Author Archives: Frank Morin

About Frank Morin

Frank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he's often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on his sci-fi time travel Facetaker novels, his popular YA fantasy novel, Set in Stone, or other upcoming book releases, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Is it still worth trying to get an agent?

This month we’re talking publishing in all its shapes and sizes. Like many of you, I am an author struggling to reach that huge milestone of my first published workd. I’m very optimistic this is the year it’s going to happen. I’ve been writing for seven years, and although I have two novels I could self-publish, I’ve opted to sign with an agent and pursue a traditional publishing route, if possible.

Several people have asked me why bother?

With the advent of ebooks and the ease of self-publishing novels, why not just throw my manuscripts out into the ether like so many other people? Maybe I could become one of those few to really succeed with it?

Maybe I should. Perhaps I still will. The publishing industry is going through very difficult times, and there are many people who argue an author is doing themselves terrible damage by signing a traditional publishing deal.

I’m not convinced it’s all bad. First, I want confirmation from industry professionals that I’m really ready, that I’ve mastered the craft to the point where I can approach publishing a work with confidence that it can compete and not waste my time, or the time of my readers. Having an agent say, “Yes, I love this manuscript and I believe it is written to a professional standard and is ready to submit to publishers” is a huge milestone in my career.

Now it’s no longer just me and my close circle of relatives and friends who think I’ve got what it takes. I need that confirmation. Without it, how do I really know I’m ready? After four years and several drafts, I completed my first novel, a 300,000 word behemoth I was convinced was awesome. Thankfully the e-publishing bubble hadn’t hit yet, so rejection letters from agents started piling up. Eventually I progressed in my mastery of the craft to where I could recognize the novel’s flaws. I made the hard choice to throw it away and re-start from the ground up, saving only some of the worldbuilding and characters. The resulting novel is worlds better than the original, and that’s the one my agent accepted.

So yes, the first huge benefit of agents is that confirmation by the industry that I’ve at least got a shot at a deal. Another undeniable benefit to traditional publishing is getting your physical book distributed to physical book stores, hopefully around the world. That distribution has value, and especially for a new author, I’d love the help of a publisher in getting my book out to readers. I know there’s still tons of work to be done to market it myself, but at least I’d have a physical product to sell.

We all know authors who have self-published, and most of them sell few copies, despite how well deserving their books may be. So, a traditional publishing deal might help establish a reader base to build off of. I know it’s not guaranteed, but it’s something worth investigating.

Another big reason I am still pursuing a traditional route for my first book goes back to my agent. John Richard Parker with Zeno Agency knows the industry and players far more than I can since he’s worked with them for many years. His expertise is invaluable, and even though we have not landed a deal yet, working with him has already brought valuable insights I could not have gained otherwise.

The other reason I’ve hesitated to self-publish is that after working for years on my books, I want them to be the best they can be. I’ve read e-books that could have been great, but fell short of their potential because their authors failed to wait just a little longer and complete a rigorous editing process. Landing a traditional publishing deal, and working with the professional editors there, will be wonderful when it happens. I am eager to learn from them all I can.

With all this said, I am not ignoring other publishing options. My YA fantasy novel, which my agent is reviewing now, is scheduled to be professionally edited by Joshua Essoe (see his post on editing here) later this year after I complete a third revision. If the traditional route falls through, that novel is a prime candidate to be e-published through an e-publisher like MUSA, or directly self-published after it’s fully vetted and ready to go.

And while I complete preparing my two novels for some type of publishing, I’m busy writing the next one. I also plan to explore e-publishing for a novella and related short story I wrote.

It’s an exciting time to be an author, with so many options out there. I encourage everyone to learn as much as you can about each avenue, and explore multiple options. But whatever way you choose, make sure your finished product is the best it can be. Anything less is nothing short of a tragedy.

 

 

 

Burst Writing – Case Study

Burst WritingLast week, I completed an extremely successful Burst Writing retreat. I wrote 50,000 words in five days, even though I lost almost 8 hours to travel each on Days 1 and 5.

I’ve spoken of Burst Writing before. I define it as an intensely focused period of time in which to write significantly higher word count than normal. This is not free-writing time with throw-away word count. A successful Burst Writing session takes a lot of preparation and produces well-crafted, effective scenes.

