Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seekerville Welcomes Guest Blogger Mia Ross

Good Morning, Seekerville! Mia Ross here with party hats and streamers, to celebrate all those completed Speedbo books with you. What did you do after you typed in those last few words? Me, I went out and got a gooey butterscotch sundae with LOTS of whipped cream. Then I got back to work, because I’ve learned that when you get to the end of a project, you’re really only half done.

I want to mention one thing before I really get going. I don’t have a critique partner. Yes, you read that right. So for all you folks who think that’s an excuse for less-than-thorough editing, guess again. There are plenty of techniques to make self-editing just as effective as trading pages with a friend. Not as much fun, but they work fine. And to prove it, here’s my story.

My Love Inspired debut Hometown Family came out last week, but its long journey started almost 2 years ago. I began writing it after meeting Melissa Endlich at the RWA conference in July 2010 and finished it that November. Yay! Or so I thought. My agent went through the manuscript and found more problems than I care to recall. It had likeable characters and a beginning, middle and an end. Aside from that, it needed a lot of TLC.

With her help, I started revising. That version wasn’t quite there, but it was closer. Yup, you guessed it-- ANOTHER round of edits. Just after Christmas, we sent it to Melissa. She liked it well enough to email a revision letter (4 pages!) and I made those changes, too. Working with these two pro’s, I learned that I needed some practice with self-editing. That way, they wouldn’t have as much to do at the other end. So I paid close attention to what they told me and discovered most things revolved around my 3 C’s: Character, Conflict, and Consistency. Not as fun as Clarity, Cut, and Carat size, but just as valuable to me as a writer.

Think about your all-time favorite book. Got it? Okay, WHY is it your favorite? Chances are the plot is funny or exciting or thought-provoking, maybe even all three. But the events wouldn’t stick with you if you didn’t like the characters. They’re the people you come to love, or sometimes despise, and they drive your attachment to the story. If you didn’t care about the characters, you wouldn’t care about what happens to them. So how do you build solid, vivid characters that rise up off the page and connect with readers?

One layer at a time. You don’t have to nail everything on the first pass, because—trust me—it’s impossible. Start with a description, since that’s fairly easy. Then ask yourself how does this blond former cheerleader FEEL about herself? Does she appreciate being born gorgeous but wish people would look deeper to find out she’s an accomplished artist? Is the successful businessman really as self-assured as he seems, or is he terrified that people will discover he’s dyslexic? An added bonus to this layering is you’ll uncover some things that will help you in the next step.

Conflict. I’ll be honest--this is my downfall. I’m a sensitive person, and I don’t like delving into negative things because it makes me sad. When someone has a tragic history, or is struggling to make their life work, my heart goes out to them. Then again, that’s exactly the reaction you want to elicit from your readers. Because you’ve allowed them to identify with the characters, readers will care about what happens to them. In romance, internal and external conflicts are wrapped together like a pretzel. The characters’ internal conflicts drive their behavior, which affects the way they deal with each other.

For me, the best stories have a level of conflict that won’t go away. She’s shy and hangs back, he’s outgoing and friendly. She had a bad marriage and doesn’t want to risk it again, he’s someone who’s had the best relationships imaginable. Her family’s farm was just auctioned off by the bank, and it turns out he’s the big-city developer who bought the land. These things won’t resolve themselves, and despite their attraction to one another, these two people will have to do a lot of compromising to form a lasting relationship out of this mess.

Another level of conflict that works for me as a reader is when characters have to confront something together. Despite their misgivings or initial dislike of each other, they’re thrown into a situation where they have to find a way to defeat the nasty ex-husband or raise enough money to put a new roof on the school. Working together, they develop a grudging respect for each other’s good points, which blurs the bad points they saw at first. Because real people have both, and it takes some wrestling to work it all out.

