The third in the bestselling Ramsey’s adventure series, titled The Goddess Legacy, has gone up on all platforms for pre-order, to release August 19th, 2016.
This is a particularly good one, in my opinion. It represents the fine-tuning of the plotting approach I laid out in “How to write a page-turner” and moves like a runaway freight train. I’m quite proud of how it turned out, and believe my readers will love everything about it. It’s chock full of twists and turns, reversals and surprises, and ups the ante considerably on my storytelling.
Here’s a cover reveal, followed by the first chapter.
And here’s the first chapter – enjoy with my compliments:
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Old Delhi, India
A pall of exhaust hung over India’s capital city, a hazy cloud that lingered in the still night air like a toxic mist. Everett Carson, lightheaded from the third celebratory cocktail he’d downed against his better judgment only minutes before, walked unsteadily down what passed for a sidewalk, dodging piles of refuse. The restaurant’s festive lights receded in the gloom behind him, and as he made his way down the dark street he realized that it was later than he’d thought, his meeting having taken considerably longer than planned. Still, it had been worth it, and now that the question of financing was answered, he was tantalizingly close to his objective.
The area was deserted; the daytime crowds had vanished as the sun sank into the horizon, leaving the street eerily silent. His footsteps sounded unsteady to his ear, and he picked up his pace, wary of inviting unwanted attention in a district that could get ugly at a moment’s notice.
Two men in dark robes stepped from a doorway halfway down the narrow block, and Carson’s stomach tightened. He told himself that he was too close to the main boulevard for there to be any danger, but his breath caught in his throat when he got a better look at the approaching figures, their onyx eyes glinting in the faint light from a passing car and their body language radiating menace. Adrenaline flooded his senses at the urgent determination in their stride, and he realized belatedly that he was anything but safe on the empty sidewalk.
Carson made a snap decision and darted between two cars. A loud honk blared from his right as he stepped into the street and narrowly dodged the front fender of a sedan barreling down on him. He cursed and skirted an overloaded truck lumbering along in the opposite direction, laborers on the running boards gripping the roof rack for support, and then continued across once the vehicle passed.
He hopped across a wide puddle and almost slipped when he landed hard, wrenching his ankle. He winced but kept moving, and when he reached the far curb, glanced over his shoulder.
The men were nowhere to be seen.
Carson shook his head to clear it and exhaled as he gingerly stepped onto the uneven concrete rise. A stream of noxious fluid, the surge the last of the runoff from a late afternoon cloudburst, burbled in the gutter around a clot of trash. A figure stepped into his path from the gloom and Carson stiffened. The man’s hand was outstretched, blocking Carson’s way.
“A few rupees, mister?” a sandpaper voice pleaded in heavily accented English.
Carson’s nose wrinkled at the stench drifting from the beggar, a rancid combination of filth, sour sweat, and decay. The vagrant eyed him hopefully through milky eyes, his jaundiced skin the texture of old leather, his trembling arm little more than bones and sinew. Carson pushed past, leaving the beggar leaning on a makeshift crutch fashioned from a broom handle, the soiled bandages that enveloped his stump of a left leg dotted with flies.
Carson’s pulse thudded in his ears as he willed himself calm, chastising himself for allowing his imagination to get the better of him. The main avenue was only two more blocks, and he’d be there in no time. He could easily do this.
Running footfalls thudded in his wake as he turned the corner, and his relief dissolved into fear – the city had a deserved reputation as treacherous for the unwary. He looked around for a taxi, but there were no cars on this street, and he swore under his breath at his carelessness. He’d dropped his guard for only a moment, but that had been enough in a town that offered no quarter. His pale complexion announced him as easy prey, a visitor in a country where he didn’t belong, and now his pursuers were closing in, no doubt planning to mug him.
Carson hurried along the narrow strip of sidewalk toward the far intersection. The long block seeming to stretch endlessly before him, leaving him to navigate around muddy gaps in the concrete where the pavement had washed away. He dared a look behind him but didn’t see anything other than iron barred windows and shadowy doorways, and he slowed as he quelled the panic he’d succumbed to.
