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A WRITER’S BREAK

May 2, 2013

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We all need them.  But odd advice, no?  When the prescription is usually write, write, write.  Read, read, study, learn.  Write, write, write. 

 

And nothing is more important than the above, no?  But once you’ve finally finished that novel or book-length non-fiction, and hopefully have sent it off to that developmental editor, taking a break from writing follows next. 

 

Working with a true editor takes time.  And the very best thing you can do at this point is to forget entirely about that work, and inhale long and deep.  And not a drive-around-the-lake kinda breath, or a quick trip to Starbucks.  Nope, now’s the time for an extended one; a place for your mind to cool a bit from the frenzy and let the chaotic miasma unravel and come back to rest. 

 

Otherwise—and I promise you this—you’ll maim the baby on the page.  This is where writers so often tell me they want to revise the manuscript one more time even though they’re unable to process the words and find themselves doing some version of paragraph one above.  But they just can’t let go, can’t back away, are afraid everything is not exactly right and if that’s the case, the writing police will find and cite them for some awful unforgivable infraction.  Yep, the root of all this is fear, and fear such as this does not accomplish one good thing. 

 

Writers freak at this extended break!  Eight entire weeks?  Of not working?  And I know I have just sprouted horns in their images of me.  But, in a word, yes.  Once you’ve devolved to circling your brain with words you don’t remember knowing, that break is mandatory.

 

I always take this time to just read.  You know—all those books and stories you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had the time?  The perfect antidote for not writing is reading great books.  Of course, in my world, that’s pretty much the perfect antidote for everything up to and including a nuclear holocaust, but that’s another story! 

 

Or see all those friends/family who’ve been wondering if you still exist or have literally become a vampire since you’re never seen in daylight and your skin’s turned ghostly pale.  You know—those folks you ostensibly love and who’re now doubting that fact. 

 

In other words, go play.  Take a cooking class.  Hike Mt. Everest (okay, you’ve ostensibly just done that, so maybe scale back to the Appalachian Trail J Let your creative psyche decompress and heal and remember what joy is.  Partake of life and all its abundance again, and feel the gratitude that comes with that.  Which is exactly how you dispel the guilt piled on by the demons of writing who crucify you for not working. Being grateful shuts them smooth up πŸ™‚

 

Because when the time comes to dig back into rewrite and revision, when the novel editor sends back your manuscript dripping in red blood, with a critique that reads like a mini-book, you’re going to need your resources.  Being fresh, feeling strong, champing again at the bit to dive back into book development will serve you in more ways than I can count.  

 

And the funniest result of your extended time off?  When you get back to it, your subconscious creative mind has actually been working all that time, and what bubbles up from there is better, stronger, more wonderful and delightful than you ever thought you could write.  Now, that’s something be thankful for.  

AGAINST ALL ODDS

January 10, 2013

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Breaking into Traditional publishing has always been tough.  Always.  In this day of instant publishing, sometimes we forget that in days of yore, a writer could struggle for years, decades to finally sell that manuscript and become a real book author.  Indeed, if that ever happened at all.   This road has always been long and perilous, with the vast majority of writers dropping by the wayside, later if not sooner.  Monsters and gargoyles and trolls block every single turn, both internally and externally.   But then, grasping for the brass ring has humbled the greatest of us to our knees. 

 

And, nothing has changed, really.  Although the technology and the business model and all of that have taken off in directions unforeseen when I began in this business, getting Traditionally published is similarly difficult today as it always has been.  More so, yes.  Due to sinking print sales and burgeoning self-pubbed books, the Traditional market has shrunk some.  Lists are tighter.  Competition more fierce.  As a book editor buddy of mine at a major house is fond of saying, “We’re only publishing existing authors—and preferably if they’re dead.”   He says this with a straight face too.   And their sales numbers bear it out. 

 

Yet and still, folks are getting Traditionally published every day.  So, how do they do it? 

 

Hard work, fortitude, and persistence.  Is it that simple?  Yes. 

 

The hard-work part comes in up front.  It’s tough to write well.  It’s really tough.  The vast sea of self-pubbed work out there is actually pretty awful.  I get complaints from readers every single day: “I can’t find anything decent to read.”  And while this has been the case for some time now (don’t get me started on the Bestseller’s List), it’s a million times worse now.  Literally.   As I’m fond of saying: “Writing really IS rocket science.”   And this hard work never ends—you must keep growing and learning and improving as a writer.  Mastering book development is a life-long process. 

