So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship Program, Part 2: Choosing What’s Right For You

Previous post: Part I: The Programs

All mentorship posts: https://kay-s-beckett.com/mentorship/

First, a gentle reminder: There are many paths to publishing. A mentorship might be yours. It might not. But that’s okay. I promise, it’s okay. There are plenty of writers who applied to programs and were rejected only to get their agent and publishing deal through cold querying (including my PW mentor!). And just because you get into one of the programs, does not guarantee you an agent or publishing deal.

Again, being in a mentorship program DOES NOT GUARANTEE an agent and a publishing deal. This is something that I’m constantly reminding myself on my PW journey. There are PW mentees from past years that get agents and deals. But there’s also plenty who don’t get agents. Or if they do, it’s with their next project. Or they get agented, but their PW manuscript (MS) has no luck on subs and their next project does. There are some mentees who never get an agent, but decide to self-publish. There are many paths to publishing and a mentorship program is one of the many. It’s less of the Fast Pass (RIP) at Disney World, and more of the single-rider line. It might get you on the publishing ride sooner than waiting in the regular line, but does not guarantee you a faster wait time.

Finally, please remember that this is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or mentorship program.

With that out of the way, let’s get to how to know what programs and which mentors to apply to.

Not All Programs are Equal (And That’s Okay)

It can be really easy to fall into the mindset that, “I’m going to apply to all the programs, because one is better than none”. I’ve done it. You just want somebody to see the same potential in your MS that you do, and you don’t really care who it is.

Not only is this not the best attitude to have when trying to get published (re:schmagents) but it’s also not the best idea to have when applying for writing mentorship programs. They all offer different things. Some are mentored by editors. Others by agented/published authors. Some have agent showcases and others don’t. What they offer vary, as does the revision timeline. If you really want what’s best for yourself and your MS then you should think twice before clicking the ‘submit’ button.

Also, while my last post discussed the bigger, more well-known programs, always do your own research before submitting to any type of mentorship program. Know what you’re getting into, how reputable the mentors are, and rights status. That’s not say don’t ever submit, but do your research and ask your writing friends for feedback if you have your doubts. This goes for submitting your writing for any kind of consideration– mentorship programs, specific agents/agencies, publishers, contests, anthologies, etc.

Alright, you’ve done your research but still know for sure which program should enter or how many.

How to Choose a Program

Be Honest About Your Time Commitments

The programs with agent showcases require a quick revision turnaround that range between 2 – 4 months depending on the mentorship. Others, like AMM have no showcase and therefore are more flexible. If you have a lot going on your life– family, children, school, work, other commitments– completely rewriting your MS in under two months might not be doable. RevPit and Write Mentor usually take place over spring/summer, whereas Pitch Wars (at least the cycle I’m in) occurred over several holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Depending on your schedule, one time of year might work better for writing than another.

When applying it can be very easy to just think, ‘This is a long-shot, if I get in then time management is a problem for future me. Who care, I got in!’ I’ve done the same. But while PW might say you get three months, by the time you factor in getting your letter, completing your new outline based on the letter, you have closer to two months to get through at least two revisions and finalizing your showcase entry. And that’s not factoring in spending time researching agents at the showcase, updating your query and synopsis, waiting for your mentor to get back to you with notes for your next revision and dealing with any unexpected life events that might pop up and delay your schedule which will inevitable happen.

On the flip side, if you’re the type who needs a regimented schedule and deadline to write, then maybe the programs that offer an agent showcase with a tight deadline are the best for you.

Be Honest About What You’re Open to Change

The type and amount of revisions vary by MS, wordcount, age group, genre, mentor, mentee, etc. But if you think revisions will be quick and easy, just lightly sprucing up your MS before sending it off to an agent, you’re wrong. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but from my experience, all mentees have had to do major revisions of some type. A complete rewrite, cutting or adding characters/words/subplots, tweaking the climax, character motivation, and more.

If you are the type of person who doesn’t react to critical feedback well or there’s a lot of things in your MS that you refuse to change, then think twice of what you’re applying to. That’s not to say you can’t say ‘no’ to your mentor’s suggestions or that your mentor won’t be wrong– if you think this is the case reach out to fellow CPs/mentees– but keep your willingness to change things in mind.

When I got requests for fulls, I also got some basic questions to answer about my MS and one common was what I wouldn’t change, or what was the ‘heart’ of my book. My answers in early spring to RevPit/Write Mentor was a bit longer than Laura’s in PW. By fall I was at a healthy distance from my MS and knew it needed a lot of work, but didn’t know what, so there was only one thing I refused to change (my MC’s character arc). This is important for potential mentors to know and to be up front about. True, it might dissuade them from choosing you if what you refuse to change is on their list of things to do, but it could also force them go in a different direction with your MS or give them a better idea of the soul of your book.

If you’re asked for something similar, again, be honest. Don’t tell your mentor you’re good with whatever when in reality, you’re not. All you’ll be doing is wasting their time and yours. Some programs might be more up front about any intense revisions/changes than others. Pay attention to what they’re offering and how it might fit in your willingness to change.

Be Honest About Your Publishing Path

It’s entirely possible you have no idea about what path you’re on. You know you want to publish it, but don’t really know or care how, be it braving the query trenches to get an agent and then a deal, going straight to small presses, or even going the route of self-publishing. But if you do find yourself leaning more towards one way or the other, then you might take that into consideration when applying to a program.

If you want to go the more traditional approach of agent+publishing deal then definitely consider programs that feature agented/published authors as mentors. While they might only be required to give feedback on your MS, they should be able to provide feedback on your query and synopsis (which you’ll need while querying) along with giving valuable insight on how to navigate the query trenches and agent and publishing deals.

