Write, Edit, Publish

72755_platen_print_lg.gifYou’ll often hear independent authors complain that they can’t be just writers; they have to be business-minded, too. Yes, it would be nice to simply be an artist and have a team to support you. A kindly editor who could bring out your best writing. An amazing graphic artist to not only create your cover but format your book — for print and every digital platform known to man. A hawkeyed proofreader to catch every gaff. A powerhouse publicist to promote your great work. A pit bull of an attorney to go after everyone selling a bootleg copy of what you worked so hard to put out. An accountant to rake in your dough and a savvy broker to invest it in all the right places.

Alas, even if you had a book deal, that scenario doesn’t really exist but for the very best of the best-sellers.

To be honest, I’m so much of a control freak, I really don’t mind flying solo. Don’t get me wrong — I have amazing friends who step up and step in to help me with graphic design for my covers and proofreading the flaws I can no longer see. It does take a village, and sometimes that village can cost a pretty penny. Indie authors are rich in creativity, but often times broke when it comes to time and money. It’s hard to come up with the cash to pay for the help needed, or find the time (and usually money, too) to learn the software and skills to truly be DIY, and present your work in a polished and professional manner.

There are many books and blogs (hi!), and “experts” who will give (or sell) their advice on the subject. It behooves an indie author to keep abreast of what’s happening in our industry because it changes so rapidly. Let me tell you, it’s a whole other universe now compared to when I published my first book in 2006. Back then, I was a bit of an expert. Sort of a groundbreaker. I learned quickly to stay away from “vanity press” and found “the” digital printer (the company who did it for the majors), spent time and money to set it all up (all told, it was about $1200), got my book into Virgin Megastores (thanks to a friend’s connection) and then into Barnes & Nobel (because it was in Virgin Megastore). It was a lot of work done in a short time, but it was also quite exciting. In 16 weeks, I went from an idea to a published book. Next thing I knew, Cosmopolitan called. [Side note: As exciting as that was, I never saw a huge bump in sales when my book was mentioned in magazines. Sad but true. Hope your luck is better.] Back then, the world was smaller, social media was a quaint little neighborhood, and there were actually bookstores on corners. A lot of them. And they actually bought books. Even little pink ones.

Ten years later, when I published my novel, the world had changed — especially that of independent publishing. I had gone from “expert” to head-scratcher and wheels-spinner. In the time between publishing my second book (mid-2016) and my third (mid-2017), even more has changed. I started doing a great deal of market research and more “work” on the publishing and promotion side of things, which has slowed down the progress on my fourth book (my second novel that I still fantasize will be out by year’s end…don’t worry, I’m laughing, too).

There are many ways to go about this independent author thing, but here’s what I would like to recommend as of today (14 September 2017, approximately 8:00 p.m. PDT):

  • WRITE on Scrivener
  • EDIT on Word
  • PUBLISH with Pronoun

Here’s why:

Scrivener is both loved and hated (and I both love and hate it) by authors of all ilks (and a simple Google search will send you to their tribes). It has quirks and a learning curve, but it also provides some nifty tools and allows you to write on the fly — which is why I love it. You can access your Scrivener files from Dropbox and then write with your Scrivener app from your computer or iPhone or iPad…whatever you’ve got handy, as long as it’s Apple (sorry PC people). This is great when your dinner date is late or you’re doing a load of laundry and an idea strikes — just grab your phone and jot it down. You’ll never waste time in a waiting room again reading old People or playing Angry Birds. Also, it’s pretty cheap for what it offers. (If you’re anti-Apple, you may want to look into Pressbooks for similar, write-on-the-fly access and publishing ease. It’s free to use until you go to publish, then you can select your options.)

Word is something just about everyone is forced to have and, if you’re serious about writing, you’re going to need to get it. There’s really no way to work around it because the person who edits for you will want to work from it. Good editors/proofreaders are a stodgy lot who love tradition and hate change, which is why we adore them. Once you have done your own edits and polish (you really, really want to do this before sending out your work), export your Scrivener manuscript to Word and send it to your proofreader for a Track Changes edit. Accept or reject what you get back, and then you’re ready to publish.

Pronoun is getting really great reviews, so I will be publishing my next novel on it, and will also be using it to put my other books into the many markets they aren’t in currently (hello, Nook and B&N). Pronoun is free (that’s right) and is a subsidiary of MacMillan (that’s right). If your book does well enough, you just might catch the attention of a major and end up with that dreamed-of book deal and a super squadron of support. Or, you just might have an easier time formatting for digital and print, and getting your book out there to as many markets as you can in one simple step. Which is what’s most important (to me).

Of course, tomorrow there might be another wonderful platform announced, and well…

But, no matter what you choose to use, you need to stop reading right now and start writing. Seriously. Get to it.

License to Kill (Your Darlings)

Psycho-1-1140x475.jpgBeing a good writer is any author’s goal. You struggle over every word, wanting every scene, every description to be as close to perfection as humanly possible. But, in today’s writing market, whether you are seeking out traditional publishing or doing it independently, you also have to be a fantastic editor. Beyond proofreading, you need to hone the skills that will help you recognize what’s working, what’s not, why it’s not and what you need to do. Basically, you have to be an assassin–one who is fully prepared to kill your darlings.

