Category Archives: Self-publishing

Formatting Your Print Manuscript

Well, here we are…almost a week into NaNoWriMo…and I have zero words on my NaNo novel.  At this point, it’s a NO novel.

Ha.

But it’s for a good reason.  I’ve been getting The Lords of Askalon all ready to go to press.  Formatting, my friends, formatting.  And that’s our topic for today.  I’ll lay out some general rules of thumb for print formatting today, and then I’ll run through a checklist for reviewing your print proof later in the week.  Then we’re on to ebook formatting and proofing.  We’re working on something extra special for the ebook formatting tutorial…stay tuned for that! 🙂

So let’s get on with today’s topic.  And I will strive throughout to use the generic terms “book” or “manuscript” instead of “story” or “novel” because formatting applies to any written work — fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.

Reading (even if it’s on an e-reader) is a visual process.  Our goal is not only to produce a work that is riveting and inspiring (engaging the imagination), but also one that will delight the reader’s eyes.  Formatting your manuscript may seem like the most brainless part of putting your project together, but it’s essential for a number of reasons:

  1. Poor formatting makes you look like a total amateur and discourages readers from buying and reading your work.
  2. Poor formatting distracts from your manuscript by drawing constant attention to itself
  3. Depending on the type of project, formatting can actually contribute to the meaning of the work.  This is especially true for poetry, but font choices can add visual reinforcement to your book’s identity.

Your work represents a lot of hard work, and you should respect it and yourself.  When you dress for a date or an interview, you try to look your best (I hope).  First impressions, as they say, are everything.  I was a judge again this year for a self-published book contest, and formatting is one of the very first things I look at when I open my box of submissions.  Some manuscripts were incredibly professional: beautiful paper quality, excellent font choices, perfect margins and spacing and text layout.  I couldn’t wait to dig into those.  Then there were the Others.  One manuscript looked like the author had printed it out on a dot matrix printer.  (If you don’t remember what a dot matrix printer churns out, go look at this example.)  It was double-spaced and used courier font…it looked like a rough draft or a school project, not a professional piece of writing.  (Sadly, the writing was no better than the formatting.)

Here’s the point: the manuscripts that looked professionally put together made me want to read them.  The Others?  Not so much.  And I certainly wouldn’t shell out $9.95+ for a print book with hideous unprofessional formatting.

Sometimes, bad formatting is like cheap cologne.  It’s not immediately, shockingly apparent.  It smells okay in the bottle.  But God forbid you actually spritz some on before you head out the door.  The more time passes, the more bothersome the smell becomes.  No one notices your new bag or your incredible smile.  They just smell that cheap cologne.  Annoyingly imperfect formatting is exactly like this.  It limps along for a while, but grows increasingly irritating to the reader, who eventually tosses the book aside.  She loses her grip on the story because all she can think is, “Why are there so many spaces between paragraphs?  Why is that margin so huge?  Why are the chapter headings in a different place each time?”

Here are a few easy steps you can take to avoid the cheap cologne effect of poor formatting:

1. Choose an appropriate trim size.  Take a look at some of your favorite books in your genre.  Most trade fiction books, for example, are not 8.25″x11″.  5.25″x8″ or 6″x9″ are much more common choices.  If you’re writing a cookbook or a nonfiction book, a larger trim size might be appropriate.  Children’s books are something else again.  Look at what’s out there, find a professional example, and imitate!  No shame in that!

2. Follow the template or formatting instructions provided by your chosen press. CreateSpace, for example, has downloadable templates that are already proportioned to your chosen trim size – taking all the guesswork out of margin sizing, header organization, and the like.  You’re not cheating if you use a template.  You’re saving yourself a lot of pain and tears, trust me.