If you’re thinking about the self-publish route, then seriously consider RevPit or Rogue Mentor. Rogue Mentor is the only program I know of that includes self-published authors as mentors (although experience/success may vary). Self-publishing can have a bad reputation due to authors skimping on editors. If you want to smash that reputation and have your MS be taken seriously, then you will need a professional editor (CPs/betas can only do so much and even the best will miss things). A decent one will probably cost several hundred dollars if not a grand plus, depending on your MS length, package, and editor (like most things, you get what you pay for). RevPit is the only mentorship program that features editors who actually edit MSs for a living. If you’re selected in RevPit, you get a chance for your MS to be professionally edited for free. Even if you’re not selected, most editors go on to offer a slight discount to all those who submitted to RevPit. So even if you don’t win, if self-publishing is something you’re considering, then RevPit might make it easier to afford an editor (before paying for any editor and service, always do your research!).

If you’re thinking about going traditional, don’t be dissuaded from entering RevPit. General consensus seems to be you shouldn’t have to pay for an editor (your publishing house will do so) but getting a chance to have your MS professionally edited to get into the best shape possible before querying isn’t something you should pass up. Some of the editors are writers or have experience with traditional publishing that could be valuable as well.

How to Choose a Mentor

While there are things to consider when deciding if/which mentorship you should apply to, there’s a lot more that goes into picking a mentor. You might see the name of somebody you’d love to work with when the mentors are announced which is great– but only if they’re the best fit for your MS. Most programs only allow you to pick 2 – 4 possible mentors to apply to out of dozens. While there’s always the chance they could pass along your MS to another mentor they feel is a better fit, you should be focusing on the mentor that’s best for your MS, not which one you want to work with the most.

So how exactly do you know if a mentor is the best for you? Well…

First Consider Those Open to Your Age and Genre

One of the parts I love most about mentorship programs is when wishlists and mentor profiles are released and going through them all. The first thing I do is concentrate on only those open to my age group and genre. There’s no point in reading everything on their wishlists or favorite books and falling in love, only to discover they won’t even be mentoring my group.

Each mentorship website is a little different. Some have pages for each mentor, others links to their websites and info. There’s even a few in recent years that have included spreadsheets with all the mentors and their info. I usually start by opening up a tab for each mentor within my age group and category and begin narrowing it down from there. If a spreadsheet is offered, I’ll save a version for myself to edit in where I can add notes as I finalize my decision.

Look at Anti-Wishlist/What they Don’t Want (if Available)

So you’re looking at all the mentors available in your age group and genre. Surely the next step is to look at wishlists, right? Nope. Did you not read the heading? Next is looking at their anti-wishlists/what they don’t want. You do this for the same reason you look at their age groups and genres– don’t fall in love with a mentor only to discover your MS has something they don’t want.

What that might be varies among mentors and programs. The same goes for how flexible they are. Serious issues that warrant trigger warnings, like not wanting sexual assault depicted on the page, are usually hard no’s. Respect that and the mentor’s boundaries. They could also not want certain tropes or characters– like pirates– because it’s too close to what they’re working on/have worked on. They might need a break from a certain topic or don’t want to risk having your MS influence theirs. Again, respect it. It might also be a matter of personal choice, they could be tired/not enjoy certain tropes. Respect it. Being in a mentorship is about what’s best for your MS and if they don’t like major elements if your MS, then they’re not the best mentor for it.

I’ve seen mentors encourage potential mentees to DM them in regards to items on their anti-wishlist, seeing how firm there are or giving more info on how it’s presented. Feel free to do so if they put it out there you can. And if they say no, accept no. Don’t badger them, tell them your MS is great otherwise and you’re sure they’ll love it. Respect their boundaries. They’re giving up their own time and energy to be a mentor. Let them do so to an MS that’s right for them and not one they might hate.

Then Look at Wishlist

By this point hopefully you’ve been able to narrow just a little bit further. Now is when you look at the wishlist and see how many mentors are practically begging for your MS. If there’s really none that your MS seems to match, don’t worry. Wishlists ar just to give an idea of what a mentor is looking for, not requirements. Laura’s was rather broad and I still subbed and was picked by her.

Usually mentorship programs will have AMA sessions on Twitter where you can ask specific mentors if they’re interested in specific tropes, or they might be open to questions at any time. If so ask, but be respectful of their responses.

Consider Other (Mentorship Style, Offering, Favs)

Programs have different things they list for each mentor, but there’s usually something about a mentor’s mentorship style, what they’ll specifically offer (going beyond the basic requirements) and their favorite books/shows/movies/etc. It might be easy to skip over at first in favor of their wishlists. A mentor is a mentor, who cares about everything else?

You should. Again, it’s about getting the best mentor for your MS. If you’re choosing between your dream mentor and one that lists worldbuilding as a strength or what they love doing, and you know your MS just so happens to need some worldbuilding, then go with that mentor. If a mentor states something that you really want like video chats, go with that mentor. That’s not to say the others won’t do those things or aren’t good at worldbuilding, but the fact remains those mentors choose to call those out over ones who didn’t.

Favorites can be a good indicator of their taste and how similar or different it is to yours, and some might be things you can comp your MS to. When it comes to the ‘Dear X’ part of your query usually for programs you don’t have to personalize them and keep it generic like ‘Dear Editor’ or ‘Dear PROGRAM NAME’ but if you know a mentor has specific favorites you can comp your MS to, you could put those in your query. Don’t stress if you can’t do that, but if you can, it might help your query leap out from the others. Of course, it also means they might have high expectations, so if you comp to a favorite it better fit your MS.