Most important is to know what you’re going to write before you sit down to pound away at the keyboard. There’s little time for blank staring out the window. For me, that meant scheduling the retreat only after several weeks of focused effort to develop the story fundamentals and outline the scenes I would be writing.

Last year, the first time I tried Burst Writing, I managed 50,000 words in 7 days, and finished half of that book. I’m now currently planning the third revision of that novel.

My goal is to eventually prepare well enough to where I can crank out huge sections of a clearly defined story that won’t need multiple major revisions afterward.

Last week, I wrote about 35% of a new novel. I believe I did a better job defining exactly what each scene needed to include from a plot and characterization perspective. We’ll see how that holds up once I complete the book.

I get a kick out of tracking stats. So, here are the stats for last week’s trip:

Day 1: 8 hours travel time. 1.5 hours writing time. New word count: 2700

Day 2: 10 hours writing time. New word count: 13,500

(Day 2, evening, couldn’t sleep. Wrote another 1800 words in the middle of the night)

Day 3: 6 hours writing time. New word count: 12,000

Day 4: 10 hours writing time. New word count: 15,000

Day 5: 3 hours writing time. New word count: 5,000. Travel time: 7 hours

As you can see, I started slow, but once I got in ‘the zone’, I cranked out far more words each day, as high as about 2,000 words per hour, which is twice what I can normally produce.

So, what did I do to prepare?

1. Outline. I spent a great deal of time working out the characters and plot of the novel. I had some advantages in this book over the last one because this is a sequel to another novel, so the world and many of the characters are already very well defined. Even so, I had to wrestle with some difficult plot issues in the second half of the novel that required changes to the first half to resolve. If I’d started writing chapters before I had the plan complete, my productivity would have screeched to a halt, and I would have been forced to throw away a lot of good work.

2. Find the right writing retreat. This year, I found the Colonyhouse, owned by the Oregon Writer’s Colony. Signing up to be a member was inexpensive, and the house was exactly what I needed. It was comfortable, located within driving distance, with a beautiful location (about 100 yards from the ocean). I experimented with several different locations in the house and settled on a layout that was comfortable for writing long periods of time.

3. Set lofty goals. I honestly did not believe I would hit 50,000 words. I wrote 12,000 words on my best day in last year’s retreat, so this year’s goal was a stretch. I hadn’t really factored in the travel time correctly, so when I arrived I realized I was way behind right on day 1. By staying focused on the goal, and motivated to reach it, I produced far more than I would have otherwise.

4. Set the right duration. Five days turned out to be an excellent length. Last year I took seven, which was honestly a little too long. I found that the four days in the middle of the trip were the most productive. This year, I had been planning a three day trip, and managed to squeeze in the other two at the last minute. I’m glad I did.

5. Reduce distractions. I did walk the beach a few times when I needed a break, but other than that, I did very little but write. On the drive out to the house I stopped and purchased all the food I would need for the week so I could pretty much lock myself away and not get distracted shopping or running errands. Once I got in ‘the zone’, I was able to stay there for a long time, which is so much more productive.

And, as always, I learned a few lessons about what to do better next time:

1. Bring spare batteries. I learned last year that having a full size, comfortable keyboard is key to cranking out high word counts for me. This year, I brought my cordless keyboard and mouse. And of course, on Day 2, the batteries died. I did not have spares, so I wasted an hour running out to the store to get some (the only excursion I took other than walking to the beach).

2. Sleep. One of the biggest challenges for me when I’m away from home is sleeping. I just don’t sleep well. I know I have this problem, but I forgot to bring any kind of sleep aid. As a result, I did not sleep well most of the week, and returned home very tired. I did bring some movies to watch in the evenings when I needed to unwind, and that did help.

3. Have the first chapter or two already complete. I started the retreat on chapter 1 of a new book. The first chapter is always the hardest, and I wasted a bunch of time trying to set the tone, description, and locking in the characters in the setting. Luckily, I spent a lot of time on the drive up the coast working some of this out in my head so the writing time wasn’t an entire waste. However, by the time I hit chapter 3, I had things flowing well, and I could just roll forward at full speed. Next time, I’ll try to get the first couple chapters complete ahead of time.

