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Most people wouldn’t say that 2016 was the best of years. (Heck, I even wrote a guest post about how writing and reading fiction can be a coping mechanism!) But there’s one thing that I can definitely be proud of: I got a lot of writing done!

Every year, I like to talk about the biggest accomplishments I managed to pull off. (You can see mine for 2015 and 2014, if you’re morbidly curious.) This year, I’m talking about… er… this year?

Let’s get to it!

Reading

I didn’t read quite as much as I wanted to, but I still got through 35 books. (And, thanks to Goodreads, I can safely say I read 11,096 pages and rated almost everything 3 stars, because I have a cold, frozen heart and am impossible to please.)

My top-rated books of the year were:

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman: Adult urban fantasy. But it’s Neil Gaiman, guys. It was exceptional.
  • The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne Valente: Middle grade fantasy. I have some extremely mixed feelings about the Fairyland series as a whole. But the last book in the series blew me away, and left me exceedingly glad that I read them all.
  • The Siren Depths by Martha Wells: Adult fantasy. I discovered Martha Wells’s Raksura books this year, and became completely obsessed with them. The Siren Depths is the third book in the original Raksura trilogy. The series starts out interestingly–if not a wee bit slowly–and then builds into the absolutely perfect crisis in The Siren Depths. I adore them all. My life needs more flying lizard people in it. Now I have to wait until the middle of 2017 for the next one!
  • Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. Non-fiction. This is an extremely short and simple book, but it has a fantastic approach to outlining that’s both minimalistic and extremely effective.

Writing

Oh my gosh, guys. I wrote so much.

Ages ago, I wrote a post about how I painstakingly record how much I write and how long it takes me. Because of this, I know exactly how much I wrote this year, and how I used that time.

This year, I wrote more than 212,000 words.

  • 184,293 of those words were for novels
  • 12,555 were for short stories
  • 13,562 of them were for outlines
  • And the rest was all editing. (This is a hard one, though, because my editing word counts are, obviously, often in the negatives. This explains why my spreadsheet thinks I’ve edited -804 words related to short stories this year.)

This is fantastic, especially when I only wrote 139,079 words last year. Holy smokes, that’s 73,000 more words! That’s a complete novel!

None of this is particularly surprising when you consider my post from last year. 2015 was not a great year for me. I was struggling with a nasty case of writer’s block, and struggling with the fact that I had started–and restarted, and abandoned–the one story I really, really, really wanted to write.

This year, I finally broke through.

After agonizing with one story I didn’t want to fix and one story I couldn’t seem to write, I just… came up with a new idea. I barely outlined it. I sketched out a few main plot points. I came up with a few characters. And then I just started to write.

I wasn’t as emotionally attached to it as I was the story I kept trying and failing to write, so I cared less about whether it was terrible. I barely outlined it, so I didn’t care that it didn’t go according to plan. (There was barely a plan FOR it to stick to.) I didn’t pants the thing, but by planning less, and outlining on the fly, I managed to write a story that was infinitely more fun and less stressful.

I’ll probably write about what techniques helped me later on. But for now? The important thing is that I completed the first draft of a YA fantasy. It’s 115,000 words long, it desperately needs to be cut down, the entire beginning needs to be rewritten… But it was a ton of fun to write.

And, speaking of fun times…

Publishing

My biggest accomplishment was, of course, publishing Justice Unending. My first novel! Which you can buy! Right now!

I’ve written so much about it already that I’m not going to bore you, yet again, with the details. I’m obviously excited to death about it. Publishing is a rush! The very thought that I have book reviews and sales is completely bewildering to me!

Outside of Justice, I didn’t sell anything else. I wrote far fewer short stories than I did in 2015 and was extreeeeeeeemely lazy about selling them. I currently have two short stories that are under consideration, and… that’s about it. I really focused on novels this year.

My Resolutions

This was a fantastic, productive year. With any hope, 2017 will be just as great. Specifically:

  • I want to edit the YA fantasy I finished this year. It’s 115K long and an absolute mess, and I intend to spend the first quarter of 2017 getting that baby into shape.
  • I also want to query it this year! That might be late in the year, depending on how long it takes to get this thing ready for a beta review–and how long those reviews take and what they find–but I’d love to be querying in autumn.
  • I want to get at least 2-3 short stories ready for the submission rotation. I (almost) finished one in December. In January, I intend to get at least one more ready to go.
  • I want to start the next novel! Whether it’s the sequel to the 115K-long fantasy or that story that I wanted to desperately write last year but couldn’t, I’m excited to hop over to the next project.

And that’s that! Here’s to a productive new year!