What was wrong with him?
It wasn’t like he was helpless – he’d spent his life in the military, where he’d seen enough combat to fuel decades of sleepless nights with the phantoms of his squad mates and those he’d gunned down. Even now he cut an imposing figure for a man of his years, his silver hair cropped close to his skull, his shoulders square, frown lines scoring a seasoned face beneath hard cobalt eyes. Any thieves foolhardy enough to tackle him would be in for an unpleasant surprise, he assured himself, although the coil of anxiety in his gut twisted tighter as he strode past crumbling, graffiti-marred façades.
Carson swerved abruptly, narrowly avoiding a pile of cow dung in his path, a regular consequence of the sacred beasts that roamed unfettered even in the cosmopolitan areas. He skirted the lump and stopped in his tracks when another figure appeared from the shadows ahead of him, moving with a cautious precision that he instantly recognized as professional.
He looked around for anything he could use as a weapon, but saw nothing. Carson quickly calculated the distance to the next street and his odds of dodging the newcomer, but dismissed it. Soles pounding on the street behind him decided his course, and he ran to a dark opening between two buildings – a pedestrian walkway between deteriorating tenements. He sprinted down the muddy track, and then skidded to a stop when he came face-to-face with a massive head, its baleful eyes staring at him with bovine indifference.
Carson glared at the cow in the faint light and edged past it, ignoring the pink dust that rubbed on his clothes from where its hide had been festively colored by the faithful. He was just past the enormous beast when he heard his pursuers trail him into the passage. He slapped the cow’s haunch to goad it into charging them and sprinted as fast as he could for the far end, not waiting to see the effect of his effort.
At the next street he spotted a taxi creeping his way and flagged it down, hoping he didn’t look so frantic he would scare the driver off. The car slowed to a stop, and he was reaching for the rear door handle when the pair emerged from the passageway behind him. The driver blanched at the sight and stomped on the gas, leaving Carson standing alone, fully exposed.
He tore toward the glowing doorway of a curry restaurant, where a dim yellow sign over the storefront promised the best food in all India, and edged by a startled hostess in a golden sari before shouldering his way through the packed dining room, past the cash register in the rear, and through a pair of scarred double doors.
A half dozen cooks labored over pots of steaming gruel beside two dishwashers in a corner scrubbing wooden bowls. Across from them, a wiry man chopped vegetables on a length of plywood with an oversized blade, his expression blank, head bobbing slightly with the music from a boom box on a shelf over the prep area. All looked up at Carson in surprise as he burst into the cramped cooking area and made for the rear door. A cry of protest went up from the two closest women, one of whom shook a stew-slathered ladle at him. Ignoring the commotion, he ran to the exit, hoping his pursuers had decided their easy target was now too visible to attack.
He gagged at the stench rising from the garbage cans in the hot storage area, and swung the shabby wooden door wide. Outside he skirted a dumpster and shuddered at the sight of rats scurrying away down glistening pavement. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he inched along the brick wall, straining his ears for any hint of pursuit.
Satisfied that he was in the clear, he strode toward the street at the end of the access-way, his footsteps the only sound other than the distant hum of traffic and the constant percussive horn toots echoing off the high walls. As he neared the alley mouth, he gasped when a figure draped in the robes of a tantric priest stepped from the darkness to block his way. Carson recoiled at the man’s filthy, matted beard and hair, and then locked on his face – a demonic vision smeared with gray ash, his mangled mouth stretched into a permanent sneer by mottled scar tissue, revealing blackened teeth filed to sharp points. The man’s eyes bored into Carson, and then a hoarse rasp issued from his ruined lips and he leaned forward. His breath stank like an open grave. Moonlight glinted off the curved blade of a knife in his hand, and he hissed at Carson like a cobra as he feinted low and lunged.
