1. Q: What percentage of the words you write in rough draft make it into print?
A: 95%. It depends -- most to 2/3s. 80% to 50%. 30 to 40%.
2. Q: Do you do editing by changing words and sentences here and there, or by rewriting whole chapters?
A: It depends. Do structure before wordsmithing.
3. Q: What are the pitfalls in going from novels to shorts or vice versa?
A: From short to novel -- writing too sparsely. From novel to short, trying to put too many characters and too much plot in. Also too many settings and locations. Write what you read.
4. Q: If you are in the middle of writing a novel and realize a major changes needs to be made to the beginning, do you fix it right away or wait until after finishing the first draft? What would you recommend a novice do?
A: No matter what, make a note about the extent of the change. Then, usually, go ahead and finish the draft. But follow the momentum! Do what works for you.
5. Q: Can a self-published novel be picked up by a literary agent or publishing house?
A: Yes, but don't count on it.
Q: Does a history of success help you get a contract?
A: Yes. Go listen to the Larry Correia podcast. http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/58537.html
6. Q: How do you get over the fear of writing something unoriginal? How do you avoid being derivative?
A: Try writing something deliberately derivative, and see how much you add! Also, check out the managing your influences and originality casts.
7. Q: Have you ever thought about offering your services to help with plotting, for a fee?
A: No. You don't want to pay what we would charge. Note that a casual conversation at a conference may be had for free. Also, see the upcoming Writing Excuses retreat.
Note that the seven season indexes are available over here
[Mary] Season Seven, Episode 45.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, and today we are micro-casting.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] If you haven't heard one of these episodes before, we simply take Q and A from audience, we ask for on twitter and we're going through our reader mail, and we're throwing out questions at our podcasters. We'll try to answer them in a short, pithy way.
[Brandon] First question, from Bill. What percentage of the original words do you put down in rough draft... What percentage of them make it to print? How much do you cut out?
[Howard] 90... 5% make it into print.
[Brandon] 95 of what you write? [Garbled]
[Howard] From the point at which I save the script the first time, I might go back and remove or change as much as 5% before I start drawing on it. Once I start drawing on it, man, it's locked in stone.
[Mary] It depends completely for me on the work. There are some things that I have written and... Like Evil Robot Monkey. I wrote that in an hour and a half, and did one or two passes of editing. Pretty much everything I wrote is on the page. I have another story that I have chucked probably a third of it.
[Dan] I... I... Same thing. Partials, probably 80 to 85% of that is from the first draft. A lot of it was reordered, but it's all the same thing. Whereas Hollow City, maybe 50% of that, if that, is the same as the first draft. That one changed drastically from the first draft.
[Howard] I did have a bonus story where I finished scripting, or I was three quarters of the way through scripting the bonus story, and I realized it was working per formula exactly the way it was supposed to work, and it was not a Schlock Mercenary story, and I didn't love it anymore, and rewrote it and only saved about 20% of it.
[Brandon] Okay. I would say I'm actually in general throwing out more than that. I would guess 30%. One of the things, listeners, you have to understand is I'm an over-writer in first draft. I write very big, thick... And I explain things too many ways. So I cut 15% immediately. So that's 15% that's gone. Then the tweaks and little changes are at least another 15%. Then you add in the new chapters that I add, or the cutting off the beginning that I do. I'd say 40% of what I write in a first draft ends up in the final.
[Mary] Yeah. I do do the 10% pass, usually, just as a matter of form. But...
[Howard] I'm running a daily comic. There's no way I'm going to shave 10% just to shave 10%.
[Brandon] You know, the other part of this question though is, when you edit a draft, you change words and sentences here and there to alter the content, or rewrite whole chapters from the ground up? I think our answer to this one to him is going to be the same. It depends on the chapter. Every book you will throw out a few chapters and rewrite from the ground up.
[Howard] And it depends on the editorial pass!
[Brandon] But you shouldn't generally be doing that with every chapter, I would say. Though there are... I do have friends that they write a book once, say okay, now I know where that book was going, and then they write it from beginning to end again. That's generally how her process is.
[Howard] I would do a structure pass before I would do a grammar pass, or a wordsmithing pass. I don't want to fine tune the dialogue in this chapter until I know that the chapter gets to stay.