3. Choose an appropriate text and title font.

  • Consider the type of book you’re writing.  If it’s trade fiction or nonfiction, you’ll want a clear, neutral font for your text.  Palatino Linotype, Times New Roman, Book Antiqua, Garamond, Georgia, Bookman Old Style are all possibilities here (though this isn’t an exhaustive list).
  • If you’re writing a children’s book, you could choose a font that’s a bit more whimsical, but remember that if your font is too crazy, young readers (your primary audience) will have a hard time with it.
  • Courier is fine for a screenplay.  It is not fine for a novel.
  • Your title/heading fonts can be a bit more fun, and should reflect the book’s subject and genre.  A calligraphic script, for instance, might work well for a romance or historical fiction work.  Remember the cardinal rule of moderation: running totally wild with font choices marks the book as amateurish.
  • Don’t choose too many fonts.  If you want to choose more than one font, one for the text and one for chapter headings/page numbers/headers should do you just fine.

4. Single space your work.  Use a hanging indent (not a tab) to set off your paragraphs — don’t add an extra space between them.

5. Be consistent.  Fonts, margin sizes, indents, headers, page numbers…all these should be exactly the same throughout.

6. Don’t box in your text with borders. This might sound like a no-brainer, but I have seen manuscripts where this is done.  It’s highly irritating and distracting.  If you want to mark your chapters with a symbol or a glyph that has significance to the story, that’s fine – just make sure it’s proportional to the text.

7. Justify your text. Be sure to set your word processor to break words across lines so that you don’t have weird spacing.  Also make sure to select widow/orphan control so that you don’t have straggling bits of lines on an otherwise blank page.

Ensuring proper formatting before you send your manuscript off to press will save you a lot of time and trouble in the next step: reviewing your proof.  Remember, you are working for visual simplicity and clarity.  Make it beautiful – your work deserves it!

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Editing Focus 4: Syllabic Editing

Okay.  So.  Long overdue editing blog post: check.

This is the last Editing Focus blog post we’ll have for our Fall Blog Fest…so…hope you enjoy it!  It’s my personal favorite, as far as annoying things like editing are concerned.  😉

Syllabic editing isn’t something you’ll hear talked about a whole lot.  I first heard about it from the amazing writer/teacher/mentor Dave Farland, who has really taught me so much about the business and the…well, business…of writing.

So what is syllabic editing?  It sounds mystical and amazing, so what exactly does it involve?

Quite simply, it’s listening.  I’m not trying to be flippant.  Writing is an oral and an aural art.  Most of us, when we read, do at least some amount of subvocalization.  We listen to stories as we read them, even if we’re not reading them out loud.  But more than that, we notice things like rhythm and cadence and musicality — it’s just our nature.  Our brains are designed for that.  Just think about how most storytelling has been done throughout human history.  It was an oral art before it ever got written down.  Language is meant to be spoken.  And it’s meant to be beautiful.

When we look at syllabic editing, we’re actually focused on a couple of things.  One is flow, and one is conciseness and focus — on the level of the sentence, not on the level of the story.  I’ll look at the conciseness issue first.

Here we’re actually looking at the sentence and saying, “Am I conveying this idea as clearly as I can in as few words as I can?”  Now, this doesn’t mean we have to strip our style down to postmodern minimalism or anything, unless that is — God help you — your true style.  I’m also not saying you should excise every single adverb or adjective.  But it does mean you can get rid of useless words that tend to clutter up the stream, like little dams that choke up and bog down the story as you try to drift through it.

For instance, if you have two characters in conversation, you don’t need to say: “Bob smiled at Anna.”  You can just say, “Bob smiled,” unless it’s absolutely crucial to the story that the reader knows he’s smiling at Anna — for instance, if Bob has a phobia of smiling at people but for some reason smiles at Anna just now.  You see.  Cutting out those two words is a syllabic cut.  You’re trimming down the number of syllables so that what is conveyed is what is most important.

I think a lot of this kind of editing comes from accommodating editors/publishers who insist on a certain word count for submissions.  So, if Publisher Bob only accepts manuscripts up to 100K words and your masterpiece is 110K words, well, you need to find 10K useless words to scratch.  But even if you’re self-publishing, you should go through your manuscript with the same brutality….err…..care.  Set yourself a word limit and then find all the places where you can cut.

Limits are a lot like deadlines.  They can be incredibly powerful motivators.  And the best thing is, the tighter your manuscript is, the better it is.  Always.  Trust me.  You might make a macro cut — like excising a whole scene — that you later regret, but I’ve never come across a situation where I regretted cutting out “at Anna.”

