Last year I stepped away from blogging a bit to focus on other things that needed some attention. This year, however, I’m committed to more blog posts, and I’m committed to keeping the focus in one specific area: fiction. Writing, editing, publishing—it doesn’t matter. It’s time for me to stick with what I know, and that’s fiction.
I could tell you all about my experiences, but that wouldn’t make for many blog posts. Besides, we’re all different and have different experiences. That’s why I’ve asked some other writers to join me to talk about their experiences. This week, Hilary Hamblin joins me to explain a bit about her process.
Welcome! Let’s get started with telling everyone what kind of books do you write. Why did you pick that genre?
My most recent book is suspense. I’ve written women’s fiction and romance. I think the genres picked me. I love reading thrillers. The idea for my current WIP came to me, and I knew it had to be suspense. I had never written any suspense so I spent a good bit of time studying the process and flow of those books.
What’s the most difficult part of writing your genre? How do you
work through those challenges?
My critique partners and beta readers have told me that my pace is pretty good for the most part, but I struggle with wanting to add in a lot of backstory at the wrong times. Backstory in the middle of an action scene slows down the pace when it should be fast. I wrote the entire book then edited it. I can always delete the backstory, but writing it gives me insight into my characters that I may be able to use later in the book.
How long does it take you to: write the book? Edit it? Finalize
I used a different process with this book because I really thought it had the best chance at being published. I wrote 96,000 words in 13 weeks in 2019. I completed one round of edits/revisions, which took 4-6 weeks, then I sent it out to my critique partners. Once my critique partners returned their suggestions, I made another round of edits and sent it to beta readers. I made one more round of edits before submitting it to agents in September. From first word to submission, this book took nine months. My previous book took four years and did not receive the positive response this one did.
What conference do you most want to attend?
I would love to attend Thriller Fest in New York. One, I’ve always wanted to visit New York. Two, so many great authors share their experience there. Three, did I mention I love thrillers? I haven’t written a thriller, but I’d love to learn how to turn my books up a notch.
How do you prepare to write your books: pantser, plotter, both, something completely different?
I’m mostly a pantser. I outlined my last book on notecards and arranged all of those in order. When I started to write, I used none of it. Okay, so I used the character names and some of their occupations, but for the plot, nothing I had outlined ended up in my work.
I usually have a basic idea of my plot points, or where my plot points need to fall. I’ll assess what is happening in the manuscript and decide what the next big thing is that’s going to happen. Then I figure out the steps between where I am and where I need to be. If I find myself bored because nothing’s happening, I’ll reassess and add some action to move things forward. I can do a rough outline for maybe three chapters at a time.
For this novel, I knew the ending before I knew the beginning. I just had to figure out how my characters were going to get there.
How did you find your agent? What tips do you have for others
looking for an agent?
Linda Glaz with Hartline Literary Agency is my agent. I met her at the ACFW conference in September. She was on my list of top agents, and I was lucky enough to score a pitch session with her at the conference.
Before I submitted to any agents, I checked to make sure they represented my genre and checked out some of their current clients and sales. My tip for authors is to be teachable and don’t give up. I pitched a different manuscript to agents a year earlier but didn’t receive a contract. I did receive some encouragement and direction for my writing. One agent suggested I find a critique group. Another agent suggested I purchase a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. I followed that advice while writing my next manuscript. Not only did it make a real difference in my writing, but it showed agents I was willing to learn.
What advice do you have for new authors?
Writing can be a lonely process. In some ways, the first draft has to be done alone. Having writer friends from a conference or critique group can keep you on track.
I find encouragement from the #writingcommunity on Twitter as well as from authors I’ve met in person at the ACFW conference. I joined a critique group that opened my eyes to common problems in my manuscript.
Don’t think you have to go through the whole writing process alone. Make friends and partners from other writers. It makes the whole journey a lot more fun.
What does your revision process look like?
When I finished my first draft, I put it away for a month. When I come back to it, I create a duplicate document and title it “draft 2.”
A critique partner once suggested that I use the “find/replace” function to tag words I overuse. I’ll do a find search for a word such as “into” and replace it with the same word in all caps “INTO” so it’s easier to find while I’m editing. This draws my attention immediately to problems areas.
I read the book aloud as much as possible. This allows me to find sentences that don’t flow right. I also look for descriptions that are overdone or underdone. I’m pretty liberal with the delete key. Stephen King’s book On Writing, said the second draft should be the first draft minus ten-percent. I found this to be a good road map.
I have some great critique partners who receive the second draft of the manuscript. They help me straighten out some areas where I’ve told too much backstory or used words that may not mean the same thing everywhere. For instance, in Mississippi a toboggan is a knit hat we wear in the winter. In states where it actually snows, a toboggan is another word for sled. My critique partners helped me out on that one.
My third draft takes my critique partner’s questions and suggestions into consideration. I have beta readers read through my third draft. I ask my beta readers to mark where and why they stopped reading, sections that they had to read more than once to understand, and whether or not the ending surprised them. This helps me know where the book’s pace wasn’t what it needed to be.
By the fourth draft, I had a pretty tight manuscript that I was comfortable sending out to agents. I went through one more round of revisions from my agent.
Hilary Hamblin wrote her first novel in the eighth grade. She’s been hooked on creating fiction ever since. Her first two novels, The Color of Love and The Arrangement were published by Oak Tara. Hilary’s represented by Linda Glaz of Hartline Literary Agency and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives in Mississippi with her husband, two children, and a pesky Jack Russell Terrier.