Consider Experience

Similar to mentorships, not all mentors are created equal, and that’s okay. RevPit features editors, some of which are authors and some aren’t. For others like AMM, Write Mentor and Pitch Wars, they could be industry professionals (like junior agents/interns) or agented authors or published authors. Agented authors are authors who have agents but are still early in their writing journey, either working on revisions themselves or on submissions with publishers. But just because they might not have a publishing deal yet doesn’t mean you should discount them. They could have years in the industry, or experience with being a CP, editing MSs, or being a mentor. Pay attention to their background when deciding if they’re the right mentor for you and be honest about what your MS needs.

A published author might sound like– and even be a great mentor– but pay attention to their background as well. Do they have much experience mentoring? If all they’ve published are Adult thrillers but they’re open to YA fantasy or rom-coms, would they be the best fit for your MS? There might be something in their background indicating they have experience with that age group/genre, but there might not be. Again, do your research.

Also, if they are published, it’s okay if you haven’t heard of them or read their book. In these contests, there’s always some names I recognize and others I don’t. Publishing is such a wide field, it’s okay if you don’t know all the names. If you have time and access to their books to read them and get a sense of their style, strengths and weaknesses, that’s great. Use that knowledge and critical eye to judge if they’re the right mentor for you. But if you can’t, don’t stress over it. If you get selected you could read their books while waiting for your edit letter or in between revision feedback. Or not at all. Ideally, they shouldn’t have become a mentor to boost sales or readership, but because they wanted to give back to the writing community so don’t feel pressure to gush about their books with them at all during the mentorship.

Be Honest About Must Haves

It’s quite possible you still have quite the list at this point that needs to be narrowed down. So be honest about what you’re looking for in a mentor. My MC is ace, and while my MS is fantasy, real-life historical heroines influenced it. Therefore it was important to me to have a mentor that mentioned being open to an ace MC and/or not needing romance to be a major part of the MS, and listed historical among their genres or at least didn’t bluntly state they didn’t want historical.

But just because they don’t specifically call those things out, doesn’t mean you should discount them. Laura didn’t, but I got the vibe she was open to both from her wishlist. She had experience with writing historical fantasy so she clearly has a passion for it, and while she was open to romance it wasn’t a requirement– not like some of the other mentors who mentioned it on their wishlists.

You might have other requirements. Maybe you want a mentor who’s really into romance. Or specifies wanting queer or BIPOC stories. Or maybe there’s a certain aspect of a mentorship style or strength you really want– or they state they suck with pacing, and that’s where your MS has issues.

When going through mentors, being honest about your must haves, dealbreakers, and elements you’re more flexible on can help you narrow down many possible mentors to a few. (And prepare you for the query trenches and finding agents.)

Look at Social Media

I wouldn’t say this is as important as the others, but if you have time, are curious, and really need to whittle down your lists, social media is a good place to start. Browse their website, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else they have public links to. Social media can be a good place to learn more about their tastes, personality, and figure out if they’d be a good fit for you. Remember, it’s not about choosing the mentor you like the most and want to be bffs with (although that can factor into your decision) but is about the best fit for your MS and you. Social media might provide more clues confirming that yes, this is who I want to apply to, or could make you go, yeah, I don’t think it’d work out.

You don’t have to interact with them or even other mentors and the mentorship community at all. AMM, RevPit, Write Mentor, and Pitch Wars all have events for hopefuls including AMA for mentors, going over submission advice, or teasing info about your MS with other hopefuls and potential mentors. These can be great events to connect and make writing friends, but never feel like you have to interact. I’ve seen announcements featuring mentees who were heavily involved pre-announcements, and others with mentees who have no online presence. Personally, I’ve interacted with several hopeful communities in the past and saw no results. For the sake of my mental health during Pitch Wars I didn’t interact at all, thinking it’d lessen the sting of not getting in.

I’ve seen mentors say that some teasers have definitely raised their interest in a submission, but it wasn’t the deciding factor, or that they may have gone through a potential mentee’s posts in the days leading up to the announcements as exciting was building. I’ve also seen some admit they may have decided not to take on a mentee based on their posts, so be aware that when you post something publicly, everybody can see it. EVERYBODY.

Create Spreadsheet and Ranking System

After looking through all the profiles and gathering all the data your mentor list might still be too long. Now it’s time to organize that data and finalize your picks.

RevPit was nice in 2021 because they actually provided a spreadsheet which I copied and pasted in my own. Once I got it narrowed down to my top 4 – 6 editors I added in additional columns to note my must-haves, favorites that my MS were similar to, and other relevant data. I got very technical with it and assigned them point values for things like mentioning ace MCs, or history. I also added a column and points just for overall vibes/feelings they gave me. Then I totaled them up and sorted, and the ones with the highest point totals were the ones I submitted to.

You could do something similar with a spreadsheet. You could also change how things are weighted (being open to high fantasy weighs more than their favorites list) or take away points based on certain criteria. It’s your spreadsheet, your MS, nobody has to know your criteria for picking a mentor.

When it came to Pitch Wars I was not that ambitious. I did my usual thing of narrowing it down and I had like 6 – 8 possible mentors. Rather than the points system I kept reading their wishlists and mentoring style and just reordered my open tabs and applied to the top four. Laura was either 1 or 2 because of the general vibe of her page and website. She just seemed so down to earth and enjoyable I could see myself working with you.

