It might not seem like much fun, but world-building breathes life into characters like nothing else. Answering a thorough set of questions about the life and world your characters occupy is as important as wings are to a hummingbird. In the bones of world-building you find the strength to make choices for your characters. You see what they’d be likely to do when they face a challenge. You can even pivot away from the obvious, to great effect, when you know how the world works where they live.
World-building used to be associated with science fiction and fantasy more than any other kind of fiction. Now it’s baked into every kind of story. It’s shorthand for understanding what makes sense in the world of the book.
One author among my clients recently did her heavy lifting to create a 2,500-word set of world-building questions. “I wanted to be thorough, so when I go to revise the book, it's easier. I think I may be able to lift some of the text from the answers into the book.” There’s a trilogy in the offing, so her world-building is front-loading work to make an easier back end, too.
A fine set of do’s and don’ts on world-building is now an article at Writer’s Digest. It’s a good primer on how the building assists a writer in constructing their story so it engages readers. Being engaged is the kind of thing that triggers recommendations.
Promotion is not secret publishing
Published authors—and even those on the verge of being released to the world—hold hope for the promotion of their books. Hey, I wrote this and it was a lot of work on my part. Now it’s time for you to do your job, Publisher. Get the world to notice it and talk it up.
That’s all reasonable, to a point. Whatever an author can do to help a book’s discovery is up for negotiation in most contracts. Talking about what might be done shouldn’t be a secret, though. Promotion and marketing might be the most opaque part of an industry built upon many secrets. It’s not hard to learn that most books don’t pay an author anything except the advance for up to a year after publication – unless that book does a land-rush launch. It’s harder to learn how a publisher turns the crank on the promotion mill.
Asking what’s going to be done, in specific, is a way to help the book. Posing those questions gives a publisher a way to reveal its practices to a business partner: the author. At the same time as questions get asked of the publisher, there’s an important one authors should always ask. “How can I help?” might go a long way to lift a book into a higher orbit.
In book promotion, the schedule runs from It’s Never Too Early until It’s Good Later Than You Think. People like to support something new, but a book is new for at least six months after it’s available widely. What carries the most weight is reader reviews in any form. Anything you can do to get your tribe to review your book on Amazon will propel sales more than anything.
Bookstore events are not just about selling copies. These appearances get you introduced to the store’s booksellers. The indie stores buy for themselves, rather than through a big buyer combine like what’s used at Barnes & Noble. Sales during an appearance provide evidence the book might be worth a re-order by the store’s buyer.
Complete novels in three days
It might sound like a fantasy: An author completes a book in just a long weekend. However, British novelist Michael Moorcock has a method he follows to create an astonishing number of books. He works in fantasy and science fiction and lays out a process that gives him a finished draft in just three days.
Moorcock is 81, with a bibliography that runs from 1961 to 2015. His process relies on lists: of ideas, of images, of expected events, of “everything you will need. The idea of compiling a list of ideas and events you can turn to when you are stuck writing is great advice,” says Lincoln Michel in his Counter Craft blog, “even if you’re planning to draft your novel in three years instead of three days." Lists can function as invisible architecturefor a novel, providing the author with a means of generating the story that the reader won’t necessarily see.
Feeling tempted to turn away at this, because it’s too structured? These are only lists and not detailed outlines. They still leave lots of room for an organic writing process and surprises. Create your first list, of associations with your main concept, to create coherence.
Copyediting fiction in the details
Different kinds of editing are in everyone’s services menu, including mine. One everyday offering is copyediting. There’s a spectrum that runs from development to line edits to copyediting. There is creativity an editor supplies at every one of these stops. A copyedit of fiction is “empathic listening” for Benjamin Dreyer at Random House. In his Dreyer’s English Calendar there's a list of what a copyeditor of a novel should do. Scrutinize everything. Take nothing for granted. Pose lots of questions.
You can also get the benefit of any other books your copyeditor has helped refine and elevate. The mission he takes on — as I do — is to “point out some of the glitches that, since I’ve repeatedly come face-to-face with them over the years, you might well find in your own work.”
Do you finish reading books?
The world of readers falls into two great categories—those who finish books no matter what, and those who do not. At the book website Modern Mrs Darcy, its editor quotes novelist John Irving, who says, “Grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying.” There are those who abandon books they’re not enjoying. And those who wish they could.
Which kind are you? Let me hear from you: Finisher, or Abandoner?
PS: “Almost everybody I know who does interesting, creative work, they went through a phase where whatever they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short.” — Ira Glass, This American Life creator.
At a belated Father’s Day dinner out, my son Nate ordered a flaming cheesecake from the Fogueira Gaúcha Brazilian Steakhouse menu. Adding flaming rum made something delicious even more memorable. I love to help authors heat up books with an edit or a round of development.
Let’s talk about your book and how I can assist with edits, coaching, evaluation, or publishing.