Now, the other part of syllabic editing — and the part I think is the most interesting — is what gives that first part a positive quality, so that you’re “adding by subtracting,” as they say, and not just subtracting.  In other words, you want your prose not only to get from Point A to Point B in the most concise way possible (for your particular style/tone), but also to get there as effortlessly as possible.  And I mean effortless on the part of the reader.  A well-made movie doesn’t draw attention to itself on a mechanical level, but lets you simply live the story.  Likewise, a good novel should sweep the reader along without giving them any reason to stop and say, “Wait, why did he write that sentence like that?”

So, look.  The goal of syllabic editing is not to go from, “Bob wandered in meandering lines through the cool autumn mist with a slow, steady stride, drinking in the intoxicating scent of coming snow in the wind” to “Bob walked home through the mist.  It smelled like snow.”  Fewer syllables, yes.  Better writing?  No.  Now, “Bob wandering through the cool autumn mist, etc.” is not really good writing either.  It’s actually kind of awful.  But to correct it, you want to listen to the way the sounds fall on your inner ear, and go from there.  Test out your potential revisions.  Taste them.  Roll the syllables around on your tongue, and find the one that packs the biggest punch.

My Bob sentence above has a major problem.  It stutters and gasps and falls on its face.  My mental tongue trips over the syllables.  The words don’t sound right to me.  Reading them makes me wince and take out my mental red pen.  So how would I fix it?  Well, for one thing, watching out for prepositional phrases is usually a good place to start.  If you’ve got a sentence that strings together more than two prepositional phrases in a row, or maybe three at the most, you should look at restructuring the sentence.  “Should” pretty much meaning “must” in this scenario.

So.

Bob wandered in meandering lines…

Okay.  I don’t need to put the “meandering lines” bit in there.  It’s superfluous.  I already know he’s wandering, which suggests he’s not walking with a definite purpose.  So, SLASH. Continue reading


How to Listen to Your Beta Reader

Both J. Leigh and I have had two insanely busy weeks — doesn’t that always seem to happen right in the middle of huge and important projects?  And it’s obvious that I “missed” my self-imposed publication deadline of October 4 for the release of Lords of Askalon.  Part of that is life getting busy — and it’s a luxury (and a curse) of being self-published that you set your own publication schedule.  But the real reason why I put off releasing the book is that I took the time to listen — really listen — to J. Leigh, my beta reader.

But what does that mean, exactly — listening to your beta reader?  Doesn’t it mean just approving all those deletions and additions in Word’s track changes feature?

No.

Don’t get me wrong.  Track changes is fabulous for collaborative work like this.  And for incorporating line edits, it can save a lot of time and trouble.  But you don’t just give your beta reader carte blanche to rewrite your manuscript.  Instead, you need to internalize the criticism and use it to make your story better.  Let’s look at how this could play out, using Dr. Banner/the Hulk from the movie The Avengers (disclaimer: this is purely a thought exercise):

BR: I really want to see the Hulk become more thoughtful as the story progresses.  He should start moving from “Smash everything because it’s there” to “Smash the enemy because I recognize they’re my enemy” by the end of the film, because otherwise he’s just not very sympathetic or heroic.

Writer: Ah, I see your point.  Hmm.  I know!  If the first time the Hulk becomes the Hulk it’s purely a response to stimuli — uncontrolled and destructive and scary — and then later Dr. Banner chooses to become the Hulk to help his friends, that might convey this change in his character.  That means I need to rework this first scene a bit…and really need to highlight the shift in this later scene…and…

Edits like these are macro edits, and they take more time to “fix” than word changes or tense agreement fixes.  You have to take what your beta reader tells you — i.e., the Hulk (even for a big guy) is flat unless we have him develop as a character — and figure out what needs tweaking to make your story really successful and satisfying.

Remember, one of the most important things your beta reader does is to go through your manuscript like a reader.  You want your story to be satisfying to your readers.  If your character has hit a developmental plateau that’s becoming endless and therefore boring and unsatisfying, you want your beta reader to convey this to you.  If your plot has a massive hole in it, thus making the story boring and unsatisfying, you want your beta reader to say so.  And then you need to listen!   Don’t say, “That’s hooey.  My story is perfect just the way it is.  You’re wrong.  I’m right.”

