The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Updates

How I Am Editing My First Novel

This week marks the beginning of the editing process for the first draft of my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. I have already explained my inspiration behind the novel, as well as how I plotted and wrote the first draft. In this post, I am going to share my strategy for approaching the editing. I will let you know how successful I find it in a future post.

Actual edits on my manuscript

Step One: Print the manuscript

I do my best planning by writing by hand in a physical journal. Likewise, I do my best editing with physical paper and a red pen. I know plenty of writers who are just fine editing in the same word processing document in which they wrote their manuscript. However, at least for this first novel, I want to edit in the form I am most familiar. For me, it is easier to edit when I can see all the pages in front of me and write on them freely.

Step Two: Do it one chapter at a time

To keep myself from becoming overwhelmed, I will be printing my manuscript one chapter at a time. Likewise, I will be editing it one chapter at a time. In each individual chapter, I will look for several elements: sentence structure, dialogue, plot advancement, character development, etc. Basically, without going into the nitty-gritty, I will make sure each chapter is well-constructed, important to the overall story, and entertaining to the reader.

Step Three: Look at sections together

To me, my novel has clear “phases” in the overall journey. Therefore, at the end of each phase, I will make sure that the information is consistent, the plot is advancing at the proper pace, and the characters are growing as they should. I am hoping that this thoroughness will help me ensure that the development of my story is solid and allow me to avoid the cost of a developmental editor.

Step Four: Review the entire manuscript

Once all the chapters have been printed and edited, I will lay out my manuscript and consider it as a whole. Does the story flow properly? Are all necessary questions answered? Are my details consistent?

desert plantStep Five: Research specific details

Because I wrote my novel during NaNoWriMo, I allowed myself to skip on research. For example, my novel takes place in a desert landscape. My characters mention specific foods that they eat; however, I honestly don’t know if it would be possible to grow these foods in a desert (or even in a greenhouse in the desert). Therefore, I will be taking the time to research and adjust details like these as necessary.

Step Six: Type up the changes

Once I have run my red pen out of ink and researched my “minor” details, I will make the changes in the Scrivener documents. By waiting to type out my changes until the end, I hope to keep myself from having to go back into the early chapters and revise a second or third time. Likewise, this allows me another full look through my manuscript and provides a good opportunity to do more thorough proofreading.

Step Seven: Seek outside help

If I stick with the above-mentioned process, I think I will have done about all I can do for the first go-round. At this point, I will hire a professional editor and send my manuscript out to a handful of beta readers. Hopefully, these individuals will catch what I have missed and help me whip my manuscript into a final, publishable shape.

The idea of editing my manuscript makes me really nervous. I am terrified that when I look at the words I’ve written, I will realize that my NaNoWriMo writing frenzy resulted in a ginormous pile of trash. However, I keep trying to reassure myself. In university, I always felt this way when I went to edit a first draft, and the process was never as arduous as I expected. Plus, as I’ve written before, IT’S OKAY if my first draft sucks. Heck, I hope my first draft sucks, or I am planning to waste the next few weeks of my life by editing it.

Regardless, the time has come. I have taken a month off from The Cogsmith’s Daughter, and now I must edit it. Hopefully it goes smoothly and I have enough time leftover to work on my second novel. Either way, wish me luck!

What are the steps in your editing process? Do you have any tips to make this journey go smoothly for me? I’d love any help you have to offer!

Unrelated, I hit the 250 total followers mark yesterday! Thank you all so much for your continued support and engagement! It means so much to me!

The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Wrote My Novel’s First Draft

Now that I have discussed the inspiration behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter as well as my plotting process, I want to share with you all my drafting process. I wish I could say that I have some magic secret to divulge. You see, back when I was “struggling” as a writer (read: not writing), I used to scour the internet for information on how to write a novel. Even though I knew better, I kept hoping that someone, somewhere would share the secret formula that would finally allow me to write a complete manuscript.

If you are like former-Kate and are looking for that secret, I’m sorry, I don’t have it. And frankly, it doesn’t exist. The only way that this first draft got written was through hard work, time management, and fear of embarrassment. While my process may not work for you and will definitely not give you that magic spark, I hope it will pass along a healthy dose of realism and optimism.

Step One: Find Your Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

downloadIf you are a writer, you likely know your intrinsic motivation. You love to craft stories, you love language, you love getting lost in your own world. Whatever it is, you should already know why you write for you. For many writers, this is enough. However, some of us (read: me) need a little extra push to get started. That is where the extrinsic motivation comes in.