Discuss with Writing Friends

If the spreadsheet method doesn’t appeal to you or your still having issues narrowing down mentors, talk things through with your writing friends. They might be able to point out things you overlooked or need to take into consideration. They might also have heard things about the mentor or their work that would make them the perfect mentor for you, or not the right fit.

Leave it to Chance

If you still can’t narrow down your mentors, you could always let chance decide. Flip a coin. Pull names from a hat. Ask a Magic 8 Ball. Do a Tarot reading. Assign them random numbers. Decide based on some random variable. Randomly select on the application. Crude yes, but at least you’ve completed your application. Don’t let your indecision prevent you from experiencing life.

Sharing is Caring and it Can be Stressful

Mentors can share submissions behind the scenes with those they think might be better suited or if they’re really rooting for a project to find a home. Usually there’s a question on the form you can check stating you’d be alright with it, or you’ll be contacted by the program asking permission to share with another mentor. Based on your notes, if you’re okay with the mentor, you can say yes but you can also say no. Keep in mind that just because they ask to share doesn’t mean you’re automatically guaranteed a mentor. The new potential mentor might decide its not right for them, or they don’t have thoughts on how to improve it, or there’s a better submission for them.

And ultimately…

For Mentors, it’s not About the Best MS

From a mentee perspective, it’s about what mentor is the best fit for your MS. Leading up to submission you want to polish your MS as best as possible and submit to a mentor who’ll love it and can help polish it even further. From a mentor perspective, it’s not always about the MS they fall in love with. They could truly love a MS, but if they feel there’s nothing they can help with– maybe it’s query ready or needs work outside their specialty– they’ll decline. Or maybe they don’t feel they can do so within the time frame, or just can’t connect with the MS.

This has no bearing on you as a writer or on your MS. Sometimes mentors might reach out if they have suggestions or explain why they had to pass, but they’re not obligated to do so. All you can do is do your research ahead of time and know you gave your MS its best chance at the right mentor for it.

Next post: Preparing Your Submission

5 Reasons Why You Should Participate in Writer in Motion

Last year I participated in Writer in Motion and this year I’m working as a forum moderator. If you’ve never heard of Writer in Motion, I highly suggest first checking out their site followed by my Writer in Motion journey last year. The next round of Writer in Motion (WIM) is getting ready to open soon. Spots open for marginalized writers on June 25th, all writers on July 2nd, with the writing prompt (aka picture) released on July 9th. After that you have roughly a month to write a 1,000 word story based on the prompt documenting your journey from a rough first draft to a pretty finalized edited version. Along the way you get to know your fellow WIM participants, exchange beta reads, have an actual editor give feedback on your short story and be invited to a virtual taco party at the ending.

Okay, so you now have a brief overview of WIM, why you should you participate in it? Well…

1. Get Out of a Writing Slump

Last year WIM came at a time when I was making no progress on revisions. Like a lot of others, I experienced anxiety from COVID and didn’t feel like doing anything creative, let alone write. I spent my free time being addicted to Animal Crossing. But WIM forced me out of my funk. I had a set weekly schedule so I could start my self-edit to finish in time for the beta edit and editor edit. There’s really no consequences if you don’t, other than not being able to share your posts with the others, but having a schedule with a simple goal of getting through 1,000 words each work was more attainable than getting through a 100,000 story with no fixed timeline. It still took about a month after WIM to be able to throw myself back into revisions, but I did push through. It’s gone through a few more revisions and beta reads since then and I’m officially querying a year later.

If you at a similar point but your WIP seems too daunting, you don’t even know where to begin for a new WIP, or need to rediscover your love of writing, I’d suggest giving WIM a try. Start small, and build up your creativity and energy before tackling something big. Who knows, that 1,000 short story might turn into your next MS– several past WIM participants have gone on to turn their stories into full-fledged novels.

2. Try a New Genre

In my round there were several writers who tried out a different genre or POV, including myself. At the time I’d been writing fantasy for several years. In my initial brainstorming session after seeing the prompt picture for the first time, I jumped around between genres and tones. I’d thought I’d land on a more fantastical one but was drawn more to the little fluffy contemporary piece that reflected a certain point of my life. Writing something set in present day instead of a magical 18th century land was a shift, but it was also refreshing. A chance to flex my writing muscles.

If there’s ever been a genre you’ve wanted to write but didn’t have a full-fledged story idea or weren’t sure how, WIM is the perfect time to experiment. You only have to write a 1,000 word short story, not a long novel. Same goes if you want to try a new perspective. Curious about second-person? Tired of third-person past and ready for first-person present? This is the chance to break out of your comfort zone.

3. Challenge Yourself

It’s also a chance to challenge yourself if you’re an over-writer. The 1,000 word limit really only comes into play for the beta and editor feedback to keep it fair, so for your first draft and final you can go over. Personally I’d recommend trying to stay as close to that 1,000 word limit as possible. It forces you to make the most of every single word. Don’t say something in twenty words when you can say it in ten. Cut back on the info dumping and make sure the reader has the bare minimum information required to understand the story. Watch dialogue, make sure it’s natural for the character but isn’t too long-winded. Delete/replace overused words. All lessons that came in handy with my later revisions.

If you’re an underwriter it can be a different kind of challenge. Sure you can write something less than 1,000 and be fine, but why not flesh things out a bit and aim for the 1,000 word limit? Draw things for your protagonist, make them fight for the resolution. Delve a bit more into their backstory or really paint the scene. Crank up the tension and stakes.

