Saturday, June 28, 2014

How To Format A Manuscript To Publishing Industry Standards

Hello, lovely YAtopians!!! 

Why yes, I am in a good mood and that's because I'm kicking it on the beach this week. In honor of vacation, I've decided to recycle an oldie, but a goodie- a blog post I wrote some time back about how to format a manuscript- since I'm still seeing a lot of manuscripts in my freelance editing that are, well, a bit funky in terms of formatting. 

Is standardized formatting a deal-breaker? Of course not. But getting it right does show you've taken the time to research the industry and THAT says a lot about you to an agent or editor. 

Here’s how to format so you look like a seasoned pro who has done your homework!
First things first. Your manuscript should be saved as “TITLE Last Name” so that it’s easily searchable when an agent needs to locate it on his/her Kindle/e-reader.  The title should be in all caps and your last name does not need to be. You could also indicate “partial” or “full” in the document name if that applies. Please, please, do not label “TITLE version 4768” or “TITLE draft 2013”. You may have been polishing your ms for years, but I’m not sure you want to share that information at this point in the process. If you are using Microsoft Word, save the file as a .doc as opposed to .docx as not all agents can open the newer docx format.
saing document
Next, your document should begin with a cover sheet that looks like the picture below.  For the sake of your career, take five minutes and set up a professionally-named email account to use so that your cover sheet does not include or “ The bottom half of this sheet will be blank. A final note on this: round your word count up or down to the nearest 1,000.
cover sheet
The next page is where your manuscript begins. First things first, include a header on every page for agents who like to print out submissions, so if the pages get swept up in a windstorm the agent will instantly know who wrote this brilliant thing they’re reading and how to put it back in order!  Include your title, name, and contact information in the header. You should also include page numbers in the opposite top corner or on the bottom of each page.
You do not need to format your manuscript to look like a printed book (I actually did this–complete with cover art–when I sent my ms to my very first reader and she very politely and with a straight face, suggested I, um, reformat ASAP!) This is not yet a book, it is a manuscript, so there is no need to drop your chapter beginnings to mid-page or include photos you envision enlivening your text (If it helps you feel like you’ve written a novel versus a term paper, by all means save a copy like this that you can revel in! But send the agents the one that looks like a boring dissertation and let your words do the impressing instead.)
It should look something like this:
page one
Note above that I used a standard font (Times New Roman and Courier are the two most requested by agents) and size (12-point) for all text (you can go to 24-point for the title on your cover page but otherwise 12, 12, 12!  All text should be double-spaced..
Next, go grab a published book off your shelf.
Trust me on this.
Open to the first page of any chapter and peek at the first line. It’s not indented. I know, I KNOW. You never noticed this before, in all your years of reading. Your mind is blown! But it’s true: The first sentence of chapter openings and of scene breaks are NOT indented. If you follow my instructions below, you will be formatting your text to automatically indent each paragraph so this is something you’ll need to fix manually when you’re done writing.
Speaking of indenting.  You’ll want to format your ms so that you do not hit the tab bar even once in the document. You also do not want to hit the space bar five times with each new paragraph. But why, Jen? It all looks the same on the page. Yes. Yes, it does. But, fates willing, when this sells in a giant multi-book deal it won’t to the person at the big, fancy publishing house formatting your manuscript into a book. And, more importantly at this stage, it won’t on an ereader, where it is extremely likely your book will be read by a requesting agent.
Instead (for Microsoft Word), along the top menu bar, go to Format and select Paragraph. Then fill out the form as follows with regard to margins, spacing, and indentation. This will set up your document so that when you hit the return key, the cursor will automatically indent five spaces for the start of the new paragraph.
paragraph formating
You know how I mentioned above not hitting that space bar five times? You also don’t want to hit it twice. If you’re anything like me, you learned there were two spaces between sentences. Not no more! Now there is only one. If you can train yourself to write this way, you are golden. if you’re like me and just can’t get your brain to compute when you’re busy typing alllllll the words as fast as they form in your head, you can fix this at the very end. You’ll want to do a “Find and Replace”. Where you would ordinarily type a word for your computer to search for, you’re going to hit the space bar twice. Then go to the next line (replace) and hit the space bar once. Then hit enter. I would show you a pretty picture of this, but, well, it’s all kind of invisible. But it does work, I promise!
At the end of each chapter, select “Insert Page Break” from the Insert section along the top menu bar, rather than hitting return until you reach a blank page. As you revise, this will preserve your chapter breaks for you.
Finally, after the very last line of your ms, center a row of several ##### signs to let the reader know they’ve reached THE END!
On that note:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