For me, I had two extrinsic motivators to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter. First, I was participating in NaNoWriMo, which gives a pre-set word count goal and comes with a huge support network. Second, I told everyone that I was doing NaNoWriMo. By being so vocal, I triggered my inner sense of obligation, which has always been my best motivator in my academic life. If I feel obligated to do something, my goodness, I will do it.

Step Two: Sit Your Butt Down and Write

If there is a magic secret, this is it. During every single day of NaNoWriMo (except for Day 15, my “break” day), I sat down at the computer to write. Even when I was tired, even when I wanted to see family or friends, even when a good movie was on, even when I had a migraine the size of Russia — I sat down and wrote.

Step Three: Turn Off the Inner Editor

It is important to note that I also sat down alone. I left my inner editor at the door. I wish I could tell you exactly how to do this. It is a concept I struggled with for years. However, all I can say is that I had a major mental shift. Part of this is due to my recent mental change in the way I think about writing, but the other part consists of repeating mantras and just blocking out the editor.

If you struggle with shutting up your inner editor, try repeating something like this: It is OK if the first draft is bad. I can edit later. However, if I do not write the first draft, I will never have anything to edit. So, editor, shut up and let me make something for you to edit.

Step Four: Set Small Goals

baby stepsBecause I went into my draft with specific story beats in mind, I was able to write according to the beats. Therefore, each writing session was linked to a beat or scene that needed writing. This made my writing sessions seem manageable. After all, sitting down to write and saying to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to write a novel,” is a terrifying, paralyzing task. In contrast, sitting down to write and saying, “Okay, my character simply needs to go grocery shopping,” is much more achievable and way less overwhelming.

For the record, even though NaNoWriMo suggests tracking daily success by word count, I find that writing scene by scene is much more effective. It does not carry the same stress as quantifying a writing session does, and in all honesty, most scenes you write will exceed the daily NaNo word count of 1,667 words anyway. Win-win.

Step Five: If Busy, Steal Small Moments to Write

When I knew I would not be able to write in the evening, I wrote during my lunch break at work. When I was too busy at work to steal half an hour for writing, I sacrificed half an hour of TV time in the evening. If you ride public transportation during your commute, write during your commuting time. If you can get up an hour early in the morning, write then. Hell, one paragraph written hastily on your phone while you’re waiting in an elevator is better than nothing at all. (And for the quality police out there, you can edit that crappy paragraph later.)

Step Six: If Inspiration is Slow, Set the Mood

Some writers like to write to music, I am not one of these. I like silence. However, when I felt particularly unexcited about writing or could not get into the right mood, I would listen to a song to unwind from my day and set the tone for my writing session. Top picks for The Cogsmith’s Daughter were: Light ‘Em Up by Fall Out Boy, Kids by MGMT, Heaven Knows by The Pretty Reckless, Lonely Boy by The Black Keys, and The End by My Chemical Romance.

Don’t ask why. There is no method to this madness, only feeling.

Step Seven: Visualize the End Result

Knowing that you have a finished manuscript is pure elation. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Think about what it will be like to have that novel finished. Imagine how you will celebrate, who you will tell first, all of those details. If that does not keep you going, I don’t know what will.

And that’s it. All I did was sit down at the computer every day, maybe listen to a song to frame my writing mood, and then I wrote. I wrote when I felt like a genius, when I felt like a joke, and when I felt just plain crazy. I wrote when I was tired, energized, happy, and sad. I wrote at home, at work, on the couch, at my desk, in a coffee house, and in a doctor’s office. I wrote quickly and slowly, mostly quickly. I wrote with passion and abandon, without a care and with every care.

I wrote for me. And I finished the first draft.

How do you write your first drafts? What tricks or tips would you add for new writers? Pass on your wisdom below!


The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Plotted My Novel’s First Draft

I have already discussed the inspiration behind the first draft of my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. In this post, I want to share with you all the steps behind plotting out the first draft of my manuscript.

Obviously, there are as many ways to plot and plan as there are writers. What worked for me may not work for you. However, I want to share the process and hopefully hand over a few simple tips or tricks that you may find useful when it is time to plot your first (or next!) manuscript.

I’m fortunate in that, whenever I have a novel idea, I almost always know the ending before anything else. Therefore, even if the beginning is muddy, I at least know where my story will end up. For The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I knew the ending right away (although it did evolve some), and I knew the basic situation of my protagonist, Aya, and how to introduce her to my readers.

Once I knew my “A” and “Z,” along with the genre, mood, and message of my novel, I began my plotting.

