Q&A, Writing Discussion

Keeping Organized During Revisions

I’ve got a lot of friends in the revision trenches these days, and oh boy it isn’t easy keeping an entire novel in your head for months on end. My trick is that I don’t. How do I keep track? WELL FRIENDS, I use a spreadsheet. I know, I know, boring right? But it works! And colour coding… and and…

Anyway, here is a sample Edit Tracking Worksheet that I use for revisions. You might know the story 😉

There are likely as many ways to edit a manuscript as there are writers, but I’ve found this method helpful for me, especially when switching between projects. What chapter did the birthday cake disaster happen in? I can just look it up. The spreadsheet is really just a listing of what happens in each scene, what day it is, and who is there.

I create the editing tracker after the first draft is done, but you can absolutely write it as you go. For each draft, I create a sheet in the Excel file. I keep the records of my old drafts, in case I need to go back and find a scene I cut out of a previous iteration of the book. The first page is always the latest draft.

Column Breakdown:

  • Ch – The chapter
  • Sc – The scene
  • Scene summary – One line or two about what happens in the scene
  • POV – Point of view character. This is only important if you have multiple view points.
  • Notes – Things I have to go back and fix / add / pay attention to in the next draft. I write these notes as I go, and don’t fix previous scenes until I start the next draft (in case my ideas change). You might want to fix them as you write. You do you!
  • Other Characters – Who else shows up in the scene. It helps me keep track of who is introduced when, and so I don’t misplace anyone or that character I killed off reappears unexpectedly (because *cough* it happens).
  • Day – Helps keep track of time. This is especially helpful for plots that have a compressed timeline. I sometimes even note if it’s morning or evening.

Optional Columns:

I use these to diagnose plot problems, and I change these to be anything I’m worried about. You can add whatever questions you like!

  • Goal – Conflict – Resolution – New Goal – Helps me identify what a scene is lacking (a sense of purpose, why it’s happening, or tension).
  • Emotional Beat – Helps me keep track and so that there are a variety of emotions and that I don’t repeat myself.
  • Who made the choices? I sometimes have a problem with character agency. Too many chapters where the main characters are forced to act instead of choosing a course of action can signal a problem.
  • Type of Ending? This one I’m just experimenting with, because I have trouble ending my chapters in the right place. It been helping me figure out if my chapter endings make a reader want to read on. Endings can be either a Promise (Something’s going to happen later), a Twist (Something new just happened), or a Resolution (The villain promised in chapter 1 finally appears). Naturally, promises and twists build up tension, while resolutions allow a reader to take a breath, before you ramp it back up again. A variety is a good thing!

Colour Coding Fun

  • Highlighting new scenes. Any the new scenes added to a draft are highlighted in yellow, so that when I do the next draft I pay closer attention it, because it likely requires more editing than any older chapters which have gone through a couple rounds of edits already.
  • Edited scenes. If I’ve edited a chapter I’ll colour the chapter and scene boxes so that I know it’s done. This is particularly helpful if for some reason I’m not editing chapters in order.
  • Action vs Quiet Scenes. Sometimes I’ll colour code my scenes red for action or blue for quiet, so that I can see the overall pacing of the novel at a glance.

Extra Extra!

You can physically print out the outline and cut it apart row by row to rearrange things until the plot sequence is just right, and figure out where any new scenes might go the next draft. I find that at least for me, I like to see it all laid out at one time. I also use a lot of tape and it ends up looking like some giant magical scroll that might fall apart at any moment. YMMV.

MS Word tip: If you make your chapter and scene breaks headings in Word, and open the Navigation Pane, you can actually drag each section around in the pane if you need to switch things around. No need to copy and paste! The Navigation pane also makes finding Chapters and Scenes in your manuscript really easy if you’re referencing your spreadsheet.

Okay, any questions? How do you organize your revisions or multiple projects at once?

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Q&A, Writing Discussion

A Quick Guide to Querying

Sometimes I get questions that I think would be good to add here. This is a quick (non-exhaustive) reference guide to querying North American literary agents, and intended for people looking to publish fiction traditionally.

1.Writing a good query

Is your book finished and edited? Now you’ll want to write your query. It’s a letter that captures what your novel is about, and hopefully entices the agent to read more. The goal of a query is to get a request for a partial (50-100 pages) or the full manuscript. That’s it 🙂

2. Putting together a list of agents

You’ll want to make a list of agents who represent the genre of novel you are trying to sell, and who might be a good fit. Some good references:

  • Manuscript Wish List ~ Agents and editors post what they’re looking for, and the types of books they like.
  • Writer’s Digest ~ Another way to find literary agents, especially newer agents.
  • Search #MSWL on Twitter. ~ If you find a good match, make sure to mention #MSWL and refer to the tweet in your query!
  • Check the acknowledgements in the back of your favorite novels. You can sometimes find out who represents your faves.

3. Making sure the agents and agencies you are querying are reputable

There are scammers out there. Some good places to figure out if an agent is legit:

4. Getting ready to submit

  1. Figure out how to track your submissions. You can use Query Tracker, but a simple spreadsheet works too. If you’re making your own spreadsheet, it’s useful to note what agent, agency, the date you submitted, and when / if you get a reply, along with which version of the manuscript you sent.
  2. Next up, you’ll want to double check each agent/agency website for what they require and how to contact them. Follow the guidelines. Yes, they’re all slightly different, but it’s worth the trouble.

5. Troubleshooting rejections

This is completely my preference for queries… but I suggest sending out batches of 5-10 queries at a time.

  1. If you’re not getting requests for more pages, then your query might need fixing before you send out the next batch.
  2. If you’ve gotten requests for partials and get rejections on those, you might want to consider that something might be wrong with the opening pages of your novel. The first 100 pages usually determine if the reader will go on reading. You need to hook them.
  3. Full manuscript rejections usually come with a bit of feedback. Some agents give more, and some give less. Feedback is very subjective, but if you get multiple agents making the same suggestions, they might be on to something and you might want to consider fixing your novel before you send it out again. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit – and that’s fair. You want someone who is enthusiastic about your novel to represent you!
  4. Don’t give up too soon. I would recommend submitting to at least 50 agents or even 100 if you’re getting a good request rate. As long as there’s still someone out there and might be a good fit, don’t give up. It only takes one yes.

5. Wait, what if they’re not rejections?

There are tons more resources out there. Google is your friend here 🙂 And do check out the extra links here. Good luck!

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