Photo of the cover of Justice Unending by Elizabeth Spencer.It’s finally here! My YA fantasy novel, Justice Unending, is finally out!

I’ve been running around like a crazy person all morning, making sure that I’ve posted, tweeted, trumpeted, and squealed about this to everyone I know. But whoa, I haven’t updated the blog yet!

So here it is: It’s official! Justice Unending is out! You can currently get a copy at either of these locations:

It will be available at Barnes and Noble shortly. And if you’re into paperback versions, no worries–that will be available in a few months.

But what, you ask, is Justice Unending about? Glad you asked! Here’s the blurb:


Within the walls of the Bastion, it’s an honor to become a host for an Unending—the bodiless, immortal spirits who rule the country.

But for Faye, it meant her sister would have to die.

When Faye sneaks into the Mother Duchess’s manor, she just wanted to see her sister one last time. Instead, Faye finds a manor in chaos, a murdered man, and an Unending assassin named Aris who needs a new body—Faye’s body—to bring the Bastion to its knees.

Now Faye’s harboring the Bastion’s most wanted criminal. And if she wants to live, she’ll have to escape the Duchess and her immortals, all while keeping Aris from harming anyone else.

There’s just one problem—Aris is not the villain. And now Faye is the only one who can help her stop the Duchess before anyone else—and especially Faye—has to die for the Unendings’ whims.


And if you’re intrigued, but not convinced, you can read an excerpt on the Evernight Teen website.

Banner for Justice Unending, showing the title, the author (Elizabeth Spencer), and the book cover.

My book, Justice Unending, is being published in just over a week! Woo! You can read more about the book in this earlier post. Otherwise, it’s just one week and one day until November 4!

This week, I’ve been posting about the writing and submissions process, and all the writerly things I learned on the way.

I’ve already published about how I found a small press and what it was like to do edits with a publisher. Today, I’m talking about the writing resources that saved my butt.

Self-Editing Techniques

Although I’ve found a lot of books I love since then, I wrote Justice with the help of Donald Maass’s The Fire In Fiction.

The Fire in Fiction has you take a completed first draft and systematically ramp up impact of your dialogue, tension, worldbuilding, characterization, and a zillion other little things. Super useful.

Beta Readers

The Absolute Write Forums: Beta Readers, Mentors, and Writing Buddies. All the way. Justice was read by a lot of people at different points in its life, but I got the most helpful beta readers on Absolute Write.

For the best results, offer to do a manuscript trade. You’ll end up with a lot of reading to do, but you’ll get more engaged and motivated readers!

Queries and Synopses

Whether you’re querying agents or publishers, you’ve got to have a good query and one-page synopsis. Here’s where I went to hone the ones I used for Justice Unending:

  • Absolute Write’s Query Letter Hell: Located in the “Share Your Work” forum, Query Letter Hell is where you go if you want to see your query reduced to a pile of ashes so it can be reborn as an illustrious phoenix. Prepare for walls of “These stakes are terrible!!” and “I misunderstood [everything you wrote]!” as you gradually massage your query into something that people actually find compelling. Just remember that you have to have 50 posts on the forums before you can post here–so spend some time getting comfortable with the community before you start asking for reviews.
  • Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCucheon: While this book was originally released in the 90s (and it shows) it’s still my favorite one on synopsis writing. You fill out a bunch of worksheets, identify the critical junctures in your story, and then combine them into a synopsis. It’s lovely.
  • QueryTracker.net: My absolute favorite way to find agents and track my queries. It’s the #1 way to spend every second of your life pouring through real-time agent response times and obsessing over whether it means “you’re under consideration” or not.

Contests

I’m not the biggest fan of contests, but Pitch Wars really motivated me to improve my manuscript. Better yet, it helped me connect with some awesome authors on Twitter.

Finding a Small or Medium Press

You can read more about this adventure in the post I wrote last week!

Phew! These are just a few of the resources that helped me write Justice Unending. It was an absolute labor of love, and was influenced by a ton of books, websites, and a cadre of supporting and helpful fans, readers, and supportive friends. But these are the ones that really saved my butt and helped me out the most.

And that’s that! And because next week is launch week this will probably be my last post on how I wrote this thing. (But if anyone has any questions, hey, just ask. I always need something to post about.) Instead, next week’s going to be about… well, you know. The book. Which is coming out. Next Friday.

See you then!

Banner with part of the cover for the novel Justice Unending, by Elizabeth Spencer.

(No, I haven’t run out of banners yet.)

My YA fantasy novel, Justice Unending, is coming out on Friday, November 4! In honor of its release, I’m posting about my experiences as someone who’s new to this publishing thing.

I talked about how I found a small press last Friday. Today I’m talking about the editing process!

