I’ve received quite a few queries about my services from authors who have written their first novel. I enjoy working with first-time authors as much as I do emerging and established authors. It’s not that new authors haven’t written a book before that makes me pause.
Most conversations start with the author talking about their book, which is always fascinating and energizing. Then they ask about my background. I tell them I work with speculative and crime fiction, how many manuscripts I’ve edited, and what levels of editing I perform.
Sometimes, this is where the conversation takes a turn. Other times, it’s when I start asking questions about their writing backgrounds.
It’s not important to me if the author doesn’t have a degree or it’s their first novel. It’s important if they don’t understand terms like ‘character arc’ or ‘worldbuilding’ or ‘perspective character.’
I encourage all of you and wholeheartedly want you to write your novel. But I advise you to learn about the writing craft before you reach out to a professional editor.
Editing is an investment in yourself and your novel. Before you hire a pro, there are some things you can do that will help you in your writing journey and prepare you for that investment.
Read craft books.
Take writing classes.
Join an author’s group.
Get feedback from alpha and beta readers.
Read Craft Books
Reading is one of the top two pieces of advice given to authors. Read anything and everything, but reading craft books will help you understand the writing craft from start to finish.
They show you what works for many authors and how to get from point A to point B to point Z. They will cover plotting, outlines, characterization, and all the basics of the writing process.
Craft books are a great starting point.
I suggest these.
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You'll Ever Need by Jessica Brody
- GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
- The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (Writers Helping Writers Series) by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.
- The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester
Save the Cat is incredibly popular as breaks down a novel into the basics. Brody uses the term ‘beats’ to explain the most effective way to structure fiction. There are examples from famous books so you can understand how those authors use the beats to structure their books, and it covers the most popular genres in separate sections.
GMC covers, you guessed it, characters’ goals, motivations, and creating essential conflicts for your characters to deal with and overcome. Dixon uses illustrative examples and exercises to aid you in crafting dynamic stories. It’s an excellent craft book for characterization and plot.
The Emotion Thesaurus is all about showing your characters’ emotions. Emotional responses are how readers bond with the characters, so emotions are key to having memorable characters. Puglisi and Ackerman cover a range of physical actions, internal sensations, thoughts, and behaviors associated with each emotion and help authors convey characters’ feelings without relying on clichés. In my opinion, it’s a must-read craft book.
While The Fantasy Fiction Formula concentrates on the fantasy genre, Chester deconstructs the elements of engaging stories, and her advice can be used in all fiction genres. She presents a step-by-step approach to worldbuilding, character development, and plot construction.
There are so many books on the writing craft, it will be difficult to choose!
Take Writing Classes
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on writing classes, and you don’t have to take a college course. There are plenty of free webinars that can help you lift your writing craft to the next level. Most free classes are DIY, not instructor lead.
If you do better with an instructor and a more structured environment, consider writing workshops. The cost ranges from hundreds to thousands, with the most expensive workshops being one-on-one sessions with successful authors. I suggest all authors look into taking some classes or courses. No matter what your experience, you can always learn more about the craft.
My top least expensive investments
MasterClass - $180/year – access to classes taught by famous authors. Most articles are available without membership.
Coursera – Courses from universities. Many are free.
Udemy – Free courses and nominal fee courses taught by just about anyone, but you can find some gems!
More expensive investments
Join Author’s Groups
Author’s groups are a fantastic way to learn more about writing. You can chat with people who have a similar passion! You can get their feedback on anything from how to get started to reviews of what you’ve written.
Your options with writing/author groups are vast. There are plenty on Facebook and Discord, and other community platforms. I’m a member of a local group that meets once a month. We read each other’s work and get immediate feedback. We chat about our processes and what we learned the previous month about writing.
Want to know more about what author’s groups can do for you?
Here’s an excellent article about what critique groups can do for you by Melody Yates, fantasy and science fiction author.
Get Feedback from Alpha and Beta Readers
These people are fantastic at giving valuable feedback. Alpha readers are usually people the author knows—family members, friends, another author they are close to—who read the first or second draft. Beta readers read your manuscript after you’ve edited it a few times.
Beta readers should be versed in your genre so they can tell you if it meets their expectations as a reader. They provide feedback on plot coherence, character development, pacing, dialogue, and overall story impact. Beta readers are your test audience and offer constructive criticism and suggestions for making the story better.
They can be found anywhere on social media. Professional beta readers also have websites and charge a fee between $100 and $300.
After you incorporate your beta readers’ feedback, you are ready to work with a professional editor.
By this point in your writing journey, you will not only know the terminology, but be well-versed in it and understand how things like narrative distance works in your novel as well as what your editor means when they tell you you’ve dropped the point of view.
I’d love to chat with you about your novel and see how I can help you create an amazing story.
Happy Writing and Editing!
Kristin Noland – Speculative and crime fiction editor.