4. Fight Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome basically means believing that everything your write is horrible and should never see the light of day when compared to other writers. In my experience it most commonly kicks in after getting into a writing slump, reading somebody else’s WIP, or having nothing but endless rejections/bad writing news. Because WIM involves chronicling the journey of initial idea to final, polished work you can follow along and see how those incredibly written stories that put yours to shame started out. While there might be a few great first drafts out there, the majority are messy. Run-on sentences, misspellings, grammar issues, pacing, inconstancies. Even the best works start out rough.

You also receive a variety of feedback on your writing be it from the WIM participants or an actual editor. You might think that what you wrote was mediocre, but then you read a lovely compliment about your writing. Maybe somebody pointed out some small detail you included on purpose and really love, or saw deeper meaning in a line that was a throw away (yes, you so meant that all along). Or just a few words of encouragement. It’s amazing how one comment can brighten your day or writing confidence.

5. Make Writing Friends

Finally, participating in WIM could lead to new friendships. If I could give my younger self writing advice it’d be, writing doesn’t have to be a solo journey. There are a variety of resources, groups, and Discord servers dedicated to helping writers on their journey. WIM is one of those resources. Last year there was a Twitter DM group for participants. You’ll be assigned partners to exchange stories with, and are free to interact/comment on one another’s edits each week.

If you’re new to the writing community, take advantage of the connections and meet new writing buddies. If you’re looking for a beta reader, in need of querying advice, or banging your head against the wall over a certain section, see if anybody is willing to help (there’s probably at least one).

You can keep to yourself and not engage with the other participants, and some do. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you don’t have to. And sometimes having writer friends can make the difference between whether or not you break out of that writing slump, feel confident at trying a new genre or challenging yourself, and fighting imposter syndrome.

Conclusion

There’s no monetary awards for participating in WIM or first place for best short story. That’s not WIM’s purpose. It’s purpose are some of the reasons laid out above. To bring writers together and show how much a piece of writing can change from initial concept to final result. If you’ve written less than a hundred words or more than a million, you can still get something out of it. Even if you don’t take the plunge yourself, you can always follow along with the participants. But you won’t know, unless you try. So go check it out: https://writerinmotion.com/

How to Reduce Your Word Count

I recently posted on lessons I learned while editing. I mentioned my biggest lessons revolved around reducing my word count, but it deserved a separate post, so here it is. But first, some background.

When I first started getting back into writing through fanfiction, I averaged around 1,000 – 2,000 words per chapter. My first attempt at NANOWRIMO I limped to 50,000 words, resorting to writing an Author’s Note to finish my word count. As I progressed with my writing, my chapters started to grow in length, to 5,000 and even 10,000 words. I didn’t think much of it. Some of my favorites fics can range from 20,000 – 40,000 words per update, and I eagerly devour every word. So as my own word counts began to balloon, I wasn’t too concerned.

Then I started to seriously consider publishing my current WIP. After doing some research I learned the average maximum word count for fantasy from new authors was 120,000 words. I wasn’t very far into editing my first draft, but quickly realized I had a problem. The chapters I had edited were ranging from 7,000 – 10,000 words a piece. At roughly thirty chapters, it could easily turn into 150,000 – 300,000 words by the time I was done. Therefore, some drastic changes were needed. Even after those drastic changes, my WIP was still over 10,000 words too long. But, after some hard work, I eventually got it to 118,400 words.Below are what I did for those drastic changes, and the smaller ones to get my word count to it’s current form.

Narrow Your Focus

This was one of the first things I did. I realized they story may have revolved around six characters, but there were really just two main characters, who each had their own two side characters. It was hard, but I cut quite a bit of length simply skipping over the side character’s point of views, and summing up their important developments in a few sentences. It sounds short and simple to do, but ended up leading to my next tip below.

Rebuild Your Foundation

This was the second thing I did. My first draft was organized into two parts– Part I taking place in one time period, with Part II in another. My initial concept was to open with the big final battle and then go backwards, showing what led up to it.

It was a fun concept, but wasn’t working. The pacing in Part II was just too slow. Besides narrowing my focus on two characters, I restructured the entire novel. Instead of going backwards, I went forward with the chapters. Instead of beginning in one time period only to end in another, I alternated the two periods every other chapter.

I can’t say for sure how many words I reduced due to this method, but I did reduce the number of chapters by around seven, and by combining it with narrowing my focus, I can say it improved my story for the better.

Trim the Fat

It wasn’t until I was editing did I realize how many unnecessary words and phrases I insert into my writing. The most common culprits are ‘had’, ‘that’, ‘so’, and ‘once again’.

For example, take the following example sentence:

So, she then suddenly realized that he had been lying to her the entire time that she knew him.

By removing the excess words it could read:

She suddenly realized he’d been lying to her the entire time she knew him.

By trimming the excess words, I went from nineteen words to fourteen words. Five words may not seem like a lot, but by multiplying those five words by at least ten instances per chapter over twenty-five chapters, that’s over a thousand words which can be deleted easily.

This can also work by rephrasing sentences, or simplifying run-on sentences. It may not solve all of your word count issues, but it’s a good start, and usually is a better reading experience for the reader. The last thing you want is to have readers quit because they can’t stand your complicated sentence structure.

Remember to KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

This phrased popped up a lot in college and my day job, but also applies to writing.

It can be as simple as saying in a few dozen words what you were saying in a few hundred. Established authors might be able to get away with pages of prose and backstory on scale with Tolkien, but new ones not so much. If you’re like me and like to write pages on backstory and details, you’re going to have cut some out. Just keep enough to set the mood or explain what the reader needs to know for the plot, but otherwise keep it simple.

