Nov-Dec Issue Self-Publisher’s Monthly!

SPM_coverThe new issue of Self-Publisher’s Monthly is out! Why am I excited? Well, not only am I a contributing editor to this fine publication, but every month, you are treated to a plethora (yes, I said plethora!) of fine articles on the art of publishing your own work.

This month’s issue offers some great advice on promotion, tightening your writing, publishers, learning to sell, how print-on-demand printing and distribution works, how to maximize Amazon’s new Matchbox and Countdown programs, how much indie authors can realistically make from their books, and more! :)

You’re getting off the cuff advice from people in the self-publishing trenches like Rachel Thompson, Scott Flora, Danny Snow, Joel Friedlander, Dan Poynter, and Florrie Kichler, and me.

Aaaaaaand… the publishers of SPM are offering a contest to win an ebook publishing package from Self-Publishers Monthly! All you have to do to enter is email an order confirmation of any issue in 2013 from Amazon, Apple, Nook, Smashwords, or any other bookseller to newsdesk@u-publish.com with the phrase “e-Book Publishing Drawing” in the subject line. How awesome is that?

I’d say you get a lot for a measly 99 cents. If you haven’t checked it out before, you really should.

You can get your latest copy here: http://www.selfpublishersmonthly.com

Editing Before the Editor Gets It

rough draftI just read a terrific post on one of my favorite blogs… Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. It was about the editing (revising) an author must do before the book gets sent for editing. If you don’t do this step, you should. Go read his post now: Laser, Hacksaw, Spanner, Hammer: A Post About Editing. I’ll wait.

I can’t stress enough how important this step is. No one spews forth a perfect rough draft of a novel that needs no revision. No one. Every single novel needs this extra step. Sometimes, heck–who am I kidding–most of the time, this step is actually many steps done over and over and over. And Chuck’s right… this is where the art happens.

Sure, it’s amazing to get all those words out on the page in a rough draft. Not everyone can do that. But to get those words honed and crafted… that’s where the actual skill comes in. Getting the rough draft done takes dedication, but revising that rough piece of writing into a real story is art. That’s what separates the wheat from the chaff.

Then, when you turn in your piece of word art to your editor, they can polish it so you shine like the celestial being you truly are. Now where did I put my sunglasses?

OMG–I Can’t Stress This Enough

I’ve written on the topic of the importance of editing before, but OMG guys, it really is.

I love indie authors, I really do. Heck, I’m one myself. Some of my best online friends are, too. Some of what I’m hearing from indie authors is alarming. I’m hearing that editing is a luxury, an expense they can do without. Yes, it can be expensive. I’m sorry about that, but if you tell me that How to Train Your Catfish in Three Easy Lessons is 175,000 words long–well, I know you want to hear it’s only going to cost you $50, but any manuscript that long is going to cost you some bucks. Editing carefully, I can average about 1,250 words an hour, assuming I’m not spending that hour answering your emails asking why I haven’t finished your book yet or what did I think of the chapter on earning your catfish’s trust. I’m not saying you can’t ask questions… I encourage you to do so. This is a working partnership on your book. But back to our make believe scenario. So your 175,000 word manuscript on training catfish is going to take about 140 hours of my time. I wish I could do it for free (if I were rich, I would… I enjoy it that much!).  So why should you pay this *luxury tax*?

Case in point: Step into my time machine and we’re going to travel back several years. At this point in time I was doing reviews of birth-related books. (Cue spooky time travel music.) Ah. Here’s one. Take a look at this. Not only is the text so riddled with errors that it gets in the way of their wonderful message, but their formatting for the book was way off. The title page was actually on the left side! It made me wonder if they’d ever even seen a book before. Needless to say, all the money they spent printing all those copies was wasted. I couldn’t review it… there was nothing good I could say about the book. I contacted the author privately and suggested nicely that she get an editor to go through the book and then a book designer to set it up properly. I never heard back from her so I don’t know if she did or not.

