Friday, October 30, 2015

Best Writer's Roadblock Fix

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My high school teachers would not be surprised to know that ... I've changed my publication date for HUNTER'S MOON!

I've pushed it ahead by two weeks.

My beta feedback just got overwhelming. Notes from close to 30 people? Once I read through and started processing, I felt overwhelmed by the different points of view. Overwhelmed ... then confused ... then depressed. Then all three. 

On one of my lowest days - you know, the kind where can feel the corners of your mouth hitting your collarbone? - I actually had my biggest breakthroughs. 

I came in the door after a depressing walk to get groceries and I was tossing things and sulking and groaning and complaining. The hubs - who's seen me through  many of these days - sat down beside me and feigned patience. 'Blah, blah, blah,' I started complaining. 'Blah-dee, blah and then blah ... and then ...' 

Suddenly, ideas started coming to me. One, then another, then another - then a whole new ending - and, and, and ...

Now I'm totally excited about writing these new scenes. I'm going to send all the new material to the betas who've agreed to stay with me during the whole process, so I can get their feedback on those scenes too. 

One of the readers commented on how great it was that I've been so 'open' to everyone's suggestions. I was honest with her, telling her that I was overwhelmed at first, but that all the feedback - good and bad - has pushed me to work harder and make the book as good as I can. 

It's a very different experience from taking the notes from a single editor. I want to talk more about that, but for now, here's one of my biggest pieces of writing advice - at least when it comes to getting past roadblocks: it doesn't matter how depressed you are over where you are in your book. Things will get better again. You will smile again. You will laugh again. You will solve these problems and feel elated again.

And then ... soon enough, you'll hit another roadblock and get depressed again. 

But you'll get through that one too and the whole cycle will happen all over again. It's part of the job.

However, if you're absolutely stumped on what to do next, here's what I do: put the book away for a couple of days. I suggest writing something to keep the creative channels going, but don't agonize over the book itself.

That's what I did a few days ago. When I'd hit that wall and couldn't focus anymore, I worked on other things (no shortage of that in an indie writer's life) letting my unconscious mind deal with all the input of the betas.

Within a day or two, I had the answers I needed. 

btw this is not a unique idea. 'Unconscious problem solving' was responsible for some of the biggest breakthroughs in history. If you want to know more about how it can help you overcome roadblocks - whether in your book or in your life - check out this article about Einstein and friends. 

May the ghosts and witches of this festive time of year fill
your candy bags - and your lives - with all kinds of yummy things!

Friday, October 23, 2015

5 Beta Reader Book Club Lessons!

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be·ta test
  1. 1
    a trial of machinery, software, or other products, in the final stages of its development, carried out by a party unconnected with its development.
  1. 1
    subject (a product) to a beta test.

Most of my manuscripts are back from my beta readers! I've spent the last week going through the feedback.

What an incredible experience to get SO much input before the book is even published. I had almost thirty beta readers altogether!

In the traditional publishing world, you only have a handful of people involved in feedback. Your agent, your editor and the editorial assistant, with a smattering of input possibly coming from the publisher or the marketing department.

I was always so eager to please my editors, I didn't bother writing for anyone else. So it's great to hear what actual readers have to say.

By the way, my betas weren't your average readers either. They were enthusiastic book lovers. That's because I had the opportunity to use members of the Toronto Book and Brunch Club in my beta group.

The experience was so unique, Gordon A. Wilson asked me to do a guest post for his popular writing blog,  It's all about the 5 biggest surprises I had during the process.

By the way, my betas weren't just readers. They were great editors too! Check it out!

Friday, October 16, 2015

# 1: Taking Notes From Your Agent

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My manuscripts come back from my beta readers this weekend. I'm excited - and nervous. I've asked them all for their honest feedback, so I know I'll hear some criticism.

As a writer, taking criticism is never easy - whether it's bad reviews on, feedback from betas or a jab from a frenemy. It's not fun taking criticism from your editor or agent either. Only in traditional publishing they have a nicer word for it: 'notes.'

Your first round of notes will come from your agent. He or she might want changes based on the market, his or her own personal tastes, or the editor they have in mind. So you'll probably have a round of editing to do before your agent even begins shopping your book around.

