So, at the end of February 2013 – very nearly a year ago – I lost my job. I started job hunting. I improved my gym attendance. I began to help out a lot more around the house and spend more time with my wife and son. I made a long “to do” list made up of domestic tasks and aspirational goals. And I dusted off Shadowblood (again).
Actually, what I was initially drawn to was my set of background notes. As any fan and/or writer of fantasy and science fiction knows, world building is an integral aspect of those genres. Concepts and settings that are significantly disconnected from the reality we live in need to be well-crafted if they are to draw the reader in and immerse them in the story. Any reader of Tolkien knows how much pleasure there is to be found in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, let alone in The Silmarilion and the numerous volumes of indices, essays and collected writings that have since been published. Even without access to such literature, the reader of the primary works can tell that there is far more lying behind the story than the novel itself reveals. Maintaining scrupulous internal consistency is vital; it is hard enough to do within a single novel, let alone in an extended series.
In any case, I enjoy working on my background notes. They are a strangely satisfying blend of fantastical and non-fiction modes, using the academic writing style honed by my MA in scientific history to describe a world drawn almost entirely from my imagination, but as if it was real. The rules and workings of the supernatural as it appears in my novel, the nature and history of the hidden race which lives at the core of the plot, the backgrounds and lineages of the major characters: getting these things right in my own head helps my writing to be better, even if only a relatively small part of that information finds its way into the story. World building is fun (if you like that sort of thing).
I got carried away. I spent months (not full-time, obviously) turning fragmented notes into a series of well-rounded, cross-referenced essays. But that wasn’t all. You see, my thinking around these concepts had evolved greatly in the years since I’d last worked on Shadowblood, so I spent a lot of time “reimagining” my ideas. When I came to begin another round of revisions on the novel itself, I found there was much to be done to bring the story up to speed with my thoughts about the world in which it took place. Some of these changes proved quite significant, though I do feel the whole novel has been greatly improved overall. On top of that, there were a couple of scenes which I never felt that I’d got right, along with some dialogue I’d struggled with for years; re-working these until I was satisfied took a great deal of time.
My next step was the most difficult. I’ve never belonged to a writing group or attended a creative writing class. My fiction writing had never been read by another soul. Until relatively recently, this was the primary difference between hobby novelists and hobby painters, musicians, actors and so on: if you wrote a novel and didn’t publish it, no-one would ever see it. You’d have better enjoyed writing for its own sake, because otherwise it was entirely pointless! So I had a big emotional barrier to overcome. Fortunately, I have one advantage that most other writers do not: I am married to a professional editor. My wife – let us call her “The Countess” – has worked for some household names in publishing, in roles including proofreading, copy editing, project management and various other aspects of the editorial profession. She has edited well-known consumer reference works, heavy-duty professional tomes, textbooks, academic journal articles, history books, biographies, business writing and websites. Now freelance, one of her clients is a romantic novelist in the top 5 of Amazon’s best-selling self-published ebook authors. So this was one resource I had on tap.
Except that the Countess is very busy (more so since I became unemployed) and it took her a couple of months to get to my manuscript. When she did, she ripped it apart. My grammar was bad. My spelling was half-British and half-American English. The dialogue was clunky. The formatting was unprofessional. Some of it just didn’t make sense. But when she’d done her job and we had argued and agonised over the vast set of corrections and changes she recommended, the book was almost immeasurably better than it was when I’d turned it over to her. I had read it so many times that these deficiencies in quality were invisible to me.
Here’s a question for you: how many book reviews have you read – especially on Amazon, and especially of self-published works – where the primary criticism seems to be that the book in question has been badly edited or not edited at all? Personally, loads. The Countess tells me stories about how some today’s best-known authors turn in manuscripts to their publishers that need virtual re-writes before they are readable. If you love your writing and want the best for it, get an editor. Freelancers are easy to find online and it is well worth the money (I paid the Countess by way of a swanky night out).
That done, I needed to format it in a way that would be acceptable to agents and publishers. There is a lot of guidance out there, but the best I found was at the Writer’s Digest. That job took a few hours, because any global changes you make in Microsoft Word will throw up a lot of unwanted changes you need to fix.
There was one more thing I had to do to make Shadowblood ready for submission to an agent: find a new title. I did a search on Google and discovered that, in the twenty years since I’d first titled my novel, another author had used that title for their own work. Damn. So after much agonising (you can imagine), I settled on a new title for my novel: Infernal Prey.
To be continued.