Must Haves for the Indie Author, Part One: A Good Editor

I’ve been an indie author for six years now. I’m looking at that number thinking, dang, it has to be longer than that. But it isn’t. I launched Descent, first novel in my Outcast Angels series in August of 2013, and a lot has happened since then.

I’ve launched more books. The industry has changed significantly and continues to do so rapidly. Still, there are certain basics that Indies still need, regardless of what else may be changing.

With that in mind, this is the first in a short series of articles on what today’s indie author must have to put them on the road to success.

An Editor

You still need an editor. I know I’ve mentioned this a time or two already, but there is NO bigger turn off to a reader than a poorly edited story. There are a couple of ways to go about obtaining professional editing, and a few things to avoid.

Show Me the Ways:

If you have editing skills yourself, consider trading editing with a fellow author whose writing you respect. A lot of us come from editing or educational backgrounds, which gives us a leg up in that department.

Ask for referrals. Any fairly successful indie author in your circle should be able to point you in the right direction. Alternately, do a shout in the dark on your favorite FB author group (one for authors, not readers) and you’ll likely get some recommendations, as well as hints on who to avoid.

Danger Signals:

Avoid anyone who refuses to give you an editing sample on request. A sample should be 1-3 pages in length and can be an evaluation of your work or a sample the editor has on file. I prefer the former since it’s easier to tell how they will interact with your particular genre and style. Either way, the sample should be long enough to give you an idea of their level of expertise and editing style.

Avoid anyone who demands changes to your manuscript instead of suggesting them. Look at the tone of their comments in the sample. An editor who insists on overriding your author voice isn’t someone you want handling your work.

Editors generally give you a total cost upfront. They will usually ask for half in advance with the balance due upon completion. They should also be able to tell you how long it will take them to complete the job. If they waffle on either point, consider finding someone else.

A reasonable charge for editing is anywhere from .1¢ to .3¢ per word, depending on the editor’s level of experience and workload. However, for highly experienced, in-demand editors, the cost can be upwards of .5¢ to .6¢ a word. Some may charge even more, but at that point, I would shop around. More expensive doesn’t always mean better, and editing is no exception.

For works of 100K words or less, two weeks should be sufficient time for completion. Longer manuscripts will take more time, shorter ones often take less. An editor who can’t give you a firm completion date or who says they will need a month or more to complete your manuscript might be someone to avoid.

Editors who miss the deadline they’ve given you by more than a day or two should be avoided in the future. If they miss it by more than a week, you may want to consider cutting your losses and moving on. Ask for the work they’ve done so far. They may give it to you as a show of good faith. If they don’t, or they become argumentative or non-communicative, take it as a learning experience and move on rather than throw good money after bad. Never pay the balance before the edits are complete. Never pay “additional costs,” that weren’t in the contract.

A Word On That Final Payment:

When paying that balance, use Paypal or another service where you can cancel the payment if the edits are not delivered as promised. Most editors are honest, hardworking and want your return business. But, as with any profession, there are scam artists out there. If something seems off, it probably is. Trust your intuition.

A Word on Reasonable Practices:

Example: When I edit for someone, I provide an estimate before receiving the manuscript. Once I receive the manuscript, I send a contract with the exact amount based on the actual word count. Once that is signed, and the deposit is paid, I begin work. When I finish, I send an email notifying my client that their manuscript is ready, and an invoice requesting the final payment. When that payment comes in, I send the completed manuscript the same day.

Not everyone works the way I do, and there may be nothing wrong with their process. But a good editor is open to communication with the client, offers a reasonable price and time frame, understands that they are the editor, not the author, and keeps their word.

What do you look for in an editor? Let me know in the comments.

Decisions, Decisions

An MFA in creative writing. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Actually, it sounds like what it is – a lot of hard work. However, that isn’t my question. My question is this; is it worth it?

I know that “honing your craft” is vital. No one is as good as they could be at writing. Aside from authors who are already dead, that is, because seriously, once you’re dead, you’ve pretty much reached your limit. No amount of education is going to help.  In the meantime, a professional writer does everything they can to keep getting better. Notice I said “better,” not “perfect.” Since perfection probably isn’t attainable, the goal must instead be consistent improvement.

