Category Archives: writing

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

Top 3 Ways You Sabotage Your Book

The Top 3 Ways You Sabotage Your Book

pencil broken in the middle

CC image frustration courtesy of Eric on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

How many of you get up in the morning thinking of new ways you can sabotage your book?

What about when you meet your friends for a cup of coffee or a drink—do you discuss how you can make sure your book will never see the light of day?

Or, no. I bet it’s more like this: you revel in how easy the writing life is and how much you enjoy sitting in front of a blank page on a regular basis with the task of creating something interesting, entertaining, informative, inspiring, or just plain coherent. Yes, that’s it.

What’s that, you say? That’s not you at all? Then how can you explain the following bad habits you get into? Yes, I’m looking at you, kid. If you’ve ever thought about writing a book, this is you.

You may not realize how you are sabotaging your book

After all, you have great intentions. You want to write the best, most interesting, highest-grossing, greatest business-building, fanbase-to-rival-J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter kind of book. And yet, and yet…

Some acts of sabotage are blatant (hours spent on Facebook or cleaning your toilet—every day). Some are more subtle. The top three ways that you sabotage your book are:

  1. Expecting perfection.
  2. Talking too much about your book.
  3. Pretending you don’t need to work on it every day.

Expecting perfection for every word you write

First drafts suck. There’s no way around it. Sure, you may have a great paragraph here and there, maybe even a stretch of three or four. But the draft itself has glaring flaws. Flaws so neon-bright that you need sunglasses for the simple act of looking at your manuscript. You stare at those flaws the way kids look at Christmas toy displays in shop windows: endless, motionless fascination, alternating with tantrums.

This is the best way to never finish your book.

A first draft is a FIRST DRAFT. When you compare your first draft to the published works of [insert your favorite bestseller/author millionaire here], you are comparing fig leaves to the Empire State Building. Stop. The Empire State Building looked like a hot mess when they first started building it—a hole in the ground, for goodness’ sake.

Accept the process and realize that you are starting with a hole in the ground, but that every day, as you build it, it’ll get better. Accept your book for what it is—a work in progress.

Talking too much about your book (and not writing it)

I can already hear the protests. “But we were told we should start marketing it before we finish writing!” “But I want to get my friends’ advice/support!” “But I’m so excited about it and want to share!”

Yes, I understand you. And yes, you should be talking about your book—in the right way.

Fiction writers may be more familiar with this warning than nonfiction writers. After all, craft books galore warn about this, including On Writing (yes, I’m talking about Stephen King again; there’s a reason). The more often you talk about your book, and the more specific detail you cover, with more people, repeatedly, the more you dissipate your creative energy and drain out the inherent drive you have to write that book. The more you talk about it, the less need you will feel to put it down on paper. You’ve already done part of what a book does: share your information and your passion with others. Stop this madness.

Nonfiction writers can also fall into this trap. You talk about your book and all your useful information diverts into informational one-on-ones, speech prep, and asides. Where, in fact, is your book?

You don’t need to be sworn to secrecy about your book. Let your colleagues know you’re writing it, and ask for advice. But keep it short—make it a teaser trailer. Don’t spill the beans on the complete plot. Those great ideas you keep having—write them down. Save them for the manuscript.

Pretending you don’t need to work on your book every day*

Trust me, the more breaks you take while writing, the harder it will be for you to write. That lost time is more than just the week you decided to binge-watch full seasons of The Walking Dead or livestream the heavyweight bout (and all the undercards). You lose more time than what you see on your calendar when you take breaks from your book. Each break means that much more time getting back up to speed on what in the heck you were doing before you stopped writing.

In some way, you need to work on your book every day. Keep it top of mind. Put together an outline. Brainstorm examples or case studies or character back story. Spend a day recording your thoughts verbally instead of writing them down, or record yourself reading parts of an earlier chapter, and listen to how it sounds. Make notes.

You want your readers to pay careful attention, don’t you? Well, so should you.

*It is good and healthy to take one day off every week. I even accept “every day” as Monday-Friday. But don’t skip more than a weekend’s worth of time with your book.

The bottom line

Are you guilty of any of these sabotaging traps? My bet is you are. If you need to, write them on a sticky note and paste wherever you work on your book. Yes, you can do multiple stickies. Stop the sabotage, and write that book.

Repetition vs Reiteration

Repetition vs Reiteration:
Show your reader what’s important without boring them to death

rows of empty white folding chairs

CC image Harvard Graduation courtesy of Andrew Malone on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

How many of you can remember specific information after hearing or reading it only once? How about if I asked you about that information again next week? Next month? Two years from now?

A select few people on earth may have perfect total recall, but most of us don’t. We remember information from hearing or reading about it multiple times. This is the principle behind regular rotation on a radio playlist, behind advertising, and the power behind an article that goes viral on the internet.

The same principle goes for your book. Chances are, you need to spell out a lot more information than you think, and you have more opportunities to highlight plot points than you realize. The key to achieving this is to understand the difference between repetition and reiteration. Continue reading

Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction

Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction

Where do we start a book? To quote the King in Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

If only it were so simple.

Fiction needs to consider the prologue. Nonfiction books have introductions often, prefaces sometimes, and occasionally forewords. Do we know how to use them well? An introduction, preface, and foreword serve different purposes, although we tend to mix them up. Below are some tips to help you separate these three beginnings, and suggestions for how, or whether, you want to use them.

The Foreword

The most important distinguishing feature of the foreword is that it should be written by someone other than the author.

I’ve seen authors writing introductions or prefaces and calling them forewords. The foreword is not for you, dear author. The foreword is an opportunity for you—a marketing opportunity.

