Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price doesn’t add up

Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price  doesn’t add up

piggybank next to a calculator-are you counting pennies for your book

Counting your book pennies? CC image “Investing” courtesy of 401Kcalculator.org.

April is the month that everyone in the U.S. thinks about money—which makes this an appropriate time to talk money and indie books.

Although comparing dollar amounts is an easy way to try and compare services for your book, including editing, this practice gives you an incomplete picture at best. At worst, it leads you to make a choice you later regret. Being cheap often leads to looking cheap, and may actually cost you more in the long run. Let’s go over the top parameters your editor considers—and why these are more useful than price.

Key information your editor wants about your book

Continue reading

typewriter keep the self in publishing

Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing: 
Steer clear of shady providers

Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing: Steer clear of shady providers

typewriter keep the self in publishing

In self-publishing as in life, be smart about who you work with.

If you’ve tried self-publishing, you know how much work it is. While the benefits are great, we all want help sometimes. Publishing companies that promise to do the work for indie authors sound like a great deal.

Careful. Not all of these are legit, and the terms of the agreement can have big repercussions for you—notably a poor product (book), and a big price tag.

Anytime you ask someone to help you, be wary of what you are giving away. Below I outline shady practices to watch out for, and how to protect yourself. Beware of offers that sound too good to be true.

Why vanity presses and self-publishing “package” deals are a bad option

Vanity or subsidy presses publish your book for a fee. They offer to cover editing, layout and cover design, and printing. The promise: to make your life as an indie author easier by streamlining the publishing process.

Great, you think. You’re already self-publishing and paying for it. What makes this model bad?

The answer boils down to three things: the fees, the quality of work, and the rights.

The fees: these outfits charge high fees for work you can get at better prices through a legitimate small press or by hiring individual service providers.

The quality of work: if the price looks lovely and low, it means they are saving money somewhere, usually with dubious editing, restrictive and generic cover design options, and up-sell options for marketing (typically not included in the package price).

The rights: a traditional publisher pays publishing costs, and retains rights to your book in exchange. This is how they (hope to) recoup their costs and profit. Vanity presses ask you to pay for the publication costs, and yet retain the same rights. Um, what?

Avoid this arrangement. Vanity presses and “assisted self-publishing” offer low-quality, low-value options for a high fee and the privilege of keeping all your rights.

A note on rights: if you decide to publish another edition, or an eBook or audiobook version, or you want to do ANYTHING ELSE with your material, like distribution deals—you need rights to your work. If giving them away to a for-fee company sounds like a bad idea…it is.

How to tell if a “publisher” is shady

  • They charge you a fee, and yet they take royalties from the sales of your book. What? A traditional publisher PAYS for your book, and makes its money back through sales. These assisted self-publishers haven’t risked a dime on the production of your book, and should receive no royalties.
  • They give you budget editorial and design at a markup price. You pay more for less.
  • They charge you a “setup fee,” which is a sneaky way for them to cover their costs. Why are you paying a setup fee? Your package deal is meant to cover the cost of production.
  • Sales: They require you to purchase your own books. They want you to “guarantee” a minimum number of sales prior to publication. They pressure you to buy copies of your own book in other ways, such as through an Author Guide or special discount offers.
  • They offer/pressure you to pay for “expedited” editing, or special website placement, or inclusion in book fair catalogs, or “enhanced” marketing.
  • They usually retain rights to the cover art, typesetting, and digital assets. If you back out of the contract, you’ll have to start from scratch with a word processing document (and a lighter wallet).
  • They don’t disclose fees upfront (a HUGE givewaway).
  • You can’t get a human being on the phone (or email).

What’s in this package “deal”?

When you purchase a bundled deal, always, always, ALWAYS know exactly what’s part of the bundle. What is included? What is extra? What do the individual items cost if you were to purchase them on an “a la carte” basis?

When they say marketing, what does that mean? When they say editing, what does that entail? (Go here for descriptions on types of editing.) When they say cover design, how many looks are they giving you for that “special price” (with a designer you haven’t chosen)? Make them get specific.