That leaves us with consistency. In movies, sometimes you’ll notice that at the beginning of a scene it’s morning, then by the end of the meal it’s dark outside. Hmmm…Whose job was it to catch that? As a writer, that’s YOUR job. I get tripped up with that kind of thing when I start moving scenes around in the story and things get out of sequence. For instance, let’s say that by halfway, your heroine doesn’t know who her real father is. Then you pull a section from near the end to the beginning. Now there’s a reference to her father BEFORE she even knows who he is. Sigh.

A good way to avoid this is to set the manuscript aside for a few days after your “final” edit. Read a book or do some yardwork so your brain isn’t fixed on your last project. Then pick it back up again. If you’re like me, errors will jump out at you, giving you a chance to fix them before anyone else sees them. You’ll also find spots where you can add in some details that make a so-so scene into one that will grab people’s attention and contribute more to the story than it did originally.

Finally, a bit of advice about revision letters. First of all, if you get one, CELEBRATE! Don’t read it in detail, especially if it’s long, because it will dim the joy you have every right to savor. Read the part that says “I really like this story” over and over until you believe it’s for real. You’ve probably gotten a few rejections, so that “maybe” is a huge accomplishment. For one day, just enjoy the feeling because as with the first of anything, it only comes once. Then, during your next work session, pick that letter up and get a few highlighters. You’ll need them J Read the letter through for the gist. Are the comments mostly about the characters? Conflict? Setting? Get a general idea of what the editor wants changed. Then mark the things that go together with the same color. That’s how I discovered my 3 C’s so I could improve on them for next time.

Because I really wanted a next time. I carefully went through Melissa’s notes and learned what she’s looking for and how to make sure she—and the readers—end up with a book they’ll love. It’s a good process, as long as I remember that when I’ve reached “The End,” my work has only just begun.

To give you an idea of what can happen when you keep revising, I’m offering 3 autographed copies of Hometown Family to today’s commenters. If you’d like to read an excerpt or learn a little more about me, visit www.miaross.com. Have a great day!


82 comments:

Helen Gray said...

Mia!

This is not only an excellent post, but it's so timely for me.

I'm just getting into revisions on my newest project, and I'm wrestling those very things. And so afraid of not getting it right.

Have a cuppa coffee on me. There's a really big pot set up.

Helen

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Mia!

I can hardly wait to read your book - I'll look for it this week :)

I received one of those revision letters - and yes, I read the part that said "I really like your book" over and over and saved everything coming after the "but" for later.

Then when I went through the part after the "but", I made a list of what the editor was looking for, stepped back and looked at the big picture of what my book needed, and then revised. Big Time. I'm glad I listened to the editor because the book is SO much better now.

With my new project (which I finished during Speedbo!), I'm working on the self-editing before I send it in. I'm hoping to keep those requested revisions to a minimum.

I'm leaving some Strawberry Shortcake on the buffet for the late night/early morning crowd. It's good for breakfast, right?

Vince said...

Hi Mia:

I noticed you have three books coming out this year:

Hometown Family – April 2012
Circle of Family – September 2012
Gift of Family – December 2012

Can you tell us how you went from no books to three books in a year? I think it would be fascinating to know how you worked on these three books. Does one theme hold them altogether? Were you working on all of them at the same time? Did the fact you had three books help sell the first one? This is very interesting and I will read the first book.

Vince

vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

Lyndee said...

Wow, Mia, this post is full of wisdom. I will have to re-read it over and over to get all of it into my brain! Thanks for the post. You've given me a nice dose of courage for today's foray into editing.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Mia!!

I am so excited to read your book!!!


Welcome back to Seekerville.

Kara I said...

Congratulations on your debut Mia - how exciting!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Mia, this North Carolina girl is reading your book right now. No need to put me in the drawing.

Love your characters, even though your hero went to UNC and I am an NC State and Duke grad. So you know I really love him. It is great to be reading a book set in my state.

Thanks, Vince, for pointing out Mia has more books coming. I was hoping for more.

Thanks too, Mia, for an excellent post. It really has helped me deal with a thorny issue.

Peace, Julie

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mia, what a perfect post to follow Sandra's on hunting for the perfect match yesterday!

