Problems with Word Count Quotas

While writing my first two books, I didn’t pay too much attention to my word count until after I finished the first draft. My first draft of Song of the Forest came close to 200,000 words and my first draft of Power Surge was around 130,000. When I revised, I went through a cycle of cutting and adding. By the time I got to my final drafts, they were 83,000 and 78,000 words.

My third book, Like Birds Under the City Sky, was different. It was national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo), so I had set a goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. I successfully added 50,000 words to a document that started the month off as a 4,000 word short story. As I revised, I cut and added a few thousand words, but the changes were not as drastic as they had been for my first two books.

Initially, I didn’t see this as a problem. It was my third book, and in between it and my other books, I had written dozens of short stories and flash fictions. I polished the book up, and sent it out to agents and a couple publishers. I got about 20 rejections, but one publisher suggested I give the book a complete overhaul and resubmit. Afraid to make that drastic of a change based on one editors opinion, I sought out feedback from another beta reader and heard the same thing.

When time came to start Community Magic, a novel I had been dreaming for nearly a year, I thought Camp NaNoWriMo would be the perfect way to get it done, but instead of motivating me, the word count quote actually made anxious, and made me feel guilty about not writing. This would have been okay if the guilt motivated me, and/or it was the only problem.

The guilt made me write less. I also noticed other issues.

I was overwriting. I sent chapters out to a critique partner, and she kept pointing out all kinds of things that were not necessary and were just filling space – things I may not have written had I not been rushing to meet my quota of words for the day.

The word count was a distraction. Instead of living the story as I was writing it, my eyes kept drifting down the little numbers at the bottom of my document telling me how many words I had written. I was not as immersed in the world as I should’ve been, and as a result, the plot was rambling, the characters were a little flat, and the world contained inconsistencies. I decided that book wasn’t mean to be NaNoWriMo’ed and switched to a different work in progress – Earth Reclaimed – the story I just ran a rather unsuccessful Publishizer campaign for.

I’m waiting until I have a complete draft to start seeking feedback, but I can feel myself doing some of the same things – almost mindless typing to my word count gets closer to the one my campaign said it should be when the word count. At this point, I should be focused on building the word and getting to know my characters. If my word count falls short, I can expand the draft in revision. If it to high, then I can have a party cutting words while I edited.

Word count goals are great, but when they start to detract from the quality of the writing, then I know I need to revisit how and when I use them.

Flash Fiction:The Purrrfect Crime

Generally, when I write cat stories for Cracked Flash Fiction Competition, they don’t win. Sometimes, I write cat stories anyways.

The Purrrfect Crime

By Sara Codair

“I taught you to pick locks and this is how you use that skill?” Grandma gaped at me, gourd-shaped eyes enlarged by her glasses.

I shrugged.

“Our family has a reputation to uphold!”

My cheeks burned. I relinquished eye contact and stared at my sneakers. There was a hole in the tongue, and a piece of sole peeped out from under my toes.

“You have nothing to say for yourself?”

“She was cold and hungry.”

“A lot of people are cold and hungry,” spat Grandma.

“But she was so skinny, like her kittens were sucking the life right out of her!”

Grandma shook her head. “You could have at least taken something useful while you were in there. They have to keep all their donations somewhere.”

“But they need those.” The locked cashbox had been tempting. I’d even picked it up and gotten halfway to the door before a black tom ghosted out of the shadows and sliced my calf open with his claws. I stared into his yellow eyes forever before placing the metal box back on the ground. He nudged my hand once then purred over to the hungry mother and kittens I’d snuck into the shelter.

I left the cash box where it was, and placed a few coins and note on top of it, asking them to use my small donation to help the new mom and her kittens.

Grandma glared at the post on FriendlyFelineFriday. It read “You’ll Never Believe What Happened on this Break-in!”

“Your mom was the best jewel thief in the country,” muttered Grandma, “And you use the family trade to sneak cats into shelters.”

“Yup.”

Grandma continued to rant, and I endured it. Our reputation in the underworld could go to hell. I saved a family of cats.

FAQ’s About my Publishizer Campaign

Family, friends, and online acquaintances have been asking some questions about my Publishizer campaign,  so I put together some questions and answers that might help you understand what I am trying to do.

If you get enough preorders, it gets…queried? What does that mean?

 Each time I hit a pre-order threshold (100, 250, 500, 1000), my book gets queried to publishers. The more queries I get, the better the publishers it is queried to. 100 gets my proposal sent to hybrid publishers, 250 gets it sent to small indie publisher, 500 gets it sent to small, traditional publishers, and if I get 1,000 pre-orders, it will get sent to “Big 5” publishers.