I’ll be writing a series of blog posts on my web site www.frankmorin.org, discussing each day in more detail, for those who want to know more specifics.

What have you found helps boost your productivity at home or during a writing retreat?

 

To Pants or to Plan?

There are two opposing camps when it comes to how an author approaches writing their novel. On one side are the story ‘pantsers’, those who sit down with only a vague idea of their story and start typing. They discover the story through the act of writing it, usually through a multiple re-drafting process. On the opposite side are the ‘planners’, those authors who sit down and design a story to the nth degree before they actually begin the first draft. They might write almost as many words in the outline as they do in the first draft, but end up with fewer re-writes most of the time. Both camps have their avid followers who trumpet the benefits of doing it their way while pointing out the drawbacks of the other philosophy.

I’ve found that most authors fall somewhere in the middle between these two philosophies. We plan some, and we free-write some. Authors will shift along the spectrum between the two philosophies from one project to another, or as their level of experience changes.

I started as a total discovery writer, complete with many drafts of my first novel as the story evolved and I figured out what I was really writing about. Over time, and as I’ve gained a better mastery of the craft, I’ve crept across the spectrum toward the opposite camp. The more of an outliner I become, the more up-front work I invest in a story before beginning to write. Once the outline is ready, I can schedule a ‘burst-writing’ session – a focused period, several days to a week, where I can pound out tons of work based on that outline. I did that last year and wrote 52,000 words in one week. I’m planning to do so again soon with my next novel.

I’ve developed the following outline process:
1. First I do all the high-level brainstorming for the new story. This can take a while as I chew on a new idea and work it from the initial proposal into a viable story worthy of serious consideration. Lots of ideas don’t make it past this first step.

2. Once I feel the story has promise and I’m starting to get a good sense for it, I write down the foundational information I’ve developed so far. This includes character sketches, world-building, and initial plot ideas. The process of writing it all down and trying to work it into a logical, comprehensive whole identifies gaps and leads to new inspiration in fleshing out the world, characters and plot.

3. I develop the high-level plot outline. In my current story, this ended up being about 8000 words. I choose scenes, decide which characters to populate them, high-level conflicts, and how each scene will drive the plot forward. At this point, I’m looking to get my first full view of the complete story arc from beginning to end. I develop arcs for each major character to ensure I’m addressing things from each of their perspectives, and considering the plot through each of their eyes. This process yields tons of fresh insights, new twists to consider, and helps the story really come alive.

4. If this is a brand new story (as opposed to a sequel), I find it useful to write the first few chapters based on the high-level outline. This helps solidify the character voices and the feel for the world and how the story is going to work. I get ‘locked in’ to the story this way. I can usually tell if I’m on the right track now, or if there’s something still fundamentally wrong with the plot, characters, or world.

5. I develop what I call a mid-level outline. I run through the outline again, fleshing out the scenes, clarifying and adding detail. For some of the important scenes, I add sections of dialogue or work out how I’m going to approach the action sequences. This is particularly helpful in planning complex endings.

This is the step I’m on right now. I’ve taken the 8000 word high-level outline and expanded it to about 15,000 words so far. I’ll probably complete the outline at about 20,000 words or so. At that point, I could do another pass and produce even more detail, but the story is really coming alive for me, so I don’t think that will be necessary.

When I begin writing scenes for the first real draft, I keep the outline in mind, but this is where I free-write. The outline is the framework and helps me identify when my free-writing takes me off on new tangents. Sometimes those tangents are awesome – a flash of inspiration that I could not have figured out unless I was in ‘the zone’ writing full scenes. Sometimes they’re a bad idea that takes the story off a cliff. Any time I break the framework, I need to go back and analyze how this change will impact the story. Either it’s brilliant and the rest of the story needs to change as a result, or it’s a false-start that needs to be chopped.

If I decide to keep it, I have to make sure I can still maintain the story integrity. I have to ask: do my plot points and story arcs and character arcs still make sense? Will pacing be right? Will the ending still work? Adjustments often need to be made.