My advice is this: keep your relationship with your agent (and everyone else you work with) amicable, but follow your heart when it comes to making changes to your manuscript (MS). It's a real balancing act trying to protect your own vision while staying on good terms with the (many!) people who get involved in bringing your book to market.

But it's something you have to learn how to do.

btw - once your agent gets you a deal on your manuscript, you probably won't deal with them much anymore - at least not about that book.

That's because:

A) a good agent is busy trying to get deals for his or her other clients; and
B) a good agent is only going to care about getting you a deal on your next book.

It takes about 18 months to go through the whole process - from signing the contract to the book hitting the shelves.

But throughout that process, your agent is going to be asking you about your next book! You'll be so swamped by revisions on your first book, you won't want to think about your second one. But you should!

That's because your publisher has secured the first right of refusal on your 'Next Work' and your agent will want your publisher making that decision as soon as possible. (On the very, very slim chance your book tanks and your publisher cools on you.)

btw, some publishers won't even consider your Next Work until 60-90 days after your current book hits the shelves. That gives them time to see how it's going to perform - and how good a self-promoter you are.

(All this provided you haven't already signed a multi-book deal, which is for the lucky few, unfortunately.)

However, this particular part of your contract is not standard. On my second book, the publisher had sixty days from the submission of the next proposal to make an offer. So carefully read your contract and get that second proposal in asap. Because - on the very, very, extremely slim chance your book flops - you could already have another book deal in place. And that's good news!

btw I've worked with some of the biggest publishers in the world - and some of the best editors in the business. But the process wasn't anything like I expected! For one thing, the 'editing process' is not called 'editing.' It's usually called 'revisions.' And it's probably nothing like the glamorous fantasy you have in your head.

But that's for next time.

If you haven't seen it, I wrote a guest post for author Gordon A. Wilson about the top five reasons I'm going indie this time - instead of back to those big New York houses. Check it out!

And hit me up on Twitter: @SLMcInnis - I'll follow ya back!

Friday, October 9, 2015

6 Writing Myths from THE AFFAIR

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Last year - like a lot of people - I got addicted to Showtime's new hit THE AFFAIR. Especially since it's about a novelist.

But watching the season opener this weekend, I noticed several myths about being a published writer that I want to clarify. Just in case we're all buying the hype of the 'glamorous author's life.' Which, of course, we all do! ;) There were six of them:


The main character, Noah Solloway, has one failed novel behind him and no platform (i.e. he's not a big name or a social media wiz). So I found it kind of funny that he talked about getting a $400,000 book advance.

Publishing has been slow to bounce back from the recession - as everyone except the 1%ers have been - and advances are much more likely to be in the four or five-figure range - if you're lucky. Be realistic about the money in publishing and don't quit your day job - yet!


Stephen Kunken plays Noah's editor (though sometimes he seems to act like an agent too, so it's confusing). Anyway, they met at a party in the Hamptons last season. Even though Noah was a failed writer, this big time editor was happy to basically guarantee him a book deal on the spot, champagne flute in hand, string quartet playing in the background. No manuscript submitted, no agent shopping, no approval from the publisher - which all editors have to do before they buy a book from you.

I hope this dream scenario happens to you ... but chances are you'll have to get an agent before a big time editor will even blink at you. And if you are one of those lucky Hamptonites and meet an editor at a party, an agent would at least be mentioned!


Kunken also has this incredible corner office with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of Manhattan worthy of Gordon Gekko. My former agents and editors were about as big as they come, but even they had middling views of water towers and other office buildings. So this is another misconception about New York editors. That their offices are big and spacious and sleek, when they're really kind of small and messy and cluttered with books and manuscripts.

Agents, on the other hand, can be more swishy about their offices. As for the view, is there a bad view of Manhattan? Not really.


Kunken's sleek window ledges are rimmed with hard covers of - presumably - his clients' books. I saw James Patterson's Beach House and a J.D. Robb book. The others looked like massive bestsellers, too, one copy of each.

Your agent or editor will have an office with shelves full of books. But I guarantee you they're not going to be a juicy collection of every bestseller the props department could get their hands on. There will be multiple copies of their own writers' books. Anyone else's will be hidden far from view!