As I said at the beginning, I love indie authors. I want them to succeed. However, it’s getting to the point that I hesitate to buy ebooks unless I’m already familiar with the author. I don’t want to waste my hard-earned cash on a book that may be full of errors. Before I push that Buy button, I wonder if they had the book edited. Will it be full of errors? I read books full of errors for a living… I don’t want to do it in my pleasure reading. If I find the first chapter full of mistakes, I don’t read the rest of the book, no matter how good the story was. I know I’m not alone in this.

A lot of readers are returning their ebooks for errors or complaining to Amazon, who then reports the errors to the authors for fixing. Amazon will report a few of them, then recommend to the author to check for more. If you get an email like this from Amazon, will you follow up and fix them? Will you look for more? Do you even know what to look for since you let them go through the first time? This means spending time going through your book again and then re-publishing.

Some of those readers will go so far as to write a review criticizing your editing errors for all the world to see and giving you a low rating for them. This brings down your overall rating. Even if you do find every error and fix them later, those reviews will still be there for other potential readers to see. I’m currently editing a book that had this problem. Yes, the errors will be fixed, but the old reviews will still color the perception of the improved book once it’s done.

Others will request their money back, and Amazon cheerfully refunds it, taking it out of your royalties each time a reader does this for the life of your book. Still think skipping the editing was a good idea?

Do it right the first time and hire an editor. Most of us are willing to work with our clients. I offer a payment plan… I’m sure many other editors do as well. I even offer a discount to those who can pay in full. I love books. I always have, ever since I learned that when letters are put together to form words they could tell a story. I got into this business to help authors make their books the best they could be. When the spotlight is on you, I want you to shine.

Editing on Slush Heap

I just had a great time appearing on Slushheap.com’s Google Hangout On Air. It was loads of fun. The host, Rudi Fischer, ran the show wonderfully with a little help from my hubby John, who was filling in for their regular co-host Darcie Duranceau, who was out sick. I hope I get to go back sometime so I can meet her. The other guests were Jim Ault, who specializes in marketing, and Katie Hayoz, a YA author from Switzerland, who told us all about the writing group she uses to help critique her stories as part of her editing process.

The hour was full of great information and fun. I encourage anyone writing a book to listen in. Slush Heap does a weekly show specializing in matters facing writers, so you might want to check out their backlist of shows as well.

What Makes the Editor Tick

Sherlock the betta

Last Thursday, I was interviewed at Luscious Literaries. It was a fun interview, and I hope you pop over and take a look. Kassanna was a gracious host. :) It will help you learn a bit about me, you’ll see my cluttered desk, and get a peek into my crazy head. It’s good to get to know more about someone, isn’t it?

So, what makes the editor tick? Could it be the sound of bubbles popping at the surface of one of my aquariums? Really, it sounds like a fish store in here. If you ever went to a fish store in the 1970s (my mom was into fish at the time), they all sounded like bubbles. Back in the day, most of them ran in-the-tank filters that ran bubbles to the surface. It was a wet, plopping sound that I find soothing to this day.

Could my Chinese astrological sign of the water rabbit have something to do with how I tick? Maybe that’s why I like the sound of water? Hmmmm. I used to raise rabbits, but I don’t anymore. Now I chase literary rabbits in the form of commas hiding where they oughtn’t.

Could it be the excitement of helping to birth a book, to midwife it into being? I studied midwifery for years and birthed eight of my own children, who are the joys of my life. I never became a midwife, mostly because it was difficult to become an apprentice and attend the births necessary when we only had one car and my own children needed me. I could midwife a book while still attending to the needs of my children, half of whom are grown or mostly there. I did attend a few births as a doula… it was amazing. :)

Could it be my own inherent obsession with correct spelling and grammar? That’s probably a big part of it. I’ve been correcting things ever since I can remember. I have lots of fun stories from English class. In first grade, I got in trouble for refusing to read the word ‘darn’ out loud because my grandmother had taught me it was a bad word and I wasn’t to say it. But there it was in my reading book. What was a little girl to do? Then there was the class when I had the teacher in stitches because we were to write words on the chalkboard beginning with the letters ‘er’ and ‘ir.’ I wrote ‘erp’ and ‘irk.’ She questioned erp (which in my mind was another word for vomit) but she thought me imaginative, nonetheless. When I graduated high school, I gave my creative writing teacher a spelling dictionary so he could make it through the next year without me. I always corrected his handouts and gave them back to him. Helped me win the departmental award upon graduation, however. :) So, words and I go way back. I think this is mostly why I like to edit.