5 TV Shows That Count As Reading Great Books

Hello from Kate, and happy Sunday!

Almost every writer I know says, "I need to find more time for reading." As much as we love great books, it can be tough to carve the time and energy for picking up a book out of a busy day. Sometimes, all I want to do is lay on the couch with a drink and watch TV. I'm picky, though-- thin story, weak character development, a plot that goes in circles, or overly dramatic writing spoils a show for me and makes me feel like I wasted my time.

Often the mentality around TV is that it's mostly empty entertainment-- fun, funny, exciting, but not as good as a great book. But that's not always true. Some TV shows are just as well-written and thought-provoking. The goal is to consume great story, and while writers obviously also need to consume words too, storytelling is storytelling. One medium can inform and sharpen another, so here's my advice: when you read, read great books. When you watch TV, watch great TV. Here are some shows that are terrific examples of high quality storytelling:

Breaking Bad
Hands down, one of my favorite shows. Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. By its end, the series was among the most-watched cable shows on American television. Just look at its award list: "The show received numerous awards, including ten Primetime Emmy Awards, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and a People's Choice Award. In 2014, Breaking Bad entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest rated show of all time" (Wikipedia).Even though the show's arc is suspenseful and gritty and complex, it's the character arcs that blow me away. Heroes turning into antiheroes, one of the most compelling underdogs of all time, and a chilling look at the force of authority and pride in someone's life. Some people say it's too gory, but in my opinion the show really isn't that bloody. The first season has a few "ew don't look" moments, but it's more grim than bloody. Plus, it's frequently hilarious. The writers do a brilliant job of using dark humor to make the sky-high stakes and edge-of-your-seat storytelling also entertaining. The cinematography, too, is first rate.

House of Cards
I didn't think much could make me enjoy political drama, but this show did it. Subtle power plays turn into life-or-death stakes, and the sheer cleverness of Frank Underwood make him a character you're a bit terrified to root for, but you can't help yourself. It's a wonderful story of ruthlessness, manipulation, and the greater good. The southern flair, the complexity of Washington politics, and the fascinating, unusual relationship between Frank and Claire make this show a slow, calculated burn. Both Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated, the writing really is genius. Give it a few episodes, and you'll be hooked.

Mad Men
Another show with a gradual build. It gains layers episode by episode, so stick around to watch it come together. It's genius. The show handles an incredibly large cast with the deftness of Game of Thrones, so
watch it for handling several large personalities on one stage and managing criss-crossing stories. Don's inner demons guide the show, but the incredibly strong female characters give him a run for his money. Peggy and Joan are brilliantly drawn, powerful women, and they light up their scenes. The show is a fascinating look at secrets, pretenses, gender commentary, and the art in advertizing. With 15 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, and consistent ranking as one of the best TV dramas of all time, this show takes character-driven conflict to a brilliant new level.

