Publishing Process for Fiction – First Steps

What do you do when your characters monopolize your life?

Hi, my name is Vanessa Carlton. I’m the protagonist of Girls on Fire, the romantic drama that Marsh (nicknamed by Debby Gies) has been working on for five years. You wouldn’t think I was that complicated if you met me, but I held back some hefty secrets from her until this year.

Publishing Process Girls on Fire

Before You Write Buy Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story

Misguided Marsh thought her husband pulled some random words out of the atmosphere for a title, Girls on Fire.  The book was kind of random, too., a bunch of cute stories about my friends and me. After Marsh discovered Lisa Cron’s book Wired for Story, she spent every day in the last six months snooping around in my past to figure out why we acted the way we did.  She discovered  that my so-called friends Sarah Clay and Tanni Zamebelli invented, or rather schemed behind my back and created the challenge, “Girls on Fire” to force me to abandon my comfortable single life and quit acting like a “runaway bride.” OMG, my story has never been the same since then.

Minor Characters that Intrude into the Plot

Marsh assumed that my obnoxious brother, Fred, was a minor character. However, Fred jumped into Girls on Fire with a vengeance and tried to wrestle the protagonist role from me.  He went behind my back on several occasions and consorted with my best friends. The man who asked me to marry him had a few nasty surprises up his sleeve, too. He wasn’t even in the first writing. How dare he pop in and take over as he did.

You would think that since I’m a successful counselor, that I would be able to solve my sibling problems. Turns out that I wasn’t. My ability to solve my problems impressed neither foul-mouthed Fred nor my friends, Tanni, the retired teacher and Sarah, an attorney.

WARNING! Before you get too enamored with them, let me tell you something. They also wanted to usurp my role as the protagonist with their issues. Marsh kept raining down horrible stuff in my life, and they invented their problems trying to outdo mine. Some people will do anything to be the center of attention. I must hand it to Marsh, though. She stuck with me the whole time.

The Publishing Process

So here is what’s happening in my life right now.

Beta Reader

Marsh asked for beta readers to read the first quarter of my story and answer some questions like Lisa Cron suggested. She even copied the questions. Norah Colvin from Australia jumped in like a kangaroo. Those two carried on an email conversation about me that was danged embarrassing. Norah was a little worried when she found out that she was the only reader this time, but frankly, Marsh has a hard time focusing on too many things at once. If she had ten beta readers telling her all different things the book needed, I think she’d still be working on this twenty years from now.

The first time Marsh wrote Girls on Fire, she had beta readers read the whole thing, and she stuck me away for nearly five years. Amanda BR (Beta Reader) gave her some books on writing conversations. Marsh thought writing conversations were her strength.

Her friend Shirley BR liked Tanni better than me. (Marsh called Tanni “Anne” back then. SBR’s middle name was Ann). You think there was something fishy about that? I do. SBR told Marsh that I, Vanessa Carlton alias Trixie, was weird and a little “out there.” Marsh liked Trixie Belden. It took her years to figure out my real name was Vanessa, though I’m sure she’d heard several of my man friends calling me Trix. Turned out Hubby Vince (HV) did not like my name either. Said it was too naughty for a nice girl like me.

Marsh was sensitive back then because she wanted everyone to like me. She hated to cause problems for any of us or let us fight things out between us, but in the end, we led her by the hand and taught her that in real fiction, life is not like that. We are not always likable, nor are we immune from problems.

More Research

After Marsh met Lisa Cron (not actually, but through her books), researched everything from popular songs and cartoons, I listened to in the 1970s to how babies were born from the 1930s to 1970s. Who knew that would be important? I was born in 1962. I did not know Marsh had it in her to follow me on all the little side journeys life took me. But like I said, she’s as persistent as a chocoholic camper who gets up at midnight and walks two miles to the country store to buy a candy bar. Trust me that did happen in real life, but not in my story.

Find an Editor

Next, Marsh researched editors. Nora sent her to someone named Jane, who doesn’t even edit. But Jane made some recommendations. The editor Marsh contacted couldn’t call her back until July.