What happens to my money if I pre-order your book, but it doesn’t get picked up by a publisher?

 Thanks to the Internet, Amazon, and Createspace, I don’t technically need a publisher. If I don’t get an offer I want to accept, I can use Createspace to self publish. In fact, unless I get an really good offer, I probably will self-publish.

Why? Because self-publishing will give me full control over the project. I can use the funds raised to hire a designer who will make me a beautiful cover and an editor I am confortable working with. Self-publishing will allow me to make this really be the book I want it to be, not the book someone else wants it to be.

What if you don’t get an offer and decide not to self-publish?

That would only happen if my campaign went really bad. If I have less than 50 pre-orders, don’t get an offer I am willing to accept and decide not to self-publish, then you will get a full refund.

What, exactly, will my money be used for?

If I choose to self publish, your money will go towards the production costs, professional editing, design and marketing.

If I get picked up by a small publisher, they will be doing the editing, design, and some marketing, so I will use the money to supplement their marketing.

Editing can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and if you know me, you know how important it is for me to have someone edit my work before I self publish, or before I even let a potential publisher look at it. I may have the knowledge to edit, but I have reading problems that make it very difficult for me to catch my own errors.

What if I order a print copy and the publisher decides to publish it as an e-book only?

I will only sign with a publisher if they will make both print and e-books. If you pre-order a print book, you will get a print book.

What if the list price ends up being lower than the preorder price?

 Even on amazon and in a bookstore, prices fluctuate. I don’t know what the list price will be. It might be more than what you pay, but it could also be less.

By pre-ordering now, you are not just buying the book but also supporting my creative journey. You will also be among the first people to get the book.

When do I get charged? Is the print copy hardback or paperback?

You get charged right away. Whether it is hardback or a paperback will be determined by the kind of publisher I go with. 

Are you actually going to sign 5000 books if you get 5000 orders?

Yes, though I’m not expecting to get that many pre-orders for print books. I suspect most of my pre-orders will be e-books.

Who do I contact if any of the above doesn’t happen as advertised?

You can contact Publishizer and ask for a refund through this form: https://publishizer.com/about/contact/. You can schedule a phone call with them. You can direct message me on facebook or twitter.

But remember — writing is like breathing for me. I need to write, and I really want to share my stories with the world. If you pre-order, you will get your book. I might take a year, but you will get it.

I hope these answers help.

If you haven’t yet, please check out Earth Reclaimed!

Earth Reclaimed.

In a future where magic has replaced technology, 17-year-old Serena McIntyre must represent her people’s interest at a conference that is forming a new North East American constitution.

17-year-old Serena McIntyre grew up in a future where Mother Earth had purged most technology from the planet and crippled civilization. The surviving humans are reorganizing. Some want to live a simple life in harmony with earth while others, like the New Neo Nazis have darker plans for a new society.

When a conference is called to choose leaders and laws for the Newly Unified New England States (NUNES), Serena must travel inland to represent her people and their way of life: equality, earth magic, and harmony with Mother Earth. The opposing factions will do anything to stop her. TheNew Neo Nazis want to purge the region of impurities and make themselves kings. A secretive faction of scientists want to “take back the earth” with new technology.

Can Serena convince the people of NUNES to live in harmony with Mother Earth? If she fails, Earth will purge humans from her surface.

Why Earth Reclaimed?

Earth Reclaimed.I’ve written a few posts about why I choose Publishizer as a platform to launch Earth Reclaimed, but I’ve written very little about why I am writing Earth Reclaimed.

So why am I writing Earth Reclaimed?

I love nature, especially the ocean, lakes, rivers, and estuaries. I’ve always had a sense that the earth is more than just a big ball of rock floating in space, but sleeping organism.

Nearly all my writing is speculative, answering some kind of “what if?” question. In this case, it was “What if Earth woke up and wasn’t happy with what human’s had done? What is she reclaimed herself and the being She shelters? What would the lake I live on look like if this happened? What would become of New England? What would become of the whole planet?”

Speculating about those questions gave me a world. I populated it with non-binary characters who like myself, do not conform to binary gender identities and with people who would have a problem non-binary folks. My main characters have a connection to the Earth and respect her, but other characters are bitter and angry. They want revenge against Earth for killing so many people in her attempt to take control.