Conferences, workshops, and seminars provide great information and training in a convenient, cost-effective package, but they don’t confer a degree. At university, one can earn a degree, but the best programs generally require an enormous amount of money and, the real sticking point, TIME. I’m sure it would be beneficial. I’m just not sure it’s necessary.

I’ve dabbled in writing for most of my life and I’ve gotten progressively more serious about the profession over the last decade, to the point that now, it’s the only thing I really want to do with the rest of my life. Teaching, I’ve retired from and was satisfied to do so. But I can’t imagine a life without writing.

Or rather, I can. It’s just an exceedingly grim picture. (shudders.)

I’m sure I’ll probably pass away with a computer keyboard on one screen and a K-lytics report on the other. It’s because I’m serious that I take every opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of authors. Each week I read as much about the craft and business of writing as I can cram into my schedule. I attend signings and conferences as often as possible.

 And I write.

And isn’t the actual practice of writing the thing that builds a good writer into a great one?

Higher learning is a great thing. I would give (insert proverbially large sacrifice here) for an opportunity to pursue my passion while I worked on my Masters. But if pursuing an MFA took me away from actual writing – if it stole that time from me…

Would it be worth it?

Tell me what you think. What are the pros and cons, for you, of getting an MFA vs. the less formal route of conferences and writing workshops?

Misperceptions

Conversations I used to have when I taught high school English often went something like this:

Me: “I’ve been working so hard on this project that I haven’t had time to write my lesson plans for next week.”

My friend: “Just wing it. All you guys do is read, right?”

Me: gives friend the side-eye and suffers a mental picture of stuffing said friend’s mouth with multiple copies of Proust or Dante. I resist the urge and simply reply,  “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.”

I continue to be surprised when I trip over someone who thinks this way about “English.” What surprises me even more is that so many people lump everything: reading, analyzing literature, and writing, under the same dismissive heading.

“…they think it’s EASY.”

The kicker is, an awful lot of people think the same way about writing. For some unfathomable reason, the tendency of non-writers is to reduce the hours of painstaking plot construction, character development, conflict building and resolution, sub-plot tuning, editing,  and research to just “writing.” And they think it’s EASY.

Given my (admittedly type A, slightly insane) work ethic when it comes to both teaching and writing, you might think I would get a bit tetchy about such a description. But I don’t. I just smile and turn my attention to more winnable fights. Because the truth is, they honestly don’t understand. And I shouldn’t expect them to.

Nurturing ideas into stories takes work. What a concept.

Most people who have not nurtured an idea into a fully realized story have no way of conceptualizing the amount of work involved. It isn’t that they aren’t empathetic or that they don’t believe you about the months of eye strain and paper cuts that went into the research. They may even murmur in honest sympathy when you describe the back burning necessity of multiple, not to say interminable, revisions or the searing frustration of working a less than fulfilling day job to fund your writing career. They simply have no frame of reference.

And that’s ok. I don’t understand how mathematicians get such a charge out of all that number stuff. I just accept that they do. Their fire doesn’t use the same fuel as mine, but it still burns. And hey, if they don’t understand the same about me in reverse, that’s ok too. After all, it’s not like they’re writers or anything.  

What frustrates you about the non-writer’s reaction to your craft?

Invisible

Don’t be the invisible writer.

The signing was great fun. I met some wonderful readers, networked with fellow authors, and learned a lot.

And I didn’t sell a single book.

This is unusual. Admittedly, my signing sales don’t usually compare to a sale on Amazon or Kobo, but I’ve never sold none. So, I started looking at why. What was different for me at this signing? And then it hit me.

My visibility this time was almost nill.

Most signings I attend have a significant Facebook presence. I make it a point to post in those groups multiple times. I put up funny memes and teasers, post book links, reply to other people’s posts and basically act as I might at a cocktail party with friends. I do this over a course of at least two weeks prior to the signing. I also post in my own reader group, reminding friends of the signing and encouraging them to attend if they are in the area.