No murders, no drug dealing, no political power plays--but this is one of my favorite shows. It's deep, it's funny, it's charming. Created by Ron Howard and starring a number of brilliant actors, it has won a Vision Award, a Critics' Choice Television Award, two Television Academy Honors awards, two Young Artist Awards, and three Entertainment Industries Council PRISM Awards. This is the show that made me love contemporary family stories, and it's especially brilliant for following both teen and adult storylines, and having such a differentiated cast of characters. Everyone is so different but so real and complex that it looks like real life. One of the things I appreciate most is that the show doesn't buy into cheap tricks-- arguments that would normally be blown out of proportion to develop action for the episode are resolved with a conversation; people adequately explain themselves in conflict; the characters don't hold too tightly to their flaws and virtues. If suspense isn't your genre but you want deep relationships and personal conflict, definitely go for this one.

I can't say anything about this show that hasn't already been said. Nominated for British Academy Television Awards, Golden Globes, and Emmys, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, this show is one of the most complex character studies I've ever seen. The episodes aren't about who did it, or even how they did it; they're about Sherlock and his friendship with Dr. Watson. (The longer length of the episodes also allows for a more complicated arc than many shows can achieve.) If you ever wondered whether it's characters who really make a show memorable, just try Sherlock. You won't regret it. Just do it. Right now. 

Any recs for us? Where are you finding top-notch storytelling in TV shows? Tell us in the comments!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Editopia: Meredith Rich with Bloomsbury Spark

Editopia is back! Today, we're thrilled to welcome editor Meredith Rich, the digital editor for YA and NA at Bloomsbury Spark.

Previously Meredith has also been a historical reinactor, a regular actor, a barista, a children's bookseller, a math editor, and a playwright. Many years and careers later she finally figured out that she loves storytelling, and that helping other people tell their own stories is even better. Her best days are spent with a good book and iced coffee in the park, preferably with someone else's dog to pet. You can find her on twitter at @MeredithJHRich

Bloomsbury Spark is a one-of-a-kind, global, digital imprint from Bloomsbury Publishing dedicated to publishing a wide array of exciting fiction eBooks to teen, YA and new adult readers. Their outstanding list features multiple genres: romance, contemporary, dystopian, paranormal, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, and more. Bloomsbury Spark is open to non-agented submissions, so if you have a manuscript between 25 and 60k words long, then please check out their submissions guidelines here: 

Hi Meredith! Thanks for being here. Okay, to start if off: most authors are surprised to find out that editors’ days aren’t spent kicking back at their desks with mugs of tea and piles of manuscripts and that, in fact, most work reading happens outside of work. Describe what your “typical” day actually is.

Hmm…my ideal day is something like this:

8:30-9:30: Answer all of the email as fast as I can, trying to get on top of my inbox. Often my favorite part of my day. I love email. Is that weird?

9:30-11: Either meetings or catching up on paperwork, metadata, marketing things.

11-1: Whatever needs doing. Sometimes this could be writing design memos for the cover, talking to freelancers, routing invoices, meeting with our Spark team, writing acquisition proposals, or chatting with authors and agents. I also really love spreadsheets so I try to slot some time to update all of them. There are many and they are all also color-coded. Of course.

1-3:  By this point I can try to settle in for editing for an hour or two. Sometimes I am writing longer edit letters, looking at arc, structure and characters, and with some I really look more at line edits from the beginning. I am very lucky that my authors are flexible and willing to take whatever feedback necessary! I am also lucky in that they forgive me for my overuse of "awkward" in line notes. 

3-4: Usually in the afternoon I try to look through some submissions and move things along. They can really pile up and I try to at least decide which ones I am interested in reading and then move them to my kindle to read later.

4-??? I head back to editing. We have two titles a month slated for Spark so I often edit at home and read submissions on the weekends.

Of course most days my actual schedule looks like this:
8:30-???: Meetings, emails, spreadsheets, meetings, emails, coffee, emails.

Ha! Yes. Those ideal days never quite happen, even with the best, color-coded intents, right? Without implicating anyone, can you tell us one of or some of the weirder submissions you’ve received?

