With a Little Help From My Friends or It Takes a Village

This was written for Self Published Authors’ Lounge but not sure when it will post there so I am going to go ahead and schedule it here.

Everyone writes a book differently and each author swears by their own methods.  As far as I see it, the only wrong way is the way that doesn’t work for you. That said, I’m going to share my bizarre way of novel creation. When I say it takes a village, I mean it.

  1. Rough (bad) draft. Ideally, I like to do this in a month without an outline. I have vague ideas for some plot elements, or even a handful of scenes, but that’s about it. I also don’t research beforehand, but rather as I’m writing because I don’t know what I will need.
  2. I reread and fix anything major I notice. I won’t lie, this is often not a lot.
  3. It’s off the beta reader number one whose job is to find major typos. I have a lot of them because, yes, I’m a bit dyslexic. It means some extra work on the polishing end and that we have to go over it more times than some other authors need to, but it is as it is.
  4. At this stage it used to go to The Mighty Ed (alas I have lost her because of other commitments, though I have a new Ed in training). She would read through and point out scenes that needed cut, scenes that needed expanded, parts that didn’t mesh, places where the characters acted out of character etc. This step is absolutely vital to any book, and I can not reiterate enough the need for an “Ed” who respects you enough to tell you what needs fixed without being mean or lecturing you. It may also be hard to take said advice the first (few) times because essentially they tear your book to shreds and stomp on it – but hopefully in a nice way.
  5. Now comes rework. I  incorporate 99.9% of her suggestions, even if this means massive rewriting, which it has before. I prefer to go over the whole thing two times afterwards to make sure the changes flow.
  6. Beta number one tirelessly pours over it again for typos.
  7. Now it goes to beta number two. He corrects more typos and points out the flaws in my fight scenes and  suggests where I need more gore (or explosions). He’s also what I call an honest beta, in so far as he will flat out say “this sucks”. Again, this is very necessary.
  8. Another round of edits to incorporate his suggestions and probably some rewriting.
  9. Beta number one looks sad, but looks over it again.
  10. Now it goes to beta number three. She’s the romance expert but also makes suggestions on other scenes, catches typos and grammar and points out anything that might be confusing to a reader. This is invaluable.
  11. Another round of edits to incorporate her suggestions.
  12. Beta number one cries, I feel bad, and just send it on the beta number four.
  13. Beta four wades through it, fixes typos and some odd phrases and may or may not point out a handful of scenes that need to be redone.  For example, in book four I ended up doing some large chapter rewrites after he pointed out that  a pivotal scene just wasn’t working (if you’ve read the book, it was the truck stop scene.) He is also not a regular vampire fan, so he points out anything that non-vampire readers might find confusing. This is another super important person.
  14. I rewrite, re-edit, etc based on his suggestions. I also have several long plot arranging conversations with him, so he gets to be the sounding board, as have poor Mighty Ed  and betas one and two throughout the whole of this process.
  15. Then it  is off to beta number five. She is a whiz at catching typos/grammar, plot inconsistencies and things like magically changing hair color or magically clean clothes (these have both happened!)  etc. and, like The Mighty Ed, she understands the universe and the characters. This is something that is very hard to find and so, so important!
  16. Another round of edits and rewrites and then poor beta number one looks it over again. By now beta one and I have it memorized and are both sick of this book.
  17. Mighty Ed gets the final copy, which she double checks for punctuation (my commas are wild). With book four, Mighty Ed was pretty busy, so beta five got the final round. She did a fantastic job, as evidenced by the nice clean copy.
  18. Now I make a bunch of other changes. Beta number one sobs and threatens to beat her head into the keyboard. I moan and complain that this must be the worst book ever written. I would rather stab out my eyes than read it again.
  19. I format it and send it to Create Space. My paperback version arrives and I read it one more time (it reads differently in paperback). Then poor beta one looks at it again as does beta two. We draw circles, squares and chickens on the pages (beta two does the chicken art).
  20. I redo all of the marked things. On the last boo this was just typos and such, but on the others I have randomly added whole new scenes at this juncture.
  21. Ideally I get a second proof and go through it a final time, but not always.
  22. I publish the sucker and vow never to read it again because i would rather be stampeded to death by a herd of water buffalo than ever read another word of it!

As you can see, this process is a bit long. I need to try to streamline this because, as you can guess, it takes months and releasing only one book a year is not doing my career any favors. It’s occurred to me that a lot of time is spent polishing scenes that get deleted or changed after beta reader’s input, so with my current WIP (PATRICK) I am trying a different method. I sent out the initial bad draft (from step 4) and will compile the comments, notes, etc, and the do a BIG rewrite, thereby hopefully meshing steps 4-15 into only a couple of steps. Hopefully this will also save beta one’s sanity and keep me from completely hating the book by the time it’s published. Or maybe not.  Cutting out some of the rewrite steps may result in more typos slipping through, or more little bits that needed added but got missed. I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out. That’s the beauty of indy publishing, you can try new things, make mistakes, learn from it and try something else if it doesn’t work.