 

If you don’t have fortitude, you won’t have the persistence to keep at it.  I know so, so many writers with talent who finally quit, unable to bear the soul-wrenching rejection time after time, year after year.  Yes, humbling.  But we all know fifty stories about famous authors who wallpapered their offices with rejections.   It really does, in the end, just take one “yes.” 

 

I began working with a new novelist a few years ago, Randy Mitchell, who self-published his novel, Sons in the Clouds.   Randy wanted a Traditional contract, but decided to get the book out there, promote it, and see where it went.  First he honed his craft, revising and revising.  Once the book came out, he’s been relentless, persistent, unbowed by the pressure.  Well, okay, so perhaps it has bothered him, but not one time has he whined or complained—he just keep digging in.  He got on top of social-media, and kept banging away.  And lo and behold, his novel sold to a Traditional house, and will be published in 2013!   Great job, Randy! 

 

About ten years ago, I began working with a talented young man (he was just a kid at the time. Okay, so he’s still just a kid to me, at 30!).  Kevin Porter had written a good YA novel, and had worked and worked to learn the craft.  We never got that one sold, but Kevin kept writing.  He wrote a Mid-Grade novel, which is indeed beautifully done.  Unfortunately, it has no vampires or werewolves in it.  Which of course made his battle a steep uphill one.   Did that bother Kevin?   All I can say is he never whined or complained.  He kept querying and kept sending and built up a social media presence with his blog at The Examiner http://www.examiner.com/writing-in-washington-dc/kevin-porter  And also in 2013, his wonderful Mid-Grade novel, Missing, is being published by a Traditional house.  Great job, Kevin! 

 

Did it take ten tons of work for both of these talented writers to get published?  You bet’cha.  Did they succeed, seemingly against all odds?  Oh, lordy yes.  But the point is, they did it.  Never, ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done.  You have two great guys right here who say it can.   

STRUCTURE AND THE NOVEL: Those Dreaded Sagging Middles

August 23, 2012

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WRITER’S CONFERENCES IN THE BRAVE NEW WORLD

July 26, 2012

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Last weekend I spoke at the first annual Lexicon Writer’s Conference, which promises to be a big player as time goes on.  I’m a conference proponent, as I’ve blogged about before.  The information is almost always useful, and the networking, a huge boon.

 

But as the publishing world changes, so too do writers conferences.  Yes, they still offer sessions on the nuts-and-bolts of writing, author panels that address experiences, expert sessions on technical issues such as police procedures or poison deaths in mysteries, research for historical novels, etc.   The focus is still on writing great and believable books.  But a seismic shift has occurred in the “business” angle these days.  Because before, the focus regarding that was on agents and publishing-house editors.   And now, given equal billing (and sometimes more), that focus is on self-publishing—addressing book printers and book covers and e-book conversions and marketing the finished product.  Today, as we’ve seen the e-book revolution turn traditional publishing on its head, writers come looking for not only writing tips, but also entrepreneurial skills and business acumen. 

 

Wow, what a brave new world it really is!  We’ve all watched our “revolution” spin publishing in a 180-degree different orbit, in such a very short time.   And this was the first conference at which I’ve spoken that has changed direction with it.  

 

While so very many of the old stand-by conferences have shrunk to mere skeletons of themselves, or disappeared entirely, Mitch Haynes, the mastermind behind Lexicon, has formed a new model.  And that model was not only successful last weekend, but will be hugely so in the future.  

 

We are in a new world.  And as has happened since time immemorial, those who adapt progress.  I won’t talk about the dinosaurs regarding everyone else πŸ™‚  

 

Another thing that was in stark contrast with this conference was the camaraderie.  At so many in the past, writers entered wide-eyed with terror at having to convince agents and editors of their books’ worth.  Because those folks spelled life or death for any writer’s dream.  And while I always work with my writers about letting go of that fear (agents and editors are just normal folks, trying to make a living as well), it’s an uphill battle.  The thing in most stark contrast for me, however, was that at conferences of old, you could feel the competition between writers, as if there were only a precious few seats at the table (which in reality, there were), and one had to “best” another writer to grab that spot.  This isn’t true, of course, as agents and editors just look for something they can sell!  But writers felt the pressure nonetheless, and often left feeling jaded and unappreciated.