If criticism of your work makes you cringe and feel ill and strikes at the very core of your being, then you’re in the wrong business.  And if you can’t take the criticism of your beta reader, then don’t even consider actually publishing your work for the public.  Take criticism as an opportunity to improve, not as a personal slight.

So, really maximize the usefulness of having a beta reader by discussing his thoughts on your work.  How did this scene work?  Could this other plot arc be a problem?  Was this shift in character convincing?  Is the ending a total flop?  Is the climax intense enough?  Don’t just cut and paste his line edits into your “finished” manuscript.  If you’ve gone through the trouble of asking for a beta read, then make it count.  Take your story from “just okay” to “awesome” by listening to what your reader tells you and considering how best to adjust.

Your readers will thank you for it.


Editing Focus 3: Line Editing

Sorry this is late in appearing, everyone…that’s what this annoying little thing called…”LIFE”… will do to a person.  O.o

So, I’ve been working on beta reading S.K.’s awesome new book, The Lords of Askalon (can’t WAIT for all of you to be able to read it!).  Beta reading for me is mostly line-editing.  However, since I generally only have time to do a once-over, I usually try to work in syllabic editing and at least some consistency editing (did you really mean “north” here???:).  But most of what I’m doing is looking at the mechanics of the writing, and making sure that the prose is as tight and vibrant as possible.  I promised to share with you my tips and techniques, so that line-editing can be a little less of a headache for you.  Here you go.

First thing’s first: whenever you’re going to do a significant edit on your book, SAVE A COPY OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.  You don’t want to experience the horror of slashing all of Chapter 9 and saving over your only file, only to realize…”Oh no!  I really wanted to recycle that one passage into another chapter.”  Save it as “MyAwesomestNovel_EDIT” or something.  Then when you’ve got it edited to perfection, save it (again) as “MyAwesomestNovel_FINAL” or whatever.  I’m obsessive about that.  Any time I make significant changes to my story, I save a revision document.

Scanning Edits

Okay, this isn’t really a step one, but it’s kind of a….macro-y sort of line-edit, so I’ll talk about it first.  One of the first things I’ll try to do when I start editing is It’s basically a sort of page-scan.  This means that I’m not actually reading so much as doing a sort of visual pattern search.

For instance, I’ll scan over all the dialogue on the page.  If I see too many modifiers, too many dialogue tags, I’ll start slashing them.  This is one of my personal banes — using too many adverbs (he said thinly/ flatly/ harshly/ sharply/ gently/ whatever-ly), or too many descriptive verbs (he snapped/ laughed/ demanded/ lamented).

My general rule — if I were to have a rule — would be to see no more than one or two of either of these things on a page, or per chunk of dialogue.  I prefer when action frames some of the lines of dialogue (He shrugged. “Who cares?”), rather than dialogue tags.  Then you can use context to identify the next speaker…except where you need to introduce a newcomer to the reader.  So:

Bob and Milo sat quietly for a while, constrained in uncomfortably close quarters.  Milo sighed and fidgeted.
“Where are we going?”
“I have no idea.  No. Idea.”
George glanced at them in the rearview of his Mini.  “Chill out, guys, we’re just going to grab some donuts!”

Now, that does the trick, right?  Right before the dialogue starts, we’re talking about Milo, so we can safely assume that he’s the first one to speak.  Then, Bob has to answer, because he’s the only other character we know.  But I can use an action frame to introduce George — and also to start solving the mystery of why Bob and Milo are feeling so uncomfortably constrained squashed.

So if I’m scanning the page and see several lines of dialogue that elaborate too much, I’ll start cutting.  I’m exceptionally brutal about this, because, as I said, it was the bane of my writerly existence for years.

ALSO.  Don’t be afraid of the word “said.”  It’s perfectly fine.  It doesn’t always need to modified, either.  I’d say…35% the time you don’t need anything modifying the dialogue.  25% of the time, just say said!  25% of the time you can use an action frame.  15% of the time you can use a colorful “speaking” verb, like “demand, snap, whisper” etc.  Anyway, different people have different preferences…just watch out for going overboard in any direction.  ALL of these are problematic:

“I went to the store today,” George said.
“That’s nice,” Bob said.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.