[Dan] I usually... I almost always will lose the first chapter, if not the first two or three. Just chuck them out completely. But the draft I just finished of Fragments, the second Partials book? That... Not only the first chapter, but also the prologue, those are going to stay until the end. I was really surprised.
[Mary] Yeah. I think part of it with me in novel form is that I'm trained to write short stories. So I tend to write pretty tight to begin with, and then have to go back and add.
[Brandon] All right. Next question. This person, David, is asking, often times I've heard that short stories are good way to start one's fiction career, as they are submitted to journals, magazines, and the like. In what ways is writing short fiction different than writing novel length fiction? Well, that's five podcasts right there, but the question he asks next... Are the principles of good writing the same or are there pitfalls a novelist can fall into why writing short fiction? I think maybe we can maybe touch on that one. If you are jumping from short fiction to novels, or novels to short fiction... What are some pitfalls that novelists commonly make when they are writing the short fiction, and what are pitfalls that short fiction writers make when trying a novel?
[Mary] Well, for me, going from short fiction... I should say, I started in novel, went to short fiction, and stayed there a while, and then came back. For me, the biggest difference is in scale. I see, with short fiction that... I will often write too sparsely for what a novel reader wants to read. When I been writing novels for a bit and have to go back to short form, or when I see novelists who are trying short form and not succeeding, that generally they are trying to put too many characters and too much plot in.
[Brandon] That's generally my problem. When I go to short fiction...
[Mary] I wasn't actually meaning to stare at you when I was answering that.
[Brandon] No, no. This is why I'm okay at novellas and really bad at shorter things is because what excites me about writing is generally being able to look at things from a variety of viewpoints or having the scope of time passing or things like this. One scene is very hard for me to do, self-contained. When it works, I think it's wonderful, but it is hard for me to do. Dan?
[Dan] I would add that in addition to putting in too many characters and too much plot, having too many settings, too many locations, is a big problem that I run into when I go from novels to short.
[Mary] I think one of the other things that he asked early on is whether or not... Whether you needed to do this?
[Brandon] He didn't say that, but I think it's good to point out to him...
[Mary] That you don't. Jim Hines, and I'll try to find the link so we can put it in the liner notes, did a first novel survey in which he discovered that it's pretty much a tossup whether you start with short fiction or not. The thing that I think that short fiction offers is an opportunity to experiment with a lot of different styles, and also to teach you to become comfortable with rejection.
[Brandon] Yeah. Well, I suggest, write what you read. If you want to write some short fiction, go read some. Don't just say, well, this is the way that people break in, let's do it. So... All right. We have time. We'll do one more before our book of the week.
[Brandon] The question is if you're in the middle of writing a novel and realize that a major change needs to be made to the beginning of the novel, do you go back and fix it right away, or do you have that... Do you save that sort of editing until after the first draft is done? And would you advise a novice, less disciplined writer to do the same?
[Dan] Those are two very different questions, and I'm glad he qualified it.
[Howard] You know what, there's two approaches to this. Approach number one, regardless of whether or not you plan to go back and make the change, I would write, either on an index card or a page of notes, the extent of the change that needs to be made. This character needs to be motivated differently in the following ways, and make a list to yourself. Once you've done, it's probably safe to go ahead, forge ahead with the rest of the book because you know what needs to be done. But if you are now... If you have momentum, and you are now just inspired to fix that first chapter, if momentum is important to you, preserve that momentum and rewrite that chapter.
[Mary] Yeah. I completely agree with Howard, and would say that one of the things that I do actively is that when I have an idea like that, I use my square brackets and make that note where I am writing right then. Even if it has nothing to do with the chapter that I am in, I will go ahead and make that note so that I don't have to lose the momentum of the scene that I am in, and can also record the thing I'm enthusiastic about right then.
[Howard] My brother... I'm sorry.
[Dan] I am very different from both of you. If I am writing something and I get to a point where I know I have to go back and foreshadow this better or I have to do something better in the past to set up what I'm writing right now, I will stop and I'll go back and do it right then. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that to a new writer, though.