One of the weirdest ones I have ever gotten involved a main character that had a really hard time with…certain bodily functions. I can’t even describe the query without it getting gross, but suffice it to say, it was quite easy to “flush” that one. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself. :)

*Snort* I really love the varied answers we get to that question. Switching gears a little, is there a particular book that sparked your love of reading or a book that you re-read time and again?

I don’t quite remember what age I was when I discovered Tamora Pierce, but I think it was probably around third or fourth grade. Reading her Song of the Lioness series was like discovering a whole new world that combined some of my favorite things. (Girls disguised as men, knights, magic, etc.)

I remember one particular family vacation to Germany where I only brought those four books with me, and I think I read the whole series through ten times by the end of the two weeks. One of my mom’s favorite photos of me features a very awkward Meredith on a train, ignoring the passing castles out the window, and completely engrossed in what Alanna does next.

How could anyone mind "awkward" when you also describe yourself that way?! That's adorable. Okay, so, I love to swim but have a total fear of drowning and I find it really hard to read books where that is a plot point. What about you? Anything you hate to read about? On the other hand, are there subjects you’re drawn to?

I am a super scaredy-cat as far as blood is concerned so I can’t read horror, as much as I might like to! I am ok with thrillers and mysteries, and I can handle violence in books as well if it is well placed and purposeful, but I can’t watch it on TV! For example I read and loved the Game of Thrones books, but I absolutely cannot watch the show. Just can’t.

As far as what I am drawn to without fail, I was a theater major in college and a historical reinactor right afterwards, so I love books with a historical twist or anything set in theater! I also love living vicariously through books set in small towns, mostly because I have lived in major cities my whole life. Also girls disguised as boys in fantasy always grabs my heart thanks to the aforementioned Tortall obsession, compounded by the fact that Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespearean play.

is it bad that when girls disguised as boys come up, you think Shakespeare and I think Amanda Bynes movie? Hmm. Okay, ever since stumbling upon a tumblr feed that rounded up page shots of all the books that have a variation of the line “S/he released a breath s/he didn’t know s/he’d been holding” I spot it left and right in stories and now it makes me giggle! Also, I know about three people in my real life who have deep green eyes and yet every book seems populated with them! What about you? Any writer’s tics or cliché pet peeves that jump out at you?

I really can’t stand reading about girls who don’t realize how beautiful they are. I like a certain self-awareness in my narrators, and I find confidence likeable! Of course sometimes it could be essential to the plot, (if the character has an eating disorder, etc.), but the trope of spectacularly gorgeous heroines with hair like a waterfall and eyes like emeralds not knowing they are that gorgeous? I don’t buy it.

Amen to that!! Finally, here’s your chance to plug a few books on your list you’re excited about…

Ooh! Now choosing my from my list is like picking a favorite child…or dog. (I imagine picking a favorite dog would be harder. They all have puppy eyes!)
But, if I have to, these are the ones that I am working on at the moment that I fall for over and over again.

MY SOON TO BE SEX LIFE by Judith Tewes

 This YA contemp is so full of snark and heartwarming family drama, all with a girl who is just trying to take control of her own sexuality. I can’t get enough.

INKED by Eric Smith
Set in a society where tattoos are magical, fate altering, and mandatory, this YA fantasy takes you to the heart of corrupt government, and surprises me every time I read it. I am also pretty sure I will wind up with a tattoo by the time the release date rolls around.

THE EDGE OF YOU by Theresa DaLayne
This swoony New Adult romance is set under the midnight sun in Alaska. In the eternal words of Liz Lemon… I want to go to there.

ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT by Kristine Carlson Asselin
I love books about sporty girls, (perhaps to compensate for the fact that the only varsity sport I ever played was the dance team?), and this one hits the spot for me. It’s MYSTIC PIZZA meets THE CUTTING EDGE folks with a small town feel that evokes Stars Hollow. Get in line.

