I Wrote a Book! Now What?

I've completed the rough drafts of many books in my years of writing. What typically happens is I put the finishing touches on the book, read through it once, then put it aside so I can work on the next book in the series. I'm now to the point that I actually need to prepare the book for an agent. So then I ask myself, now what? How do I go about fixing up the book when I know I have a ton of errors interspersed throughout the text? Here are a few tips I've learned while updating my own book.

  • Breathe and Separate: Before you even start editing your story, take a minute to breathe. Separate yourself from the book for a few days, weeks, or even a month or two if that's what you need. If you jump into it too quickly, the story will be too fresh in your head, and that means it'll be harder for you to find mistakes. You want to read it fresh. And you also want to convince yourself not to get overwhelmed. This is not a fast process, so pace yourself.
  • Change the formatting: If you have your text double-spaced, single space it. If you have it single-spaced, double space it. You'd be surprised how different your book looks when you do this, and it can help you catch more errors than if you look at it the same way you always have.
  • Print it Out: As with changing the format, printing the book out allows you to look at the story in a different medium. This can also help you find errors as you go through it.
  • Separate the Chapters: If your book is in one document, then save all the chapters as separate documents. As you read through, you can mark off what chapter you're on. I find that knowing I have to review 44 chapters is less daunting than having to read almost 400 pages.
  • Quick Read Through: Once you've had time to breathe, read through your book once without making any changes. If there are changes you want to make, write notes so you don't distract yourself from reading through. This will help you focus more on plot errors.
  • Pick a Topic: When you decide to edit your book, after the initial read, only choose one topic to edit. Maybe you're checking for continuity errors. Maybe you're looking for plot problems, or grammatical changes. Whatever it is, edit one topic at a time because otherwise you might find it way too overwhelming.
  • Color Coding: Color code different types of errors to help keep your edits organized. Use "blue" for continuity problems and "green" to identify when characters show up. Post it notes also help with this if you have a printed copy.

These are just a few tips you can use to start off editing your first draft. As you go through, you'll become more comfortable with the styles that work for you. If you have any additional suggestions, post them below!

Review: Mahogony: A Love Letter To Black

LLTB I've decided that I want to start writing reviews of local writers or books that I really enjoy. I'm going to kick off this series with the chapbook "Mahogany: A Love Letter To Black." Written by Heather "Byrd" Roberts, a poet, performer, and teaching artist in Chicago, this chapbook tells a very deep, emotional story. It is a journey through her life, echoing both the tribulations and the joys she's experienced.

Heather graduated from Cornell College and received a Bachelors in Special Studies in Performance Art. She also received a Masters in Organizational Leadership from St. Ambrose University and a Certificate in Spoken Word Pedagogy from Concordia University-Chicago. Currently, she is the Programs Associate at Young Chicago Authors (YCA). YCA is a literary non-profit in Chicago that focus on cultivating more than 10,000 young peoples' voices through writing, publication, and performance education. She is also a member of the Poetic Forum Collective that has reoccurring shows at Stage 773 in Chicago.

I met Heather at Cornell College in Iowa, and I have always been impressed and amazed by her writing. After I helped found Wordsmiths, a creative writing group on campus, she founded Lyrically Inclined, a poetry/performance poetry group. She has carried on with her amazing talent to create "Mahogany: A Love Letter to Black."

I absolutely adored this chapbook, and I had the honor and pleasure of being one of her editors. The poems are raw, honest, and powerful. I grew angry at the injustice that she described, and it made me understand more just what she has gone through over the course of her life. Her language is beautiful and tantalizing. It's easy to hear the heartbeat in each line of poetry, her heart beating to the rhythm of her words.

I highly encourage you to pick up this amazing piece and check Heather "Byrd" out on her facebook page. You can also visit her website to learn more about her and her journey.

To purchase "Mahogany: A Love Letter To Black," you can find it here on amazon.

Congratulations on your success, Heather "Byrd"!

Tips: Writing Query Letters

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to try out for the Zebulon contest through the Pikes Peak Writing Convention in Colorado. The goal is to submit 2,500 words of your story, write a mock query letter, and create a synopsis. Up until that point, I hadn't tried to write an official query letter. I had made a draft of one when I was a student at the Denver Publishing Institute, but that was more a trial and error attempt. It was very, very real for the Zebulon. They even created a mock agent that you had to address. I don't claim to be a perfect query letter writer, but after that experience, I do have some tips I would like to offer to those of you who are trying to get your novels published. You can try to go through a publishing company without an agent, but from what I've read, you'll have a better shot if you have an agent at your back. So, here are just a few tips:

  • Research your agent: Know what he/she is looking for. You don't want to send a fantasy query to a person who only accepts non-fiction stories. Look at some of the stories he/she has already chosen. That might help you decide if you have the right fit.
  • Include information about the agent in your query. This makes the letter more personal and lets the agent know that you've taken the time to research her. This may include mentioning the books she's acquired, or the types of things she likes to read.
  • Understand the query guidelines for your agent. One mishap can cause your letter to get thrown in the garbage.
  • Make your query letter only a page long, or follow the word count guidelines on the agency site.
  • Be confident, but not cocky. Make the agent believe that you have confidence in yourself, but don't be arrogant.
  • Be professional.
  • Sell your book. Create a strong attention getter that makes the agent want to keep reading your query letter. Depending on what resource you go through, you might include the hook at the beginning of the letter, or right when you discuss your story.
  • Don't talk too much about yourself. If you've had work published, then include that, and the numbers too of how many books were sold. If you're a beginning writer...don't say it. Just show that you're confident in your book.
  • Include word count in your query letter. Agents can often tell just how much revision you might need by the amount of words in your story (i.e. 300,000 words might be a red flag for a first time fantasy book).
  • Know your facts. If your book falls under a very popular genre that's sold millions of books, say it. This means that your book might be easier to sell, and therefore the agent might be more inclined to look it over.
  • If the agent asks for money upfront, RUN AWAY. This is not a legitimate agent. An agent should not be paid until your book has sold, and she'll take commission from that.
  • Spell check. I can't emphasize this enough. One misspelling is a good way to get your query letter thrown out.

These are just a few things that I learned. If you want additional guidance, you can check out How to Write a Query Letter.

There are a lot of resources on the internet, but your best bet is to go through the agency website to see what they require. Good luck!