Before you publish, Part 6 – Editing

Before you Publish - 6

In the checklist I developed in the initial post to this series, I said that at a bare minimum, you need to use a grammar checking software like Grammarly, or a competent friend edit your work. Ideally, you’ll hire an editor. The thing about this is that an application like Grammarly is a pretty weak solution. There are a lot of things it doesn’t do or doesn’t do well. A lot of indie writers do their own editing just fine, but having a second opinion is an excellent idea. I absolutely fall into this category. For Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I did my own editing, assisted by Grammarly. While my grammar wasn’t so bad that folks put down my book, I have received feedback about the quality. Most were generic comments that didn’t help me actually make corrections, I did get a few specific comments, which I addressed. In the end, it points to how important it is to make sure your work is well-edited. You don’t really want most of your social media posts commenting on your lack of editing.

One of the things I am struggling with is the cost of editing. A book of 270 pages is likely to cost you $700-$1000. If you break this down by hour, you’re getting a great deal.  If you look at it by return on investment, you’ve expended every dollar your book will ever make and then another $500. I am of two minds on this. For my upcoming book, The Dark Queen of Darkness, I did hire an editor. Her rates were more than $700, but it’s a longer book, and we’ve done more than a basic copy edit. I think I got a fantastic deal on this, but I know now after looking at sales, I will never make this money back. That said, I feel like this was a necessary step. It’s one of those things that makes self-publishing incredibly hard. You want to look as professional as if you’d gone through a big publishing house, but you’re going to pay for it. In the end, it means you are going to pay someone else, and never see a dollar to the positive.

Alright, this is a bit hyperbolic. I’m looking at this from the perspective of releasing a single book, not the performance of the complete works of a writer across time. Practically speaking, if I publish loads of books, do well with advertising, and find my audience, I will probably make my investment back. However, it’s going to go better if I’ve spent the time and effort to properly edit my books. Nothing is more irritating to a reader than mentally editing a book as they read it. We can all put up with a few errors, but more than a hand-full and it’s obnoxious to the point of not being something that can be read.

I think my whole point on editing is that you need to consider, as a writer, you might be too close to the work to edit it well. Consider having someone else do that for you. It might not help your bottom line, but remember, this is a long game. You’re not going to make a living right out of the gate, but if you don’t take quality control seriously, you may find readers just aren’t interested.

What has been your experience as a writer? Do you think self-editing is perfectly fine?

Before you publish, Part 5 – Beta Readers

Before you Publish - 5

In the checklist I put together in the initial post to this series, I had a bullet about incorporating the feedback from readers of your work before you’ve published. For everything I’m working on publishing, I’ve asked friends and family to read.

To co-opt a saying picked up from someone else, the reader isn’t always right, but they are always the reader. You could also use, where there is smoke there is fire. The point here is that your beta-readers might make observations or commentary that simply isn’t helpful to improving the narrative, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem. It’s true that sometimes, your readers simply didn’t engage with the characters or story and are responding to things in a hyper-critical fashion that should give you pause, but don’t necessarily translate into workable revisions. The flip-side of that coin is critical observations DO need to be addressed. We, as writers, have to identify the difference between readers who just don’t like the writing and those who are pointing out fundamental flaws. The takeaway is that we need to make sure issues are dealt with before we publish.

From my perspective, I take every criticism seriously. As I just said, where there is smoke, there is fire. If a reader tells me that a character isn’t working or a bit of plot doesn’t make sense, I revise the work. Often, this results in a better story. Sometimes, the suggestions weaken the story or chip away at the conflict and effectively water-down the plot. This is why you need to have more than one person read your work. If 9 people tell you this bit was good and 1 person gives you a 10-page diatribe as to why it wasn’t. You take the 10-page diatribe seriously while keeping in mind that 90% of your readers didn’t see it that way. Plus, as the writer, you get to choose – did that really seem to work? Did the revision addressing it result in a better book? Is that criticism productive, or did the reader simply not like it for some reason? This is hugely important, and you have to seriously think about it, but you can’t actually decide if the feedback is helpful unless you make an attempt to incorporate the recommendations.

For every book I’ve sent out for readers to review, I’ve had at least 1 reader that didn’t like it. You can usually tell. Often, if they didn’t like the work, they won’t finish it. Sometimes they ‘finish it’ in the sense that they powered through, but stopped actually reading at some point. This happened to me with my upcoming book, The Dark Queen of Darkness. I had one reader who just didn’t care for it. I asked what he thought of the ending, and he couldn’t say because he stopped engaging somewhere in the middle. Other readers went on to explain what character they liked the best. What this told me was less about revisions and more about the audience. This is another essential aspect of having beta-readers, which I’ll delve into in a later post.

Frequently though, you will get consistent feedback involving flat characters, weak plots, or other things. A writer who is unprepared for that criticism will often shrug it off or blister at it. You can’t do this, even if you disagree right out of the gate. Every bit of feedback is helpful and should be seriously addressed. Sometimes, you don’t do anything with it, but most of the time, you should be making revisions.

If you haven’t sent your book out for review, it’s not ready for publication. This is one of the most emphatic things I can say about self-publishing. I suspect a lot of indie writers will disagree, but from where I sit, it’s one of the most valuable steps in the process. If I could get more feedback, I would.

What do you think? Do you have a different experience?

Before you publish, Part 4 – The pitch

Before you Publish - 4

In the initial post to this series, I suggested you need to have developed and memorized both a 5 and 30-second pitch for your book. Actually, you need this for all of your books. I am embarrassed to say that I am horrible at this. In the month or so since releasing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I’ve realized just how important this is. If you ignore every bit of advice anyone ever gives you on publishing, this bit had better not be ignored. Imagine the following situation.

Them: You wrote a book? Cool, what’s it about?

Me: Um… Like witches and stuff.

Them: …

Me: …

No sale. You really need to do the following:

Them: You wrote a book? Cool, what’s it about?

Me (5-second pitch): The book is about a regular guy who unexpectedly becomes a witch hunter, and everything goes totally wrong.

Them: how does everything go wrong?

Me: Rick Basket is an FBI investigator who gets transferred to a witch-hunting unit. He meets a red-headed wine bar owner, who helps him find witches, ruins his marriage, and gets him into a chase with a witch that nearly gets him killed. Every step of the way he finds even more witches and all of them seem hell-bent on seeing him dead.

These aren’t the best possible pitches. I know the content of the book, and it’s almost painful to distill the content of the story into just a few breaths. However, it’s essential. I can’t tell you how many times in the past month I’ve been asked: What’s it about? and I’ve stumbled all over the narrative trying to give folks a quick two-breath description that communicates the plot. Every writer is going to struggle with this. Sometimes, the story lends itself to a short description, and it’s a relatively straightforward task to communicate this. A fantastic case example might be The Martian by Andy Weir. Think about his potential pitch:

(The Martian 5-second pitch) It’s about a man stuck on Mars, trying to survive long enough for a rescue mission to get him home.

I could give a 30-second pitch on this, but it’s not my book, so it seems weird. The point is, some stories are going to be easier than others. I mean, could you imagine trying to get a 5-second pitch for something like the Game of Thrones? Yeah, me either.

I want to point out that these are incredibly hard to do well. It takes a lot of work to get them right and rattle them off without having to think too hard or stumble. All that said, if you go to publish, whether it be indie, or traditional. You MUST have all of this nailed down. This is a sales pitch. It’s not just a sales pitch for your book, remember, as an author, you’re selling YOU and your ability to tell stories more than an individual book.

What’s been your experience with the pitch? As an author, do you have any sage wisdom? Leave a comment.