[Brandon] Yeah. I think you have to experiment with your style. Find out what helps you write better and consistently, and go with it. I will only go back and fix if it's a major issue that keeps popping up chapter after chapter. I don't know this character well enough, and it's impacting my chapters. Unless it's that level, unless every chapter is getting worse because I haven't fixed this thing, I continue on.
[Howard] As an aside that's very, very related, in my writers group, we will often run into a situation similar to that, where everybody in the group realizes, including the writer, oh my gosh, this thing that just happened wasn't properly foreshadowed, this character isn't right, that's going to need to be fixed earlier in the book. The consensus, 100% of the time, is don't rewrite that chapter and show it to us. We will just pretend that this is now justified. We know that this isn't a surprise, we know that this was supposed to have been foreshadowed. Keep writing, we'll keep reading.
[Brandon] All right. Let's go to book of the week. Dan, you have the book of the week.
[Dan] Yes. Our book of the week this week is Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert. That is the team that is doing all of the new Dune books. Hellhole is a similar thing, kind of sprawling, space opera epic, but in an all new universe, all new setting that they've created. I really enjoyed it. I read it last month when I went to BEA. That was my plane book. Just devoured it. It has tons of different characters, and this enormous plot covering all these various different planets, and conspiracies going on between them and who is trying to get who to do what. I really enjoyed it. So, Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert.
[Howard] You, fair listener, have heard me say this a zillion times, but for some reason, you haven't actually yet gone to audiblepodcast.com/excuse and started your free trial membership, so go out and do that. Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert is a great space opera to cut your audiobook teeth upon.
[Brandon] All right. Next question comes from Patrick. I have a question concerning self-publishing. Can a self published novel get picked up by a literary agent or a publishing house in a similar way that an independent movie could get picked up by a major film distributor?
[Mary] Yes, it can.
[Mary] But you shouldn't count on it.
[Brandon] No. He does continue on to ask, does a history of success help you with getting a contract? It can. Our good friend Larry Correia who's been on the podcast... You should go, Patrick, if you're listening to this, go find his episode and have him... Do a search for it. He was self published, and he eventually got a book deal primarily based on the fact that self-publishing, he was doing very well. He had sold a certain number of copies.
[Howard] Yeah. The thing to keep in mind with Larry is that the book deal he got was not for the thing he first began self-publishing. There's lots of different approaches here. The one that is the most bankable is I have built a huge audience as a self published author, and now I'm writing a new book. I'm taking it to an agent, and I can show them, yes, I know how to write, yes, I have an audience, and would you shop this book around for me?
[Brandon] Once upon a time, it was more difficult. Self published had this stigma and whatnot, and that is going away. Now the question you're probably going to ask yourself is if you do attain a level of success self-publishing, do I want to then go to a New York publisher? That's a completely different question.
[Howard] That's a whole podcast worth of questions.
[Mary] And that's going to be a person... Well, also person by person.
[Brandon] Person by person. But the answer to your question is, if you have an established good reputation, and you are selling a certain number of copies... I'm not sure what that number is anymore. It used to be 2000 copies. If you could sell 2000 copies on your own, they'd actually pay attention in New York. I think now, with self-publishing and e-books, you're going to have to be doing more like 10,000 minimum a year for them to look at that book. But it certainly will help you. It doesn't have the stigma it once did.
[Mary] But recognize that the people who are selling 10,000 copies are outliers. That this is not...
[Brandon] Yep. And... And...
[Mary] It's just as difficult to go this route as it is to go any other way.
[Brandon] Yep. There are different problems, not fewer problems, in self-publishing. There are good reasons to do it, but there are certainly problems. Problems meaning difficulties in getting it to work.
[Brandon] Yeah, challenges.
[Howard] There's the word.
[Mary] They just occur in different places.
[Brandon] Vera asks, how do you get over the fear of writing something unoriginal? I know nothing is perfectly original, but I don't want to come across as derivative.
[Mary] One way to do that is actually to write something that is deliberately derivative. To take a fairytale and retell it, and recognize that in fact there's a lot of things that you're bringing to the table.
[Howard] You know what, that's actually two different questions. The first question is, how do I overcome anxiety of influence? How do I prevent myself from being afraid? The second question is, how do I be original enough that it doesn't matter? The first question? Just write.