Carson tensed, prepared to parry the thrust, and then abruptly jerked backward as razor-sharp wire looped over his head in a flash and bit into his larynx. His last breath gurgled from his ruined throat as powerful arms pulled the wire through sinew, tissue, and bone with a single heave. Carson’s body twitched spasmodically and collapsed in a heap, blood pulsing from his stub of neck. His head slammed against the pavement and bounced into the alley before settling five feet from his torso, where his sightless eyes stared in surprise at the unlikely spectacle of his headless corpse spasming in a crimson pool.
The robed man nodded once to his companion, who removed a cheap plastic raincoat that had shielded his garments from the shower of blood, and pocketed the garrote. The assassin rolled the slick covering into a neat bundle while the robed man knelt and quickly went through Carson’s pockets. Finding nothing but a wallet and a room key, he straightened and shook his head.
The pair soundlessly vanished into the gloom, leaving Carson’s remains to the rats making their way from the dumpster, the prospect of an easy meal having overpowered the animals’ natural caution. The restaurant’s service door opened with a creak and an outraged cook with a meat cleaver stepped outside, but his anger turned to panic at the grisly spectacle of ravenous vermin overwhelming the body near the alley mouth.
About six weeks ago, I released the first book in my new post-apocalyptic series, The Day After Never – Blood Honor, and it promptly sold a boatload and garnered some of the strongest reviews ever.
Now it’s time for the second in the series: Purgatory Road.
In which my epic saga in the dystopian badlands continues.
I’m finishing up second draft of the third in the series, Covenant, as we speak, and it’s turned out very different than I originally thought it would – so much so that the original trilogy will be four books to complete the arc due to an intriguing plot element that took on a life of its own.
Be that as it may, I think this series is a must read for anyone unfamiliar with my work, and is probably some of the best writing I’ve done, if the reviews can be believed. I’m happy with the way it turned out, and hope it catches fire in a big way.
To all who’ve enjoyed the first book, you’ll find the second delivers more of the same, with additional nuance as the characters get fleshed out more. So far it’s been a hoot to write, and the third one will be out mid-July, so six weeks from now – how’s that for production speed?!
Let me know what you think. I like it, but then again, I’m biased.
I’m asked fairly regularly why I continue cranking out books like the devil’s on my tail. I have a sufficiently large backlist that sells steadily enough to earn a more than generous living, so why continue the pace?
The truth, like most truths, is complex and nuanced.
I lied. It isn’t.
I do it because I love writing. I also do it because I wake up every day afraid I might not have another good word left in me – that it was all a fluke, and I’ve written my last readable book. So I write, in part, to reassure myself that I haven’t completely lost it (in a literary sense). Whether I ever had it is certainly debatable, but tentative as any gift might be, I don’t want my last book to be my…last book.
Additionally, I’m constantly afraid that the market’s going to change and I won’t have a business. Then it’s back to the male burlesque gig at Jalapeno Heat.
Also, some part of me needs a pursuit. I require something to keep me stimulated or I get into trouble. Like a nervous herding dog, if I don’t have a project, I’ll create one, and it’s not always what’s in my best interests. Researching a new book, working on the outline, gives me a sense of forward motion, which helps with the hallucination that any of this really matters – a comfort for me as my peers drop around me (mainly from alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases, but hey).
There’s also the matter of craft. You’re never good enough, so that gives me something to aspire to. Maybe the next one I’ll finally do something I feel is amazing, rather than close, but no cigar. I’m not talking about polishing the work until every word glitters like a diamond – I’m talking that miraculous convergence of ideas and words that, when you get it right, takes your breath away.
So there’s your answer.