I have questions to explore, characters I can relate to, and conflict – three ingredients I need to make a novel. This one is closer to my heart than some of my other projects because the world was inspired by some of my favorite places. It even features the Boston Whaler that has been in my family for three generations. It’s a story that screams “Sara!”

So far, I am loving the freedom that the secondary world gives to invent new towns and make my own maps instead of being limited by existing geography.

Even though I’ve planned out specific plot points, I’ve had plenty of discoveries as I wrote. There are giant jellyfish that visit harbor’s just before dawn, salt marshes that are sentient and can manifest their spirit in almost human form, some forests won’t allow humans to pass on foot, and the bay really cares about the people who fish in his shores.

The plot is building, I’m getting to know the characters, and having a blast with the description.

The draft is coming along quickly, and should be done in two weeks when my Publishizer Campaign closes.

I wish I could say my campaign was going as well as the novel. I’ve only gotten five pre-orders, and have less than two weeks left. My goal is 500, but not meeting that goal won’t stop me from publishing this book.

The more pre-orders I get, the more likely I am to attract a good publisher. If I don’t get an offer from a publisher I like, I will self-publish, and use the funds I raised to hire a professional editor and designer to make it look good and pay for advertising so the project can reach as many readers as possible.

My ultimate goal as a writer is to succeed through traditional publishing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t travel other paths in the process. Self-publishing will give me a lot more creative control with this project, and frankly, that is not bad thing.

Either way, I need more pre-orders to make it happen!

 

Micro Fiction: What Comes Out of the Ground

Here is another bit of micro fiction inspired by Cracked Flash’s weekly prompt. This one was a runner up.

What Comes Out of the Ground

By Sara Codair

“My flesh is clothed with worms and a crust of dirt,” I said, shuddering on the doorstep. The open door loomed over me, black and peeling, like the mouth of an ancient monster waiting to swallow me whole.

“Stop being dramatic,” muttered my mother. “Just make sure you wipe your feet before you go inside. I don’t want my floor ‘clothed’ in that shit.”

I brushed the flecks of brown off my clothing, pulled a wriggling worm out my hair, and rubbed the soles of my sneakers on the emoji door mat. I stepped inside, staring at immaculate white tile and paint, so clean it glowed. The floor creaked behind me. The door slammed shut.

“Please shower before you touch anything.” She shuffled past me, putting more weight on her cane than I remembered during my last visit.

Taking baby steps, I made my way to the powder room where I washed my hands, stripped out of my  muddy clothing, put it in a trash bag, and got in the shower. I covered myself in a lather of soap and let the water rush over my skin until it looked like it belonged to a living human, not a zombie.

I got dressed, brought my soiled clothing to my car, and found my mother sitting on her front porch.

“Thank you for helping out,” she said. “We got good harvest. Those potatoes should last until the spring.”

Don’t Judge this By Its 1st Chapter: A Review of How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days

How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' DaysHow I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days by Megan O’Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you enjoyed Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon, you will probably enjoy How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days as they both feature a snarky, sort of whiny, self-aware narrator who wants to be like Deadpool but isn’t quite as cool.

At the beginning, I was not a fan of this book, or Bryant, its narrator/main character. My first impression was that he was a racist dick because made a comment about “old black ladies” watching out for him. That opening chapter really made me think the book drew unnecessary attention to race, and made me want to punch Bryant in the face.

But Bryant grew on me. He made me laugh. I loved the idea of the magic cell phone, and the world was well built. That first chapter was really the only one that had a racist vibe. There were some lines that were a bit too corny, even for this character, but in the end, the plot and the world drew me in. Bryant did grow and change throughout book, and he learned something in the end, which more than I can say for the characters in Valerian.

Speaking of the end, it wrapped up the main storyline, but left plenty room for a sequel, which I would probably read. However, I never read the second book in the Chronicles of Nick, so maybe I will be content to leave Bryant with one book. Books, like all arts, are subjective, and Bryant’s voice just wasn’t one I connected with. That doesn’t mean it was bad — just not my cup of tea.

View all my reviews

 

P.S. I received a free copy of this through NetGalley.

Book Review: The Dying Game

The Dying GameThe Dying Game by Asa Åvdic

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

This one is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but I’ll do the best I can.

I received an ARC of The Dying Game through the First to Read program. I initially chose it because I thought it might eventually be a good comp for one of my novels. It was thriller set in the near future and it had a female protagonist trying to get over something bad. That part of the concept seemed neat. The whole set up with people disappearing from a secluded house filled with secret passages was cliche.