Marketing promises especially give me the heebee-jeebies. Are they talking about radio, TV, print, digital? Are they going to do your social media management? Are they going to add you to a speakers bureau? Are they only “listing” you on Amazon? Marketing comes in a LOT of flavors. Not all will be relevant or useful to you. Don’t pay for what you don’t need.

If they don’t specifically say what they are offering, you aren’t getting it, and you may be asked to pay (a lot) more for what should be a basic service. Read the fine print.

The bottom line

Don’t give away the benefits of publishing your own book. As an indie author, you have control over the decision-making and the rights; plus you can earn much more per book sold than with a traditional publisher. Why would you give these away?

Stay away from companies that promise a lot for a little, retain exclusive rights to your book, pressure you to purchase copies of your own book, and ask you to pay for these “benefits.” Stay away from companies that don’t disclose their fees and spend most of their time up-selling you expensive products you don’t need, and that don’t deliver on basic (necessary) services such as editing and design.

Remember: it’s the fees, the quality of work, and the rights. Before you agree to hand over your rights and your cash, know what you are signing away.

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Any doubts? Ask me or another provider you trust, and use the resources at Writer Beware.

Writing About Real People: Making sure they don’t hate you or sue you after you publish

Writing About Real People: Making sure they don’t hate you or sue you after you publish

old word processing keyboard with Ooops button. writing mistakes

You don’t want to feel this way about your story. CC image “Oops.” courtesy of Marcin Wichary on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Writers of all stripes constantly draw from real life. Nonfiction and memoir material obviously depend on real people, and even fictional characters are drawn from what we know and have experienced. The question is: How much “real” information can we include in our work? Is there a limit, and if so, where is it? Can we use real names? What is OK to say, and how can we be both respectful and legally safe while maintaining truth and honesty in our work?

Not everyone is happy to find themselves portrayed in a book. Our writing has real-world consequences, some of them less pleasant than an uncomfortable holiday meal after we’ve aired our family’s dirty laundry to the world. There may be legal ramifications. Below I discuss best practices for writing about real people and factual events.

Note, this post is meant as a guideline ONLY. I am not a legal professional and in no way does the following constitute legal advice. Also, this article is not about journalism or journalistic ethics and obligations. If you have a question, please consult a legal professional.

Real-world effects of writing about real people

Negative fallout from telling real stories falls into one of two categories: people who never speak to us again, and people who sue us. Both of these are frightening for different reasons, although people who sue us can have a vastly broader impact on our lives.

And negative fallout typically comes because we share less-than-flattering stories. Let’s face it: if we’re being outrageously complimentary, who’s going to object to that? Legally speaking, compliments are a non-issue, while real or perceived insults need our more careful attention.

If you’re wondering whether you might face difficulties when you talk about real people, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can your portrayal be seen as unfavorable or slanderous?
  • Are you lying or being “malicious”?
  • Can the characters be readily identified by name or other characteristics?

Writing that is respectful and legally safe

Sometimes unhappy stories are the reason for your work in the first place. If you’re writing a memoir about overcoming a tough chapter from your life, that tough story is probably necessary. In nonfiction, real-life examples are important. If you’re writing fiction, your characters need to grow, change, and face obstacles, otherwise there is no book—and real experiences are great sources of fictional narrative.

In all cases, you need to maintain truth and honesty. However, this doesn’t mean you need to drag a specific person through the mud. Be respectful—even if you feel certain people don’t deserve it.

Think about the larger ramifications of what you’re sharing: what serves the story you want to tell? Do you need to identify your boss Jim by name, description, and personal habits? Or do you need to convey how his behavior affected you personally?

Strategies for how to write about real people in your book

Some writers are so concerned about reactions to their book that they wait until the affected people die before publishing. This is one way to avoid offending anyone and having them sue you, but it doesn’t suit everyone and I encourage you to explore other options.

Get permission.

This is the simplest way to include real information about real people. Get written permission from them to use it. Now, you may argue that this isn’t necessarily easy, but easy and simple are two different things.

Change the character name and other identifying characteristics.

You probably don’t want to name your awful character after your boss Jim. Re-naming your characters (whether real or fictional) is an obvious first step. Since we can identify people by more than names, make sure you also change other details, such as physical characteristics, habits, personal interests and hobbies, and so on.