On the new book front, sales of my latest one, The Day After Never – Blood Honor, have been brisk, and it continues to hold in the low hundreds on Amazon. Reviews have been glowing, which is heartening. I love that story, as well as the way the novel turned out, and it’s probably my best writing to date. I’m getting ready to start the third in the series, which I thought would be a trilogy, but is turning out to require four books for a complete arc unless I want each novel to be War and Peace length. Anyhow, I’m thrilled that so many have enjoyed my entry into the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre, and am especially delighted that authors like Hugh Howey, Steven Konkoly, Tom Abrahams, Toby Neal, and Nicholas Sansbury Smith said such amazingly positive things about the book
If you haven’t read it yet, you should. If you think it sucks, return it for a refund. At $3, your risk is pretty low, and you never know – you may find that my take on the genre is something you enjoy.
Thanks again for the support, and for allowing me to continue working the best job in the world.
April 18th, 2016, a day that shall live in infamy. Or perhaps not. But it’s still a special one considering my first novel in the post-apocalyptic epic trilogy The Day After Never goes live on Amazon today! Titled Blood Honor, it’s very different than any of my prior books, in a good way. My hunch is my loyal readers will love it, and it should convince a whole mess of those who’ve never heard of me to give it a shot. All I can say to describe the style is take the good bits of JET and the Assassin novels, and mix them with a dystopian western feel (imagine Clint Eastwood circa The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and you’re not far off) for an interesting approach to the post-apocalyptic world.
The product description is simple, at its core: one man in a post-collapse wasteland gets reluctantly dragged into a fight he doesn’t want, and winds up paying a horrific price. With humanity’s future in the balance and the life of a child in his hands, he must take on impossible odds and battle an evil now manifest on the earth.
Other authors who know a thing or two about the genre have chimed in, and the early reviews are the stuff dreams are made of:
“Best post-apocalyptic book I’ve read in ages. When the world ends, I hope this book survives. Can’t wait for the sequel.”
– Hugh Howey, bestselling author of Wool, Sand, Dust, and Beacon 23
“In Russell Blake’s The Day After Never, the world has ended but the adventure has just begun. It’s part survivalist fiction, part techno-thriller, part western – and much more. You won’t be able to stop turning the pages…even if the world collapses around you. A must read for any fan of post-apocalyptic fiction.”
– Tom Abrahams, bestselling author of HOME: A Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Adventure
“Russell Blake takes the post-apocalyptic genre by storm with The Day After Never – Blood Honor, a relentlessly paced, exquisitely crafted story of survival and redemption in a hellacious landscape forged after the fall of mankind. Blake hits the right dystopian notes from the very start, catapulting the reader into an unforgiving world: part Mad Max, part Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and part Magnificent Seven.”
– Steven Konkoly, bestselling author of The Perseid Collapse and The Jakarta Pandemic
“Highly enjoyable dystopian thriller with a Western twist set in the feral badlands of a post-apocalyptic Texas. Russell Blake’s Lucas is a hard bitten hero I enjoyed rooting for as he reluctantly rescues a woman and child mysteriously important enough to kill whole villages over. Great beginning to a series that looks to be a first-rate gallop into a dark sunset.”
– Toby Neal, author of the bestselling Lei Crime Series
“The Day After Never is the new standard for post-apocalyptic fiction. Easily my favorite of 2016. No one writes this stuff better than Russell Blake.”
– Nicholas Sansbury Smith, author of The Extinction Cycle, Orbs, and Hell Divers
So what are you waiting for? I have the first book specially priced at $2.99, so there’s virtually no barrier to trying it. Go ahead, and if you like it, tell a friend or six. I believe this is going to be the series that puts things over the top – I’m that excited. Last time I felt that way was with JET, and that didn’t go too badly, so I have very high hopes for it, and can’t wait to see what readers think. The sequel, The Day After Never – Purgatory Road, will release end of May, so you won’t have long to wait to pick up the story, which will likely go three to four installments.
But for now, give Blood Honor a read – satisfaction guaranteed, or your money, er, invested in my bar tab to soften the blow to my ego.
