The number one question I’m constantly asked is, “How on earth did you manage to write a whole book?” I could go the easy route and reply, “Writing is just in my blood. It’s my passion and what I love to do…” While that’s true, book writing isn’t that simple, not to mention my answer wouldn’t be helpful to someone who’s looking for advice on how to pen their own tome.
1. Hello V.J.! Thank you so much for joining me. As you know, there are many future authors out there who’ve been dreaming of writing a book. For me, the first step in the novel-writing process always begins with a good idea that’s solid enough to carry a 250+ page manuscript. What are your initial thoughts or moves when it comes to your writing process?
V.J.: Thanks for having me, it’s my pleasure to be here!
Sometimes, I’ll see something on TV that could turn into a story idea, or someone will say something that becomes a huge plot bunny (i.e. a persistent story idea), like the manuscript I’m working on now. I may even see something happening in real life, and turn it into a story.
D.W.: That’s fantastic. I agree that character profiling is imperative when preparing to write a book. It provides invaluable guidance and enables you to remain on course with your protagonists and antagonists. Plus it prevents you from writing unsuitable character traits.
3. D.W.: After your storyline is set and a clear path has been laid, how do you proceed? Do you just dive in and begin writing your book like I do?
V.J.: I dive in and start writing, but I also jot down ideas in special files as a reminder on what I want in the story – like plot twists. Having a list of possibilities is always delicious, even if you don’t use them!
D.W.: I agree! I keep a running tab of ideas in the Notes app on my phone. I should try your method considering it’s way more sophisticated and organized than mine!
4. D.W.: One of the best lessons I’ve learned when writing books is that I should just write. Not stop and edit as I go. Not incessantly mull over something I’ve already written. But just move forward and write. If not, the book will never get done. What are your thoughts on this? Do you edit as you write or write, complete your book then go back and edit?
V.J.: I used to edit as I wrote, and it was so slow that I was giving myself writer’s block. So now I just write until I run out of steam for the day, or I have to interrupt it – meeting my son at the bus stop in the afternoons is a sure-fire way to stop writing! I will let it sit until the next writing day, and give the previous day’s work a once over/quick edit before I start the day’s writing.
5. D.W.: I don’t know about you, but once I reach the middle of a book, I tend to get stuck. The beginning is so exciting to write because I’m introducing my world and plot to the readers. The ending is exhilarating because I’m wrapping everything up, revealing unexpected plot twists, and thrilled that my novel is almost complete.
But the middle is so important because I have to make sure I’m properly connecting the beginning and ending. I find that I have to pay really close attention because this is where I tend to have plot holes. And I oftentimes have plot bunnies pop into my head that could change the entire course of the book. So bottom line, writing the middle of a book can get complicated! Do you ever encounter any of these issues, and if so, how do you get through them?
V.J.: I’ve encountered the plot bunnies, being stuck, and everything else at least once per manuscript! I think it happens to all of us at some point or another, more times than we’ll admit. I find sometimes writing part of the middle first can be helpful. Write up a scene or two you want in the story, then write the gaps between the beginning and that point, then repeat until finished.
6. D.W.: Let’s talk about writer’s block. It’s a serious matter! When I get writer’s block, the first thing I do is grow patient with myself, understanding that I’m just not on a roll that day or week. If I spend a whole day on one paragraph, then so be it. I’m just glad to be making progress and moving forward. Another tactic I use during those periods of writer’s block is to just write whatever comes to mind without judging it. No matter how terrible the words may seem, I just write. And usually when I go back and edit what I’ve written, it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.
When you experience writer’s block, how do you get through it?
V.J.: I’ve had bouts that lasted over a year, because I was burned out from pushing myself to write when I wasn’t up to it. I take some time off and do other creative things, like play around with photography, have some fun playing in a graphics manipulation program, and make dream catchers. Sometimes doing a critique for another friend helps get the juices flowing again, or working on another part of the manuscript, or even a different manuscript will help unclog that particular line of thought.
D.W.: Those are all great methods. You’re still being creative so those juices are continuing to flow, and at the same time the other activities are recharging your motivation to get back to your primary manuscript. I also like to tinker with photography and graphics programs (usually to create promotional pieces for my work) or dabble in another project when I burn out. It’s therapeutic and helps get me back on track.
7. D.W.: I mentioned plot bunnies earlier in the conversation. I experienced them when I was writing my contemporary romance novel, “The Road to Bliss.” I was dead set on which male protagonist my heroine would end up with. But as the characters and plot developed, that male protagonist became the antagonist/catalyst that brought my heroine and eventual hero together. This unexpected twist made me feel as though the book was writing itself, and I just went with it and couldn’t have been happier with the end result.
Tell me about your experience with plot bunnies and how you allow (or don’t allow) them into your work, especially if you’re already set on a storyline.
V.J.: Plot bunnies have given me some amazing ideas that worked. Others, not so much. I was in the middle of drafting “Something About Alexis” when a plot bunny ran me over and would not let go of me. I wound up writing the plot bunny idea in less than three months, writing only one or two days a week. It’s dubbed “Away to Me,” and I’m not sure if that one will ever be published. It needs a lot of work.
Another plot bunny is one given to me by my “Peapod” Heather, and it comes from something that happens in my first book, “Stricken.” I’m currently writing that idea; it’s the still-unnamed manuscript I talk about from time to time on my blog and social media sites.
8. D.W.: Usually when I’m writing, I try and follow the outline I’ve written from beginning to end (with the exception of the aforementioned plot-bunnied “The Road to Bliss.”) This really helps me to stay focused and motivated. Then once I’ve completed the first draft, I want to celebrate. But I can’t fully, because now it’s time for the oft-dreaded editing process! I usually edit my book very thoroughly at least three times before sending it to the publisher. I don’t show my work to anyone else, but I do have a few close loved ones who I discuss the plots with as I write.