Words are meaningful. They can be silly. They can be powerful. They can be tender. They can tear someone apart or build them up. Words are amazing. While I can draw and paint a little and can be in awe over the feelings I get from looking at an amazing piece of art, words can take root in my soul. So, that’s what really makes this editor tick. I can’t speak for all the others out there, but deep down, I’d guess it’s something similar.

That’s why I write so much about learning the craft and words being a tool to use fully… they can do so many marvelous things if you know how to use them. They can become more than just letters arranged on a page. Just as a painter can make magic with color, so too can a writer make magic with words. I want to see magic on the page.

Your Toolbox

You’re a writer. What do you use? Words.

Words are your most frequently used tool. Make friends with them. Caress them. Fondle them. Throw them against the wall. Whatever you do, use them. Get a dictionary. Make sure you’re using the right one. I recommend Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Would you build a brick wall and mistakenly use one brick made of styrofoam? Of course not! So don’t do it with your writing. Make sure each word is solid and well placed.

By the time I see a manuscript, this should be a no-brainer. Sure, mistakes happen occasionally, a word slips through revisions and past beta readers. But if you’re paying an editor to replace your malapropisms, you need to go back to square one and work on your writing skills. If you’re submitting your manuscripts to small presses full of these, work on your skills. If they’re paying their editors to replace your malapropisms, they’re wasting their editing dollars. You owe it to yourself as a writer to learn your craft.

Repeat after me: Every story you write should be crafted better than the last.

What did you learn from the last story you wrote? Did you eliminate your bad habit of ending sentences with a comma or did your main character have greater depth? Have you figured out the art of foreshadowing or did you learn that ‘he said’ is not a sentence in its own right? Each one is a step in the right direction.

Back to your toolbox. Words. How do you learn to use words? You should have these resources at hand when you write:

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus

It doesn’t matter to me if they’re books on your desk or websites you can access. What matters is when you stumble, you can look it up. How do you know if you’re stumbling? The word won’t quite sound right in that context. Does an artist fasten a piece of art? Maybe to the wall, but not when he’s creating it. He would fashion it. Can you prompt a chair against the wall? No, but you can prop it against the wall.

These tools also come in handy for spelling, avoiding repetitive usage of the same word, and so on. It may be awkward at first, but once you get accustomed to checking your resources, you’ll find them extremely helpful. Repetition of word usage seems to go in waves, for example. I’ll see an author get a word stuck in their head, breathed, for example, and it will pop up repeatedly for a few pages. She breathed, he breathed, everyone is so busy breathing you wonder if they ever took a breath before.

I do get manuscripts with these kinds of issues in them from time to time. I correct them gently and go on. It’s part of my job. The author will either improve or not, that’s their decision. If I can help you improve before I see your manuscript, however, that’s even better. I want you to grow as a writer. I want you to be successful.

How to Approach an Editor

When your book is ready for an editor, you’ve reached the next stage in your book’s development. If you’ve never done this before, it can be exciting. Daunting. Intimidating, even. How do you go about it?

Here are my recommendations based on how I like to be approached.

Don’t be afraid to make contact. Most editors will have a way to contact them on their websites. Mine is here: Contact me. Fill it out and tell me about your project. Be honest about what kind of editing you feel you need. If you’re not sure, look through the editor’s site… most likely, they’ll have a page that describes the type of editing they do (mine is here). Sometimes they’ll even list their pricing here, like I do. Sometimes they won’t.