 

At Lexicon, the attitude was 180 degrees opposite.  The feeling was that everyone was in this insanity together, and I can’t even list all the times I saw folks helping one another, making connections, touting each other.  “You’re selling how many books?  How’d you do that?”  Response, “Let me show you!”  

 

I’ll confess to being a true Pollyanna; I like for us to all get along.  But you have to remember I’m a pretty danged jaded editor myself, so when the converse happens, I’m not surprised.  However, when the true spirit of cooperation and support occurs, it makes my heart sing. 

 

Writing and publishing have always been such difficult endeavors.  And that remains—getting a truly publishable book out there requires copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears.  No way around that.  But how fabulous to watch writers finally be on the same team, cheering and helping one another along.

 

Now, that’s a brave new world I’m proud to be a part of!  

HOW TO WIN THE PUBLISHING GAME

June 12, 2012

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Publishing has always been a pretty bizarre business.  But with the advent of POD, then the e-book revolution and Social Media Marketing, it’s crazier than a three-ring monkey circus.  And for those folks trying to break in—via any of the avenues—it can just be plain big-bang chaotic.

 

I get emails almost every day from new writers, wanting their books published.  Far and away these days, they have very little if any understanding of Traditional publishing, of how that works, or of what is required to break into the industry.  “Publishing” to the masses is all sort of lumped into one big sea comprised of those three avenues above, and so often now new writers don’t know the differences. 

 

Kinda makes you hearken sometimes to those days of yore when one way existed: hone your craft, find an agent, who hopefully sells your manuscript to Random House, etc., and a check comes to your mailbox.  Now, before I get berated for keeping all those writers from getting their books out via the self-pubbing venues, I did say kinda.   Although Traditional publishing is still our gold standard, if you do the other two right, if you’re at the perfect place at the magic moment in time, you can still make a name for yourself, sell some books, and hopefully become successful.  Everyone points these days to Amanda Hocking, et al (and the et al is a few very writers).  But remember, what did Ms Hocking do when she became hugely successful?  She sold her books to St. Martin’s Griffin.  Plus, according to according to Bowker’s newest figures of books produced, last year there were 211,269 self-published titles (based on ISBNs) released, up from 133,036 in 2010.   That’s a lot of books yours will be competing with, and that number will just continue to rise. 

 

Did I mention the Traditional route is still the gold standard?

 

But the point is that coming in, new writers have no clue.  And there’s an ocean of misinformation out there via writer’s groups on all of the social-media sites.  I’ve perused those from time to time, and it truly is the blind leading the blind, with very few (if any) people there who have an actual clue of how the industry works.  Much less, any understanding of the differences in a copy editor vs a developmental editor.

 

It’s sort of always been like this for writers.  Trying to break in, not knowing where to turn, getting advice that seems sound, new writers have always gone down rocky roads that led to dead ends.  But the good new for those in the past is that it took so long to get published (which only a fraction of a percent ever did), that usually folks did learn the ropes before tying up vast sums of dollars in production, marketing, editing (hopefully, although it’s far too enticing for most people to “get the book out” quickly, rather than to put out a great book) as they do now. 

 

New writers used to spend their dollars going to writer’s conferences (which are hurting now, as who needs agents or publishers!), where enormous time was given to sessions on the “business” of the business, by agents.  On learning the craft, from novel editors.  On understanding what the genres consisted of, the categories and sub-categories within them.  On learning what the heck publishing a book was all about. 

 

Now, I hear from folks every day who have no understanding of this business, no clue as to the differences in editing (see my last blog!  LOL), what constitutes ghostwriting, and worse, not really caring about the book itself, to the point of wanting the editor to input the changes.  If you truly care about what you’re writing, would you want someone else to physically change/rewrite for you, to the point that you wouldn’t even approve the changes before they were keyed in?   When I pointed out to one writer that what she was seeking was a ghostwriter, the going rate for which was 15-30K, she informed me that I was incorrect, and anyone charging that was a scam.  And that she could get “real” editing for $1,000.   She’d been reading articles and engaging in online groups. 

 

I could only laugh.  I know there’re a ton of scams out there.  Lord knows, I know!  But there are also a lot of actual industry professionals as well, who have been in the trenches, in the industry, know the business, and can at least help you sort the fact from the bs—of which an ocean roils to bury the truth. 