AND:

George frowned and slammed his hand on the door.  “I went to the store today!”
“That’s nice.”  Bob’s face lit with a malicious grin.
Milo squirmed, nervous.  “I went to the store yesterday.”

AND:

“I went to the store today,” George whined.
“That’s nice,” Bob sneered.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo announced.

But this is sort of better (if we can salvage this idiotic dialogue…):

George speared a glare at Bob. “I went to the store today.”
“That’s nice.”
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.

You get the idea.

Also in the scanning edits, I watch for snippets or phrases that might tend to get repeated overly-repeated snippets or phrases.  This includes phrases like: shrugged, frowned, shook (his) head, sighed, grimaced, groaned, etc.

Generally I don’t want to see more than one character doing any of these things more than once in any particular scene…or at least make sure that you give some solid distance between instances.  If everyone’s constantly shaking their heads and nodding, I’m going to assume they are Bobbleheads.  And yes.  This is one that I have to be extra-careful about, because I do it a lot.  It’s especially hard if you write in fits and starts.  If you don’t make sure to reread your previous few pages before starting again, you risk repeating phrases that you didn’t remember using.

Also watch for consecutive sentences starting the same way.  If you’re scanning a paragraph and see: “He…   .  He…  .  He…”, then you have a problem.  Even worse would be: “He was… .  He was… . He was…”  AGH!  Death.  Try to avoid starting multiple sentences with the same word/grammatical structure.  It gets quite annoying.

So basically, this step is just my eye scanning over the pages, looking for things that are visually….disturbing.   You’d be surprised what you can catch this way, which you might not when you’re actually reading.

Continue reading


Preparing to Publish: Editing

As S.K. said in her last blog post, we’re celebrating the month of September with an in-depth look at the publication process.  Now, I’m going to assume that you have a finished manuscript.  Your story is complete.  Your characters are well-rounded and you’ve inflicted on them all necessary challenges and sufferings for growth and all that good stuff.  Your plot makes sense, has a good arc, interesting climax and satisfying denouement.  Now all you have to do is polish it up and get it ready for the press.

So that’s where we’re starting.  In this series, we’re not going to tell you how to write a novel or how to develop complex characters.  Maybe another time.  We’re just going to make sure the book you publish is the best it can be.  In this article, I’ll give an overview of the different stages of editing many writers like to follow, then in subsequent articles we’ll go more in depth about each stage and give practical h0w-to advice.

So, what are the main stages or types of editing?  I honestly don’t like calling them “stages” of editing, as if you have to follow them in order and do them only once.  Usually when I edit, I’ve got an eye on at least two of them.  Maybe we should call each of them an “editing focus.”  And they kind of range from macro to micro, so that’s the order I’ll present them.

Focus 1

This may or may not be a kind of “editing,” strictly speaking.  You know how I just said you’ve got a nice finished manuscript with good characters and plot arc and all that?  Well, the first thing you want to do is take a good long look at that manuscript.  You might even want to put it away for a week or longer before undertaking this step.  But the idea is, you look at all the elements of your story and say, “Is this the absolute best it can be?”  Is that character as interesting as possible?  Is that plot twist too predictable?  Is this character a cliche?  Is there enough detail in the world-building to make the setting come to life?  Is there too much, making the prose dull and boring?  Is that chapter 10 where Egbert finds the stray kitten really necessary to advance the plot, however attached I might be to the scene?

Focus 2

This is what is commonly called or thought of as “consistency editing,” and it’s pretty much the most macro-y of the macro edits, technically speaking.  In this focus, you will be rereading your manuscript from start to finish.  Basically, what you’re doing is watching for errors in consistency in your story telling.  This can be something as big as the story arc or as small as details like eye color.  You have no idea how easy these are to miss, and how annoying they are to readers.

Focus 3

The next focus is what you’ll hear editors refer to as “line editing.”  I’m kind of torn about whether this Focus should be next, or Focus 4.  Focus 4 is more of a stylistic edit, so I like to put it last because it doesn’t make sense to do stylistic edits on prose you’re about to slash from the manuscript.  However, line edits can catch mistakes introduced by Focus 4, so….maybe the best way to think about it is that you will probably end up doing two stages of line editing — one here, and one at the very end.  More on that later, though.