And I love your attitude about revision letters. On Once Upon a Time, Rumplestiltskin had a potion for just about everything... I wonder if we could make a potion about accepting revisions and sprinkle it liberally, LOL!

Because they're part of the biz. We may have a great idea (like your Hometown Family which I LOVED!!!!) but if it's not exactly right for the line, then we may have to make changes.

Since when is change BAD???? Gotta trust those editors and agents to know their job.

I love this post. Thanks for sharing that insight, chickie!!! And I loved Hometown Family. Smiling, just thinking about it!

Ausjenny said...

Congrats Mia on your debut book. It sounds good. will look out for it.

Mary Curry said...

Mia!!!

I'm going to be late for work and it's your fault! J/K. But I went to look at your first chapter and got totally sucked in. Can't wait to read more. Thanks to my nook, I don't have to wait. ;)

Great post too!

Thanks for sharing.

Mia Ross said...

Wow--you folks get up early!! Thanks to Helen for the extra large pot of coffee. It's delish!

Good luck with your revisions, too. I have a secret to share with all of you who are editing. Ready?

It doesn't have to be perfect. Even if it was, like Ruthy said, sometimes it's not right for them. They're going to change it anyway, so what you send just has to be close enough that the editor sees merit in your work and is confident the rest can be fixed :)

Mia Ross said...

JAN: Congrats on that letter! That's a huge step forward for you. Your attitude about learning from it is fantastic. And I think Strawberry Shortcake is the ideal breakfast. It hits lot of food groups :)

Mary Curry said...

Ok NO FAIR, it's not available on nook for another week . :(

Mia Ross said...

VINCE: When I submitted Hometown Family, that was the only book I had completed. But I did have a concept for a 4-book series about this farming family in NC. While I wrote the first one, ideas for the others came in and I jotted them down for later.

Long story short, I wrote like crazy last year. A couple of spots opened up on the Love Inspired release schedule, and because I had books in progress I was able to slide into them. Working ahead was the key for me :)

Mia Ross said...

TINA: Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be back!

Mia Ross said...

KARA: The debut is very exciting! I wish everyone in Seekerville could have this much fun :)

Mia Ross said...

JULIE: I'm glad you like the story and the setting. Good luck with your editing!

Mia Ross said...

RUTHY: What can I say? My biggest cheerleader, and the one who kicks me in the pants when I need it. Not to mention inspiration for one of my favorite characters in the book :)

Mia Ross said...

AUSJENNY: Thanks for coming by! I hope you enjoy the story.

Mia Ross said...

MARY CURRY: Sorry for making you late, but I'm glad you got drawn in so quickly. That's what I was aiming for :)

Mia Ross said...

MARRY CURRY: I sympathize. I have a Nook and still get new print books from the library because they're available sooner :)

Ausjenny said...

Mia it sounds like an exciting and busy year with the other books coming out. We tend to get books here about 2 - 3 months after the release but I have found a site thats in the uk and yesterday found its in america too that sends books post free worldwide which is so exciting. Once I can save some money maybe able to get some books.
its http://www.bookdepository.com/

Mia Ross said...

AUSJENNY: What a great link! I'll tuck it away in case other people are interested in the future.

Cara Lynn James said...

Congratulations, Mia! Great info on editing. I agree about editing being crucial. I don't think a 4 page revision letter is terribly long! I've gotten longer!

BTW, your cover is beautiful.

Rose said...

Hi Mia,

Congratulations on your book!

I don't have a critique partner either, so it's all up to me, and now my agent to catch errors or inconsistancies.

You gave everyone a great piece of advice. If you want another book contract...listen to your editor and learn what they like!

Mia Ross said...

CARA: Thanks so much for the encouragement on that letter! It seemed like War and Peace to me at the time :) And on covers, I think you've got some of the prettiest ever. They do a wonderful job capturing the personality of your spunky heroines.

Mia Ross said...

ROSE: Having an agent definitely makes up for the lack of a crit partner. Mine really earns her money! That leads to some advice for people hunting for an agent. I focused on agencies that offer editorial help to their clients. If--like me--you need that, make it one of your criteria :)

Jackie said...