If I have a new book coming out, I post about that. If I am not sure how many books to take with me, or how many readers will be in attendance, I post a preorder link. Not only does this give me a better idea of how many books to bring, but it also raises my visibility and increases reader appetite for my books.

I send reader SWAG ahead to be included in the VIP bags. I create SWAG to hand out to everyone I meet once I get there.

In other words, I do everything I can to raise my profile for those who will attend the signing. I’ve mentioned before that it generally takes seven touches to move a reader from their first encounter to purchase. This is true for all products, but it may be especially true for books.

So, why didn’t I do most of these things this time?

First off, I didn’t know I was going to be able to attend until quite late in the game. I usually register for a signing and put a deposit (at least) on my table up to a year in advance. This time, I only had about a month, and I didn’t realize I would have a table until about two weeks prior. (To be clear, this was my fault, not the organizer’s. I simply missed the memo.) My goal this time was to raise my editor visibility, rather than my author visibility.

So, my lesson for future events is: if readers will be there, prepare as if it is a signing, even if the hat you plan to wear says Editor. That way, you won’t end up invisible.

Book Signing Basics

August 1-4, 2019

Next weekend I will be privileged to attend Indie Book Fest. There will be parties, readers, events, a knowledge-packed industry day and — Ta Ta Daaah — a signing!

I am even more excited than usual about this signing because I didn’t think I was going to get to go. Scheduling conflicts and the demon money had conspired to keep me home that weekend, but somehow, the signing gods smiled upon me and I GET. TO. GO!

This has resulted in a flurry of last-minute preparation including swag creation and multiple boxes hitting the mail. What kind of preparation and why is it so important, you may ask.

Books: This seems like a no-brainer, but they do take time and money to order. In addition, how many to take with you is an important question. Many events have a reader group where you can place a pre-order list. Do it. Having people sign up to purchase a book guarantees them a copy, and it brings them to your table. Take the opportunity to get to know them a little — this is, after all, what they came for. There’s also the possibility that they will see another book they’d like to purchase while they are with you.

If you are an author who only does e-books, going to a signing should provide an incentive to create paperbacks. You could – and likely should – create cards with QR codes for those who prefer e-books, but I advise against making this the only option at your table.

Most readers come to signings specifically to get a signed book…

Most readers come to signings specifically to get a signed book in their hand. Disappointing them is not a good idea. IngramSpark, Amazon, Draft2Digital and a number of other resources such as Vellum, can help with providing print copies, but you need to give yourself plenty of time. (I used to use Createspace, but it has been subsumed by Amazon, and I have yet to check out their new service, so I can’t advise you here. I would love to hear about your experience with creating print books in the comments.)

SWAG: I always send swag ahead for readers. This time, because I get to facilitate a workshop on writing action scenes, and sit on an editing panel, I also sent swag for my author peeps. All of this took time and money to create.

Brand recognition is the name of the game.

Why do it?

Because name recognition is the name of the game. It has been said that it takes seven touches – seven times that the client sees your product or name in a favorable light – to move them from awareness to purchase. Useful SWAG keeps your name in front of them longer, and every time they see it or use it is a touch. Just make sure that every piece of SWAG has your contact info on it.

Signage: Banners will get you noticed by new readers while telling your devoted fans where to find you. Don’t leave home without yours. Small signs for the table are important too. Price lists and sale signs give the reader an excuse to linger while providing necessary information without them having to ask. Don’t hesitate to engage them in conversation while they read the signs! Meeting you and other authors is why they are there in the first place.

Cash box and card reader: You will have a lot harder time making sales without these. The more convenient you can make things for the reader, the better, and while many bring cash, others don’t. Being able to provide change and take credit cards can be make-or-break points for your sale.

The signing is a week away, but I’ve already started going down my checklist, making sure I have everything I need. I usually take the same things, so you would think packing would become routine after a while. However, it never fails but that I forget something, hence the checklist.

Making your table welcoming and engaging is key to signing success. There are a lot of ways to do it. But having the right materials in place is a key component.