Usually, the editor will get back to within a reasonable amount of time (I try to respond to emails within a day or two at most). This can begin a dialogue about your project, your budget, and the time frame your project will take.

Some editors only work on one project at a time, while others (like me) work on multiple projects at once. While this can slow me down at times, it also keeps my prices lower, since my budget costs are spread across several clients instead of just one. It’s up to you to choose an editor who works the way you want them to work.

Once an agreement is reached with your editor, your manuscript needs to be sent in the type of file you’ve both agreed upon. I like to work with Microsoft Word files. I find that most people have a version of that program and most platforms for publication or submission accept them in some form. If you use one of those cloud open source word processing programs, they can transfer to Word, but be aware that sometimes not all of the formatting will transfer and you may have some things lost in translation between you and your editor or you may end up with lots of artifacts in the file that have to be removed. Every program is different.

Some editors will go through the entire file before they return it, others prefer to work in chunks. I’m pretty flexible and will do it either way you choose.

Remember that you’ll probably fly through your edits faster than the editor… you’re mostly accepting changes while they’re carefully considering what needs to be changed and why. If you have a question or comment, make them. You don’t have to accept everything blindly and you shouldn’t. If you don’t understand why an editor suggests a certain change, ask. If you don’t agree, challenge them. If they can back it up with the Chicago Manual of Style, they probably have a point. If they’re changing it just because they would write it differently and it changes your voice, you don’t have to accept it. There’s a difference between following accepted publishing guidelines and changing the author’s voice. That being said, there’s a difference between blindly accepting the author’s voice and disregarding accepted publishing and story telling guidelines. It’s a two way street.

The relationship between an author and an editor is intricate. One is changing the creative work of the other. At the same time, those changes should be for the better. These changes should tighten the work, bring out the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses. They should make the author look their best. The editor should be invisible. We’re the set dresser, the makeup artist, the costumer, all rolled into one as we prepare the author for their debut. The author is the star.

So choose your editor wisely. Not every pairing is perfect. Your editor has to be content to stay in the background. Sure, we appreciate a mention on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ (along with a link to our website and undying gratitude LOL). It may help bring more clients our way and help us pay next month’s bills. We appreciate a nice blurb to put on our sites from another satisfied customer. All in all, however, we remain behind the scenes. You’re the one in front of the audience. Your book represents you. More than anything, the editor you choose should care that your book reflects well on you.

Do You Really Need an Edit?

The answer is, of course, a resounding YES. And I’m not just saying that because I’m an editor.

Let’s explore this a little bit.

Your book represents you. You want people to buy it, and subsequently, any future books you write. Would you present yourself at a book signing in wrinkled clothing with splotches of last night’s dinner down the front? Of course not. So why present your book that way?

Your book is your baby. You’ve labored over it for months, maybe years. (Okay, maybe weeks if you’re one of those super fast wordsmiths who spew words like volcanoes spew lava.) Would you show your baby off in public with an aromatic poopy diaper and baby spit all over his/her onesie? Of course not. So why present your book that way?

You hope your book will garner you lots of fans that will follow you over hill, over dale, thorough brush, thorough brier, over park, over pale, thorough flood, thorough fire… okay, maybe not that far (thanks, Shakespeare), but you want those fans to wait impatiently for your next book. NEWSFLASH: They won’t if your book is full of errors.

I can see you shaking your head over there. Not you, right? That only happens to other authors.

C’mon. Sit down. Have a cup of tea.

Errors happen. As the author, you can’t always see the errors because you’re too close to it. It’s true. I write, and I don’t edit my own writing. I hand it off to someone else because I’m too close. Sure, I can find some of them. Most of them, even. But my brain makes me see what I expect to see there, not those pesky little errors that a fresh pair of eyes will catch in a nanosecond. And it’s not just typos. Are you sure you paid attention to every detail? Is your timeline right through your entire book? Or did you miss a detail here and there? Did Anne leave her hometown a month ago in chapter one and two months ago in chapter 18? Are Brian’s eyes blue on page 25 and brown on page 231?