I get asked a lot of craft and trade questions, so I thought I’d answer a few of them here to reduce my inbox clutter. Here goes, in no particular order:
1. What’s your approach to pricing?
The answer is, I price based on length. Shorter books cost less, longer ones cost more, because the cost to edit and proof them is greater the longer they are. Pretty simple. I make exceptions once a book’s a few years old, because by that time it’s recouped its costs and I consider it backlist, which is priced accordingly. In my genres, I find $4.99 for older titles, regardless of length, works well. $5.99 to $6.99 for new releases, depending on length. As an example, my Ramsey’s adventure books are considerably longer than, say, a JET, so priced higher to reflect the additional time and cost of producing them.
There are exceptions. We’re about to see one with the pricing of my new post-apocalyptic series, The Day After Never. I’m pricing the first installment at $2.99, which is absurdly low for the page count and the quality from an established brand (as well as for some of the best writing I’ve ever done). Why would I do that? For strategic reasons. It’s a new genre, and I want to penetrate it – bluntly, I want as many people as possible to read the book, in the hopes that those who are unfamiliar with my work will like it, and go on to other books, like the JET or Assassin series. The first book is about 70K words, and the second will finish out more like 80K words, so book 2 will go out at $3.99 – also absurdly low, and far lower than any of my new releases over the last four years. One of the reasons for continuing the low price strategy is genre norms – that genre tends to have lower pricing, so if you want to play in it, you price accordingly.
2. Where is the market going?
Beats me. I believe things will continue to get tougher. I also believe we’re headed for the mother of all recessions, so cheap entertainment will be in demand as crushing financial chaos causes folks to reevaluate their spending. Price fairly and hang on for the ride.
3. You don’t have a lot of books in Kindle Unlimited. Why? Is it the devil?
Subscription services are more important in some genres than in others. In romance, and sci fi, for instance, a lot of voracious readers seem to be in KU, so if you’re in those genres, it’s probably pretty important to look at it hard as part of your mix. In my genres, I don’t see it being such a big factor, and because about 35% of my revenue comes from non-Zon platforms, I wouldn’t make up the difference by being exclusive to Amazon and seeing subscription-based revenue. So it’s not philosophical for me, it’s monetary.
4. You still give away a few books for free. Does that work as well as it used to?
Nothing does. But a free taste still has some appeal on iTunes and B&N, even if Amazon has gutted visibility of free titles. So it’s not as effective on Zon, but still a good strategy on the others. Shrug. Nothing lasts forever, but the way I see it is the more folks who read my work, the better the chance someone thinks it’s worth paying for. It’s a numbers game, nothing more.
5. Do you advertise much?
Hardly at all. My demographic doesn’t seem to select their books based on FB ads. Some do in other genres. Your mileage may vary. I’ve tried it a fair number of times, and didn’t see sufficient ROI to justify the combination of cost, and time to administer it. Plus, I’m lazy. So I’ve got that going for me.
6. When is X book coming out?
My production schedule for this year is The Day After Never – Blood Honor, April 18th. The next one, The Day After Never – Purgatory Road, will come out about six weeks later. The third about six weeks after that. Then we have another Ramsey’s, and probably the fourth in the DAN series, and then another JET in the Nov time frame. Beyond that, in 2017, I’m considering a third installment in the Fatal series, another Black, another Ramsey’s, and another BLACK for next year, with some more DAN if the story evolves into something requiring more than four installments. And the mother of all conspiracy novels, which I’m debating whether or not I should write, as I don’t want my car to flip over on a sunny day, or my plane to go down. Puts a damper on one’s career, no matter how big it sells.
7. Do you really drink as much tequila as you say?
That’s between me, my doctor, and the local police. I don’t answer personal questions. Mind your own business.
8. I’m a co-ed nympho working on my daddy issues, and you seem wise and experienced. Do you do in-person consultations?
OK, I never got that question. But I’m open. Call. Please. I’m serious. Any time. I’ll pick up.
That’s about it for now. Working hard on the second book in The Day After Never series, as well as launch-related stuff for the first volume, Blood Honor, which will go live on April 18th!