Here’s where being honest to the story comes in. Fiction writers may have an easier time with this concept than nonfiction writers. Say Jim is obsessive: great, do we need him to obsess about baseball scores, the way live Jim does? How about making him a fiend for a perfectly mowed lawn?

Create composite characters.

Use professional back story from one person, the obsessive personality traits from another, a love of gardenias from a third, and so on. Jim could be a lawn-mowing-obsessed female mathematician. You get the idea. Use multiple real-life figures so that the new composite doesn’t match any one person. You can be faithful to the character’s agency in the story without insulting someone you hope to have Thanksgiving dinner with, or inspiring an erstwhile colleague to drag you to court.

The bottom line

Best practices to keep yourself safe and respectful, while staying true to the story that you need to tell, include asking yourself how unflattering your portraits are, how recognizable your characters are (or need to be), and whether you are making your characters ugly and stupid out of spite. Ask yourself: what serves the story? Get permission to speak about people if you can, and respect their privacy by changing identifying details that are not relevant to the lesson or insight that you want to share.

The legal ramifications of talking about real people in your book can be more complicated than you think. When in doubt, please do seek professional advice.

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What are some of your concerns when you write about real people?

male lion lies on his back with paws over his face

What your book title says about your book

What your book title says about your book

(and your subtitle and back cover copy, too)

Let’s start with a quiz:

male lion lies on his back with paws over his face

What was he thinking with that title? CC image “I Can’t Bare to Look” courtesy of Rennett Stowe on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

1. My book’s title/subtitle is:

  1. That thing I put on the front cover
  2. My best way to grab potential readers
  3. Descriptive and poetic
  4. Clear and concise

2. My back cover copy:

  1. Is a small space for text on the back of the book
  2. Is a great place for all my positive reviews
  3. Gets the reader to open the book
  4. Is my opportunity to talk about my story/me

Right, my own blog post title may have given this away, but bear with me.

Book titles are a marketing tool

Writers are strange about our titles. We think the title needs to be poetic and perfect, and the subtitle needs to cover everything there is to know about our book. The answer is no, absolutely not. Continue reading

Books to Inspire Writers

Books to Inspire Writers

word map using inspiration and related terms

CC image “Inspiration” courtesy of photosteve101 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

During this week when the word “love” is in the air—for all kinds of reasons, some of them commerce, I mean, Hallmark—I played on social media with the theme “book love.” I even used that hashtag (#booklove) on Twitter.

Now, Seth Godin I am not, though the idea got me thinking. None of us works in a void. As writers, we are inspired and guided by what we read. Writing well means reading. Some of what we read may be didactic—The Elements of Style, for example, or, in my case, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. Most of what inspires us does so because of what it is: good writing, a good story, characters we can’t let go of, the voice of an author that we recognize and admire.

In keeping with the spirit of #booklove, below are starting points for writing reference and inspiration. Honestly, this list is individual to me, and could go on forever. My hope is you’ll see a little of what you are looking for, when you write. Continue reading

statue of a woman holding her head

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

statue of a woman holding her head

All this editing makes my head hurt. CC image “headache” courtesy of threephin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Friends, I’d like to address a difficult and emotional topic: the developmental edit.

You’ve sent your manuscript off to your editor for developmental work. You’ve completed a draft! The world is a beautiful place, filled with hope. Rainbows, puppies, and kittens are everywhere. You buy everyone dinner.

Then:

Your editor returns your draft manuscript filled with comments, cross-outs, lines pointing everywhere; or they’ve rearranged the content for you, and nothing looks like it did. There are questions, so many questions! You think about the pristine draft you sent out and realize now that it’s obviously defective and awful. You spend a week hiding in a dark room, blinds drawn, listening to sad music or watching Dead Poets Society on repeat.

A developmental edit is as necessary as it is painful

The best and worst part of a developmental edit is how radically it can change your book. Continue reading

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

The difference between dud and dazzle

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

CC image “Feedback” courtesy of Dennis Skley on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

New beginnings! Why is it we only think of them when we have spare time?

