Tag 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!


How to Make a Book Trailer

As promised, here’s my post on how to make a book trailer!  I hope you’ve had a chance to view my Lords of Askalon trailer on the SisterMuses YouTube channel, but if not, here it is again…


So, now that you’ve finished watching it, I’ll explain how I put this trailer together so you can make one for your own project.  It was so much fun to do – and if you hit a writing roadblock or mental wall, doing something that uses a different part of the creative brain can be very helpful!

I followed just eight simple steps to put this together.  And be aware that steps 2-4 may happen in a different order than that in which I present them here – I just set things out this way for clarity.  But we all know that a creative endeavor is very rarely a linear process!

1. Fire up your movie making software.

I used Windows Live Movie Maker.  If you have a Mac, just use the equivalent movie producing software.

You’ll notice that you have a lot of different options – different fades or animations, different visual effects, adjusting the time allotted for each frame, etc.  Take a few moments to orient yourself to the software if you’ve never used it before.  We’ll come back to these in a later step, once you actually have content.

2. Decide on the feel (mood) you want for your trailer.

There are a couple of factors to consider in this step:

  • the mood of your story: tragic, heroic, contemplative, etc.
  • the angle of your pitch to your audience (what do you want to highlight about your story?)

Why is this step critical?  You have to identify the mood to be able to choose the right…you guessed it…mood music.  And mood images, for that matter.  So really do take some time to think about this.  In my case, Lords of Askalon is a high-action novel, but there is a significant contemplative thread woven into the story.  I really wanted to emphasize both of these, and that helped me to choose the right music.

3. Consider how to present your novel in images.

Now that you’ve decided on a mood for your trailer, you can start thinking about the visuals.  Consider your story in terms of its high points.  Try to identify the most significant plot points, twists, or turning points.   Consider also the key moments for your main character.  I suggest using the third approach, because a good story will be both plot and character driven.

For a two-minute trailer, 10 images is really the maximum you can include and still give each image justice.  You could certainly do fewer than 10, with more time spent on each frame.  So now that you have a general idea what plot or character points you want to use to convey your story, start searching for some images.

I used Foter for my image search.  Foter is a huge collection of free, royalty-free stock images.  These images are licensed under the Creative Commons license and you can download as many as you like.  Let me just offer a few words of advice:

  • DO look at the permissions given for each image.  There are different levels of licenses under the Creative Commons umbrella.  The most liberal of these is the attribution-only license (indicated by the letters CC-BY).  All that’s required here is that you acknowledge the artist – I do this in a credits page at the end of the trailer.
  • It’s probably safest to look for images that offer a commercial license.  There’s not a great deal of explanation on what constitutes commercial and non-commercial usage.  You could probably make the case that you’re not charging for the book trailer, so that’s non-commerical use, but you are promoting something you hope people will buy…so…to be prudent, you might just want to go with images that have commercial permissions.

You can also look at Flickr for Creative Commons images and browse by license type if you want, but Foter brings together Creative Commons images from a number of sources, including Flickr.

Look for high-impact, high quality images that convey both the mood and the moments of your story.  And sometimes you have to do a lot of searching to find the right images!  This step can take some time, so be patient.

4. Add your text.

This shouldn’t be too hard to do once you find your images.  And it is a fantastic exercise in high-impact language.  I tried to use powerful, mood-based words (i.e., “crouches”) as I presented the story.  You don’t need to get into insane detail – in fact, that’s really impossible.  Remember, you want to give your reader a glimpse of the story on the levels of mood and plot.  Tweak, tweak, and tweak some more until you get just the right flavor!

5. Add your music.

Finding free music is much trickier than finding free images.  You can find stock music in many different places, but if you want to make a trailer for free, your options are limited.  I found my track at Royalty Free Kings.  They had several tracks available for free – most of them pared down slightly from the full version.  They have a lot of music available for purchase as well.

Moby (yes, the band) has a free music section of their website for music that they wrote for film.  You just need to sign up and then you can browse and download what you like for your project.

You can Google “royalty free music” for some other options as well.  Freestockmusic.com has some free cinematic music, for instance.  AudioMicro also offers film music, but I didn’t find anything free when I hopped over to check it out quickly just now.

6. Play around with the effects.

Now that you have your pictures, text, and music, you can play around with the different tools and effects to finalize your project.  Make sure you have your credits pages (photos and music) and a link to your website at the end so people can navigate to find your work!

7. Beta test your trailer!

Try to have a few kind friends view your trailer and give you feedback before you offer it for general consumption.  I subjected my husband and my kids to my trailer (more times than they’d like to count, actually), and made J. Leigh and our mom watch it too!  They all gave me valuable feedback.  When you beta test, ask your viewers if

  • it made a strong impression on them
  • they enjoyed it
  • it made them want to read your book
  • if there is anything they would change to improve points 1-3

Tweak your trailer if necessary.