First Thing’s First: What Did I Do?

Evernight Teen did three waves of edits with me:

  • An in-depth edit. This involved partially rewriting chapters, moving sections around, fixing some logic errors, and reworking a lot of dialogue. I had two weeks to do this one.
  • An in-depth, line-level edit. I went through the entire manuscript line-by-line, reworking sentences to remove repetitive and imprecise words. I had one week for this one.
  • A final pass to approve the final draft and a handful of small changes from the editor. I had a few days for this one.

Everything was done in Microsoft Word using Track Changes and comments.

The editor also highlighted the words I used most often. I assume she used a tool for this, although I don’t know which. (I’d love to know what it was, though!) But whether it was “you used this word 200 times in this manuscript” or “this word shows up nine times in this chapter” every offending instance of these words was highlighted. It made it extremely easy to edit them down.

So what did I learn?

Having a schedule is a pretty big shift for someone who writes as a hobby.

I don’t write fiction for a living, so–like pretty much everyone who wants to write–I do it in my free time. I have no deadlines outside of the crushing personal expectations that torment me for not writing fast enough. No one cares if I take a few weeks off to travel or recover from a cold.

But when an editor says, “Hey, can you do developmental edits on 68,000 words in two weeks?” That’s second-job territory there. That’s “you better schedule 1-3 hours a day for this if you don’t want work to pile up” territory.

It’s a mandatory skill, of course. If you get an agent, a multi-book contract, or even if you just want to self-publish books at a reasonable pace, you’re on a deadline. But going from that “This is a hobby, so I can do whatever I want” headspace to “This is a job–make time for it” is… well, a shift.

Prepare to face your demons.

I’m an editor! That’s my day job! There can’t be that much wrong with my books, right?

Er, no. There’s a reason they say you can’t edit yourself well.

I hadn’t noticed, for example, that I was hopelessly addicted to the words voice (used approximately 231 times) or breath/breathe (used slightly more than 100), particularly in tandem. I’d have people breathing responses while they’re short of breath, or their breath was catching in their throat, and their voice was trembling or dripping with emotion.

And could (171 uses)! I knew I had a problem with writing Faye could feel this and Faye could see that instead of just saying Faye did stuff, except I thought I had removed most of those myself. Ha. No.

In short, I spent lot of time staring at every annoying habit I have. Non-stop. For weeks.

It’s easy to get tired.

 

It’s exciting to have a book coming out. It is! It really is! But by the time you’re submitting your novel to publishers, you’ve probably already spent a lot of time editing it. And doing more work, in a highly compressed timeline, can be hard.

I mean, just imagine it: You’ve got a project. You’ve already looked at it a million times. Now you have a deadline. Also, this is your debut novel, so you’re worried about making a bunch of stupid, naive mistakes.

But you can’t work on something else or take a day off because, you know, there’s a deadline.

So I spent three-plus weeks doing all Justice all the time! in two months. And I won’t lie: There were some hard days when I had to really dig deep for the energy and enthusiasm I needed to do a good job.

But it’s so, so worth it.

I mean, of course it was. A good editor always makes a book better! My edit cleaned up a lot of little issues, tidied up some problems with the plot, and removed a ton of annoyingly repetitive words. It was absolutely worth it.

And now I get to do the fun stuff, like lovingly looking at my cover, telling people about my book, and celebrating on the internet!

Banner for Justice Unending, showing the title, the author (Elizabeth Spencer), and the book cover.

My debut novel, Justice Unending, is being published by Evernight Teen on November 4th–and today, I’m going to talk a wee little bit about how I got there.

Justice was not the first novel I ever finished. Depending on how generous I want to be, I’d call it either my 5th or 6th one. (I wrote a 120K-long abomination in my college years that was kinda-sorta a completed story, but only because I stopped at the “midpoint” to see how long a YA should be and realized that OMMGGG i should stoooop.)

So, yes. 6th-ish novel. Let’s go with that.

But Justice was the first one that I really, really put my heart into pitching. I did the agent thing. I got requests. I didn’t ultimately get representation.

So then it was time to look at small/medium presses. And I was lost.

I knew how to query agents. There are bajillions of resources about how to query. If you want to know how to write one, or you want to see successful ones, or you want to get yours critiqued, you can find a ton of places to help.

But what about small presses? I, er, didn’t…actually… know?

It was kind of embarrassing. I had experience. I wasn’t new to writing. I had done lots of research. But small presses were different and I was completely out of my element.