Overall, the book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I get part of the thriller genre is to keep people guessing, but some of the details the author choose to leave out were downright distracting. For example, I never quite figured out the main character actually did at her job. I was constantly thinking about this instead of the story, and as a result, found myself constantly getting pulled out of the story. While the author skimped on details that seemed important, there were large swaths of back story that was just told, and more info dumps than I could count.

I kept thinking that all this was going to be relevant when I got to the end. Some of it was — but the end would have been far more surprising had the backstory been woven through in a more subtle way. Because of the info dumps and long, told, segments of flashbacks, the end was pretty much exactly what I was expecting, though, I admit, there were a few times in the middle where I thought I was wrong, and found myself hoping in vain for a more optimistic ending.

I also felt most of the characters were unnessarily sexist and binary. After reading two books with intersex and genderfluid leads, this felt like a slap in the face. I can see a female writer making the men seem a bit misogynistic to make a point, but there could have been at least one female character who wasn’t a stereotype of one kind or another…

Despite the many flaws of the The Dying Game, I did keep reading until the end, even though I considered giving up a couple times. The prose were pretty — there was good literary scenary that made it a little less painful. I also wanted to know if I was right about where the plot was going, and really hate to leave a novel unfinished (House of Leaves is still siting on my book case, mocking me. It doesn’t need a friend.) So I kept reading, and got to the ending I really wished I had been wrong about.

I my head, this book is 2.5 stars, but Goodreads and Amazon don’t give that option, so I’m rounding up when I review on those sites.

View all my reviews

New Micro Fiction: Padded Walls

Note: As some of you know, I often participate in a weekly writing contest called “Cracked Flash Fiction Competition.” The following piece won this week. I owe this weeks judge, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, a big thank you for catching my typos and still choosing my story in spite of the,.

Padded Walls

By Sara Codair

“When this is over, I want my sanity back,” said Elena as matter-of-factly as one could say anything when wearing a straightjacket in a padded room.

The padded walls spread their crusty purple lips, revealing row upon row of pointy yellow teeth and laughed.

“I mean it.” She waggled her pointer finger at the ceiling.

“Who says it will ever be over?” The wall’s lips cracked as it spoke.

“Who said I was talking to you,” retorted Elena, tearing her eyes away from the ceiling so she could glare at the wall.

Black blood dripped out of the wall’s cracked lip, trickling down to the floor. “No one leaves here alive.”

Elena laughed. The sound was harsher, more maniacal than it had been two weeks ago.

“You do not believe?” asked the wall.

“You’re the reason I’m here.” She crouched down, wriggling in the straightjacket that was not nearly as tight as the orderlies thought, thankful for all the months she’d trained prior to taking this assignment.

“You can’t do that,” said the wall.

Elena arched one eyebrow as she shrugged off the jacket and used it to wipe up the black blood.

The wall opened its mouth and screamed. Elena didn’t flinch. It inhaled, sucking in air so hard her hair blew towards its maw. She closed her eyes, cleared her mind of the all the drug-induced hallucinations she’d had during her stay Frommington Hospital, waiting for the wall to show its true face.

She whispered words of power in the ancient tongue. The blood soaked jacket caught fire. The wall screamed as it burned with the jacket. The door opened as orderlies rushed in to put out the fire. Elena charged through them and strolled out of the burning hospital like she owned the place.

Room for Discovery in Planned Novels

When I was taking a creative writing workshop in college, my professor (Andre Dubus III) told me he never planned novels. He encouraged us to avoid outlines, claiming they would make our writing feel forced. He said if we outlined, our characters wouldn’t feel real, and they wouldn’t come to life on the page.

Shortly after that, I went to a talk / signing to see Jim Butcher, who was my absolute favorite author at the time. He was the opposite. He planned entire series before he wrote them.

 

Both men were successful – they had best selling novels. One was on Oprah and had his books in her book club. The other had fans who went to cons dressed up as his characters. However, they wrote completely different styles of fiction. Dubus wrote realistic literary fiction and Butcher wrote about snarky wizards and monsters the monsters they fought.

In hind sight, I think I would’ve finished my first novel quicker if I’d followed Butcher’s planner approach. However, the thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next kept me writing well past midnight. I loved letting my characters develop on the page and shape the plot with their own stubborn whims.

DSC_0750.jpgThe problem was, left to their own devices, my character took the plot down dead ends that didn’t go anywhere or their plots would amble on and on, never reaching a destination.