For now, all you need to know is that line editing is where you take a magnifying glass to your manuscript, line by line, and look for anything that can structurally weaken your story.  You’re looking for language misuse, grammar errors, punctuation errors, spelling errors, and even things like mixed metaphors or overused phrases.  I’ve got some tips to make line-editing less of a headache…those will come in a future post.

Focus 4

This focus is something I’ve heard called “syllabic editing.”  Here you’re going to be paying attention to the flow and sound of your story — how it strikes the reader’s mental ear.  Often times with syllabic editing you will be looking at tightening up your prose, cutting unnecessary words (hence, syllables).  But I like to think it has a poetic purpose too, not just smash and slash.  Sometimes you’ll end up adding words.  Sometimes you’ll cut and rewrite whole paragraphs…or even entire scenes…if they just don’t flow the right way, or convey the right tone.  A lot of times you will be looking at better ways to say something, if the original phrasing is too  bland or passive.

At this point, after running through all of these steps and doing a final line edit, you will be ready to prepare the actual manuscript file for the press.  We’ll be covering that whole process in future posts, too, so never fear.  In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at Focus 1.


September Blog Fest: Preparing to Publish

J. Leigh got us started with a bang yesterday with her fantastically funny (but sadly all-too-accurate) post on creating a YA cover for your novel.  If you haven’t read it yet, do.  Hopefully it will make you smile!

All this month, J. Leigh and I will be writing about the process of getting your manuscript ready for publication.  If you’re planning to self-publish, you won’t want to miss this series! And even if you’re planning to work with a traditional publisher, you’ll find lots of useful tidbits here on finalizing, editing, and reviewing your manuscript.

This week, we’ll talk about putting those finishing touches on your manuscript: editing techniques that will save you time and sanity, avoiding common editing pitfalls, and perfecting your prose.

Next week, we’ll focus on the pesky but necessary process of formatting your manuscript for both print and ebook editions.  Choosing a font type, setting the margins, and placing your page numbers may seem like insignificant details, but managing the visual appeal of your book is hugely important, especially for print.  We’ll also offer helpful tips for navigating the KDP and Smashwords formatting processes, which can be frustrating in the extreme the first time through.  Finally, we’ll address the review process: how to ensure that your print proof copy is gorgeous and error-free and that your ebook is digital perfection.

And then the grand finale…J. Leigh’s real post on book cover design!  We’ll also talk strategies for writing great back copy and for putting your best face forward (literally) with your author bio and photo.

Editing, formatting, and packaging…it’s the nitty-gritty of our writing profession, but that doesn’t mean it has to be  drudgery!  We’re planning some fun contests to liven up each week’s focus…can’t wait!

And last but not least…  We love all our readers, and we’re hoping to hit 200 blog followers this month!  So exciting!!!  You can help us by spreading the word and bringing a friend!  🙂

Happy writing!

SK


How to make a YA book cover in 4 easy steps!

Okay guys, this is totally a spoof entry.  But after seeing about 10 YA PNR books in a row that looked like near-identical copies of each other, I decided to tell you how you, too, can create a bestselling YA book cover!

Step 1

Find a great background.   This should preferably be something gothic or haunting.  I chose this photo of my own that I snapped up in Maine a few winters ago.

Nice Background

Step 2

Find a nice photo of a girl wearing a prom dress.  The more risqué, flowy and colorful this is, the better.  And be careful about the model you choose — she has to look steamy, pouty, angsty, tragic, or terrified.  OR, as an alternative, you can choose a back-view photo of said girl.  Oh, more requirements.  She must be Caucasian, stick-skinny but well-endowed, with long hair that is preferably blowing in the wind.

Here is my girl, courtesy of eidress.com, situated nicely against my background.  Don’t worry about silly things like lighting or perspective.  That’s not all that important.