So, when is your next signing and what are you taking?

The Write Place

One of the interesting challenges to being an author has to do with working at home.

On the one hand, YAY for no commute. And being able to work in one’s pajamas when the mood strikes is no small perk either.

On the other hand, your home is, well, your home. People tend to live there. This generally translates to frequent interruptions and a high level of frustration for the writer. And probably for the family members, but let’s be honest. This post isn’t about them. Or, ok, maybe it is, but only marginally.

The point is, most writers I know manage to create some sort of writing cave. Methods and locations vary, but the necessity of having a dedicated space to practice the craft is indisputable. Writers who don’t have a designated writing area tend not to write much, nor for very long.

For some, it’s the corner of their bedroom, tricked out with a small desk and a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Others utilize various partitioning devices such as a Japanese room divider or a tall bureau to cordon off space.

Still others commandeer the rare and elusive “spare-bedroom.” Of course, this requires a good bit of moxy and determination to hold on to. Spare rooms tend to double as guest rooms, subject to random and unavoidable occupation by person or persons unknown. Even when they aren’t occupied, these rooms are nearly always catch-alls for things no one can find a place for but are inexplicably reluctant to get rid of.

Ok, probably not this tiny, but you get the idea.

For the very lucky few, there is the home office. This too can be a room in your home, the difference being that it is a room specifically for your business. No bed. No dresser – unless said dresser holds crafting supplies for the creation of signing swag.

Of course, such an interior location is still easily accessible to other family members, thus providing opportunities for continual interruptions the likes of which are never seen in conventional (that is to say, not at home) offices. Therefore, the most important element of the designated room is the door. Equip it with a sturdy lock and a sign outside that reads, “If there isn’t blood before you knock, there may be after.” If that doesn’t do the trick, consider propping a lightly bloodied axe outside the door. That ought to get the message across.

Aw, come on. I’m just kidding.

Mostly.

Ahem. Even better, IMHO, is the detached office, colloquially known as the tiny house. It is more expensive than other options but provides a dedicated space with fewer distractions. At least, that is the goal. You may still need the sign.

And that is the point of my blog post. In a few short weeks, my new writer’s cottage will be a reality. I am, understandably, enchanted with this idea.

My hope is that it will give me a bit of separation between my business and personal lives, providing a hideaway where there is quiet, and enough peace to write for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch.

Right now it’s just a large pile of lumber, but this is what it is intended to look like when finished.

I did have my office set up in our Florida room. However, as summer marches on, the heat out there negated the benefits of the view and the occasional quiet. So, at the moment, my office is located in what is supposed to be our dining room. It doesn’t have a door, but it is air-conditioned. (A must in Florida, for obvious reasons.) Here is where the magic happens until such time as my writer’s cottage is complete. And I’m ok with that.

So, writer friend, where do you write? Tell me about it in the comments.

While you’re doing that, I’ll go look for my sign. I know I have it here somewhere…

And so it begins…

Show vs. Tell

“They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.” I don’t know who said that, but they are right. And they are wrong too, but not the way you might think.

Writers are constantly told, “show, don’t tell,” nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. Some of the most popular books of previous eras were nearly all tell. Look at Pride and Prejudice (Austin) or Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus) by Shelley. Both stories are handily “told” and both are great stories, now considered classics. In fact, in that day and age, the structure of nearly all novels was that of a tale well told. The only place a reader was shown a story was on the stage. And people liked it that way.

However, I would venture to guess that, were they submitted to a publisher today, these classics might never make it to publication.  There is no doubt that time and tastes have changed. Modern readers tend to want to be dumped into the story en medias res as they say. We want instant gratification. Show us someone jumping out of a plane, THEN tell us why he’s doing it.

With that in mind, what are some ways to show the story rather than telling it?

  • Dialogue: Having once character mention/explain/inform another of something is showing what is happening, despite the fact that someone is getting told. Not only can dialogue move the plot along, it provides opportunities for character building, revealing motivation, foreshadowing, exposition and a host of other things. Consider using voice and action tags to convey emotion. For instance:
  • “You don’t have to tell me.” Sara blew a jet of air into her bangs, sending them floating.