Steampunk Critters. Made from clay and watch parts!!
Desertera object inspiration

Step One: Sensory and Visual Samples

In my writing, I strive to frequently reach each of the five senses through the images I use. Therefore, when planning my novel, having strong samples from which to draw is a must. As many writers do, I used Pinterest to gather visual inspiration for my characters, settings, and world accessories. This was especially important because steampunk is a new genre for me, and while I wanted to stay true to its style, I also wanted to put my own twist on it and give it a desert influence.

Step Two: Character Empathy

Once I can visualize my characters, it becomes easier for me to empathize with them. I try to think about each of their situations, motivations, goals, and hardships. How has the death of Aya’s father affected her life, her feelings about the royals and other nobility, her relationships with men? How does Dellwyn’s attitude toward poverty and prostitution differ from Aya’s, given that this is all she has ever known? I do not actually write this down (something I plan to change in future drafts), but I really try to put myself in my characters’ situations and account for how they influence their interactions with other characters and the world.

Step Three: World Building

In the past, world building has not been a big concern of mine. Most of my other works-in-progress are centered in the “real world,” albeit with supernatural or apocalyptic additions. However, for The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I created Desertera — a self-contained fantasy world with far-removed “real world” origins.

20141216_103213Because the setting of Desertera is so important to the novel, the first thing I did was draw a map. I had never done this before, but it proved to be invaluable for keeping my sense of direction and has no doubt saved me from countless continuity errors. I highly recommend it for authors creating their own worlds.

Next, because Desertera is its own world, I had to think about the facets of society that make up a people and their culture. (I knew my sociology degree would come in handy!) What is the religion of Desertera? What are their norms, values, and mores? How does their desert environment impact their steampunk culture? 

As if these types of concerns were not enough, I also had to adjust my writing around Desertera. The people do not refer to their deities as “Gods,” so I could never write anything like “For the love of God!” Likewise, certain objects and beings from the “real world” did not exist in Desertera, so my characters could not reference modes of transportation besides ships, eat beef, and/or take regular baths. These little “physics” details were the most difficult aspect of planning and drafting, but they were crucial to maintain the integrity of Desertera — and really fun to creatively problem solve!

Step Four: Story Beats

The actual plotting of my novel took the form of story beats. For those of you who do not know, story beats are the basic plot points that keep a novel moving toward its conclusion (much like the beat of a base drum in music). I am a strictly linear writer: I plan, write, and edit chronologically. Therefore, when I plotted The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I did so in order, from beginning to end.

I wrote my story beats out in list/bullet point form. I did this by hand, because I tend to think better when I brainstorm by hand, and I like to physically track the story and any changes. Some of my story beats were very specific (Lord Varick visits Aya at work), while others were vague (Aya somehow runs into Willem). However, I ensured that not a single one was wasted. Each beat had to advance the story toward its conclusion and provide entertainment for the reader.

That is my number one tip for plotting out your novel: make sure that every move your characters make and every scene you write advances the story toward its conclusion and is entertaining for your reader.

I hope you all enjoyed this brief insight into the planning process behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter. Like I said, these techniques may not work for everyone, but I hope they still inspire you to start thinking about your next writing project!

How do you plan your manuscripts — or do you plan at all? What is your best tips for the planners out there? Share them below!


Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Updates

Why I Will Independently Publish

In my “Kate’s Publishing Crash Course” series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning behind choosing independent publishing as my writing career path.

It is no secret that I am planning to independently publish my novels and run my own author-entrepreneur business. However, I realized that, while I have shared my plans with you all, I have not shared why I have made this decision. Therefore, in this post, I want to explain how my views on writing and publishing changed entirely in less than a year.

Kate and DanielTo his endless satisfaction, I have to credit my husband, Daniel, with planting the seeds of independence in my brain. You see, as I described in a previous post, I have known that I am a writer since I was a child. I began writing simply for the love of it, and then when it came time to “grow up,” I decided to pursue writing in university and as a career afterward.

During my time in university, I was a standard “wannabe” writer. I say “wannabe,” because outside of my creative writing classes, I barely wrote for myself. Everything about university creative writing was a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I loved having creative writing classes to help develop my craft skills, give me constructive criticism from other writers, and provide me with a creative mentor. On the other, they also turned writing into a chore. I felt limited by the prompts and subject matter allowed in the university setting. In all honesty, I received a fantastic education and nothing was actually wrong — it just didn’t seem to fit right with me for some reason. Long story short, I did a lot more talking, whining, and lamenting about writing than actual writing.