[Brandon] Wait. I will say also, we did do several podcast on this. So, Vera, if you want to search for managing your influences, we did a podcast on how to take and be influenced intentionally. And we did do a podcast on originality. If you want to go search for those.
[Howard] If you check this podcast on the site, we've already... We've made reference to several other casts we've done in the past. We'll make sure to link those in the text of the site.
[Brandon] And by we, we mean you.
[Howard] That's typically my job. So someone is going to write down that note for me, so that I can remember to do it.
[Brandon] All right. Next question. You've probably been asked this 100 times, but what the heck, here it goes. Have you ever thought about the possibility of offering your services to help people with plotting? For a fee, of course.
[Mary] [laughter] No.
[Brandon] He... Michael. We're flattered. Here's the thing. We do Writing Excuses partially as a way to give back to the community, because people helped us starting out. It takes so much time and effort, and we are not professional editors, that doing this... Number one, for a fee... We love writing. We don't really love editing, and so editing someone else's work is even less fun for us, in general. We've talked about it. Editing is the least fun part of the process. So you number one don't want to pay me what I would charge, because I earn quite a bit writing books, and I would charge you even more to work on your story.
[Dan] To do something you like even less.
[Brandon] Because I don't like doing it.
[Mary] Well, the other thing is that the problem with having someone else come up with your plot is that it is probably not something you're going to be particularly excited about.
[Brandon] Well, it wasn't that... I will give Michael that... He does say something similar to what you did with Mary's outline. Meaning he takes... Brings you an outline and we... He pays us to give... To do the editorial...
[Howard] The informal... Here's what I'm actually willing to go on record as having offered. If I not a convention, and we are in a casual sort of setting, we've sat down at a meal or whatever and you've got a story that you think needs help, and you have listened to things like Dan's seven point story structure or where we've talked about three act structure or scene sequel or something, and you have questions about how to improve this, as part of a conversation at a convention, I'll do it for free. I can't promise that the conversation will last for more than 6 1/2 minutes, because that's my attention span, but...
[Brandon] Why are these podcasts 15 minutes, then?
[Howard] Because I'm only doing less than 25% of the talking.
[Brandon] Oh, right. I will agree with Howard. I am more likely to do it for you for free at a convention then I am to let you actually pay me.
[Mary] Actually, you know what occurs to me, we actually are going to be doing this.
[Brandon] Yes, we are. I actually grabbed this question intentionally, because of that.
[Dan] I was going to mention that, but I wasn't sure. Are we going to go ahead and make an announcement?
[Brandon] Well, I mean, we probably... By the time this airs have announced it months ago.
[Dan] Oh, nice. Well, in that case, let's go ahead and just say. We are doing... We are planning the first of what we hope are many Writing Excuses retreats. Which will provide a lot of one-on-one time, we hope, which people can...
[Brandon] With Howard.
[Howard] Yeah. Combination master class and writing retreat and Chattanooga Tennessee humidity.
[Brandon] Theoretically. Hopefully we get this all together. So eventually we'll be doing things like this.
[Mary] I have to say that I did not understand the question in the first place.
[Brandon] Yeah. Right, yeah. But I think your answer is still correct. Paying us to be an editor is probably not...
[Mary] Not a good use of your money.
[Brandon] Not a good use of your money or your time. However, coming and hanging out with us for a week and getting some advice, we can probably manage that.
[Howard] And why us? If you're going to go to a convention that we happen to be, there are a zillion other people at that convention who are happy to talk to you about your story.
[Brandon] Don't doubt that. We want them to come to our thing, Howard.
[Howard] I know that. I'm just saying that he's probably in a hurry and our thing's a year out.
[Brandon] That's true. There is that.
[Brandon] All right. We are out of time for this microcast session, although we will probably do another one in the near future. For now, your writing prompt... Let's see...
[Howard] Brandon is staring around the room, looking for some sort of visual cue.
[Mary] So your writing prompt is to write about a squid who is trying to write a space opera that does not involve squids in space.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses.
[Dan] That's one of the biggest problems squids have [inaudible]
[Mary] It is. It is.
[Dan] They're a very ethnocentric species.
[Howard] The second problem is that when he decides to write about octopuses, it all ends up racist, and he's just not allowed to write about them.
[Brandon] All right. We're going to end now. GOODBYE!