I started a novel when I was 18. I finished draft 1 when I was 26. I finished draft 10 at 28. Now, at 29, I’ve gotten lots of rejections for it, and am waiting for  four agents who have the full manuscript to make a decision.

It only took me a few months to write a first draft of novel # 2, but that draft turned out to be 200,000 words long. Then it took me two years to cut it down to 84,000 words. I just started querying that novel.

DSC_0106

Goose approves…maybe.

While I liked the idea of the “panster” approach, it was not very efficient. When 2016’s National Novel Writing Month rolled around, I tried to be a planster. I had a short story I was expanding to a novel, so made a very rough outline where it was going to go. There were some cool surprises – like the sentient, genetically modified cats that showed half way through the first draft, and chapters from the antagonist’s point of view that helped me resolve the conflict.

 

After a month, I had a 55,000 word draft that was well plotted with deep, dynamic characters. Seven beta readers and as many revisions later, I’m ready to enter this book into pitch wars.

And that brings me to the two novels I am currently working on: Community Magic and Earth Reclaimed.

With Community Magic, I had a concept and characters in my head, with a very vague plot, so I jotted down a few ideas and dove into the first draft. I’m half way through, but it is a big mess of a draft.

Earth Reclaimed..jpgFor Earth Reclaimed, I wrote out a chapter by chapter outline, wrote a complete synopsis, a pitch, and a query before I finished writing Chapter 2. So far, I have a cleaner, readable draft that I will be able to give to beta readers when I finish.

With Community Magic, I will have to revise two or three times before I let anyone read the whole thing.

Both books have interesting characters, a compelling plot, and I’ve encountered surprises while writing both of them. Even with all the planning I did, I never expected intelligent, self-aware schooners to show up in Earth Reclaimed, but they did, and they’re there to stay.

Outlines and plans are not the evil things I once thought they were. They are not vampires that suck the life out of a story. They just help writers get things done.

 

© 2017 Sara Codair

4 Down, 496 Left to Go / 7 Standards for Publishers

Last night I launched my first Publishizer campaign. I received four pre-orders ranging from $8 to $45. I thought that was good night, but my experience selling online is with jewelry, not books. When selling on Etsy, I was thrilled if I had four orders in one evening.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 10.44.41 AM.pngWhile I’m happy with the orders I have so far, and really appreciate the support people have shown, I still have a long way to go. My goal is to get 500 orders by August 8th since that is what I need in order for  Publishizer  to query my book to top, traditional publishers publishers. I’d be completely happy with an offer from a small or indie press too.  Publishizer queries them when I hit 250 pre-orders.

However, I will not take an offer from “service” or “hybrid” publishers.

I tried to publish a book with a hybrid publisher last year. They got me really excited, but by book never even went to edits. Its been almost a year since I heard from anyone at that company and I’m not sure they even still exist. The best I can hope for is that they forget about me, so  when my contract expires I can try publishing the book elsewhere.

A bad experience is not the only reason I’m avoiding hybrids, though. From what I understand, they use print on demand and other self-publishing methods. Yes, they edit for you, design a cover and do some minimal marketing, but they are also taking a large chunk of the sales. They’re not saving writers any money.

I suppose if one knows nothing about editing or cover design, and has no platform a hybrid or service publisher might bel helpful. For me, not so much. I already have a cover for my book. I have a platform. I even have an editor. What I don’t have is a giant network of Facebook friends willing to throw their money at me. I need a publisher that is going to get my book in the hands people I’ve never met before, one that will expose me to new readers.

I value my writing. I want to build a career off of it. I need to be selective about who publishes my work. After spending some time in Absolute Write’s Bewares, Background Check and Recommendations forum, I’ve come with a seven criteria any publisher I sign with must meet:

  1. The publisher must not charge the writer anything, ever.
  2. The publisher must provide multiple rounds of professional editing.
  3. The publisher must market my book in ways I cannot do on my own.
  4. The owner, editors, PR people and designers should have prior experience in publishing.
  5. The website must be geared towards readers, not perspective writers.
  6. The covers must be beautiful and professionally designed.
  7. The books for sale must have decent amazon rankings and reviews.

My campaign with Publishizer is a new adventure for me — a new path through the publishing word — but I will still hold any offers I get to the same standards as any I get through more traditional methods. If I get under 50 pre-orders, I do have the option to refund my readers. If I get more than 50, but do not get any offers I approve of, then this will turn into my first experience with self-publishing.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed my post and want to support my writing journey, please pre-order Earth Reclaimed at https://publishizer.com/earth-reclaimed/