Likewise, my academic creative writing experience allowed me to attend national writing conferences. On one hand, these were great: they boosted my self-confidence, allowed me the thrill of sharing my work aloud, and helped me feel like part of a larger writing community. On the other hand, they forced me to face the fact that I am a small fish in large pond of writers desperate for publication and exposed me to a watered-down version of the writing industry’s competitiveness. While I adored surrounding myself with these creatives, I never felt 100% at home in their world.

As I neared graduation, I had my plan in place. I would take a year off to handle Daniel’s immigration to the United States and get married. Then, I would go back to university and get my Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. After this, I would be a creative writing professor and attempt to publish novels, creative nonfiction essays, and memoirs. For those of you who don’t know, while this plan sounds simple and straight-forward, it is not. Perhaps I’ll write more on that later. The point is: I was overwhelmed at the idea of immersing myself in a potentially hostile and definitely competitive MFA program and growing less and less enthused about the concept of teaching writing as opposed to writing myself.

Graduation 1 (2)As you can imagine, if I was this unexcited about the idea of competing with an MFA cohort and playing the academic game, I was even less excited about the process of traditional publishing. I knew my journey to publication would be long, arduous, and possibly never get me anywhere. Even if I wrote a great book, it could be passed over for any reason from it lies between genres (and is therefore “not” marketable) to someone else had a slightly better book or knew the right person. Then, even if I did get published, I would have to adjust my novel purely for the sake of marketability, accept whatever cover the company decided to slap on it, and maybe do something as drastic as re-title it or change the ending. BUT — traditional publishing was the only way, and if I did make it through all the gatekeepers, I would have the title of published author, which seemed worth the years of waiting, financial struggle, and heartache.

Then, in April 2014, Daniel introduced me to The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. After listening to only one episode, I knew I had to reconsider independent publishing. You see, in the womb of academic creative writing, the words self-publishing were almost never spoken, and when they were, it was in relation to vain, talent-less authors who were too lazy, too arrogant, and too bad of writers to “earn” traditional publication. With this stigma beating around in the back of my mind, I kept listening to the podcast and went into further research.

I think it took all of two weeks for me to change my mind. That is how perfectly independent publishing aligns with my values.

Over the next few months, I listened to every single Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast episode as well as expanded my listening to include The Creative Penn Podcast, The Self-Publishing Podcast, and The Sell More Books Show. I watched YouTube videos, I began buying books, I read blogs and interviews. If you want to see more of my research, check out my resources page and my suggested independent publishing books.

If my mind weren’t made up before, after all of this research, it certainly was. The pros of traditional publishing were reinforced by my research, especially the prestige aspect, but my research also taught me new cons I had not thought about before. Previously, my hesitations about traditional publishing revolved around artistic control. However, when I learned that an advance is not a signing bonus, that the royalty rate is 10-20%, and that I would lose a whole basket-ful of rights, rights to the product that I slaved over, that represents my artistic center, I abandoned any notion of traditional publishing.

WriterFor me, independent publishing is the answer. It will allow me to retain all the rights to my creative products, control every aspect of production and distribution, and pursue entrepreneurship (another dream of mine). Yes, I will have to deal with the self-publishing stigma, at least until it changes. Yes, my decision has damaged my relationship with writers who want to traditionally publish. Yes, I will probably never see my book in a physical bookstore. And while those things suck, the fact that I get to protect the integrity of my creative products, be my own employer and source of livelihood, and live out my dreams on my own terms makes up for any negatives a million times over.

While my personal journey may romanticize it, I need to stress that independent publishing is not for everyone. Indie authors have to do it all: write, edit, hire contractors, make decisions, handle finances, produce, distribute, market. It takes a lot of time and even more work, and it is still a long road to full-time authorship.

However, indie authorship also comes with a few unique perks. The indie community is full of authors and creatives who want to help each other succeed. It is not plagued by the same competitiveness as traditional publishing; it is full of transparency and helpfulness. There are hundreds of indie authors paving the path for my generation by putting out quality work to break stigmas, maintaining an unparalleled professionalism, proving that indie authorship is more financially viable than traditional publishing, and generally being awe-inspiring superhumans.

I am chomping at the bit to join their ranks. I want to be the CEO of my own international creative business. I want to write and publish the novels that inspire me and bring joy to my readers. I want to establish an author brand that reflects the truest sense of my personality. I want to build close, personal connections with other writers and become one of the helpful, honest mentors that have helped me so much.

I want to be independent.

I’m going indie.


Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How and Why to Independently Publish Your Book

In the final installment of my “publishing crash course,” I will be discussing independent publishing, also known as “self-publishing.” If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity publishing.