The first time she finished Girls on Fire, Marsh didn’t know the difference between editors. My friend Nick is an author. He taught her that there are three types of editors, developmental editor (step one), line by line editor (step two) and copy editor who checks for spaces and periods (step three). Debbie Simorte sent her a link to a great post about editing. She had a reason to do so.

Back then she was smug about her writing. She finished the story and hired a copy editor.  Oops! When Debbie Simorte asked her questions she couldn’t answer, I hate to say it, but Marsh threw my friends and me under the bus. Well in the drawer. Debbie did a fine job, but Marsh hadn’t met us all and threw in some extraneous people who meant nothing.

HV kept pulling us out and nagged Marsh to finish so he could get rich and buy a Porsche.

A few days ago, she found two content or developmental editors online, plus Lisa Cron. Lisa’s fee exceeded HV’s budget. Both Andrea Robb or Robinson and Caroline Tolley had lengthy and impressive credentials, much greater than Marsh’s writing credentials, trust me. They both called right away.

While Marsh is great at hunting down chocolate, she is not great at making decisions and having to turn people down. After talking to several friends, Jack said, “Why don’t you read some of the books that each of them edited? Typical of her, she procrastinated several days because the task overwhelmed her. Didn’t she ever hear of reading samples of books on Amazon? Geez. The things I’ve had to teach this woman. She finally hired Andrea but hopes she won’t have to say goodbye to Caroline permanently.

Get the Manuscript Ready

Marsh punishes herself to reach perfection. If you’ve seen her work, you know this is a colossal waste of time. I can’t be too critical, though. We have a reputation to maintain. So, she read through the 80,000-word manuscript four times. Did I tell you she’s also wordy? But like I said, my friends and brother wanted to hog my story.

  1. The first time through, she used Grammarly. I told you Marsh makes tons of errors, and can’t make decisions, didn’t I? For one thing, she decided in about Chapter 25 to start writing in first person instead of third person. So, there I’d be, telling you my story and Marsh called me “her,” more than once! What a mess.
  2. After Grammarly, Marsh created a Scene Card for each chapter. You can steal it if you want. She copied the idea from Lisa Cron but added her own elements to make it work for her. As she read the story the second time, she made line by line edits and filled in the scene card for each chapter to check facts. She’s such a novice that she did not know fiction stories had facts! She made a Google Calendar for her book and filled in all the chapters on the day they happened and then printed the calendar so she could write in important events. (Like who told what to whom when).
  3. Next, her friend Coleen Cheesbro told her that Word would read the entire book to her. OUTLOUD. My chapters kept her awake. (ha, ha, ha – not that I’m competitive or anything). Some of Tanni’s chapters put her to sleep. I have a feeling that Andrea will make some cuts. I hate to hear what Tanni will say about that, and she can use her teacher-voice and look to intimidate Marsh. Tanni will do anything to keep her word count high.
  4. In the end, Marsh had a big problem. The book was too big for its britches. Andrea charged $.02, which sounds cheap until you multiply it by 81,097 words. HV told her to bring down the word count. Do you have any idea how many times she wrote the word “just?” Five hundred seventy-nine times, after a line by line edit, eliminated some of them. She had to search for other killer words and phrases like “is going to,” “being” or “was going to” and substitute active verbs. Then another search for “ly” and “ing” words and eliminate some of the thousands of them. Some of them like “fly,” she had to keep, but “expressly” frankly had to go. (he, he, he)


That’s what Marsh is doing now. She’s patient, I think, and she’s back to incessant blogging. I tried to break her of that habit, but it’s back, sorry!


I hope I haven’t bored you with Marsh’s story. Mine is more interesting than hers. She insisted on telling how she was doing with my process. At least she let me tell the story, so maybe it’s not quite as boring as it would have been if she were writing it. She said to tell you all hi, and ask you to leave us a comment or two. I don’t want to listen to her complaining later, so, for my sake, please comment. 🙂

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