Truly. Ask anyone who has had to work over the end-of-year holidays: have they sat down to have a luxurious talk with themselves about the year past and the year to come? Probably not. What about that problem you’ve been trying to solve for months: how often did you solve it in the shower—when you weren’t thinking about anything else? My bet is: often.

When we’re in the middle of a situation, we often don’t see it for what it is. The same goes for that book we’re writing.

As you write your book, eventually you give in to the temptation to go back to the beginning, and “fix” it. Unfortunately, after you tweak one paragraph, you need to fix the next one, and the next… By the time you get to where you need to add new material, a lot of time has gone by, you’re tired, and you don’t produce much.

The more you play this game, the more likely you are to question any writing choices you make. Maybe the first way you said it was better? You can’t stop second-guessing yourself. Continue reading

black and white shot of audience from stage

Why does anyone care what you write?

Why does anyone care what you write?

How to not lose an audience

black and white shot of audience from stage

CC image “Audience @ LeWeb 11 Les Docks-9308” courtesy of OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The single most heinous crime you can commit as an author—and the one most likely to lose you readership—is to make the whole story about you, and you alone, and to forget your readers.

But wait, you say. What if I’m writing a memoir, or a book that builds on my own personal experience? Surely that’s about me!

Not so. Your memoir or the details of your experience are interesting to your readers because of how it relates to their lives and experiences. Your readers care about what your book offers to them. You are purely incidental. Unless you are Michelle Obama, no one cares.

Be the reader

Think about yourself. What’s the first question you ask yourself when you think about whether you want to read a book?

Is this interesting?

When you read a book, you answer the question in the affirmative. If you skip it, the answer is no. Now ask yourself:

Why is it interesting?
What makes this book interesting?

This is the key to your audience.

Write down the titles of the last three books you read. Below the title, write what made that book interesting to you. Maybe you love books that make the technical accessible; you love books that inspire; you love books with actionable information; you love books with great characters; you love books that create alternate worlds you can lose yourself in.

Books are about the reader first. This is usually obvious to all of us whenever we’re reading a book…and we often forget it when we write one.

Don’t forget your audience

You the writer love what you are writing about. Whether your book is about sea urchins or is a fantasy novel, you’re mostly thinking about yourself. It’s easy, while you are writing, to get caught up in the story and forget those other people, your readers.

I see this happen a lot in early in early drafts. This is normal and perfectly fine—as long as we fix it before going to press. The most common ways writers forget their audiences are:

Nonfiction: while telling an anecdote or giving an example to illustrate a point, the writer keeps adding awesome details, and five or maybe ten pages later finally runs out of ways to express how cool s/he found all of this information.

Fiction: in writing a scene, the writer discovers that a secondary character’s backstory needs fifteen pages of manuscript space, or gets lost in a love poem describing the setting, where we have no paragraph breaks for several pages.

This is where the editor comes in and asks you why it’s all there. This is code for, “Why would the reader find this interesting/need to know this information, at this particular point in time, or in this way?”

After you finish an early draft, turn around to look at your audience. Bring the focus back to the reader. What are they going to do with this information? How would they relate to it? What questions would they have?

In nonfiction, you can directly ask your audience questions. That’s one way of turning to look at them. In fiction, generally we need to be more subtle. Does what we wrote make sense only in our heads? We may need beta readers to give us feedback.

The good news is, you can use your “whys” as a reader to help you build a wonderful book as a writer. Go back to the lists I had you make on the last three books you read. If you were to put together a list of whys for the readers of your book, what would that look like? What do you want your readers to say?

The bottom line

No matter how autobiographical your story is, your book is never about you in the way you think. If it was, you could keep a diary and be done with it. Why are you publishing?

This is a very, very important point from an editorial perspective. Readers, like all other humans, appreciate when we pay attention to them. If the story was clearly written for you the author and it’s an accident that other readers stumble into your monologue, how long do you think they’ll stick around? Treat them with respect. Build your book for them, as well as for yourself.