These all sound great, although I confess a soft spot for Any Way You Slice It because I'm friends with Kris and was part of the epic brainstorm session that went into titling that one. Can't wait for it! Thanks again for being here, Meredith!!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Dichotomy of Identity and In-person Events

I must apologize for the tardiness of this post, but I am currently in South Africa and forgot to schedule a blog post for today! Here's a picture of me playing with lion cubs, which hopefully makes up for the lateness of this post...

While I am officially in South Africa visiting my family - many of whom I haven't seen in four years - I am also here doing some book promo for my South African set YA contemporary novel The Other Me. This novel was largely inspired by my teen years at a private, Catholic, all-girls school in Johannesburg, so being back in the city where I grew up after quite a few years of living in Finland is rather surreal and really special.

Even more special is that I'll be back at my high school later this week to chat to the staff and pupils about creativity, writing and of course, my book. And this brings me to the real topic for this blog post: in-person author events.

In-person promo is so different from online promotion. I find it a lot harder to talk about myself and my books when I'm face to face with an audience. While I have done some in-person events before, this is the first time I will be addressing an audience filled with people I know. It's infinitely easier talking to strangers about the events in my life that inspired The Other Me. Talking to some of the very people who were actually part of that time of my life and part of what inspired the story is quite terrifying.

Similarly, on Wednesday I'll be speaking at an LGBT event at a local university. Excited, enthusiastic and honoured to be invited to speak at this CtrlAltGender meeting, I very quickly created an event on Facebook and invited all my friends. Now all my friends are going and that's wonderful, but again, I'm faced with the terrifying prospect of talking about a very personal book in front of people I know, and not all of those friends know that I identify as genderqueer; in fact, I have only really spoken to a few people about my identity (well, outside of everyone on the Internet I guess) so the thought of standing up in front of my friends and even some family members and taking ownership of who I am, is scary in ways I can't begin to describe.

This brings me to the dichotomy of identity: the one we have In Real Life and the one we have online. I have found it much easier to be who I am online, to be my authentic self the way I want my YA characters to be. Somewhat hypocritically, I find it far more difficult to be this same authentic self in real life. By accepting these in-person events, I am forcing myself to amalgamate my online and offline identity in a very public way. I suddenly have a very real understanding of how my characters feel when faced with the prospect of coming out and I am emboldened by these fictional characters, their courage and their inner strength. I never imagined that the characters I created would be the ones to inspire me in return. 

The point of this rather rambling post is that authors can be inspired by their own creations and that it's only when we face our fears that we can be truly free. That's what I'm telling myself now as I attempt to summon the courage required for this week's public speaking events. I have no idea how I'll feel after the fact, but that's okay because no matter how this all turns out, it's going to be a learning experience and what is life if not an opportunity for new experiences?

How do you feel about in-person author events? 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Going Hermit: Getting Away from All the Noise

Not too long ago I decided to take a break from Twitter. It wasn't a long hiatus and, granted, the big dent punched into my mobile data was a significant motivation toward that decision, but all that aside--I needed to remove the distraction. And coming back, I wish I would have taken a longer walk away from it all.

Sometimes I forget that Twitter and other forms of social media are not solely mediums to mingle with other writers, to promote your work, or to stalk the agents who have your MS.

It can drive you nuts.

And soon you find you're doing more "Tweet gazing" than working on your work in progress or plotting or revising or editing. (What's the difference between those last two again?)

It's not just the interwebs either. You can be surrounded, if not completely pummeled, by family and work obligations. Sometimes it's like you can't breathe with all the noise noise NOISE!

That's why I advocate going hermit every so often.

You read correctly. We are all familiar with the image of the loner, bohemian writer, locked away in solitude, drinking absinthe and struggling over every last consonant and punctuation.

You don't have to go that far.

There are many writing retreats you can pay for or, even better, you can get with local writing buddies and sock away an entire weekend with no phones, no internet, just writing and companionship. And sleep for God's sake.