The requisite prom dress photo

Step 3

Now at this point, you can add a title and call it quits, OR, even better, you can add in a photo of a shirtless hunky young man, looking as angsty and pouty as the girl.  While the girl must be in a prom dress, the guy must look as tattered and scruffy as possible.  He should be posed behind the girl.

I found my young man at Shutterstock, hence the watermark I left visible to show where I got it.

Shirtless Hunk – check!

Step 4

Now all you have to do is select a title.  This should be a single word, and it should be edgy, angsty, unexpected, or obsolete.  Opening a thesaurus at random and selecting the most pompous word you can find on the page is a good trick.  Or choose from a list of women’s perfume names.  The title should be written in as dramatically flowy a font as possible, or something hard, cracked, edgy and unexpected.

I think Flux is a pretty fantastic word, so that’s my title.

Voila!

And there you have it!  😉

Hope you enjoyed this very tongue-in-cheek post.  (N.B. — NO.  No. No. No.  I am NOT writing a YA PNR titled Flux.  Just no.  Hence why I did not put my own name on this…..thing.;)


Perseverance

If you read most author blogs, there’s one theme in common across the board: successful writers are the ones who stick with it, no matter how tough or discouraging things get.  We all laugh in amazement when we hear how many rejections Author X received before publishing The Blockbuster of the Century or how many years Author Y toiled over the manuscript of A Great Literary Work.  Wow, we think to ourselves. That’s perseverance for you!

Exactly.

Word-wielding is a writer’s chief skill; perseverance is his chief virtue.  It’s so tempting to pitch the keyboard through the window when the plot tangles itself in knots, when your ninety-ninth rejection comes to your inbox, or when your words seem to disappear into The Void.  Writing does have its seasons.  And for some of us, spring will be a long time coming.  That doesn’t mean we should give up.  In fact, if you were born a writer, you won’t be able to give up.   Writing is in your blood, and no matter how cold a reception the world gives your work, the words keep coming anyway.

But let’s face it.  We do tend to measure success by book sales.  And when a big fat goose egg greets you every time you check your sales report for the month, it can get mighty discouraging.  How do you offer yourself encouragement?  Better yet, how do you strive harder to achieve success (measured in units sold)?

This is a quandary that I am currently working through myself.  After the initial wave of euphoria that came with seeing my novel in print, things settled into a rhythm of…nothingness.  Goose eggs as far as the eye can reach.  Frustration replaced euphoria.  And I turned my back upon my little book and said, “Do whatever you will.  But don’t expect me to help.”

Well, clearly, that wasn’t the right response either.  So I’m back on the upswing now, ready to lend a hand to my floundering brainchild.  I got on the phone to set up a few book signings.  I started looking for book fair venues to offer my book to the public.  I offered an alluring discount on my ebook.

If you’re in the same situation, take a few minutes to consider some things:

  1. What’s your target audience?
  2. What’s the best way to engage your target audience?
  3. What’s the most efficient use of your resources (time and money) in engaging your audience?  Where will your time and/or dollars spent go the farthest and reap the most return?
  4. What is your goal?  1000 copies sold?  10,000 copies? A million?  Get a number in your head.  When I worked in direct sales, we talked a lot about goal-setting.  Make a poster or a screen-saver that reminds you of your vision for success.  You may not get all the way to your goal, but you’ll get a lot farther than if you had no goals at all.  Selling 700 copies is a heck of a lot better than selling 10.  Right?
  5. Don’t sell yourself short.  Believe you can reach the goal you set for yourself.  Get out of your own way!

There are a million and one quippy sayings for this, all to the effect of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Don’t let frustration get you down.  Figure out where you want to go, and find a way to get there.

It’s all you.


The Essential Checklist for the Self-Published Author

It’s an unfortunate thing that there’s a stigma associated with self-publishing.  I don’t think most people look at a self-employed plumber and say, with a shake of their heads, “Gosh.  I guess he must not be good enough to cut it at a big plumbing company.”  Most of us, I think, are happy to support these brave, self-employed souls and others like them because a) they give you great service/products, b) they give you great value, and c) they’re living the American dream, man!!!!

Okay.  So what about self-published authors?

We’re definitely living the American dream.

Yeah.

Great quality products?  Not so much, sometimes.

