how to write and sell a first novel, crisis negotiation, the forensic use of fingerprints, as well as panel discussions on subjects ranging from the state of the publishing industry to book marketing and promotion, along with author book signings, a Conch Train mini-tour of Key West, an ice-cream social event with Ace Atkins and Otto Penzler at the historic Key West Lighthouse, and a Bloody Mary Morning breakfast at Key West’s historic Schooner Wharf Bar.

Sponsored by the Key West Citizen daily newspaper, Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, the Helmerich Foundation, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, all panels and presentations will take place at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West. Event registration is $195 and includes all panels and presentations, a luncheon and a brunch at Key West’s historic seaport. For a full Fest schedule, online registration, and links to accommodations visit MysteryFestKeyWest.com.

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Inconsistent Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2018

Revisions for our novels should include a complete read-through for repetitions and inconsistencies. What do we mean by the latter? You’ll want to take a look at your characters to see if they are behaving in a manner consistent with their personality. As a writer, this should be an essential part of your self-editing process. Below are some examples.

Inconsistent Characters

What’s wrong with this passage?

Dalton went for his gun, but Marla slapped his hand away. “Don’t risk it. You don’t know what we’re up against yet. And they won’t know you’re armed.”

Marla would never slap Dalton’s hand away. He’s a police officer. He knows his business. He’s allowed her to come along on a night mission, which she shouldn’t jeopardize this way.

Often it’s my critique group that catches these kinds of mistakes. In this case, I read those sentences and frowned. Wait a minute. Marla would never do this. I went back and changed it.

Ditto for Marla acting dumb. My editor has caught me on this one more than a few times. “Marla is too smart not to figure this out when everyone else knows what’s going on.” She isn’t acting in character when she’s too dense. Same goes for Dalton. Should he let Marla accompany him to interview suspects without protesting or finding an important reason for her to come along?

This also goes for mannerisms of speech. Your rough-around-the-edges hero isn’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, good heavens.” His dialogue should be consistent with his personality.

Here are more examples from my current work-in-progress. Marla and Dalton are talking about the victim.

“That would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away,” Dalton said.

“Do you truly believe another person did this to her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

My editor said, It’s obvious another person did this to her. Could the woman whack herself on the back of her head?

“This injury is indicative of a blow to the back of the head,” Dalton replied. “The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, though.”

Would he say this to Marla when the gash is evident? Not according to my editor, who wrote, “This is another dumb remark. Of course matted blood to the back of the head is “indicative” of a blow to the back of the head!!!”

I’m lucky my editor isn’t afraid to call the shots as she sees them. She’s always right. Here is my rewrite. See what you think:

“So that would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away.”

“Are you certain the blow is what killed her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

“That’s not for me to say, but it would be my best guess. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.”

We hope to catch these errors during the revision process. What we write during the heat of the story-making process doesn’t always pass muster when examined under the editorial microscope.

 

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12 Steps for Revising Your Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 27, 2018

Revisions on your novel can seem like a never-ending task. This seems especially true when you get a letter from a reader years later to tell you about a misspelled word. We’re never going to get it absolutely perfect, but we can do our best.

revision steps for your novel

In an earlier post, I’d mentioned the Five Stages of Writing. I’ve also talked in other posts about line editing and other techniques for improving your work. What comes next after you’ve sent the book in to your editor? Here’s a list of suggestions:

1. Make the corrections advised by your editor when she sends your story back with comments.

2. Check your formatting throughout the manuscript after making a series of changes. Be sure all chapter headings are consistent. Turn on the paragraph symbol in Word and look for misplaced sentences or extra spaces. Do a search for [space]^p and replace with ^p. Then do a search for ^p[space] and replace with ^p. This gets rid of extra spaces before and after a paragraph.

3. Review your editor’s comments to make sure you haven’t skipped anything.

4. Revise the synopsis and chapter outlines to reflect any changes to the story or the timeline.

5. Do a thorough read-through to make sure everything reads smoothly and to see if you caught all the changes. One change may lead to another, and you might miss some if they’re one or two lines here and there.

6. Do another read-through if these second round of changes were significant.

7. Consider using a software program like Smart-Edit to check for redundancies, repetitions, or clichés that your editor might have missed. (Or do this step before you turn in your manuscript for the first time.)

8. Send the book to beta readers for another round of critiques from the readers’ viewpoint and for proofreading. If you are traditionally published, this is when you send the book in for copy edits.

9. Follow-up with another round of revisions and a complete read-through again.

10. Send in the finalized book to your editorial house or to your formatter for production.

11. Read through the entire ARC (advance reading copy) for conversion errors and final tweaks.

12. Approve the final version.

What else do you do during the Revisions Stage?

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Holding Patterns

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 26, 2018

Holding Patterns

Sometimes as writers, we have to wait on others to progress with our current works in progress. When you are waiting for the copy edits from your traditional publisher, for example, is one instance of this. We play the waiting game when we send in submissions, anticipate our advance reading copies, or expect our edits to come any day. It’s part of the game. What you need to do during this time of inactivity is to either work on your next project or focus on marketing strategies.

As part of my goals for this year as mentioned in an earlier post, I plan to have five releases. Two of these objectives have been met. Silver Serenade came out in a revised ebook edition and Died Blonde made a revised paperback debut. What about the rest?

I’m waiting on my developmental editor for Trimmed to Death, the next Bad Hair Day mystery.
I’m waiting on my narrator for the audiobook edition of Body Wave.
I’m waiting on my cover artist for the expanded second edition of Writing the Cozy Mystery.

Am I planning a marketing campaign for any of these projects or working on the next creative endeavor in the meantime? Sorry…but no. This break comes at a good time. Our daughter is getting married. My spare moments are taken up with researching bridal shower venues and mother-of-the-bride dresses. This is a big reason why you’re not hearing from me so much on this blog at present. If you like, I can discuss the restaurants we’ve visited and the beautiful dresses I’m seeing, but it’s not writing advice. It is life experience. Depends on which journey you want to read about here.

I’m not totally lazing about, however. I have been preparing three PowerPoint presentations for upcoming events. See my Appearances page if you wish to know where I’ll be speaking. And I’m revising Keeper of the Rings, an earlier science fiction romance. So I am still being productive even if it’s not on the three projects above.

Things are bound to get more intense as the nuptials get closer, so I might have to put off one of my planned releases until later in the year. A book release requires a lot of effort if you mean to send out review copies, write blogs for blog tours, plan launch parties, and more. And all of these three projects will require special attention in that way. So their releases will have to be spaced out accordingly.

What do you work on while you’re in a holding pattern for your current project?

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , | 10 Comments »

 
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