Another scene had Kunken reading Noah's manuscript in his office, while Noah waited for him to finish. This is often portrayed in movies. I've seen it in Misery, Romancing the Stone and elsewhere. That an agent or editor will read your entire manuscript in his or her office, while you chew your fingernails, staring thoughtfully out the window, waiting for his or her reaction.  Then, of course, said agent/editor will tear up or laugh or cheer or whatever, when they finish the last page and tell you how brilliant you are.

This does not - and cannot - happen because it takes hours to read a complete manuscript, and most editors and agents have phone calls and other clients they have to look after. You'll probably hear whether or not your editor like your manuscript on the phone, too. Or you may just get an editorial letter with the requested changes.

btw double-spaced manuscripts are very big documents! About twice the size of the pile of pages portrayed in THE AFFAIR or anywhere else I've seen! When an editor goes through them, he or she also makes copious notes on the pages themselves - and Kunken didn't even have a pencil.


Noah and Kunken discuss his advance and Noah complains that he's only received 20% of it. Kunken says he'll get the rest when the book is approved. Book advances actually come in three instalments, not five. 33% when you sign the contract. 33% when you submit an approved manuscript. And 33% when the book is published.

Here's the one thing they did get (sort of) right. When Kunken doesn't like Noah's ending, Noah worries that Kunken won't publish the book. It's true - if your manuscript isn't approved, it's made extremely clear in your contract that the book won't get released. But it's the publisher who ultimately makes that decision - even though the editor would have input.

Still, the veiled threat makes for great drama.

Having said all this, I still LOVE this show. And - as a writer - I even mostly love to see the dream of 'Easy Street' perpetuated on TV and film.

Because if Hollywood portrayed writers' lives the way they really are, I think a lot fewer of us would be at it!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Do It Wrong: Get It Right

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I'm late: but not stressed. Not yet anyway. ;) 

I'm about a month away from having to upload THE HUNTER'S MOON to - at least if I want to hit my self-imposed release date.

If you follow all the self-publishing gurus - and I'm familiar with most of them - from Chandler Bolt of Self-Publishing School, a college dropout who's on track to earn a million dollars this year from his books and courses; to indie veterans like Joanna Penn, Joel Friedlander and dozens more, I am way behind schedule.

Right now I should be cozying up to the people on my massive e-mail list, making sure they're going to leave great reviews, hitting Twitter and Facebook with teasers, promos and book cover reveals, sending pitches to journalists and reviewers, holding a giveaway on, blogging a couple times a week, guest blogging a couple of other times, and talking all about it on my schmancy website - which of course will be full of professional photographs of me.

Do you know what I have of that? 

Nothing. Nada. No cover. No website. No pro author pic. No email list. All I have so far is the book - and that's still out to my beta readers so I still have editing to do on top of all these other things.

But I only decided to self-publish three months ago, which didn't give me a lot of time to get everything done.

Meaning, I should be panicked - but I'm not. Because I've been busy doing all the small things I should've years ago: like joining Twitter and Facebook and researching websites, photographers, designers, etc.

I'll get it done - eventually.

BEcasue this is the way I've always been. It hasn't been easy, it hasn't been pretty - but I always get things done in the end. And that's what I'm counting on this time, too.

Because being an author is a lifelong endeavour.

You're never going to stop writing, you're never going to stop publishing, and you're never going to stop promoting your books. So you might as well just settle into the routine that fits your soul.

Yes, learn what the experts say and hit as many of those bases as possible. But most importantly, relax. Follow your heart. And be yourself.

Because - in contrast to my normal slacker M.O. - I hit every single deadline that was ever presented to me in the publishing world. My editors waxed poetic about how great I was to work with. I literally agonized over every step of both of my book deals.

But following the rules didn't work for me. Now that I'm going indie, I might as well just be myself.

Without getting too philosophical or new age-y, I believe we all have to be ourselves in order to find happiness and fulfillment in our lives. Whether we're writing books, painting houses or sailing the ocean blue.

So one month from now, it'll be interesting to see where I am ... 

In the meantime, I did manage to check one box off my indie author's To Do list: a guest post for Gordon A. Wilson's popular blog Thank heaven for Gordon!

The post is all about a writer's dream-come-true: my first book tour. I tried to do everything right for that too - but as you'll see, absolutely everything went wrong anyway! ;) If you haven't read it, check it out on!