Thanks Mia! You've given me some great ideas. I appreciate your post today.
Joyfully,
Jackie L.

Jeanne T said...

Mia, this post is GOLD. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom! I especially appreciated what you shared about conflct. My recent Genesis entry got good comments about conflict, but that was only the first chapter. :) So, I am going to make sure there's plenty more throughout the story.

Running for now, but hoping to stop back later. Loved this, Mia!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning Mia and welcome to Seekerville.

What a great post. I love hearing publication stories. It always amazes me how each person's road is so different.

Love the cover of your book and looking forward to reading it.

Have fun with your debut and btw, I love strawberry shortcake for breakfast. Thanks for that.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Mia! Congratulations on your debut! And for working hard and getting those edits done! Edits create a special kind of stress, but I love getting that letter from my editor, nonetheless. It's exciting to think that I'm making the story better!

Great article!

Jamie Adams said...

Congratulations on your first book, and your second and third!

I understand your feelings on conflict. I'm a peacemaker. For me to be happy everyone around me must be happy.

When I first started writing my critique partners constantly got onto me for solving the characters problems too fast.

Taking classes on writing conflict has really helped.

I can't wait to read your book(s)!

Julie Lessman said...

WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE, MIA, AND WHOO-HOO ... SUPER CONGRATS ON THE DEBUT!!!

YOU SAID: "Finally, a bit of advice about revision letters. First of all, if you get one, CELEBRATE!"

This is SUCH an important statement, because I have gotten off track more than once with bloody revision letters, but the truth is not only am I blessed to HAVE a revision letter, but an editor who takes the time to improve my work to be the best it can be.

PLUS ... it's SO important to be to reminded of this right now since I am waist-high in revisions on my next book, so THANK YOU, Mia!!

Hugs,
Julie

Missy Tippens said...

Mia, I'm so excited about your new release!! And so thrilled to have you in Seekerville!

Great post. I had two requested revisions before I sold my first book as well. So I say DO THOSE REVISIONS!!!

Some great points about editing. Thanks for sharing!

Mia Ross said...

JACKIE: Glad I could help a little. Good luck!

Mia Ross said...

JEANNE: I'm glad this was good timing for you. Good luck with your editing :)

Mia Ross said...

SANDRA: Thanks so much for the kind words. Have a second piece of shortcake :)

Mia Ross said...

MELANIE: Here's hoping all that hard work pays off in a Christy award for you!

Mia Ross said...

JAMIE: Your writer friends sound like a great group. Having support like that makes all the difference when you're stepping into new territory.

Mia Ross said...

JULIE: Thanks for the enthusiastic welcome and the hugs! With all your experience, you must've just been nodding right along with my post ;)

Mia Ross said...

MISSY: Thanks so much for your encouraging words. They mean a lot to a newbie like me :)

Mia Ross said...

AUSJENNY: I'm not sure how often you check it, but I sent a message to your gmail account :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Mia,

Congratulations on 3 books in a year! Wow!

Your post is wonderful and so simply explained. Definitely a keeper!

I'd love a chance to win a copy of your book!

Cheers,
Sue
sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Vince said...

Hi Mia:

I love your work ethic. I think that says more than anything else. Working on a four book deal is really showing a positive attitude.

Little story. Twice I went to Amazon to check on your book and see if it was on Kindle, I think this was after a Craftie Ladies visit, and twice I didn’t find it because I was looking under Mona Risk. It’s just today that it occurred to me why I didn’t find your book. Do you ever have this problem? Do you know Mona Risk? (I’m a senior citizen.:))

BTW: It’s May 1st for the Kindle edition of “Hometown Family”.

Vince

Vince said...

Off Topic for Tina:

Our old Tulsa writing teacher, Peggy Fielding, has a free book up on Kindle right now:

Scoundrels' Bargain (Historical Romance). I just have to read it. She seemed like a writing Goddess back then. What will the story read like?

Vince

Casey said...