This sometimes seems like a lot of work, but it’s actually a lot less than the alternative. This way I can identify the impacts to the story early on and choose how to address it. Before, I would keep writing, maybe all the way to the end of the story before I realized other components needed to be changed. That would require an entire new draft, which was a lot more re-work and took a lot more time.

Through this blended outline/free-write approach, I’ve dramatically cut down how long it takes to write even a big-fat-epic-fantasy novel like mine.

How do you approach a new novel?

 

When is a writer a Writer?

When people ask me what I do, I mention my day job and also state that I am a writer. It took me a while to feel comfortable calling myself a writer even though I’ve been writing for years because I haven’t published any novels yet. I wasn’t sure I could rightfully call myself a writer until I’d reached that golden moment.

So, when is it all right to assume the title? I’ve settled on five things that I consider helpful in distinguishing the “writers’ from the “dabblers’.

1. You complete a manuscript

Half the people I meet, when they hear I’m a writer, say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a story.” Few actually sit down and try to write it. Of those who start, only a fraction actually complete their first manuscript. Joining this group is a huge step forward.

For me, my first manuscript took over four years and countless restarts to complete.

2. Write your ‘million words of crap’

Estimates vary from half a million to a million words, but the message remains consistent: you have to write a lot before you write well. Writing is a profession that requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears before any return on that investment is seen. This is a hard truth that many wanna-be writers don’t understand. Sometimes I wonder if I had really understood the long road I was embarking on when I sat down and typed “Chapter 1″ would I still have done it?

One of the most dangerous temptations for writers with the new easily accessible e-publishing option is to publish a story before it’s ready. It’s easy to convince yourself your story is far better than it really is. Unfortunately, the e-bookstores are inundated with this kind of wishful thinking.

I’ll just say, take the time to do it right. It’s a shame to see a book released too soon. It’s almost worse to see a book that’s almost really good than to see one that is terrible. If only the author had taken just a little more time. But I’ll explore this topic more in-depth in a future post in order to do it justice.

3. Make the hard decisions

Kill your darlings, and kill them as soon as they get in the way of the real story.

There’s a saying in business: “If you’re going to fail, fail fast.” It means identify flaws, learn what you can from them, and then move on. Don’t waste time bemoaning the fickle muse or the cruel fates.

The not-yet-professional writers don’t like to recognize this. Darlings might be favorite characters, scenes, conflicts, anything that makes up the story. Initial ideas morph as you progress down the journey of writing and ‘find’ your story. The story you find is often not the story you expected. That’s when the hard decisions must be made. To have any chance of succeeding, we must be true to the real story once we know it. Remove any extraneous material, no matter how dear to us.

For me it was a dark day when I realized my first book, the manuscript I poured my heart and soul into for four long years could not work in its current state. There were fatal flaws I did not recognize earlier because I lacked the mastery of story craft to see them. I faced a crossroads in my writing career that day. I could no longer pretend I was on the cusp of selling that book to a publisher. If I refused to kill that darling, I might never have progressed. To move forward, I either had to start an entirely different story; or I had to throw away that manuscript and redesign the story from the ground up.

I started again. The new book, using many aspects of the original story’s world-building and characters, is ten times better than the original. This new story is the one that landed me an agent and real hopes of a publishing deal.

4. Write the next book.

With everything else done, it’s important to know when a manuscript is complete. There’s still a lot to do even then. If you’re trying the traditional publishing route, there’s the long, painful submission process. If you’re going the e-publishing route, you still need professional editing, cover art, cover quotes, and a marketing plan.

Don’t let these tasks delay for too long the most important next step that a writer needs to do: write the next novel, and then the next.

5. Learn to enjoy the process.

Being a writer is not an easy road to travel. It is long and often discouraging. Most people don’t understand what it takes and can’t understand what we do. And yet, we write because we must. Writers are driven to write and we love it. The process of developing a manuscript for eventual release to the public is challenging, and also rewarding.

This is a journey filled with growth and exciting milestones. The road behind us may be littered with discarded manuscripts, cut scenes, and tens of thousands of words sacrificed to the editing red pen, but when we stand with a work worthy to be called our best effort in our hands, it’s a magical moment.

In the end, we keep writing. It’s what we do.

When did you first start calling yourself a writer? How did you know it was time?