April 18th, the first installment of my new post-apocalyptic/dystopian series will launch. Titled The Day After Never – Blood Honor, it promises to be a non-stop adrenaline rush for fans of the genre, as well as, and I know this will sound weird, sci-fi, and…westerns.
I know. WTFF? But that’s how it turned out.
Here are cover reveals for the first and second installments, Blood Honor and Purgatory Road.
These will be priced in the weeds. $2.99 for the first installment, $3.99 for the second and third, which are longer.
Early beta readers are saying this is some of my best work. I’ll publish a sneak preview of the first bit in a few, but until then, I have…covers! I’m super excited about them, and think the design, by Elizabeth Mackey, rocks. But you decide:
The day is finally here. After four years of procrastination I finally wrote the second in the Fatal series, and it’s a whopper, if I say so myself. Fatal Deception picks up three months after Fatal Exchange ends, with Tess Gideon returning from Europe to find Detective Ron Stanford knee deep in corpses as a serial killer terrorizes Manhattan.
As with its predecessor, it’s gritty and dark, and explores the forbidden subculture of kink parties and sex clubs frequented by patrons for whom money is no object and nothing is off limits. Those who are prone to pearl clutching are best advised to look elsewhere for their thrills, because Fatal Deception pulls no punches and focuses on a world of extreme thrills and taboos some might find disturbing.
With that warning, it’s a hell of a ride, and fans of the original Fatal Exchange will find it follows in the tradition of the first book, with villainous bad guys, conflicts, tension, and twists galore, including a climax readers won’t see coming.
Not that I want to build it up or anything in order to coax folks into buying it.
Or borrowing it. I’ve made it available exclusively on Amazon for 90 days, via Kindle Unlimited, where you can read both tomes at no cost while they’re in the program.
If you do dip your toe into the water, I hope you enjoy it. For now, I’m hard at work on my April release, the first book in a post-apocalyptic trilogy tentatively titled The Day After Never. Enthusiasts of that genre should get a kick out of my approach, which follows the trials and tribulations of an ex-Texas Ranger struggling in a barren wasteland laid low by disease and calamity. It’s unlike any of my previous work and is a genre and story I’ve been looking forward to telling for a long time. The protagonist is complicated, conflicted, and lethal as a pit viper, but whether that will be enough to survive the ultimate battle between good and evil remains to be seen.
So a lot of exciting stuff on the drawing board. Now go get Fatal Deception and let me get back to loafing and swigging tequila. Damn drinks don’t pay for themselves…
I’ve had the outline for that book on my desk for four years. Stared at it guiltily month after month as I worked on other projects. Over time I fleshed out bits of it, added to the plot, eliminated some ideas that seemed hackneyed with more experience, and modified the story arc so that the central crime of horrific snuff films and who was behind them took on added importance.
In the process, I reread Fatal Exchange, and decided to rewrite it. I cut a few thousand words, cleaned up a lot of the language to something more polished, and generally re-edited it so I felt it lived up to the its sequel.
If you Fatal Exchange already, I’d see about re-downloading it, because it’s worth a reread, should you be in the mood. I notified Amazon that I rewrote large chunks, so they should send out a notice to anyone with it on their kindle, but who knows when that will happen?
So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m now working on researching a post-apocalyptic trilogy, tentatively titled The Day After Never, which will release beginning in April. I’m chomping at the bit to write it, which is always a good sign, and if I don’t botch it, the main character should be one of my most interesting yet.
In the meantime, here’s a cover reveal for Fatal Deception, which just went out for pre-sale on Amazon. You could do worse than ordering it. Just saying.
I am asked with some regularity how to go about selecting a good editor.
My approach to qualifying an editor is much like the one I use for everything: treat all claims skeptically, and demand proof.