This also applies with the number of chapters or scenes you might have. Instead of having Character A go to Point X with Character B to discover something then back to Point Y, before returning to Point X, try to reduce the plot. Ask yourself, does it really need to be this complicated? Or can you get the same plot developments with a fewer number of scenes?

By remembering to keep things simple, I reduced my number of scenes and sentences, and further reduced my length.

Make Every Scene and Word Count

If you’re really attached to a scene or chapter, make it count. Show some character development that can’t be shown elsewhere, reveal an important plot detail, include foreshadowing, set up a future event. Ask yourself, why the scene or sentence is important and what it adds to the story? Can it be removed without the story losing anything important?

If you can’t come up with an answer to the first question, or the answer is no to the second, them delete it. As painful as it might be, if it’s not further serving your story or plot, then it should be removed.

It Can be a Painful Process…

Deleting parts of your story can be painful. Whether it’s the countless hours of backstory and world-building that’s now reduced to a single sentence, your favorite line of dialogue or character now gone, deleting parts of your story can suck.

If you’ve exhausted all other avenues and are still a few thousand words too high, you might have to resort to axing your favorite parts. When it comes to doing that, copy the parts into a different document so they’re not completely gone. You can always reread them later. Then remember, if your ultimate goal is to get published and the only way to do that is by reducing your word count, the pain will be worth it in the end.

…But It Can Also be Gratifying

One of my best days of editing was reducing a chapter which was close to 11,000 words originally, to under 5,000. The sections I deleted were unnecessary, wordy, and could have been added elsewhere. Being able to cut the chapter in half was a great feeling.

When I saw my final word count of 118,400, 1,600 words under 120,000 I felt ecstatic. All of my hard work paid off and made the countless worth it. My current draft has come a long way from its origins, and I’m proud of its current state.

That’s it for now. Let me know if you have your own tips to reduce length, or if any of these helped you out.

— Kay S. Beckett

How to Create Your Own Holiday

So, you’ve read my previous post about including a holiday in a novel, or are just looking for some general tips and guidance. Holidays can be a great way to add a subplot or aid your novel, but can be tricky, especially when your genre is fantasy, science fiction, dystopia, or an alternate world that doesn’t quite share the same history and traditions as our own.

Before I get too far, first a couple disclaimers. There is no right way to create a holiday, and these are nothing more than just tips. You by no means have to add a holiday to your novel, and unless it’s integral to your plot, shouldn’t rely too heavily on holidays either. The majority of the holidays I use as examples are American because that’s what I have the most experience with, but they are by no means the only holidays and festivals people around the world celebrate.

Change the Name

My first tip, is the most basic and widely used tip in fiction—literature, television shows,  movies, or games— I see it all the time. Instead of Valentine’s Day, it’s Lover’s Day and still has all the association and aspects of the day itself. Instead of Christmas, it’s Yule, Mid-Winter, etc… Different name, but similar origins and traditions.

Changing the name is perhaps the easiest thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Readers like familiarity. Sure your story may take place in a land far, far away with a different type of government, creatures, and history, but chances are there are similar aspects to our own. Gravity acts more or less the same, the day/night/week/year cycle is the same, and foreign cultures and values may be similar to our own as well. The likes of Star Wars, Doctor Who, and other fantasy/sci-fi lands do this all the time. Reading a novel or watching a show where everything is different can be intense, and not for the average casual audience member. By keeping some things similar, it’s easier for the audience to pay attention to the story and relate to the characters, and you don’t have to spend too much time detailing the holiday and traditions associated with it because the audience already is informed.

But, there may be instances where you need a new holiday or event specific to your plot that doesn’t have a counterpart in our world, or maybe just want to have something different. If that’s the case, there are some questions you should take into consideration when developing your own holiday.

How Much of a Role Does the Holiday Play in Your Plot?

This is the first question you should be asking because it will determine how much work you put into constructing the holiday. If the answer is not much, the holiday is just there in the background, then you can get away with the basics. If the answer is a great deal with a significant amount of your plot revolving around it, then you’ll have to spend quite a bit time and energy into creating it.

Of course, the answer could be not much, but you love world-building so much or have a great idea that you can’t pass up on the opportunity to go into as much detail as possible. That’s fine, but if that’s the case, you should then ask yourself, is it worth it? Could my time be better spent elsewhere in the world? Should I really be typing 10,000 words on a holiday that will only show up for a few hundred, at the most, in the novel? Or even maybe, include it in the first place?

The amount you put into your holiday is ultimately up to you, but just keep in mind the level of effort you should really be putting in vs. what you want to put in.

What does the Society Value?

This is the next question you should ask, because the answer could shape the reason for your holiday. A lot of our so-called modern holidays can be traced back to similar origins, mainly revolving around the changing of the seasons and astrological occurrences.

It’s not a coincidence that Stonehenge, and other prehistoric sites around the world have special significance for certain events such as the winter or summer solstices. These monuments marked the changing of the seasons, which were important to know for one reason— food. Knowing when to plant, when to harvest, the start of the rainy season, how long it would last, was crucial to survival. There was no store to go to, no government bail-out if the crops did poorly. There was also no Google Calendar for them to keep track of the days and seasons by, so they made their own. 

Besides food and health, other values for society include religion, the government/military, societal values. Many holidays have a religious connection (Christmas, Easter, Passover, Ramadan), some of which comes back to giving thanks for the food/seasons. Others have a military/government angle (Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day). If your society values their military or government leaders, a holiday could be to celebrate/honor/remember them or an important historic event.