8. Publish!

You’re ready to post your video!  Set up a YouTube channel for yourself, post it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, your website/blog, Pinterest, reading boards like Goodreads and Shelfari…everywhere you have an online presence!

That’s it, folks!  I hope you have as much fun putting your trailers together as I did!  And please come back and post a link to your trailer in the comments section so we can all see what you’ve put together!

Happy directing!!!

SK


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 1: The Big Picture

J. Leigh laid out our editing map very nicely last week.  Today, we’re going to consider Focus 1, what I call the “big picture” edit.  There are three levels present in Focus 1 — character, plot, and setting.

Character Editing

As we step back and look at the Big Picture, we need to consider how well each character performs his or her role in the story.  We’re looking here at character function and depth.

Character Function

Your characters are the doers and receivers of the action of the plot.  Main characters will be changed the most dramatically by the events of the plot, and they will also have the most impact on the plot direction — character development and plot arc are truly inseparable and interdependent.  So, when we edit for character function, we’re looking to make sure that a character’s arc tracks with the plot arc.  In order to check this, you might ask the following questions:

Is/Are your main character(s) the main character(s) throughout the novel?  In other words, do we follow Mr. X’s actions, thoughts, and emotions primarily throughout the novel, and does he have the greatest impact on the plot?

Do your secondary characters have clear purpose?  Secondary characters function in a novel by impacting the main character’s arc and/or by impacting the plot arc.  We care about them because they are important to our main character(s), not so much because they are important on their own.  Consider, for instance, Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  We care about him first because Elizabeth cares for him and because he is tied to Mr. Darcy’s past, and then because his dastardly behavior (running off with Elizabeth’s sister) and Mr. Darcy’s role in its resolution crystallizes Elizabeth’s true feelings for Mr. Darcy.  Wickham isn’t really important on his own, but he is integrally important for the plot and for the development of our two main characters.

Character Depth

A character’s depth is very much tied to his or her function in the story.  Obviously, we spend the most time and energy on our main characters.  We explore not just their actions, but their motives for action, their responses to action.  We care about them as a “whole person,” you might say.  When we edit for character depth, we need to make sure that we have created a compelling main character.  The reader has to have strong feelings about him or her — love or hate.  You can’t have a successful main character if the reader could care less what happens to him.  We also need to make sure that the detail we give to our secondary characters is proportional to their role — they need to be detailed enough to perform their function in the story, but not so much that they start to rival the main character.

Plot Editing

When we edit for plot on the Big Picture level, we are looking for a tight, streamlined story arc.  Everything that is in the story needs to propel it forward, either by revealing your main characters or by advancing the plot.  A scene may be exquisitely written, but if it’s not doing one of those two things, it needs to go.  Remember, we don’t write in a vacuum.  You’re writing for your reader.  Your novel is like a train, taking your reader on a journey.  Your reader doesn’t want to get dropped off at the train station to wait for your plot to resume in twenty pages or so.  He’ll walk to the next track and pick up a new train.

Most of us start writing with at least a vague blueprint of our story in mind, and hopefully this blueprint becomes more like a detailed architectural plan as we dive into the world and the characters and the action.  Architects don’t add useless doors or windows to their plans; likewise, writers should make sure that their scenes lead somewhere.  

So, as you reread your story, do you feel the push?  Do you feel the plot moving you forward?  Do you feel like you can’t put your book down?  Like you have to read just one more chapter?  Like you can’t wait to find out more about your main character?  If there are spots where you get bogged down and bored, then take a good, hard look at those scenes.  Improve them or cut them.  Be ruthless.

Setting Editing

In my post Dressing the Set(ting),  I made the point that the setting details you include should be functional, not just beautiful.  When you’re looking at setting editing on the macro level, you’re considering your world-building.  The reader needs a certain amount of detail in order to enter the construct you’ve created.  But too much detail all at once will make your novel a snoozer.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe the ripple effect that one good detail can have, and I’ve finally come up with one (and it’s a bit skewed, I admit).  If you’ve ever played Minesweeper, you know how you sometimes click on a square and it opens up a whole field?  Setting details should work a little like that.  They should unlock your reader’s imagination.

This is one of those points, frankly, where a beta reader can be supremely helpful.  After all, you know this world.  You’ve been living in it for months.  You can fill in the blanks without even realizing that there are blanks.  But if you don’t have anyone to help with this stage, then take a breather from it and come back to it after a week or so.

Big Picture Editing

So, now you’ve reread your novel with an eye on character, plot, and setting.  You’ve seen how these layers are fundamentally interconnected, you’ve eliminated throwaway scenes (thus making your more detailed editing easier) and you’ve conveyed your world with powerful details.  You’re now satisfied that your story hums on a macro level.

Congratulations!!!

You’re now ready to embark on Focus 2: Consistency Editing.


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.;)


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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