Rent a hotel room. Go to the library to write. At minimum, hit that disconnect from WiFi button on your laptop and dive into the world you are creating.

It's easy to get sucked up in the world of publishing and who's pitching what and what one idiot said online about the genre you love to read.

So easy, in fact, that you can neglect the one thing that makes a writer a writer.



Friday, June 6, 2014

Agentopia: Cate Hart

Welcome to the June edition of Agentopia! For more information and to see other Agentopia posts, click here.

This month Cate Hart from the Corvisiero Agency is in the spotlight.

Cate is all about guilty pleasures. She loves salted caramel mochas, Justin Timberlake, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, and Steampunk. As a native Nashvillian, Cate’s biggest guilty pleasure is watching Nashville.

When she’s reading, Cate looks for character-driven stories, a distinguished voice, and intriguing plots.She loves characters that surprise her, like the pirate with a heart of gold, and plots that keep her guessing until the very last page.

When she’s not reading queries, Cate works with clients to build their platform, works on PR projects to help promote clients’ books, and reads manuscripts with an editorial eye. 

Her first love will always be YA. She will consider any genre, but is looking especially for Fantasy and Magical Realism. 

For Middle Grade, she is looking for Fantasy, Adventure and Mystery with a humorous or heart-warming voice and a unique concept.

For Adult, she is only accepting Historical Romance.

Cate will also consider select LGBTQ and Erotica.

For Non-Fiction, Cate will consider select histories and biographies. She is looking for secret histories and little known facts and events. She enjoys reading about the everyday heroes of the American and French Revolutions, something more beyond the tactics of war.

To Submit your work:

Cate prefers you attach your 1-2 page synopsis and the first five pages of your manuscript as a separate Word .doc.

Cate will respond to every query. You can check her website for “current through” dates as well as updated wishlists.

You can find Cate online:


Cate was kind enough to answer a few questions for YAtopia's readers...

1. What are you looking for in YA submissions right now?

I'd really like to see mystery, historical mysteries or mysteries than span generations or decades. I love fantasy, something along the lines of Sarah J, Maas or Julie Kagawa. Steampunk or clockpunk or candlepunk with a setting outside of typical Victorian London. And romance. I'll admit I'm drawn to a great love story.

2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Not following submission guidelines or querying something I just don't represent. I'm very patient with queries, but if I can't get the gist of the story, I'm reluctant to read more. 

3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?

Unique characters. Above all that's what really draws me into a story. I just signed my first client, and what I loved were her quirky, passionate characters. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hear the Beat

For the past six months, I’ve been discussing my approach to novel planning and sharing the techniques that work best for me. Last month, I did a recap to prepare us for this final post. So let’s dive right in to the final element in outlining your manuscript: the beat sheet.

Have you head the term but never been quite sure what it is? Join the club. That’s where I was. But a beat sheet is simply an outline of your novel, a sequential, bullet-point style listing of what happens.

Beat sheets can focus on the major plot points or go into detail, including specific scenes.

The beat sheet I use, the one I’ve been leading up to for the past six months, is—and you’ve probably guessed it—detailed. Very detailed. As in a scene-by-scene outline of your story.

Is this crazy? Maybe. If you haven’t done all the exercises I’ve discussed previously. But if you have, you should be in excellent shape to take the story structure and free-write synopsis I discussed and convert those into a scene-by-scene outline.

Sound daunting? It’s not. It builds on all you’ve already done. Still unsure how to get started? Let’s break it down into steps.

Step 1: Start by creating a new document. Paste your novel hook or pitch at the very start. This is your guiding principle. When you get stuck, you will refer back to this to ensure you know where you are going with your story.

Step 2: Add the key pieces you’ve already decided on to bolster this guiding principle, such as your main character’s inside and outside story, their wound and their want, their core flaw and strength, the antagonistic force, and the main conflict.

Step 3: Place numbers from one to sixty (sixty is an average number of scenes; you may have more, or you may have less. That’s fine. But sixty gives you a place to start.).