Then there are societal values which could be unique to your world. Think of festivals or holidays that are held locally in your area, but not nationally (Sweet Corn Festival, Bacon Days). Or if your society strongly values family, you could have holidays revolving around family (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day).

Also, holidays don’t have to be happy, joyous occasions. They can be solemn days of remembrance (Pearl Harbor Day, Patriot’s Day). A somber event could be the perfect way to set the mood for a darker-toned story (think the reaping in Hunger Games), or a great way to have a contrast against an otherwise light story.

Who Celebrates it?

Not everybody celebrates the same holiday, or even the same way. Holidays and festivals can vary by region. The Fourth of July may be big in America, but for the rest of the world, it’s just another day of the year. Your hometown might have a Bacon Day Festival every year, but it’s not celebrated elsewhere.

Holidays can also vary by religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, all have unique holidays and festival. Some might overlap at the same time of the year or origin, but they’re still observed differently. Then there are those who might be surrounded by a religion different than their own, or are atheists and don’t participate in religious holidays period. 

They can also vary by social class. Depending on wealth, the elite of your society might celebrate an event, where as the lower class might either dread it or skip it (Think how District 12 reacts to the Hunger Games vs. the Capital. Also this should be the last Hunger Games reference). The same could work vice versa. The lower class might celebrate an event while the elite think it’s too crass, or beneath them.

Humans are a diverse group, and should be represented as such in your story.

Where/when is it Celebrated?

We tend to think of holidays of annual events, but that’s not always the case. Inauguration Day in America is once only four years. Some events, such as those revolving around the changing of the seasons could be held multiple times a year as the season change.

Practices can also vary by time of day. Muslims observing Ramadan spend a month fasting from dawn to dusk, while having post-sundown feasts. While your holiday doesn’t have to follow the same practice as Ramadan, varying how your holiday is observed based on the time of day— and explaining why— could be an interesting read for your audience.

Where your novel takes place matters as well. If you story takes place in a desert, it might be hard for your characters to get their hands on an evergreen if they’re observing a Christmas inspired holiday. If your story takes place on an island or near the ocean, then your characters might celebrate with some special fish dish rather than a plump turkey or glazed ham.

How is it Celebrated?

Once you get the when/where/why/who down, it’s time to figure out the how. How can vary depending on who’s celebrating the event (children vs. adults, poor vs. wealthy, believers vs. non), where the holiday is (desert vs. mountain, nationally observed vs. small town), and when it is (spring vs. winter, modern times vs. ancient).

Things to keep in mind include:

  • Food
    • Take a minute and think about every holiday you’ve ever been a part of, and chances are, food was involved. Whether it was candy and sweets, classic dishes such as turkey and pumpkin for Thanksgiving, or the one dish your mother made without fail, food was most likely involved as part of the holiday, and your fictional holiday should as well. Now, it could be a food common to the time of year (pumpkin and squash in the fall), or something rare that’s only brought out once a year (be it a food, or the good china set to serve it on). Don’t forget about drinks, be it apple cider or hot chocolate in the fall and winter, or a nice frothy pint for St. Patrick’s Day. Food has been a huge part of holidays and festivals for centuries, so why should yours be any different?
  • Clothing
    • It’s not uncommon to have clothing unique to a holiday. Whether it’d be a family’s best and cleanest clothes, or a specific outfit. For Saint Lucy’s Day, girls traditionally wear white dresses with red sashes and a crown of candles on their head, which has special meaning for the day. While you don’t have to be that elaborate, think about what your characters would wear to celebrate. Remember where your story takes place and when the holiday occurs for influences from temperature, climate, what materials your characters might have access to. Social and economic background could effect their dress as well (a dress in the finest material in the latest fashion for a wealthy woman, vs. a second-hand dress for a woman not as well-off).
  • Decorations
    • Whether it’s skulls for Día de Muertos, mistletoe and evergreens for Christmas, or hearts for Valentine’s Day, decorations can play a huge role in celebrating your holiday. They can be large, like a Christmas tree, or small like a simple string of garland. Flowers and other natural materials are a good start, as are other materials your society easily has access to based on where they live or social class. Or they might save the rare flower or item for a special day that occurs only once a year.
  • Colors
    • Valentine’s Day has pink and red, Halloween has orange and black, Fourth of July has red, white, and blue. Colors can show up in clothing, decorations, and food, as discussed previously. They might reflect the time of the year—Halloween/Thanksgiving has colors reflecting the changing leaves while Easter has brighter colors associated with blooming flowers. Or they might reflect colors important to your country, if the holiday has a government or military significance (think red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July). 
  • Oral Traditions
    • Depending on the holiday, and where one lives, different types of greetings can be used (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Christmas). What do people in you society say to one another on the holiday? In addition, what type of stories or legends are told for your holiday? Are they origin stories such as the birth of Jesus for Christmas, or tales associated with the time of year such as A Christmas Carol for Christmas, or ghost/horror stories for Halloween. While they can be written down, typically such tales are best if they’re shared aloud, be it in a religious setting explaining the origins, or among family and friends for entertainment or setting the mood.
  • Gifts (if applicable)
    • Gift-giving is a common aspect of holidays, but not required. If you do include it as part of your holiday, you should consider who receives gifts and who gives them? Are they given just to children or maybe to parents (Mother’s/Father’s Day). Are they exchanged between lovers (Valentine’s Day) or between office workers (Boss Appreciation Day). What is typically given? Do gifts vary by location, cost, size? Are gifts required, or simply an appreciated gesture? How are they presented (wrapped vs. plain, all at once vs. one at a time)? What happens if a person receives a gift but has none to give in return? Is there a charitable aspect of your holiday where those who are well-off give to those in need? How does that work? These are just some of the questions you might consider when incorporating gift-giving into your holiday.
  • Music/Dancing
    • What would Christmas be without carols, or the Fourth of July without a band playing patriotic music? Holiday music can be loud and celebratory, or soft and gentle, or even somber. And what would music be without dancing to go with it? Be it a slow dance between lovers, or a group dance to an upbeat tune, music and dancing go hand and hand, and are a great way to celebrate a holiday. Nearly anything can be made into some sort of an instrument, and the same goes for dancing. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, old or young, live in a desert or on a mountain, both are readily available.