Tell us what you do once you’re done with your first draft, prior to submitting it to the publisher. Do you allow anyone to critique your work?
V.J.: I let it perk for a few weeks, gathering dust on the hard drive. I’ll open it, go over it at least once with a fine-toothed comb for edits and note any revisions that are needed. I do the revisions and it gets set aside again for another week or so, then I pull it out for another once-over. If I deem it ready, I set it aside one more time for at least another week, and go over it one last time to be sure there are no typos.
Once I’m finished, I will alert my regular beta readers I have a manuscript ready for them to read, and if need be, I will ask for volunteers. After they are finished, I look over their suggestions, and in most cases, I will make the needed changes – typos, fill in plot holes, etc. – and nervously start prepping a cover letter for the publisher. Having a background in Human Resources is a huge help when it comes to that part of the process!
9. D.W.: As creatives, we’re sensitive about our work and pour our hearts into everything we write. My mother is my primary writing critic, and she never holds her tongue when it comes to her critiques! I tend to be open and accepting of her input (even if I’m a bit incensed by her opinion lol) because it usually makes sense and improves upon the storyline.
How do you handle constructive criticism, and do you ever incorporate peer suggestions into your work prior to submitting it to the publisher?
V.J.: I take whatever they toss at me as a lesson. If someone doesn’t like my work, I want to know why, so I can improve the story, and myself as an author. I admit it’s not easy sometimes, but if people didn’t give you an honest opinion on your work, you’d never learn. I had to learn that my way wasn’t always the best way, and I had to change my style and my overall view of writing if I was ever going to make it as an author, indie or traditionally published.
That said, if they do not give me a reason why they didn’t like certain areas or the story overall, or demand I change things because they do not like an element that I use in a love scene or somewhere else, I will not use anything they suggest. It feels more like they are trying to write an idea they have instead of my own.
However, if they love my stories, I’m thrilled!
10. D.W.: So you’re book is done, it’s fully edited, and you’re ready to put it out into the world. Now it’s time to decide whether you want to pursue a traditional publisher or self-publish your work, and consider whether you’d like to sign with a literary agent and/or manager. I’ve personally done it all, and each option has their fair share of pros and cons. Publishers have amazing platforms and connections, handle the production, much of the promotional duties, etc. But you don’t have a lot of control, which is where self-publishing comes into play.
With indie publishing, you can put your work out exactly how you want without having to make changes to your prose. You make the decisions on your cover art. And you can release your book on whatever date you’d like. But you also have to handle all your own production and promotion, build your following/foundation from the ground up without the benefit of the publisher’s connections, etc.
As for literary agents and managers, I’ve worked with both, and they can definitely be beneficial. Representation has access to certain publishers and industry insiders that you as a writer cannot contact directly. But on the other hand, I’ve learned that no one is going to work as hard for you as you will. And nowadays, the game has changed in that many publishers allow authors to query them directly, cutting out the middleperson. While I’m signed to a manager who’s been extremely resourceful, having representation is no longer a necessity in order to get your work in front of a publisher.
What are your thoughts on all of this?
V.J.: I only have first hand experience with traditional publishing without an agent, and with only one book.
If you want a manager or an agent, get one. In some genres, having backing is necessary. It isn’t in the romance genre.
I highly respect and applaud anyone who goes with indie publishing, especially if they are publishing their first story. Everything about their book has to be perfect – a great story, perfect editing, amazing characters, and even a fantastic cover for it. If any of the above are a little off, it could spell doom for the author, even if they produce perfect books from that point forward. It’s a lot of work, and a huge risk. I know people who went indie and made a bundle, yet I also know a couple who flopped horribly – talk about a train wreck, it was so hard to watch!
Indie isn’t right for me right now. I’m not good enough for that road. I want to be established as an author and improve my writing skills to a fine edge before I go near the indie world. I admit I’d rather have help with the promotional end of things, same goes for covers, editing, and a lot of the other aspects you get from a traditional publisher. I may do an indie book sometime in the future, but not until I have a few more works under my belt. I’m happy to be with a traditional house, especially one as great as eXtasy Books.
11. D.W.: Okay, this last question will be helpful for both aspiring and current writers. What do you think are some of the most effective ways to promote your work? I’ve found that since social media has literally taken over the world, it’s the best way for any artist to promote, whether they’re new on the scene or already established. Also, connecting with other authors, starting your own blog, doing guest blog appearances, pursuing book review opportunities, etc. What are your thoughts on these methods, and is there anything additional you do to market your novels?
V.J.: Social media is one of the best ways to get your work and yourself as an author out there. You have to be vocal and promote yourself pretty much daily in order to get any kind of fanbase. I’ve been writing a blog for over five years, and it’s a great tool for getting the word out. I love talking with other authors, whether it’s about our writing, promotional items, or about everyday things. I think all of the methods you’ve mentioned are fantastic ways to get yourself out there, and make a name for yourself.
You cannot be an author and be lazy about the promotional end of things. You have to be out there, reminding people you have at least one book out there almost every day of the year. You cannot depend on others to do all of it for you, or your work is going to be a huge flop.
V.J., thank you so much for joining me in this enlightening book-writing/publishing discussion! It’s been a pleasure, and I do hope that the readers will find it informative and beneficial.
To all you current and future authors out there, best of luck to you! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. And don’t forget to check out my work along with V.J.’s, and connect with us on social media.
You can shop for my books and connect with me here:
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V.J.'s Blog: “Word Processor, Romance, Cats, Kids and Creed”