Before you jump in and say that readers won’t care… they will. Sure, not every one of them will do anything about it, but some will ask for refunds. Ouch! Right in the pocketbook. Worse, some will write reviews. Lack of editing seems to be fair game for reviewers on Amazon. Don’t give them the fodder. Isn’t it hard enough to compete with the zillions of books out there without giving them reasons not to buy your book?

Seriously, are you willing to put your first impression on the line? Are you willing to get bad reviews due to something that was preventable, like editing? Is it worth the risk? Ultimately, this is a decision only you can make, but is it really necessary? You’ve invested the time in your book. You’ve invested something in the cover. You’re not going to invest in the rest of the package?

I understand budgets and the need to cut costs. But was it worth cutting the cost of editing if you don’t sell any books because readers are returning them and complaining about the editing (or lack thereof) in the reviews? I guess that’s up to you. But don’t you want to put your best book forward?

Editors Are Vital — Guest Post

Today’s post is by another client of mine, Shane Scollins. Shane is the author of Legacy Rising, The Game, and several other thrilling reads. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, you should pick one up.

By Shane Scollins

Writing a book is a solitary undertaking. As writers, we live inside our heads, listening to voices, and becoming random and often insane characters. We put a lot of time and effort into creating worlds and plots and all the things that make a great story. But without a good editorial eye, the story won’t be worth the broken keys on our laptops.

Editors are a vital cog in the gears of the novel creation machine. They are a key link between creating a story, and getting a polished book to the public. We want to believe we are good enough to get by without an editor. After all, today’s software programs are good enough to catch most basic mistakes. However, the reality is that no matter how good we think we are, and no matter how good we really are, there is no substitute for the second or third pair of eyes of another human. We need help from someone who can be both clinical and creative to help hammer our story into form. That’s exactly what an editor does.

A great editor can be the difference maker, because let’s face it, we can’t always be objective when it comes to our own work. We are simply too close to it. It’s not a matter of being a good (or bad) writer, it’s a matter of being an author. We all make mistakes and we all need the help of a professional editor. I’m a firm believer that producing a book is a team effort and the editor is an essential part of that.

I’ve heard a lot of writers express great dread over editing process. I have to say that I’ve never really been one of them. For the most part, I’ve had positive experiences with editors. Of course, I’m not one of those writers married to every word I write. There have been very few times when an editor suggested something that I disagreed with. I can usually see their point, and if not, I usually defer to them anyway because I’ve learned the wisdom of detaching my emotion from the process.

As writers, we want to protect everything we write. We want to believe that every word is vital to the story. But that’s not always the case. Readers are not always going to notice everything we do, they often gravitate to parts of the story we never intended them to become invested in. That’s what makes an editor so important. There are going to be parts of our stories that we may not be as fanatical about, but that readers will notice. The editorial process will ferret out all those nuances that only readers will discern.

If you are one of those writers that balls up with anxiety over the editing process, try not to worry. You’ll get through it. No matter if you’re working with the same editor, or a new editor, the key word is working. Writing is a job, and not every part of a job is going to be easy. Sometimes you’re going to have to default to another part of your team and give up some control for the sake of a good story. If you treat the editing process as just another aspect of your job, it won’t be nearly as stressful. Editors are not out to make your life miserable, they’re trying to make your story the best it can be. It’s never personal.

Remember, it’s the story that matters to you, and If you want the story to matter to the readers, work with a professional editor. Your readers will thank you.

Shane Scollins is a freelance writer and Amazon best selling author. Originally from New Jersey, he now resides in Upstate New York with his wife, Heather. He has a degree in computer science and has worked as an automotive service manager, a website developer, and a computer network engineer. In his spare time he enjoys playing ice hockey, riding his mountain bike, and strumming on his guitar. Primarily a SciFi and paranormal novelist, Shane enjoys taking readers on surprising and unexpected journeys that twist reality. He is currently working on his next book.