Or

  • “You don’t have to tell me.” Sara grinned at him and laid a possessive hand on his arm.

Setting: Location, time, weather, etc. are all important elements in a story. But how you use them can be vital to building mood and tone, as well as providing opportunities for world building.

  • It was noon on the fourth of July. The weather was hot and humid in the city park.

Or

  • The clock in its tower chimed twelve times, heat rippling off the pale brick church-front in waves. Sara tugged the pink t-shirt away from her damp skin and swiped a hand along her hairline. It came away as wet as if she’d been standing in a downpour, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Action: Telling gets all the information out there quickly and succinctly, but showing action adds color and emotional dimension in ways that telling can’t. Especially when used with rich imagery, showing connects the reader to the character.

  • He walked toward the building, turning left along the concrete pathway. He felt irritated that he had to come here, but resigned. He snagged his pants on a rosebush. The fabric tore, making him even angrier.

Or

  • He slouched along the concrete path that led to the building, muttering protestations under his breath. A tug on his pants leg turned his attention down. He’d caught the cuff on a rose brier. Swearing darkly, he jerked the material free, ripping it in the process.

Don’t get me wrong. Telling has its place. It provides a method of quickly giving information and sometimes, that’s just what’s needed. For deeper engagement and a breathtaking scene, an author’s best bet is show, however.

Both show and tell are tools in the author’s chest. The trick is deciding which is best for the needs of the scene.

Rejection Reaction

Any author who has seriously considered the traditional publishing route for their work has felt it. The skin-tightening anticipation of waiting for a response from an agent or publisher. It’s like the ‘they love me, they love me not,’ game but without the daisy.

So, way back when, I sent out my share of submissions, and like everyone, waited for a response. The first time I received a reply from an agent was quite the experience, but not for the reasons you might think.

I read the response just before heading for bed, having gotten it late in the evening. Because I am an imagination junkie and cannot help myself, I had given a lot of worried thought to how I would react when the responses came in. My fantasies were divided into two categories: yeahs and nays.

Depending on the agent’s response, the possibilities ranged from, “yes, well, I always knew success was inevitable,” (too-cool-for-success sunglasses flip and hair toss) to stoic “I’ll nail it next time” acceptance before galloping along to the gibbering, sobbing puddle of glee (or angst) that was by far the most likely outcome regardless of the agent’s verdict.

Or at least, that’s what I thought. But I was wrong, because none of that happened.

I shared the news with my husband, brushed my teeth and hair, and went to bed. No tears, no angst. Nothing, nada, zip. Ok, to be honest, yes, I was disappointed. The agent in question was my first choice and it would have been awesome had she been interested. But two phrases kept circling my brain like a warm fleece blanket in a snowstorm.

One: They will all reject you except the right one. A friend told me that when I was debating whether to even attempt the traditional publishing route and she had a point. No matter which method we choose (indie or trad), connecting with people who will support our art in the right ways is vital. One should never work with anyone on a project without shared vision and goals. Disinterest in your project is a good indicator that this agent/publisher/editor, whatever, isn’t the one for you.

Two: A rejection letter doesn’t mean your work sucks. What a refusal actually means is that it wasn’t the right piece for this particular agent/publisher/magazine, etc. for any number of reasons. It really, truly, honestly, isn’t personal.

Like so many of the things we are most passionate about, it is the work that is most important. We need to remember that. Success as the world defines it is far less important than success as we create it. So, whatever your definition, keep working towards success. And in the meantime, happy writing.

Three Ways to Fill the Well

We – meaning the family and I, but I’m sure the statement can be applied universally – have been busy lately.

We had visitors, and took a trip to Disney. Both great things and I enjoyed them very much, but neither was conducive to keeping up with a weekly blogging schedule. Add in doctor appointments and the regular everyday routine, and I’m sure you get the picture. 

The long and short is, not a lot of writing got done. As in, none. Zero. Which I could sit around feeling bad about, if I wanted. 