Lay-Person Definition

Independent publishing is a publishing model in which the author does not seek the assistance of a publishing company or press. Instead, the author takes on the role of the publishing company by managing the book’s production and distribution, often with the help of professional contractors. Because the author does the majority of the work by herself, independent publishing has been called “self-publishing.” However, many authors in the this model prefer the name “independent” or “indie,” for short, because they do not produce the book entirely by themselves, but rather, as an independent/non-affiliated business with the help of contracted professionals.

independent writerFor some, independent publishing does carry a stigma in the publishing world. This is because independent publishing has its origins in vanity publishing. Before recent technological advancements, such as the e-reader, photographic design software, and print-on-demand services, the independent author could not produce books of the same quality as traditional presses and were dubbed “vanity” publishers. However, nowadays, most independent authors are entrepreneurs and professionals who can produce the same caliber of books as traditional publishers and have entirely separated themselves from anything resembling the “vanity” model of publishing.

The Steps to Independent Publication

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. I would argue revision is most necessary for independent authors.

3. Start your business. This step is optional. As an independent author, you can choose to operate as a sole proprietor (essentially, just as yourself), or you can opt to start an official business for your products, the most common choice being a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I will cover the pros and cons of each of these options in a later post. For immediate assistance, do a quick search or read “Section 1.5 Should I Start a Company?” of Joanna Penn’s book Business for Authors.

4A. Find beta readersBeta readers are people who will read your manuscript before it is published and critique it for you. They can be anyone from your mom to a retired editor, but it is best to find individuals within your target audience. Beta readers should tell you how your book will be perceived by the reading public, hence the desire for them to be your target demographic, and leave more intensive editorial critiques to you and your editor(s).

4B. Find editorial services. Because you will not have a publishing company to assign an editor to you, you must find your own editor. If you don’t know where to start, read this post. There are plenty of contract editors out there as well as websites to help you find freelance editors. The main thing is that you must determine which types of editing your book needs. I discuss editing types more in this post, but the three main types are:

Content editors — Help you refine your story by examining its character growth, plot arc, plausibility, etc.

Copy editors — Check to make sure that facts are correct, details are consistent, and grammar is sound.

Proofreaders — Hunt down typographical and grammatical errors.

5. Find a Cover Designer and/or Formatter. Once the content of your book is perfected, you need to find someone to make it look good. Again, because you will not have the assistance of a publishing company, you will be responsible for finding someone to design a cover for you book as well as format it for e-book and print forms. As with vanity publishing, you do have the option to take care of this yourself, but it is not recommended unless you have design education or skills.

e-book and print books6. Distribute your novel. After your book is edited, designed, and formatted, it is time to distribute. Most independent authors have their books available in e-book and print format on online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, etc. It is important to note that, since you do not have a publishing company representing you, your chances of getting into a bookstore (especially a large chain store) or library are slim-to-none. Therefore, if that is your big dream, independent publishing may not be for you.

7. Market your novel. You are entirely in control of gaining attention and attracting sales for your novel. This gives you a great amount of flexibility in your strategy, but it also means that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, social media, active blogging and podcast communities, and myriad other strategies exist to make this task surmountable  for independent authors.

Pros of Independent Publishing

  • You retain ALL of the rights to your creative product.
  • You are not locked into long-term contracts and receive much higher royalties (35-70%, depending on retailer and book format) than traditionally published authors (10-20%, depending on contract with publisher).
  • You have complete control over every stage of production and distribution.
  • You can hire contractors who best fit your business and branding model.
  • You have a more direct relationship with readers.
  • You have the pride of knowing you organized every stage of your book’s life.

Cons of Independent Publishing

  • You do not have any help from a publishing company.
  • You may face stigmas associated with vanity publishing.
  • Others may pre-judge your work because it has not been “approved” by publishing authority figures.
  • There are upfront costs that authors who are traditionally published do not have.
  • If you choose to start your own business, there are expenses and risks associated with it as well.
  • Your chances of your book being sold in physical bookstores, available in libraries, or made into a movie are slim-to-none.

Who Should Independently Publish?

Independent publishing is the best option for authors who want to have a full-time career as a writer. It is also best for writers who enjoy both the artistic side and business side of being an author, and who feel comfortable making final decisions in each field. Likewise, independent publishing is for authors who want to retain the rights to and control over their product and who are willing to put in intensive amounts of labor to compensate for the lack of assistance provided by a publisher.

If you would like a more personal look into the reasons behind independent publishing, read Why I Will Independently Publish.

What are your feeling about independent publishing? What other process steps, pros, and cons of indie publishing would you add? Let me know!