You can find out more about Shane at his website, http://www.shanescollins.com/

Selling Yourself Short

The other day, I got into a discussion with someone about why authors might skip the editing process before publishing. Now, I didn’t know this guy, and I’m sure he’s a perfectly great guy. I don’t hold anything against him. We had a lively debate on the topic.

In my own experience, I’ve picked up a few ebooks on free days that I’ve put down just as quickly when I discovered that they were filled with basic errors. I’ll be honest… I edit for a living. That means I spend my life reading unedited writing, so I’m extremely choosy about what I read during my limited time for leisure reading. The occasional editorial flub is no big deal, it happens in every book, even those put out by the Big Six publishers. But I can tell the difference between the occasional editorial flub and an unedited manuscript. Remember Elaine from Seinfeld testing her dates to see if they were sponge-worthy? Well, unedited books are not time-worthy.

Anyway, back to my discussion. My worthy opponent brought up cost. He said editing costs a minimum of $1500. I know writers are notoriously poor. I’m an editor and I’m notoriously poor. I get it. Money can be hard to come by. There’s a reason they say it doesn’t grow on trees, because if it did, we’d all be horticulturalists. As I told him, not all of us editors charge an arm and a leg. Some of us softies even offer payment plans and bend over backwards to work within budgets. Why? Because we all have families to support. You gotta feed your kids, I gotta feed mine (and boy, it seems they eat more every year, doesn’t it?). I can’t speak for every editor out there, but this is why I work with several clients at one time… to keep my prices as low as I can. My rent won’t get any lower, but hey, I can spread my costs out to make it easier on my clients, right? So, authors… you may think we charge a lot at first glance, but we’re also having to use our fees to not only run our business, but to pay all those pesky bills that you have to pay at your house. It seems as soon as one month starts, it’s over and the cycle begins all over again. I’m sure you feel the same way. So, I do what I can to keep it reasonable, including a big discount for payment in full upfront. If you can afford it, you don’t have to worry about making payments, I don’t have to worry about sending reminders, you save money, it’s all good.

He suggested that most people don’t press the quality issue when I suggested that you can’t redo a first impression, and maybe that’s true. But they won’t buy book two, either. Putting out a second poorly done book won’t help you sell more books. While some may ask the seller for a refund, others won’t. When authors are signing petitions to convince Amazon not to refund ebooks after seven days (and part of me doesn’t blame them… you can read any ebook in seven days and return it, quality or not) the issue over quality becomes clouded. Was the book returned because the final quality was not up to par or because the reader knew they could get their money back, no questions asked?

Now, Amazon does have certain standards in place, but many of them don’t kick in unless complaints are made by readers. How many readers know how to make these complaints? How many readers actually write reviews? There’s the rub. Without the extra layer of an editor, how do these errors get expunged from the book?

To take it a step further, how do you know you have a competent editor? If you don’t know other authors who can recommend one for you, how do you know you don’t have one who isn’t an author just like yourself who decided they’d hang out an editorial shingle to earn a few bucks?

These are good questions. First, ask your author friends. They may have worked with an editor they liked. Second, (blatant self-promotion) you could hire me. :) Third, you can go to an editorial association like the Editorial Freelancers Association and peruse their members. If you go that route, make sure and look for editors who work on fiction. Fiction and non-fiction are two different animals, and not every editor is familiar with both. Not every good editor is a member of associations like this (not all of us can afford it yet), but you can bet that you can avoid the bad ones by going there.

If you’re not sure about an editor, look at their client testimonials. Ask them if they’re willing to edit a few pages for free as a sample of their work. When you send a sample, pick a few of your worst pages so you can make a fair assessment. If you’re testing more than one editor, send them the same pages so you can compare. Cheaper isn’t always the best choice, just like the most expensive isn’t always the best choice.

So, don’t sell yourself short. Put out the best book you can. Don’t skimp on the editing. You want a book as close to error-free as you can make it. You want your story as tight as it can be. You want it to be a pleasure to read, not something someone puts down after a few paragraphs.