 

Publishing is a very structured and complicated business, all the way around.  It somewhat boggles the mind how truly ill-informed new writers are these days, compared to those who at least wanted to learn about book development, the industry, and how to succeed.  While trying to explain the vast differences in getting a self-published book distributed, as opposed to a traditionally published one, to a new writer, I came upon pretty much the same brick wall. She had no clue what I was talking about in regard to book distribution, and told me that she’d been reading articles and a lot of people are making money on self-published books.  I.e., she didn’t understand what I was even talking about, and rather than ask questions, she informed me how the business worked! 

 

But in the end, these will all fail.  Yikes, I said it.  And it’s what the self-publishing houses know, and would never tell you.  They count on you selling to your friends and family only, and the 100 copies you must initially buy makes these presses a lot of money.  

 

Tried and true methods are still in place here, and new models for success emerging as well.  The thing is, you have to learn about them, know how to use them, bring a great product (book) to the table. 

Steven Lewis, a writer and blogger for the Taleist, produced its fascinating survey of more than 1,000 self-published authors last month. It shows that self-publishers who take the most professional approach to production – getting external help (editors, proofreaders, and cover designers) – make on average 34% more from their books.

In other words, new writers need guidance (from professionals) every bit as much as they did before the technological book revolution.   And this guidance just has to come before they put the book out, if they want to have any hope of succeeding.

 

So, study.  Learn the industry.  Join a physical writers’ group.  Attend conferences.  Seek professional editing.  Seek information from professionals in this business with credentials (again, see my last blog! πŸ™‚   Do all the things that all of the successful authors before you did to learn the craft and the business.  Then learn the social-media marketing world, and how to work that, again, long before the book comes out.

 

Kinda looks as though succeeding in publishing takes every bit as long as it once did  . . .:)

5 Tips for Finding a Freelance Editor

May 31, 2012

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All writers need good editors.  More and more, even in this age of immediate publication via e-books, writers are realizing this fact.  But one of the toughest problems they face these days is in finding good editors for their books.  Last Saturday Lawson Brooks III interviewed me on his radio blog show and we spent a fair amount of time talking about this very topic  

How do you sort through?  A few simple (although simple often doesn’t translate to easy:) points will help.

 

1. First and foremost, identify what sort of book editing services you’re seeking.  Manuscripts truly need developmental editing, which is far different from copyediting.  Yes, you’ll need a hard copy edit as well, but that’s the final stage, not the first or second ones.  It’s tough, tough, tough to learn this craft, and a great editor works as a writing coach as well.  For a longer explanation of the differences, see:  Why Developmental Editing

 The point is to get clear on your process, and that will help you target the right editor.  

 

2. What are her credentials?  Has she worked in publishing in some aspect?  Editing books for a publisher?  For an agent?   This is a big plus, as those editors know the market as well as what goes into selling a good book.  Books are more than the sum of their words, and the market is actually very rigid as per genre and category and sub-category.  In other words, you need someone who knows what she’s doing πŸ™‚ 

 

3. Successes.  Almost all “editors” out there list publishing successes on their websites.  But 99.9% of those include (or are limited to) self-published books.  Even though so many writers intend to self-publish, the key here is: Has she edited books that were sold to Traditional houses?  That’s absolutely huge.  Because it means the editor’s work has been vetted by professionals within the industry, and not just by the writer.  How have those books done in the market?  And review wise?  Dig deep here and the successful editors will begin to emerge.  

 

4. Testimonials and References.  Most editing sites include lists of testimonials.  But what you want to focus on are those from authors who have been Traditionally published, rather than only self-published ones.  Yes, it’s great that all those folks think their novel editor is marvelous.  But what did the industry think of their books?  Did the authors get publishing contracts from Traditional houses?  And, will the editor furnish you with references so that you can speak to some of them? 

 

5. Fixing the Problems.  Finally, has she written successfully herself?  Especially in developmental editing, this is truly key.  Because if she has done so, then she’ll know how to not only identify the problems (and teach you why they are problems), but also how to fix them.  I.e., she’s been down the road herself.  On an interesting note about this, almost all of my editor buddies at NY houses write on the side!  Many under pseudonyms, but almost all do in some capacity.  A great editor not only identifies what’s not working, but also can explain to you why, and most importantly, can identify ways to fix the problems, having already waded through those trenches herself.  

 

Whomever you work with will have a huge impact on your career, and we want that to be positive!  So, do your homework, see what’s out there, talk to successful folks about what editors they used, and you’ll find the right one for you.

 

Happy Editor Hunting! 

STRUCTURE AND THE NOVEL: The Opening Act

March 29, 2012

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