So many nuggets of wisdom! Thanks Mia. :-))

Emily C. Reynolds said...

Timely post, as I'm working on some revisions from my agent. Thanks for sharing.

And thanks for the giveaway! Sign me up! I love reading debut authors. Best wishes!

Mia Ross said...

SUSAN: Thanks for stopping by. It's nice to know other people can benefit from my learned-the-hard-way lessons!

Mia Ross said...

VINCE: I'm not familiar with Mona, but our names are pretty similar, aren't they? So glad you kept at it 'til you found me :)

Mia Ross said...

CASEY: You're very welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

Mia Ross said...

EMILY: It's great to see you. Good luck with your revisions!

Andrea Strong said...

Mia~ I absolutely want to win this. I was i Walmart a few days ago, and it wanted so badly to jump in my basket. Unfortunately, my pocketbook started growling and scared it away :(

I love you advice and will tuck it safely away for some future date when I will need it. I WILL. I know I will...

Tina Radcliffe said...

Mia, tell us what a typical writing day is like for you. And what are you working on?

Pam Hillman said...

Congrats on your debut release, Mia!

And 2 more coming out this year???

Whoo-hoo!

Yay!!!!

Mia Ross said...

ANDREA: You're so sweet! Best of luck in the drawing :)

Mia Ross said...

TINA: I'm one of those 1K/1HR folks. I get to work when it's still dark and write for an hour before I go on the clock. I power through the draft, then edit when it's done. If I fall behind on pace, I work on the weekends. I pad my schedule by 2 weeks, in case something unforeseen happens to slow me down.

As for my current project, I just submitted the first 3 chapters and synopsis for the 4th Sawyer book, working title A Place for Family. My plan is for that to be the last one in the series, but you never know ;)

Mia Ross said...

PAM: Thanks for the cheers! It's great to come here and get that kind of feedback from other writers :)

Janet Dean said...

Mia, thanks for your savvy encouraging post and excellent tips for revisions! I'm smiling at your string of releases. Can't wait to read Hometown Family!

Janet

Mia Ross said...

JANET: Thanks so much for the encouragement! Coming from a pro like you makes it all the nicer :)

PatriciaW said...

Congratulations, Mia!

I like what you said about conflict, particularly making the characters' goals require compromise and making them work together. The first cosigns something I've tossing around for my wip; the second gives me food for thought.

Best wishes for a long and fruitful publishing career!

Mia Ross said...

PATRICIAW: Thanks so much for the kind words. Best of luck with your WIP!

Mary Connealy said...

Sorry to be slow checking in today.
My current favorite book of all time, not counting To Kill a Mockingbird or A Lantern in Her Hand, is a regency romance and it is ALL about the characters. I have just never seen such finely drawn characters as in this book.
The hero is known as Coldblooded Colchester. A reputation very well earned, this is a dangerous man.
The heroine is Immodest Imogene, completely NOT earned. Her reputation is ruined but she did NOTHING WRONG, it's all lies.
So she needs help from a strong man and asks Colchester for help. Then, when he refuses to throw in with her mad scheme to catch a murderer, when he doesn't believe the victim was even murdered, she-knowing the lies told about her-'realizes' that his reputation is also unearned and he is, indeed a sensitive, nervous man who is NOT a man of action.

Which of course is wrong.

But everytime he tries to stop her from doing some crazed thing, she pats him on the back and says, "Don't let your nerves get the best of you, sir. I'll handle any trouble that comes up."

as the book progresses he begins to use his 'nerves' as an excuse to protect her. Which is just hilarious.

By the end of the book, she's realized he truly is a daring man of action. And he's decided he really is a sensitive, nervous twit, because he's so unable to control his interest in this woman.

It's Mischief by Amanda Quick, and secular so be warned. But these two sparring, misunderstanding, and ultimately of course catching a murderer--Imogene was right all along--and falling in love, is an absolute delight because of they way these two interact.

Debby Giusti said...

Whoo-hoo, Mia! Congrats on the debut...and two more books to follow this year with #4 in the works. You are another Mary Connealy! :)

That's a good thing, believe me!

