So, You Wanna Be a Writer?

Author Melissa Riddell

A little over a year ago, I decided I wanted to be a novelist. With this burning drive within, I used some ideas from a short story I’d written a month prior and ran with it. To make a long story short, it was accepted, and a contract was signed.

As a first-time author, the entire editing and publishing process was completely new to me. If you are thinking about submitting a manuscript, you might be interested to see the process, and I’m going to share some of my trials and advice.

Below, you’ll find some of the most common questions usually asked about my process.

How did early edits go? How many times did you go back to the drawing board? What did you do to prepare? What did you find helpful?

My very first edit started in June 2019, on The Descendant, and was eye-opening. When those edits came back to me, shiny and red in the comments section of Word, nearly every area of the story needed revisions. My first thought: What the . . .

Keep in mind, I had no creative writing experience, only the basic college English classes, so I was about to get educated—crash-course style.

The process took at least a month, maybe longer. My routine was to work on one chapter, or at least half a chapter, daily. I’m a putter-inner, so my MS grew from 45K words to 120K words by the end of the entire editing process.

Expect to have some hard reality brought to light. Some scenes needed a lot of work. I actually had to rewrite one of the main characters, Jareth, from scratch. Talk about a pain. The process required rewrites of nearly every scene in order to mold to this new person and his brash, cocky personality. But, I’m so happy I took the time to do this, because the editor was correct: he was boring and nondescript in that first draft.

Another big piece of advice: don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve when you look at the comments. Remember, the editor is there to make sure your story is the best it can be. If that means dealing out some tough criticism, take it with a grain of salt. If you feel strongly about a certain setting or character, be vocal and explain why.

Oh, yeah. You’re going to use CTRL+F a lot. Save yourself some heartache and get rid of those filler words. You know which ones: that, up, down, as, just, etc. Use the editing guide on the DLG website to help with this.

I went back to the drawing board many times on that first edit; from rewriting the ending, adding more characters, and inserting additional subplots. This revision process was more work than writing the actual MS, but wow—it turned out so much better.

The biggest thing with the editing process, for an author, is reading through the manuscript (MS) all the way through, after they’ve performed the edits. I generally read every manuscript around fifteen times before it’s released. Even so, I still miss errors, but at least it’s not from lack of trying.

What did 1st round edits look like?

First round edits looked like a freaking hot mess. I’m pretty sure there was more red than black on the page. They made me question my ability to write, but then I realized, the comments were not there to make me feel bad, but to point out where I needed help and strengthening in the story. Again, don’t read them with your heart in your throat. Think of the critiques, feedback, and suggestions as a coaching tool to steer the story in a direction that enables the reader to relate to the characters.

Let’s face it—at the end of the day, if you want to be a published author, isn’t it about pleasing the readers? Sure, I can write a story I love, and refuse suggestions and edits, putting it out there without working it over—either with traditional publishing or self-publishing—my name proudly displayed for all the world to see, but what’s the point?

Why publish at all if I’m not placing the reader at the forefront of my mind? If I have a message or story to tell, I’ll do everything I can to ensure it reaches the reader as concisely and clearly as possible. Some may not agree with me on this, but it’s my perspective on writing—both as an author and a reader. Not much irritates me more than reading a self-published book with glaring typos, incorrect tenses, and misspellings. It usually goes into my DNF (did not finish) pile.

So, I’ll step down from my soapbox. After the final edit, I let the manuscript sit for a couple of days, then read through the entire thing again. If you can wait longer, I say go for it. The longer you’re away from the story, the more you notice because you’ve had some distance and time to take a breather.

Once I’ve read it again, I let it sit for a few more days, then use the read-aloud feature in Word. This is something my editor taught me, and I was surprised at how well it catches awkward wording and missing words that my brain skimmed right over.

What did 2nd round edits look like?

Second round edits looked like beautiful angels drifting from the sky. Seriously. That first edit was like being in hell, with the devil sitting at my side, offering me a glass of ice water and then snatching it away at the last moment.

Once you’re past that first round of edits, everything else is a breeze. Sure, I still had to tweak some scenes and reword passages, but it was smooth sailing. After completing those edits, I again let it sit for three days, then read through it and did the read-aloud.

How did you perform the early pre-galley round?

Another easy edit, though this one does require more attention to grammar and punctuation. At this point, my manuscript was pretty much set. There were only a few things to change, like passive voice to active voice, or a random show versus tell that I missed. I read through it, fixed and pointed out any errors, then used the read aloud feature in Word once more.

How did you conduct your final galley read?

This is the all-important, final edit. Once it’s signed off, the finished product is going to the reader. So, I double-checked the punctuation and formatting. It’s mortifying to have a missing period or incorrect capitalization. Don’t rely on the editors to catch this stuff. I mean, they’ll catch most of it, but not all. In the end, the reader’s going to see the author’s name on the book, not the editor. So, who do you think they’re going to hold responsible for those pesky typos? Yep, yours truly.

With all this being said, the feeling of holding your finished novel in your hand, and those first messages from readers telling you how much they loved the story, and how they can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next, is worth every drop of sweat I put into that first novel. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

What’s Next?

My second book, a twist on the modern-day fairytale The Princess and the Pea, called Sacha Shepperd Ninnette and the Dark Night, went much smoother. I applied everything I had learned from the first edits on The Descendant, Book 1 of the Baltin Trilogy and used them while writing both the Sacha Shepperd Ninnette and the Dark Night and The Betrayer, book two in the Baltin Trilogy.

Speaking of the twisted fairytale—I chose to put this work under a new pen name, Mina Raye, because it’s a steamy romance (18+), and I didn’t want it lumped into the Young and New Adult stories (14+) under my main pseudonym of Melissa Riddell. I’m keeping true to my reader base, plus I don’t want any angry parents messaging me because their kid got ahold of one of the steamy stories meant for ages 18 and up. Can we say awkward for all involved?

Currently, I’m working on a Young Adult Science Fiction story that takes place on a planet called Echelon. It’s a dual point of view that follows Misha, a low-level scavenger who lives in the underground of the planet, and then switches to Theo, a high-level son of one of the planet’s rulers. The theme is social inequality, and the bias and detriments of an authoritarian rule on society.

The Descendant

She wants her world back; he wants her heart.

Tilly Morgan and her four-legged companion, Kodiak, are just trying to survive the alien arrival. Two years ago, the visitors unleashed devastation—a world-wide EMP followed by a deadly virus that wiped out more than half of humanity.

As her group travels the desolate world and inches closer to her goal, she’s forced to examine her unwanted feelings for Jareth and come to terms with her heart, even if the truth threatens to destroy her and everything she’s come to believe.

Traversing the lonely landscape, she runs into an alien on patrol with one order: eradicate all human life. A mysterious, dark-haired stranger named Jareth comes to her aid, and she reluctantly allows him to join her quest to find her sister. He even persuades her to let the damaged alien tag along against her better judgment.

Author Bio:

Melissa Turner (who also writes steamy romance under Mina Raye) lives in West Texas with her husband and favorite cat, Socks. Besides writing, she enjoys camping, playing video games, painting, and several other hobbies she can’t keep up with.

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