So here’s what I did:

  • First, I tried Writer’s Market, the publishers of the annual Guide to Literary Agents books. They have an online database of agents and publishers. And while I’ve gotten a lot of use out of their agent lists, the small/medium publishers in their database were… ehhhhhh. Not only were there very few options for YA fantasy, but I had to put a lot of manual work and time into filtering out ones with poor-quality editing and cover art.
  • Then I tried Query Tracker, my absolute favorite website for tracking and logging queries to agents. But, again, they just didn’t have very much there. I did find a few places to look into, but I didn’t feel like I had a really good list yet.
  • Finally, I just went post-by-post through the “Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Check” forums on Absolute Write. Literally. I just clicked thread-by-thread and copied the URLs of any place that looked high-quality and had a good reputation with the posters. And even though this was an extremely manual process, the comments gave me some insight into whether the publisher was responsive, easy to work with, and reliable about payments.

Once I had a small list of publishers, I measured each based on whether:

  • The books they published appeared to be well edited.
  • They some amount of promotion. Small presses are small, but they still have promotion and marketing processes that you can compare to each other.
  • They had professional-looking covers.
  • They had a generally good reputation on Absolute Write. (If they had a reputation for non-payment, for example, I wrote them off immediately.)

In the end, I had a list of 11 publishers I trusted. Considering I queried way more agents than that, it felt like an anemic list. But thankfully, I didn’t need to find more.

But honestly, I never found a really good database that did the same thing for small presses that Query Tracker or Writer’s Market did for queries. If I need to go through this process again, I know I’ll definitely need to look harder for one.

Photo of the cover of Justice Unending by Elizabeth Spencer.On Monday, I said I had an announcement. And here it is!

My novel, Justice Unending, is being published by Evernight Teen. And it’s coming out on Friday, November 4!

And now it’s cover reveal time!

(Isn’t it lovely? Holy moly, a cover really makes the book seem real.)

Justice Unending is a YA fantasy set in a faux-Victorian fantasy world. It’ll be available primarily in e-book format. And while you can’t currently pre-order, it’ll be available in just a few couple of weeks.

(And if you’d like to know a little more about it, I’ve pasted a short summary at the bottom of this post.)

So, here’s the plan: over the next two-and-a-half weeks, I’m going to be talking about this book.

But don’t worry! I’m not going to sit here screaming BUY MY BOOK. (Seriously. I hate being sold to. I won’t do it to you.) Instead, I’m going to try my best to post about writerly things. You know, the stuff people who are publishing their first book might care about. Like the publishing process! What editing is like to go through an edit! All the scary emotions!

The fist of those will be… Friday-ish? I do try to keep to a schedule, but hey. I’m a little rusty on the blog-stuff.

But before I head off, I said I’d post a wee little bit more about Justice, didn’t I? So here’s the blurb:

Within the walls of the Bastion, it’s an honor to become a host for an Unending—the bodiless, immortal spirits who rule the country.

But for Faye, it meant her sister would have to die.

When Faye sneaks into the Mother Duchess’s manor, she just wanted to see her sister one last time. Instead, Faye finds a manor in chaos, a murdered man, and an Unending assassin named Aris who needs a new body—Faye’s body—to bring the Bastion to its knees.

Now Faye’s harboring the Bastion’s most wanted criminal. And if she wants to live, she’ll have to escape the Duchess and her immortals, all while keeping Aris from harming anyone else.

There’s just one problem—Aris is not the villain. And now Faye is the only one who can help her stop the Duchess before anyone else—and especially Faye—has to die for the Unendings’ whims.

So, if you used to read this blog–and I know that’s a really generous thing to say, considering that I’ve never made the best use of this thing–you probably noticed that I dropped off the face of the earth in January.

It made sense at the time. On top of that before-mentioned “not making the best use of this thing”… thing, I just didn’t have much to say. I publish the occasional short story, sure. I have lots of thoughts on writing. But in the huge, oversaturated world of writing blogs, I didn’t have anything amazing to share, and I didn’t have the clout (or the following!) for those opinions to reach anyone.

Besides, it was stressing me out. So I just took my blog time and turned it into more writing time.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my online presence to look like, and a blog might have a part in it–just a smaller part, and something that feels less obligatory and I-must-post-once-a-week-or-feel-bad. I just don’t exactly know what that is yet. So I’ve been dragging my heels instead.

So, you might be wondering, why am I resurrecting this blog if I’m not sure how I want to use this yet?

Well, I, er, kind of published a book. It’s kind of coming out on November 4, 2016.

And while I dearly love Twitter, I absolutely hate most kinds of Twitter marketing. So I’m bringin’ the blog back!

I’ll be kicking off the announcements on Wednesday this week. I’ll be revealing the cover and sharing a little bit about the story. And for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few posts about my experiences, and my thoughts, and a whole lot of other things.

See you then!

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