Your foreword plays in much the same space as your back cover copy: it helps you sell the book. Contributors to forewords are experts in the field your book is about, or authors of similar books. A foreword adds credibility to your book by offering a stamp of approval that other people will recognize: bookstores as well as individual consumers. You are after the name recognition and esteem of your contributor.

Because someone else writes your foreword, and they should have read your book before they do so, you need to complete your manuscript and send them an advance reader copy. This means you must be done with your book and budget extra time to incorporate a foreword.

The Preface

Think of the preface as an envelope. The preface is about the book itself—not the contents of the book.

This is your opportunity to talk about why you wrote this book. What brought you here? What are you trying to achieve? You may use this space to establish your credentials—indicate your experience in a topic or the professional expertise that makes you well-suited to talk about it. Often, authors muddle this together with the material in the introduction. They are best kept separate. Give your book a clean start and make it easy for your readers, who need to know what part of the story kicks off when.

What you include here should NOT appear in your introduction, and vice versa—avoid duplication.

The Introduction

Most familiar to us, the introduction is also for the author. If the preface is the envelope, the introduction is a cover letter to the manuscript: you get to explain how to use the contents of the book itself.

The introduction can be simple. You introduce the topic of the book, and leave it at that. You can also use the introduction to set up the themes you are planning to address, establish any definitions or methodology you use, or point out the structure of your book and any exercises or resources you include and how the reader may want to use them. What you do NOT want to do is repeat content that already appears in your preface.

Although an introduction appears at the front of the book (after the foreword and preface, if they are also included), you should write this content last, after you have completed your manuscript. You need to know what your book is about in total, and how it ends, to write a good introduction.

The Bottom Line

Your book structure should be clear, and so should the way you use your foreword, preface, and introduction (if you choose to include them). Although none of these are required components of your manuscript, each of them can add value or interest to your book. Remember to use them for their distinct purposes: they exist to guide the reader where you want them to go.

Be clear. Don’t knock your reader around with three or four beginnings to your book and ask them to sort it all out themselves.

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This post is adapted from an article published in the September 2016 CIPA Signature, the newsletter of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.

5 Tips on Writing from an Editor

5 Tips on Writing from an Editor

Don't talk. Type.

CC image “Put Your Product Where Your Mouth Is” courtesy of Joseph O’Connell on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Working as an editor, I regularly meet with people who have a lot of anxiety, and therefore also questions, about writing.

My work puts me in close proximity with writers (and people who don’t call themselves writers but still write, as a business choice or corollary to public speaking, for example). From this vantage point, I offer you the following tips.

Tip #1: Writing and editing are two different animals

The same way that producing a song recording in a studio is different from writing (or performing) the actual song. If there was only one, most important tip for me to give you about writing, this would be it.

Because of this, don’t try to do both at the same time. Stephen King says it perfectly in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.

The work often changes shape as you go. Even if you started from an outline (common for nonfiction writers), you may discover that certain things work or don’t, or that other questions arise, while writing. If you start editing while writing, you’ll lack clarity about WHAT story you are actually telling. And the story will lack cohesion.

Plus it’s really, really hard to finish writing if you keep stopping to edit yourself.

Tip #2: Find the habits that best work for you

Every writer’s work habits and process look different. If you go online and google “writing tips,” or “habits to become a successful writer,” you’ll find a wealth of suggestions. Some of these contradict each other. That’s because no two people are alike.

Some writers swear by getting up before dawn and pounding out 2,000 words. Others will suggest you sit down to write for at least X amount of minutes every day.

I am not a morning person, so I assure you, I would never get my writing done at 5 AM. However, this does work really well for some people. The key is to find the habits that best work for you. What will you sustain, and in turn, what will sustain you as a writer? If you are a 5 AM-er, more power to you!

What habits create the best routine for you? If you are writing regularly, that’s success.

Tip #3: You will end up writing more (sometimes many more) words than you use in the end

This is an irrefutable truth about writing. No first draft ever equals the finished product. Inevitably, through the process of revision, words get added, words get cut—sometimes a lot of words.

I’ve had clients who feel frustrated because they have spent what they feel is a lot of time writing before they came to understand what they were writing about—what their focus was. If this sounds like you, know that this is not only a normal, but beneficial step in the writing process.

We can’t properly see what needs to be cut until we see what exactly we have. Think of it like a traditional sculpture: you start with a block of wood, or stone, and whittle away the pieces to bring out the final work of art.

Tip #4: You will write the end before you write the beginning

This may sound strange to people who haven’t done a lot of writing. The order of writing does not mirror the order of reading.

The easiest way to conceptualize this is to think of a mystery novel. The reader is trying to figure out the mystery. Along the way, the author gives clues—sometimes misleading ones. The whole time, the AUTHOR knows whodunit. Do you think the author wrote the mystery novel in the order in which you are reading it?

In the same way, writers need to write the end of the story or the book in order to know how to properly begin. Don’t let this frighten you from starting to write at what you think is the beginning—know that you will be revisiting what the “beginning” is, after you’ve written the end.

Tip #5: Support is key

Writing, as many more famous, smarter people than I have already said, is a lonely business. It can be easy to feel isolated, and you might be frustrated by the problems you encounter and what you think you don’t know. The most important tip to keep your writing going is simply this: Find someone to talk to.

Your support can be official, such as a mentor, writing teacher, editor, or coach, or communal, such as with a writing workshop or mastermind group. Or your support can be much more informal—a good friend, someone in your family you trust.

Look after yourself while writing. You will benefit immensely from having someone to provide counsel, feedback, and perspective, and to commiserate with.

The bottom line

The more you make writing a habit, and the more you can separate writing and editing your work, the better a writer you will become. Accept that parts of the process feel frustrating and contradictory, such as writing long passages that get cut in the end. And make sure you have someone in your corner who can hold your hand, buy you a beer, or sit back while you rant, wild-eyed, about your frustrations. This is how you succeed.