Step 4: Fill in the bigger plot points you already know as follows:

Number 1 is your opening scene.
Number 2 is your inciting incident (if not already in number 1).
Number 12 is your first disaster/plot point.
Number 21 (or 20-22) is your first pinch point.
Number 30 is your second disaster/midpoint.
Number 36 (or 35-38) is your second pinch point.
Number 44 is your “lull.”
Number 45 is your third disaster/plot point.
Number 50 is your “epiphany.”
Number 51 is your climax.
Number 60 is your end scene.

Step 5: Pause and let it sink in that you already have eleven scenes planned out at the correct pacing. Eleven out of sixty. Less daunting right?

Step 6: Go back to that laundry line where we started filling in additional scenes, the ones that take us from plot point to plot point. From that and your free-write synopsis, you should have a fair amount of scenes just itching to be placed next to a number on your beat sheet. So add them. Start sequentially. You may be able to fill in one through ten easily. Or you may hit three and realize that the next scene you have doesn’t fit until after the midpoint. Is this a problem? Absolutely not. This is an opportunity. This is the purpose of the beat sheet. It visually shows you where you need more scenes. As you fill in what you know, you discover what you don’t.

Step 7: Now what? Brainstorm to fill in those missing scenes. It’s not easy. It doesn’t happen instantaneously. And I urge you to go slow. To go in order. To figure out each necessary scene before moving on. This may sound frustrating, and it can be. But that’s part of the process. What this does is force you to really think about your story. To ensure you know what needs to happen for every planned scene to make sense. To do this you need all the elements we’ve worked on: to know who your characters are, where they are going, what characters they interact with (subplots), what their goals are, and what’s standing in their way. As you fill in your scenes, you have the chance to find holes and problems before they become holes and problems. You can add scenes with an eye toward having accurate character motivations, completing subplots and not leaving threads hanging, ensuring you are mixing up fast-paced scenes with quieter moments, and making sure you aren’t all character and no plot or vice versa.

Step 8: Flesh out these scenes. For each scene, I like to add a few bullet points that I fill in. You can choose as few or as many as you like. But some of the elements I add include: the scene’s purpose, setting, main action, characters involved, and state of the character’s inside story at this point.

Step 9: Once you have your full outline with all scenes included and have renumbered accordingly (no bonus points for hitting that exact sixty; use as few or as many scenes as you need to tell your story), there’s one final step. Take your free-write synopsis and copy and paste the elements under the appropriate scene(s). This allows you to have one master document to write from.

Step 10: Start writing. Keep this beat sheet open beside or behind your manuscript. I am fond of checking off items on to-do lists, and I treat the beat sheet the same way. I use “strike through” to cross out the elements of my beat sheet that I use. If I find something doesn’t quite fit where I have it, and I know where it should go, I move it there. If I find something that doesn’t quite fit but don’t yet know where it goes, I highlight it. This way, as I write, I can easily scan through my beat sheet and discover what pieces I still need to use and what pieces I no longer need because the story has changed.

Hold on, that is key. No matter how great a novel planner you are, surprises happen. Things change while drafting, almost always for the better. As huge a proponent as I am for outlining, I know that the story morphs as you write. Characters aren’t who you thought they would be. Things come out differently and take unexpected turns. That’s okay. That’s great. Your outline is an outline. It should adjust with your writing. Don’t be wedded to it. Don’t be too rigid. Let it serve its purpose: to guide you and help you. If your story takes a huge turn that deviates from and negates your entire outline, let it. Adjust your outline to match, not the other way around.

Novel planning takes time. It can take anywhere from a week to a month or more. But please be assured that it isn’t “wasted” time. The draft you write from this outline will be more akin to a second draft than a first. You’ve gotten past that messy, frightening, what is this beast? draft. And that—whether you are a planner or not—is always a good thing.

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Spring 2015, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.