You may need to stop writing to finish your book

You may need to stop writing to finish your book

(or: a counterintuitive way to succeed)

road work ahead sign plus relax people, I think we'll be OK

A good motto. CC image “Relax” courtesy of Martha Soukup on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Introspection is frowned upon by our goal-oriented, fast-paced, and productivity-minded culture.

We all want to know how to get things done. We want to know how to get them done better, in less time, and with a bigger impact. Doing doing doing.

This is especially true during the end-of-year holidays. Wouldn’t a few worker elves be great?

Unfortunately, completing a book doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes, we need to stop writing and literally spend time staring into space, or playing. What better time to remember how to stop and take a breath than during what is meant to be a restful and celebratory time of year?

The writing habit

If you’ve been on my blog before, you’ve read about the single best way to write your book, which is to write (see: “pretending you don’t need to work on your book every day”).

Write every day. Make writing a habit.

You’ve read this before and now you’re wondering why I’m telling you to stop.

Writing sometimes means doing things that don’t look exactly like the activity we all know as writing, and it sometimes means letting go of being “productive.”

Writing is a creative act

Writing may feel like a business item or a job to you, but a part of it is always a creative exercise. Because of this, truths about creativity apply, even when you write a book about dog-training or how to grow a business.

One of these truths is: sometimes you have to do nothing for a while, to get something done.

Tell me whether you’ve had the following experience: you have a looming deadline. For days, you struggle with the final tasks and doubt you’ll ever meet the deadline. There’s one especially thorny issue you can’t figure out. After putting in a fourteen-hour day (or what feels like it), you give up in disgust and leave. You go home and vent to one of your friends or your significant other. A few more days go by while you play ostrich with your deadline. Instead of working on it, you clean the house, organize your desk, and buy greeting cards for your second cousins once removed in Singapore whom you haven’t seen since you were eight years old.

The next day, you realize you know the answer to the problem, and nothing has ever been so easy.

This is how writing often works.

The secret is that when you stop focusing on being productive, and let your mind wander, you’re more receptive to solutions that sit outside your current line of thinking.

Stop being productive

You might find yourself in front of the computer, producing nothing, and growling under your breath from frustration. If this happens while are you trying to get into a writing habit (see link above), I recommend you power through. Your best plan of action is to sit there for the appointed time, and suffer. Eventually, you’ll be writing.

If this happens in the middle of a productive stretch and after you’ve made writing a habit, I recommend that you take a break.

Step away from the computer, and do something else—preferably an activity that lets part of your brain roam free. Good activities include going for a walk, doing the laundry, sweeping, mowing the lawn, playing with the pet or the grandkids…you get the idea. Bad activities include complicated work of any kind, or watching TV/Netflix.

Do not try to be “productive” during this time. You’ve already thought a lot about your writing. Now let your subconscious have room to breathe. You could be surprised with the results.

The bottom line

There’s something about endings that makes us a little crazy. The end of the year, end of the quarter, end of the month… At this time of year, when it seems like all our schedules are blowing up and absolutely every known errand in the universe needs to be done before December 25th or 31st, STOP.

If you haven’t started your writing habit yet, this time of year is a tough place to start.

If you’ve got a good writing habit going, it will survive the next few weeks.

The more you force the issue, the less joy you’ll have in the process of writing, in the idea of your book—and more importantly, in your life and in whatever holidays you celebrate. It may be you need to stop writing now, in order to finish your book later.

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I’d love to hear how you might cultivate your writing habit with a spirit of rest, this season. Leave me a comment below, or drop me a line. Then enjoy the break!

12 Things Every Self-Publisher Should Know

12 Things Every Self-Publisher Should Know
(before publishing)

christmas tree made of books with ornaments

CC image “Boekenkerstboom” courtesy of Bibliotheek Kortrijk on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In this day and age, where it seems like everyone is publishing a book and a lot of them are touting how easy that is (ha!), it’s important to remember that none of those books was published by magic. In tribute to the “12 Days of Christmas,” below is a list of 12 things every self-publisher and independent author should know.

Traditionally, the holiday season means a barrage of tips on how to market-slash-use-the-holiday-to-promote-your-book. While tying your marketing to the season is a great idea, your publishing plans should not begin and end with this fixation. Continue reading