Leave a comment


  1. very good – and we all need a variety of readers cause they all spot different boo boos.

    • Exactly! I read somewhere that you should find beta readers who think like you and I say not all of them because if everyone thinks like you then what’s the point?

  2. It does sound like a long-winded process, but that’s why your novels are so good.
    My process is about half a paragraph which is probably why my sales are less than stellar. If you don’t mind I think I’ll copy you.

    • Copy away, though I doubt you’ll need as many read throughs as I do. A lot of that is sadly caused by my bad typing and inability to spell 😉 For instance i have fixed two typos in this comment. (make that three)

  3. HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!! I needed to read this in the WORST way possible! I may have to print this up, and pin it to my wall!!! 🙂

    • I thought about mailing it to beta 1 (yeah I am having fun with this, it makes you guys sound like secret agents!) but i don;t want her to pay attention to how many times she has to read them 😉

  4. Have you been spying on me? Because your writing process sounds eerily familiar. I don’t have a weeping beta reader, but I do revise until my eyes bleed. I have a beta reader who isn’t afraid to tell me, “You can’t do that. What in the hell were you thinking when you wrote that?” Every author needs brutal honesty in a beta reader. It really does take a village. Great post!!!

    • This is so true! Without someone to tell us when something sucks we’d be in trouble, LOL! Nice to know I am not the only bleeding eyed author out there 😉

  5. Wow Jo…as in, double and triple and quadruple village wow…you really do actually NEED Joleene Missouri…so you’d better get cracking on that little project.

    To be honest I don’t do much of that that you do.. The book that “taught” me about collaboration said you should go to a writer’s group and that it should be honest. But I haven’t done that. I do, though, have readers (also recommended), and with my first few had rather more of them than I do now. Now I kind of know what is good and what isn’t, but “just to be sure” I’ve got an honest reader or two, but I’ve pared them right back and don’t always call on them.

    Enduring all these saps including the me one is a real challenge for you I bet…

    SE: Hey this isn’t right…you’ve gotta x y z, and zprime.

    Jo (Rolls eyes): Sure, Steve…anything you say. Now, where did I leave that cattle prod?

    • I gave up on writer’s groups early on when i realized no one really cared about one another’s work and each was there only for the sake of their own so feedback was either useless pandering or catty nastiness. Not to say there aren’t nice author’s groups, i just didn’t land in any 😉

      My opinion of what is good vs my “target audience” is not always the same thing, LOL!

      and not at all – you’re invaluable, actually!

  6. lccooper

     /  September 17, 2012

    It certainly does take a village, but what’s a village without its idiot? Enter yours truly; To Jo, I provide the “wow” and “atta girl!” comments although vampire stories make me queasy. Then, the hypocrite that I am, I go write a book about a psychopathic match-maker. So, somewhere at the end of Jo’s list resides a step for me, which goes something like this: “When on the verge of gouging my eyes out, get a compliment from LC, the suck-up that she is. Get in a better mood, thanking God for not being someone’s village idiot.” Shine on, Supernova! BTW, I’m your go-to-gal if you ever need a beta reader for any saccharine romance dreck.

    What, you expected lucidity? Take care, LC LC Cooper, author of: Christmess Diary of a Reluctant Vampire Legacy Man Cave Simmering Consequences The Voices of Cellar’s Bridge “Barefoot Homecoming” “Dan’s Accidental Convertible” “Halloween’s Perfect Storm” “Of Yellow Snow and Christmas Balls” “One Lousy Wish” “There Was a Knock at the Door”

    Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2012 13:05:42 +0000 To: l.c_cooper@hotmail.com

    • ha ha! And those atta girl comments or some of the most necessary! Especially when one has decided that they write utter tosh and will never make it anywhere… which happens now and again 😉

      funny you mention that, I have considered it lately under a pen name to make some cash, LOL!

  7. sunshineskye

     /  September 18, 2012

    Wow – that’s one seriously impressive process. I never realised quite so much was involved. I’ll look at authors in a whole new light!

  8. I don’t think your process is a bit long. Mine’s about the same. Those beta readers are invaluable, but more importantly is to have someone who sees through the book. You seem to have someone like that. And your books are certainly great by the time they’re published.

  9. I’m with you with the month-first-rough-draft and first pass before sending out to betas, but the rest is way cut. I had writer burnout going like you still do… so from book 2 I changed method!
    Blog serendipity sez I’ve talked just about that today… 🙂
    Happy writing, lucky writer with 5 betas available! – I have more (paid) editors than betas, sigh!

    • I get dogged sometimes for not having a “paid” editor, but I figure hey, why waste the funds if I got lucky enough to get a free one? LOL!

      I need to combine some steps I think, not so much for burnout but just because I need to get them out faster 😦

  1. Unedited Snippet Eleven from Book Five « Amaranthine Night

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