Will you be at RWA this year? The LI authors always get together, plus we meet with the editors to find out new ideas they'd like to see. Hope to give you a congrats hug in person!

Connie Queen said...

Oh me Oh Mia, 3 books in a year.

Sorry...I'm sure you've heard that one before.

"Long story short, I wrote like crazy last year."

I'm so impressed. And all w/out a critique partners. You are a woman of action and not just talk.

Love your cover.

MARY...I've got Mischief down on my to read list.

Connie

Mia Ross said...

MARY: I love Amanda Quick! And Jayne Ann Krentz, of course. She draws vivid, quirky characters with humor and wit, which makes them live and breathe. The plot flows naturally from them and the choices and mistakes they make.

Kind of like yours ;)

Mia Ross said...

DEBBY: Thanks so much for the invite to the LI table, but I'll have to take that hug in virtual form. Anaheim is a l-o-n-g, expensive trip for me, so I won't be there.

I'm already planning for Atlanta, though. Hoping to see you all in person again :)

Mia Ross said...

CONNIE: I have to be honest and tell you I finished book#3 in February 2012, for release at Christmas. That pace suits me well, though, so I'm planning to keep it up.

I need a break from writing once in awhile, but if I take too much time off, I get cranky. NOBODY likes that ;)

Nancy C said...

Mia, thank you so much for these words:

" In romance, internal and external conflicts are wrapped together like a pretzel. The characters’ internal conflicts drive their behavior, which affects the way they deal with each other."

Into my "writing words of wisdom" they go!

Nancy C

Nancy C said...

Mia! May? I have to wait until May?! Wonderful excerpt. Too short, but wonderful :-)

Nancy C

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Mia!

Great post, and so perfect for me! I'm working on draft two (re: revisions) of my first novel, in hopes to submit it to agents and publishers later this year. Thanks for the advice and encouragement!

Looking forward to reading your book sometime soon!

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wow definitely a great post with lots of wonderful advice!

I don't think we can ever learn too much about the importance of self editing.

Thanks!

Good luck & God's Blessings.
PamT

Debby Giusti said...

Atlanta it is! :)

Mia Ross said...

NANCY: Not May, now. It's out online and on shelves all over. Some e-copies aren't available yet, but you should be able to find it in print.

If not, maybe you'll win one ;)

Mia Ross said...

STEPHANIE: Way to go! Best of luck with your submissions :)

Mia Ross said...

PAMELA: Self-editing is definitely important. The good news is, it's a skill you can learn. Practice, practice, practice...

Mia Ross said...

Thanks to everyone in Seekerville for showing me such a great time today. I'm sure you can still comment for a chance to be entered in the giveaway, but for me it's good night!

Natalie Monk said...

This post is full of good stuff!! I'm going to keep in mind the 3 C's this week, as I'm working on a synopsis.

Congrats on your books!!!

Debra E. Marvin said...

Congratulations Mia! I have this idea in my head that you are an upstate girl (NY), not that we have any corner on the 'small town theme'.

I'm so impressed on your quick succession of new books ready to go when the opportunity arose. I guess we'll be seeing your name a lot in the next two years...for a start.

travelingstacey said...

Hi Mia...coming in late again. Having a new baby really changes up my time schedule! : ) I'm glad I was able to read your tips on editing. I like the way that you summarized it so well because I feel like at first I struggled with trying to figure out how to edit, then I overdid it! Basically I'm not sure what I'm doing! : ) As I was reading your post I was just mentally applying it to my WIP and I was thinking how helpful it was. I would love a chance at your new book!
Blessings~Stacey
travelingstacey(at)bellsouth(dot)net

authorkathyeberly said...

Hi Mia,
Thanks so much for your editing tips! I plan to utilize your ideas. I would love a copy of your new book!

authorkathyeberly(at)gmail(dot)com

marybelle said...

Wonderful thank you & HOMETOWN FAMILY looks fabulous.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Rachelle Rea said...

Thank you so much for this timely post. :)