There are a lot of authors who tried to make a go of writing and selling books, failed to do so, and have now hung out shingles as editors in an effort to make money from something writing-related. While some might be competent, most are no more so at editing than they were at writing. It’s important to understand that when a market matures as the ebook market has, there’s a rush to sell picks and shovels to the miners when it becomes obvious that the actual business of mining kind of sucks.
So here are some basic tests guidelines and questions to ask:
1) What background in editing does the editor have? Have they worked for a traditional publisher? If so, that’s a leg up, because it presumes the trad pub did some diligence and the person’s at least marginally competent.
2) Verify their claims. Get references and check them.
3) Understand that getting an MFA no more qualifies one to be an editor than teaching English as a second language to second graders. Actual experience, preferably years of it, trumps any degree. Remember that in all classes, there’s a bell curve distribution of competence and intelligence, and with your luck you’re dealing with the slowest in the class, not the shining star. As a general rule, editing is a craft that one improves at with time, and that requires considerable experience to do well, just as does any trade or specialized skill. Declaring oneself to be an editor is akin to declaring oneself to be a physician – there’s a bit more to it than that, and a smart customer checks for substance to the claims.
4) Who else have they edited, and how happy are those authors with the process? Read a few chapters of the last three books the editor worked on via the Look Inside function. Are they unreadable crap? Ask authors whose work you admire who they use. Never a bad place to start.
5) Do they edit in your genre? Every genre has conventions that you need to be aware of. It’s better to have someone who works in your field than someone who is trying to apply broad rules of grammar unilaterally.
6) There’s no free lunch, and you generally get what you pay for. You don’t look for the best deal on heart surgeons, attorneys, or parachute makers. You look for the most competent. Ask around, get an idea of what the norm is for costs, and expect to pay that. You have exactly zero reason to expect you’ll get a sweetheart deal from anyone competent – because competent folks generally have a full book of business and don’t have to discount much, if at all.
7) Narrow the field to your top 3 picks, and ask each to do a few pages of your work (same pages) to see how their approach works with your voice and expectations. As a note, many beginning authors fear an editor will stifle their voice. With someone competent that’s bullshit, just as having a singing instructor won’t stifle your singing voice – it will focus it, train it, and make it better. But a crap editor can ruin your work. So avoid bad ones.
8) You want the truth, not validation. People who will tell you the truth are rare, and valuable. Treasure them.
9) Understand what kind of editing you want. Many confuse proofreading with editing. It’s not the same thing. A proofreader will catch typos, punctuation errors, and occasional grammar issues. An editor will work on sentence clarity/structure, echoes, idea repetition, plot holes. A developmental editor will work on story flow, character arc, plot, pacing. Determine which you’re after and don’t expect one to do the other’s job. They are different skills.
10) A good editor makes you a better author. Finding one is a process. There are many poor to mediocre folks touting services, and there are good ones. As with most things, buyer beware. Skeptical examination of claims, requiring and checking references, and ensuring the editor is a good stylistic match are musts.
I recently reviewed Lawrence Block’s new iteration of his novel writing guide, and after finishing my WIP yesterday, was inspired enough by that book to share what passes for my approach for producing a page-turner novel.
After creating a rough outline that fleshes out my story with all the basic elements and characters (as detailed in my blog on outlining), and satisfying myself that the arcs work, I look at each chapter as a developmental editor might, and ask myself how I can make it the best in the book. While impossible to achieve, that’s a good starting point, and forces me to focus at the chapter level so there’s no filler or fluff.
When I’m evaluating a chapter, I try to ensure it contains either an action beat, a surprise, a revelation that’s key to the story, a reversal, or frames a question to which the reader is compelled to know the answer.
I often try to work in more than one of these elements. As an example, I might have the protag learn that her best friend was murdered, which posits the unspoken question, who’s the killer? I might have her make the discovery after she’s chased by a mysterious figure (action beat), demanding another few questions be answered: who’s after her, and why? And I might finally have her turn the tables on the pursuer, and have her shadow him to discover more, only to have him disappear into an unexpected location – a church, or a whorehouse, or the governor’s mansion – whatever. That would be an action beat, two burning overt questions and a subtle one (who’s the killer?), a reversal (hunted becomes hunter), ending on a surprise that frames yet more questions (why that location? What does it mean?), all in the same few pages.