Great value?  Well, if you’ve just shelled out $14.95 for a book riddled with typos and grammar that would make a seven-year-old schoolboy blush, that’s not value.  Not even remotely.

If you are an author and are ready to take full control of your writing career by taking the self-publishing plunge, do us all a favor — your fellow authors and readers alike — and make sure you work through the following list before you bless the world with your work.

Run spellcheck.   (No, this is not a joke.) 

I recently had the privilege of judging for a self-published writer’s contest, and I was absolutely stunned by what I saw.  Not only had some of these authors shelled out for the entry fee, but they actually have their work out there.  In the marketplace.  Circulating in the sea of commerce…or at least floating with the aid of buoys.  Please, for the love of all that is holy, run spellcheck on your book before you waste your time and money and your readers’ time and money.

Get an editor.  (This isn’t a joke either.) 

If you are well-versed in things grammatical and know your stuff, at least get a friend to beta-read for you.  It’s really invaluable.  You just can’t catch every inconsistency or flub.  A literary (or at least literate) friend with a fresh pair of eyes will help you spot them.

If you aren’t well-versed in comma usage, or the use of capital letters, or when to use an exclamation point, then please (please) hire a professional editor to help you.  I promise, it’s worth it.  If you care about what you’re putting out there with your name on it, it’s worth it to make sure your product is top notch.

Editors can help you with content as well.  Make sure you have someone who will tell you if your characters are flat, your plot redundant or boring, or your universe stale.  Take your book to a critique group and ask them to help you improve your story.  Be humble and accept criticism.  It will make you a better writer and help you produce a better product for your customers (your readers).

Writing is a craft.  It takes work.  It takes practice.  It requires study.  Anyone can type words on paper; not everyone can write.  If you want to be a writer, take some classes, belong to a writer’s group (even if it’s an online one), attend writers’ conferences, or just make a point to study your craft!  Take your work seriously and readers will take you seriously.

Double-check your formatting (interior and exterior).

Make good use of your proof copy.  Give it an honest read.  Look for stuff like funky spacing, blank pages, or floating chapter glyphs that appear mysteriously in the middle of your text.  Looking at the page — whether it’s on an e-reader or in hard copy — is part of the experience of reading.  Give your reader text that’s easy on the eyes, and they will love you for it.

Similarly, have a cover that conveys your story.  Covers sell books, so be sure you give yours the attention it deserves.

Have a marketing plan.

This would be necessary even if you scored a book contract from a publisher.  You need to know how to get your book into the hands of your readers.  Start contemplating venues for book signings early on in the process.  Start tweeting.  Get a Facebook page.  Work on building a fan base.  Think outside the box.  Be creative!

Marketing, for many authors, is like Edward Rochester’s crazy first wife, locked away and never looked at or let out if it can be helped.  Face the monster.  It’s just part of the writing process.

What’s that?

Oh, I see.

You thought writing was an easy career.  Effortless, as it were.

It’s not.  It’s a lot of work.  Beautifully rewarding work…but work.

Spellcheck and proofread your book.

Yes, I said that already.  It’s that important.

Self-publishing and the ebook revolution are changing the face of publishing as we know it.  Let’s follow the example of the savvy self-employed craftsman: put out a good quality product, make it a good value, and chase down that American dream!


The decision to self-publish

Well, today is the official release date of my book, Down a Lost Road.  As of this moment, it is undergoing the publishing process at Kindle, and is in queue at Smashwords…and the proof copy of my paperback is on its way to me.  So, all that being the case, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to talk about self-publishing.

Now, I know there are writers and laymen out there who probably hear the phrases “self-publish” or “indie author” and crinkle their noses up in disgust.  How do I know that?  My nose has a line across the bridge from all the crinkling it used to do at the very same phrases.  I was a very pompous stickler for the “real” publishing process.  And my thoughts on those who stoop to self-publish ran along these lines:

Self-publishing is cheating.  Obviously no self-published book could ever withstand the scrutiny of a real professional.  Obviously every self-published book failed to gain attention in the “real” publishing world because they are all #@$!.  Obviously the author was lazy.  Or they aren’t “serious” writers.  Self-publishing is for losers.

So…why the change of heart?

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