That’s it for this month. As previously stated this is by no means the ultimate guide on how to craft your own holiday, but hopefully it’s enough to get those creative juices flowing.

If this was helpful, you have a few suggestions of your own, or just some different topics you want to see me cover, leave me a comment.

—Kay S. Beckett

Why You Should Include a Holiday in Your Novel

December is here, which means spiced pumpkin flavored goods have been exchanged for hot cocoa and peppermint. The days are growing shorter and darker, and traffic is becoming more chaotic as everyone tries to squeeze in their last minute holiday shopping. As crazy as it may be at times, December is also a time for family, friends, to say goodbye to the old year and hello to a new, and hopefully better year.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, no holiday, or a different one completely, if you’re having plot issues with your novel you should consider adding a holiday to it. You can go beyond the traditional holidays found in December, writing about Easter, Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, April Fool’s Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, or whatever holiday is close to either you or the characters in your novel. Below are a list of some of the reasons why you should include a holiday, and how you can incorporate into your story.

Holidays Can Provide Background on the World

If you’re writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, than odds are you’ve had to do some serious world-building. You need to convey certain information to the reader so they can better understand the world and plot, but have to do so in a way that avoids having large amounts of exposition or info dumping. Holidays provide a great way to do that.

No matter the holiday, certain traditions are always involved or associated with that holiday. Things like food, colors, symbols, activities, and even religious practices. By showing how the characters observe a holiday, a reader can learn more about their culture, beliefs, value system, and even more about the character themselves. Character A could be really excited about the holiday, while Character B doesn’t really care— and they might have their own reasons, which could be foreshadowing a bigger event.

Think of the Hunger Games which opens with the reaping. It might not be a holiday by our normal definition, but it is an annual event that is observed by everybody in Panem, with major implications. By reading about how Katniss goes about her day and what happens during the reaping, the reader learns about the world’s history and what’s at stake for the characters without it being a complete info dump.

Holidays Can Help With Character Growth

Usually people spend holidays with family, sometimes only seeing them at a certain holiday which can lead to interesting situations and reveals. How a person relates to their family, whether they’re close and looking eager to the reunion or wants to avoid it, can be interesting subplots to explore, and possibly explain a character’s actions so far, or foreshadow how they’ll react to future events.

They could also stumble upon some long hidden family secret or receive a gift that will come in handy later (think Hagrid’s flute or Harry’s invisibility cloak, both of which were received as Christmas presents).

Or maybe their lack of celebrating or returning home can be an opportunity for growth as well. Maybe it’s revealed that they have no family (by situation or choice) to celebrate with, so they either stick to themselves or spend time with friends, who they consider family. Perhaps they got stuck working, or just don’t celebrate the holiday period. Holidays don’t have to be spent in the traditional way, and could still serve as an opportunity for growth.

Holidays Can Kick Off the Plot

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to start your novel, consider adding a holiday. The beginning could be a catalyst for events, or just serve as a background for the rest of the novel. Character A could be expecting a fancy meal or engagement on Valentine’s Day, only to break-up and start on a journey of self-discovery. Character B could return home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, only thanks to a drunken relative discover they’re not really family at all, or an equally unknown, but devastating family secret.

This could also double up with the world-building example. When does the reaping first appear in the Hunger Games? Towards the beginning, not only providing readers with context and background knowledge on the world, but kicking off the plot as well.

Holidays Can Provide a Lull

Sometimes after a big reveal or action scene you need a breather and holidays can certainly provide that. They’re typically times of relaxation, spent in locations where one feels safe and with people one loves. If a character has just gone through some major change or action, they might need a break (as well as the reader) from the plot and having a holiday is a natural excuse for doing just that.

Of course, you could always pull a bait and switch. Just as your characters and the readers think things are calming down, BAM! Unexpected twist or action. Dear old sweet granny isn’t as sweet as you think, or just when your characters think they’re safe, the plot shows up at the front door, not even bothering to knock politely, but kicking it down instead.

Holidays Can Set Up the Climax

The novel could also be working or leading to a major event as well, which also doubles as a backdrop for the climax. Throughout the novel, preparations have begun, decorations must be bought or put up, but it’s in the background and seems minor. Then as the plot begins to accelerate, the holiday suddenly takes center stage. Some holidays involve large public gatherings (parades, New Year Eve Countdown, Easter and Christmas mass) which would be the perfect target for an evil doer up to no good, and the heroes must stop them and save the event. Or perhaps they’re using the event as a distraction for their true plot, using a mob of people as the perfect getaway, or Santa’s sack to make off with their ill-gotten goods.

You can make it obvious that the big holiday or festival event is the setting of your big climax, or try your best to conceal your plot (but don’t forget to include a few bits of foreshadowing so it won’t seem like it’s coming out of nowhere). Either way, using a holiday as your climax could be an interesting ending for your novel.

That’s all for now, stay tuned for my next post which will focus on creating your own holiday for a fantasy or science fiction story.

— Kay S. Beckett