For a real world example, let’s look at JET, which was written three years ago, so the technique wasn’t refined – I was basically flying by the seat of my pants, but in hindsight, I applied my process instinctively. In the prologue, we’re introduced to a bureaucrat in Belize who is walking across a plaza. He’s assassinated by a rooftop sniper, who then rushes to a waiting car. It’s obvious he’s a pro, and the only line of dialogue in the couple of pages, closes the chapter: “One down.” So what do we have there? An action beat (assassination) that raises several questions: who was the bureaucrat and what’s his significance to the story? Who is the shooter, and why did he kill the bureaucrat? Why Belize? And finally, who are the others who are targeted – as foreshadowed by that final line? That’s at least five questions in a few paragraphs, set up by a brutal execution that lets you know there’s going to be some unexpected twists ahead. The reader is compelled to keep reading if they want to learn more. Mission accomplished. The action gets their attention, but it’s the questions that drive them forward.
Now let’s take a more macro view of the story’s design. I have each act (I usually write three or four act structures) end with a major beat, where a big question is framed that’s answered in subsequent chapters. I tend to think of them as big, bigger, and biggee, on a three act structure, with the answer to the final one something the reader won’t see coming. I don’t always accomplish that lofty goal, but I shoot for it, and if possible, manage a couple of twists at the end. The more the merrier, as long as it doesn’t feel contrived. Readers are delighted by twists, but only if they’re honest, meaning if they go back and reread, it all hangs together logically and was arrived at fairly.
As I’ve written more I’ve become increasingly mindful of structure, and am convinced it’s well worth taking the time to require all chapters do as much heavy lifting as possible. If you think each through with this logic, you’ll find yourself cutting quite a few scenes that should really only be sentences , or modifying sections to increase their urgency.
Once I’ve concluded this process with the outline, I then review all the sections a final time and ask myself why anyone would have to continue after each, rather than going to bed at a sensible hour on a work night.
Note that I’m not offering suggestions on story arc, character development, description, or any of that. All are important, but this assumes you’ve already mastered sufficient craft to have those nailed. You could also use my approach when pantsing, asking yourself how to heighten the tension and raise the ante at every turn. For me, more time-consuming than outlining, but whatever works for you.
Also note that this is not a process to write a better novel, but rather how to structure a better novel so that when you write it, you do so with no meandering, the objective of each chapter clear in your mind, fleshed out with suitable hooks to keep the reader wanting to plow on with it rather than putting it aside.
I find the more I follow this process, the better my work. I’d rather know up front if I don’t have sufficient story and create a secondary or tertiary plot, than have to fluff up the page count with endless accounts of what the trees stirring in the morning breeze reminded the protag of, or spend paragraphs on the scent of jasmine on the summer wind, etc. That’s not to say you want to eliminate any lyricism to your prose, but rather you want it to be maximally engaging – a page turner. You can balance lyricism against that objective, and optimize the effectiveness of both.
I’m pretty sure this process can work for any commercial fiction, regardless of genre. Tension, suspense, urgency, reversals, all are staples in a writer’s toolkit.
Obviously, the better your craft, the less noticeable the bones of the technique are, but it’s one of the things I wish someone had explained to me when I started writing – it would have spared me a whole lot of fumbling around trying to grasp what really works. It sounds obvious, but if you write stories the reader can’t put down, your odds of making a living go up exponentially.
So there are the keys to the kingdom, free of charge. I can’t stress the difference this approach can make in crafting an un-putdownable read. Try it and see. It’s more work, but by demanding more out of every chapter, and putting each through these hoops with no exceptions, you’ll find you write a better book.
And that’s never a bad thing.