Tag Archives: books

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

yellow background with a line drawing of a person inside a huge T shirt that reads "potential"

Does your book have a shape or only potential? CC image “potential” courtesy of yukky.u on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I wince a little inside when I hear someone describe a self-published book as having “potential.” At the same time, I feel a small piece of acknowledgment—because not every author sticks with the project through the final, frustrating revisions that would make the book truly excellent.

In my work, I’m privileged to read a lot of books. Design elements aside, the one element that bugs me about many indie books is the short shrift given to the editorial process. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll have heard me say this before: EVERY good author works with an editor; no one comes out of the gate with a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. If [insert name of your favorite author] needs to go through revisions and editing, don’t you think you should give it a try?

When you self-publish, you get to call the shots. That’s both the blessing and the curse of the model. I love that authors get creative control with independent publishing. Unfortunately, some authors use this control to veto work that would be good for their book. So, how do you know when your book might need more work? Below are a few clues.

Clues your book needs more editorial work

1. Have you finished writing your manuscript, and then gone back and re-read the whole thing, from beginning to end?

You haven’t? What are you waiting for?

I promise you, your story has logical gaps, discontinuities, and/or repetitions. If you haven’t re-read your entire manuscript, you are making a huge mistake, period.

2. Do you have title/subtitle ideas?

While you’re working on a first draft, it’s perfectly natural to have only a working title for your book—you might call it “My book.” You’re figuring things out. However, beyond the first draft, you should be getting other ideas. If you don’t, this is a sign you probably need to work more on your manuscript. Writing and revising will provide ideas.

3. Have you read your last chapter as often as your first?

Writers have a tendency to spend a lot of time with Chapter One. And the beginning of your book is important. But, newsflash: so is the end of your book. The end is what your readers will remember—assuming they read all the way through. If you haven’t paid attention to the end of your book, you’re not ready to publish.

4. Have you read your “middle” more than once?

Some of you are now thinking, “OK, this now makes EVERY part of the book an ‘important part.’” Yes, yes it does. Did you see #1 above?

Those readers who get to the end? They have to make it through the middle of the book. The reason I call out the middle by name is that writers give it even less attention than book endings, and by far less than beginnings. For this reason, it’s earned the name “muddy middle” in the writing world. Your book can get flabby around the middle—just like we can. Have you spent time working it out?

5. Did you make any big changes in your story/topic while writing was in progress?

I guarantee you will want a complete re-read of your manuscript, if you have. Skip this step, and you’ll hand your editor—or, so help us, your designer—a hot mess.

6. Are you clear on your audience?

If you can’t picture one specific person (not your mother) reading your book, stop and take a minute. You should not—I repeat should NOT—publish without this knowledge.

7. Are you sick of reading your manuscript, or only sick of writing it?

I get it. First drafts are hard. Most of us don’t want to look at the darn thing anymore, after we finish what we think is “The End.” That’s not the same as reading your manuscript a lot. By this I mean, you’ve taken a break after you reached The End; you’ve read either a hard copy or you’ve refrained from beginning to edit as you read; and you’ve done #1 more than once.

Being done writing is not the same as being done revising. You better be sick of revising before you publish.

8. Your editor hesitates AT ALL when you ask whether your book is ready for the next phase.

MAJOR red flag.

9. Your designer asks you, “Has this been edited?”

See number 8.

10. The people who read your manuscript say, “It’s promising.”

Ugh! This is like saying something is “interesting.” It means it’s not finished and they don’t know how to tell you.

The bottom line

If you at all wonder whether your book needs additional work, chances are yes, it does. Even after many revisions. This is your opportunity to ask an expert for their assessment.

Be careful to not let your enthusiasm and impatience for getting the wretched project out of your hair lead you to pull the plug too early on writing and editing. I love seeing manuscripts with potential. But published books should achieve that potential. Get out of the B leagues—do the work.

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Why Word Count is One of the Best Tools in Your Writing Toolbox

Why Word Count is One of the Best Tools in Your Writing Toolbox

woman in exercise clothing doing a pushup

Word count–the workout your book needs. CC image “62” courtesy of Fit Approach on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Writing is a lot like exercise. Most of us like the end result more than the process of getting there.

We like being strong, healthy, feeling good about our weight. We don’t like going for a run, or taking the time to go to the gym, or changing how we eat.

Likewise, we like holding the book we wrote in our hands, the feeling of accomplishment, the glow of success and recognition. We dislike editing, revision, and sitting down to write when we absolutely, 100%, do not feel inspired to do so. In fact, more writers clean their bathrooms as a way to avoid writing than you could ever imagine.

The fact is, though, that we need to write, in order to have written. The best way to do this is through regular writing practice, and one of the best ways to adopt a regular writing practice is to set word count goals. Continue reading

Be True to Your Book All the Way Through

Be True to Your Book All the Way Through

boy wearing goggles and cape like a superhero costume

Great things can happen when you own your narrative voice. CC image “consumer confidence!” courtesy of Chris & Karen Highland on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“One day you’ll see,” he said with a wink. “And remember. Always have everything you say exquisitely annotated, and, where possible, provide staggering Visual Aids, because, trust me, there will always be some clown sitting in the back—somewhere by the radiator—who will raise his fat, flipperlike hand and complain, ‘No, no, you’ve got it all wrong.’”

This is how we meet Marisha Pessl’s unusual and wonderful narrator, Blue van Meer, and Blue’s father, in Special Topics in Calamity Physics. The instant we begin, we are caught up in her voice, her way of thinking, and the rhythm of her story. Whether she appeals to you immediately, the way she did me, or not, you can’t mistake her for anyone else.

Blue is different from the stereotypical teenage girl in so many ways that the only way to tell her story is to absolutely, 100 percent own her way of seeing. This is also what you must do for any book that you write, whatever the genre and whatever the perspective.

You need to own the voice, the tone, and Continue reading

The End Makes the Best Beginning

The End Makes the Best Beginning

boy crossing race finish line with his arms in the air to celebrate

The End! CC image “Mike to Mike Half Marathon” courtesy of Fort Bragg on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Most of your readers will start reading your book at the beginning. That doesn’t mean you should start writing there.

The beginnings of books are notoriously tough to pin down. So much rides on those first pages, even the first sentences. Continue reading

Creating a Book Outline—a Flexible Structure that Works for You

Creating a Book Outline—a Flexible Structure that Works for You

closeup of outline or mind map diagram

CC image “mind map” courtesy of madstreetz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Little divides writers as much as whether they should write a book outline or not. These two big categories are the pantsers, and the planners.

The planners, as you might expect, begin with a plan. They decide what they are going to write about, in what order the story should unfold, the main points they want to hit, and they typically create a detailed outline. Then, they write according to this plan.

Pantsers discover the story and the book as they go. Though they typically start out with an idea of what they want—the beginning and ending are common anchors—they don’t know, as they begin, how they’re going to get to the end. They “fly by the seat of their pants.”

Planners think of pantsers as disorganized and chaotic, and pantsers think of planners as rigid and unimaginative. Both these assessments are true and false in equal measure. Continue reading

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

Scrabble word BUDGET is a key for indie book publishing

Key to any book publishing, indie or otherwise. CC image “Budget” courtesy of airpix on Flickr and stubblepatrol.com. Some rights reserved.

Books don’t come free. In addition to your blood, sweat, and tears (am I being melodramatic?), you need to have a plan in place to conquer the hard financial costs that are part and parcel of publishing. Like any other business, your book has operating expenses, and it deserves a budget. Continue reading

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