Don’t worry. I don’t want. 

Because the truth is, it’s good to step away once in a while. The mind and the soul need to rest on occasion, and it’s smart to pay attention to that.

A lot of writers talk about “filling the creative well,” and there are a couple of ways to do that.

Way #1:

Take a day trip to a new place, or revisit a favorite. One of my faves is Saint Augustine. This is the oldest continuously occupied city in the U.S. At various stages of its long history, it has belonged to no less than three different countries, including the United States,  and it teams with history, art and culture. Not to mention a number of ghosts. 

Way #2

Indulge in a different art form. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to say to create in order to refill your creativity, but it works. I love quilting. The fabrics, the colors, the myriad designs one can use to make something beautiful as well as functional – these elements appeal to me in a fundamental way. And working with my hands refreshes my mind. Whether you enjoy painting, photography, pottery or something that doesn’t start with a P, you will find that it does the same for you.

Way #3

Read. Your genre, or something else, but for pleasure. Reading resets the mind and nourishes the soul, enhancing creativity and adding inspiration. 

You can also take time with friends, in nature or enjoying some entertainment such as a movie or a concert. Anything that you enjoy which gives your mind and spirit a break. 

Whatever you choose, make it a priority. Your soul, and your writing, will benefit from it.

Avoiding the BPP

Did you ever have a less than enjoyable reading experience? One that left you just a bit disgruntled? Yeah. Me too, often as a result of my Biggest Pet Peeve. My BPP, literarily speaking at least, is a novel that reads like a rough draft.

You know the ones.

My BPP, literarily speaking...
My BPP, literarily speaking…

Those books that could have been mind-blowingly fantastic with the help of a few additional drafts and a good editor/critique partner, but instead fall into the dismal realm of the underwhelming? Novels that, well, to be frank, have one or more of the following foibles:

The over-tell. When I read a good novel, I literally see the story in my mind as if it were playing out on a movie screen. When the author peeks around the curtain and tells me what a character is doing/thinking/feeling or worse, why he’s doing/thinking/feeling it, I want to shush him. (The author, not the character.) Show me what is happening and then be quiet and let me watch the movie.

Poor voice. Every character should have a unique voice and manner. The reader should be able to tell the difference between a child and an alien by the way they talk. Nothing takes me out of a story quicker than a four-year-old talking like a physics instructor. Unless the child is an alien, which would explain everything. The same goes for the character’s actions. If a hero who has been stalwart and stoic through the first three chapters breaks out suddenly into an unprovoked temper fit, I’m not just going raise an eyebrow. I’m going to put down the book.

Mono-voice. This is a form of poor voice which occurs when all the characters in a novel sound and act alike. Unless you are writing about the Borg, everyone needs to be an individual, and that difference needs to go beyond their names and hair color.

White-Washout. I need the characters in a book to reflect the diversity I see in the world. Not everyone is a Straight, White Male with huge biceps and a Razor-Sharp Wit. I love seeing strong female leads, POCs, folks with disabilities, LGBTQ characters, and any combination of the above. I enjoy reading these characters because my real world experience is populated by people just like them. I know a few SWMs too, so they can stay, but let’s not be exclusive, ok? Oh, and any character with an RSW is fine by me. RDJ? Step into my parlor.

So much for the negative. What makes reading a novel my favorite form of entertainment? Writing that shows rather than tells, solid settings that ground me in place and time so I can relax and enjoy the story, empathetic characters (I don’t have to like them, but I need to be able to understand them), a plot where something important is at stake, and voices that I recognize as real.

If you want to write more diverse characters and aren't sure where to start...
If you want to write more diverse characters and aren’t sure where to start…

One other thing – If you want to write more diverse characters and aren’t sure where to start, there’s a mini-conference coming up June 22 – 23, 2019 at the Hilton, Orlando/Altamonte Springs. They have four presenters, including an advocate for persons with disabilities, professional authors and a literary agent. You can find more information, including prices and a registration link here.  I’m going and you should join me. It’s hosted by the FWA and is sure to be a dynamite event.