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All. I'm looking for some advice. I'm interested in writing a young adult mystery novel, but I don't believe I'm a good writer in the traditional sense. My background is in screenwriting, so my strengths are in conceptualizing, story/plot structure, and character development. While I still enjoy screenwriting, I don't like the odds of getting a script green-lit and produced, so I'm looking at writing novels as a way of scratching my writing itch and hopefully having a finished product I can be proud of. That said, I don't believe I write prose well enough to be commercially viable (e.g., descriptions, grammar, etc.).

Long story short, I'm wondering what the best path forward is. Should I storyboard/outline the novel and hand it over to a ghostwriter directly to write from scratch? Or should I write a "bad" first draft and hire an editor to rewrite it, ideally in a more compelling manner. Or any other paths you guys would recommend? In either case, I know there will be some costs associated, so that would also weigh into my decision. But any thoughts much appreciated.

Thanks!

  • Just to check - you definitely don't want to actually write the novel? You've already ruled that out as an option? Because plenty of people start writing without a 'commercially viable' level of prose, and most of them improve with time and effort :) – DM_with_secrets Jun 27 at 16:24
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    That's a fair point. I suppose going through the process in itself will be valuable down the line. Would also make me feel a bit more legitimate than outsourcing it! – Andy Jun 28 at 20:56
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Should I story board/outline the novel and hand it over to a ghost writer directly to write from scratch?

Or should I write a "bad" first draft and hire an editor to rewrite it, ideally in a more compelling manner.

That rumble in the distance is the sound of a thousand plotters and pantsers, marching towards this thread to wage war on each other.

The answer as to whether you should outline first (i.e. plot) or dive into the deep end (i.e. pants) is a matter of personal preference. I strongly prefer the former, others prefer the latter. Either option is valid.

However.

That said, I don't believe I write prose well enough to be commercially viable (e.g., descriptions, grammar, etc.).

If commercial viability drives your desire to write a novel, the kindest advice I can provide is to give up now and find joy in delivering pizzas instead. You'll be considerably better off financially.

A first-time author will typically sell north of a couple thousand books† and will be lucky to ever outearn his or her advance. That advance might only be five thousand dollars, before your agent takes his/her 15% cut.

Ghostwriters do not come cheap. Expect a cost somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars. There's also no guarantee the work they provide is precisely what you had in mind.

Editors, who come in two distinct flavors, aren't cheap either. There's your developmental editors who figure out whether the story follows a logical progression and point out where your characters behave inconsistently, and line editors who suggest better alternatives to misused words. If you intend to hand in a bad first draft, you're going to need both types of editor. Factor in another two- to four grand to the total bill, unless a traditional publisher will cover those costs for you. Traditional publishers are flooded with countless manuscripts each day. They will not invest time and money in a poor first draft.

Also, editors are not rewriters. Typically they'll return your Word document with a list of annotations pointing out where your story can be improved or where its flaws are. You're on the hook to solve those problems yourself.

Then there's proofreaders. If grammar isn't your strong suit, they'll fix any such problems they spot. For a price. Tack on another cool grand.

I realize I may come off as brash, but I don't intend to. I'm simply providing an honest assessment of why both proposed methods of writing a book are likely not economically viable. If you want to write a book you can be proud of and turn a profit, you'll have to put in a good effort in all aspects of writing. Even the ones you don't like.


† A first time traditionally published author. Self-publish without a plan and your book will become undiscoverable on Amazon precisely 90 days after release.

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  • Thanks for the great insights! This was very helpful. As it relates to commercial/financial incentives, it's not what motivates me. It's more the feeling of accomplishing something and having a finished product to show for it. So I appreciate that I shouldn't be looking to make much (if any at all). The details on the types of editors was great. I suppose I would attempt to own all plot and character aspects of the book, and perhaps rely on line editors to help with the grammar/words. Really appreciate the honest assessment and the guidance! – Andy Jun 28 at 20:59
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My advice? Take the plunge, and do the best that you can. Don't assume that because you're used to writing scripts that you can't layer in the description. Just picture in your head the scene and describe it. Then, higher a developmental or someone else to help fix it. Don't send it to a ghost writer.

I've written with quite a bit of economy of description, and never had a reader complain. One of my beta readers read for a lifelong friend who happened to be a best selling mystery author. I told him I avoided describing my characters. He challenged me and proceeded to give a very vivid description of one of the characters. I asked him to show me where in the book I described her. He re-read the novel and confessed that I never described her at all.

It's up to you to decide if you want to spend the month or two it takes to write a full-on novel. I have contemplated this, but at the same time felt I would never view it as really my novel.

Many authors, and I'm thinking specifically of Stephen King, prefer the process to the product.

Either way, it is your decision in the end. I would love to know how it turns out.

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  • Thanks for the thoughts. I hear you on taking the plunge.... I'm leaning that way to gain the experience of trying this out, even if I know I have a lot of weaknesses. Hey, maybe I'll come out better for it! Per your point of descriptions, I think that's a good point. I can probably keep it concise for the first draft anyway, and as I go through the rewriting process, i can add more and refine. Thanks again. – Andy Jun 28 at 21:02
  • Oh, yeah. You already know the first draft is crap. Write it just like you would a screen play, maybe without the formatting strictures. Then when you go back through it, add the direction (what the director would have the characters do), and add relevant scenery. Then a coach or developmental editor can help. – Merovex Jun 29 at 22:20
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Writing for the screen is not the same as writing a novel. However, there are many similarities. For example, you have to be prepared actually write rather than just talk about it, you have to edit what you have written, dialogue has to sound realistic, characters have to be three-dimensional, there has to be conflict, etc.

If I was you, I would start with an idea for a plot, begin writing a first draft, revise my outline as I wrote and complete something. Then I wouldn't hand it over to someone else -- I'd revise it myself. One of the thrills of writing is making a piece better. If you need clues to improve your writing, have a look at 'Self-Editing for Fiction Writers' by Browne and King.

At this point you might employ someone else to look at what you have done. I can't see a good reason for spending money before this.

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    Seeing if friends or acquaintances were willing to be beta readers is another technique to get eyes on it. – Mary Jun 28 at 1:26
  • Yes I've found with screenwriting that the hardest part is to sit down and actually do it! Much easier to let it sit in your head so that will be challenge number 1. My concern is that I try to put pen to paper and I lose momentum because I don't feel like I'm writing "well". That said, I think the best course forward is to build out my outline/develop the story, and get that all in order first. Then I'll just start to vomit out a first draft and revise.... My expectation is that this will be a very long process. Thanks for the advice on the book on editing! – Andy Jun 28 at 21:06

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