We already know that writing is all about the rewriting, but (and I can’t stress this enough) it is also about reading. Authors have to read their work with a hypercritical eye and go for the flow. Your story needs to read smoothly and clearly. You want the reader to breeze through the page, turn to the next and not want to put down your book until it’s done. And, sadly, that can mean deleting some of your best and most beloved assemblage of verbiage.

In screenwriting, every word on the page must drive the story forward. If not, it’s cut. If it’s a detail that’s not absolutely needed, it’s cut. No matter how good the scene might be, what emotion it might evoke, if it doesn’t drive the story forward…

Many screenwriters crave the freedom of literary fiction so they can have room for a bit of purple prose every now and then. To be a fiction writer means you get to create a style and voice, a full expression of yourself. It’s almost like having your cake and eating it, too. And it can be too easy for a writer to go off the rails, become self-indulgent with tangents and flowery descriptions, scenes that take the reader nowhere all because the words are pretty.

Don’t be that writer.

The last thing you want readers to do is roll their eyes while reading your work. You want those orbs riveted to your words, not wondering why they hell you made those choices and dragged them away from the story.

Respect the reader. Kill your darlings.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hard thing to do. Very hard. But it must be done. It’s the only way to improve your work and have a better chance at standing out in a quite crowded and competitive field. If you’re ready to do the dirty work, here’s how:

1.) READ YOUR WORK. Yes, it’s that simple and obvious–and, yes, I know I’ve said this before–but it is too often overlooked. You have to read your work and be brutally honest about what’s not working and why. Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing a single word, deleting a sentence, moving a paragraph or seeing that the writing repeats itself, requiring a rewrite of one section and the deletion of another. Et, voila! You’re sorted. {By the way, I realize I do beat this deceased horse, but I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I read that haven’t been thoroughly read by their authors. Don’t glimpse. Don’t glance. Read it. Thank you.}

2.) CUT/PASTE/SAVE. If you can’t bear to simply delete, a Kill Your Darlings Cheat Sheet might be the weapon you need. I have a “Cuts and Edits” doc for each of my manuscripts to serve as a Potter’s Field of sorts. Having a place to put your darlings helps the ego to know that the beautiful prose you’re about to prune isn’t being thrown away but merely preserved “just in case” you do want it. I’ll admit that very rarely will I ever retrieve something from that doc, but I still like to have it handy. It makes hard decisions easier.

3.) WRITE AROUND IT. If you are damned determined to keep that darling in, you are going to have to structure everything around it to make it properly fit. I don’t recommend this, but it is an option. Chances are, after you put all that effort into shoe-horning that darling in, you’ll see the negative effect it has on that chapter and end up deleting it down the road. Sometimes the best lessons have to be learned the hard way. Write around it if you must.

4.) BE RUTHLESS. Why not? After all, they’re just words, and there are plenty of those lying about. Don’t be ruthless out of frustration; do it because you are brave. If it doesn’t work, cut it. If it’s not needed, cut it. If it doesn’t move you, cut it. Better writing just might come from it.

This isn’t easy. Not if you love what you’re writing. But killing off as many darlings as possible is necessary. Look, if you’re writing solely for yourself, you can be as indulgent as you’d like. But, if you want to have people read your work–especially paying readers–you have to view what you’re writing from their perspective.

Be that writer.

The Importance of Editing Yourself

Red PenIt’s probably right after you press Post, Upload, Publish or Send that the myriad of flaws in your writing are discovered. Suddenly, reality sets in, clouds part and you can see clearly. No matter how many times you might have glanced at your work, you missed a few things. Maybe more than a few things. Embarrassing gaffs. Amateur errors. But now, it’s out there.

Sure, you might be able to send a revision (unless it’s a pitch or an email to your boss), but that’s just as awful Andrew McCarthy’s reshoot wig at the end of Pretty in Pink. It calls way too much attention and it ain’t fooling anybody. Better decisions should have been made before you believed you were done.

Now humiliated, you start to kick yourself, bang head on desk because HOW ON EARTH DID YOU MISS THAT?!? But you did. And now it’s done. You sent out shoddy work. You are human. But that holds little consolation.

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I am the first to admit I suck at proofreading my own work (no doubt you’ll find at least one or two errors here). Perhaps most writers suffer the same fate. Our brains know the writing so well, it inserts missing words, corrects typos, and makes our eyes cross as we read the words crafted. But that doesn’t mean we should skip the proofing and editing processes–entrusting someone else to do the dirty work for us, or rest assured that few will mind or notice. One must persevere–and, more importantly, break bad habits.

Whether you are writing a business email, a stodgy report or the opus of your soul, taking the time to really read your work is something that seems to be lacking. It’s understandable to a degree. We run at a very fast pace. We count on Spelling/Grammar Check to catch our mistakes. But, even after decades at it, those “tools” still stink. Even if you’re an author who has set aside fun money to save up for a professional edit, doing that hard work yourself is key. Good writing comes down to craft, patience and responsibility. And you want to come off as a good writer before you send your work to anyone.

Even (or especially) for something short (a business email or professional text message), one should always, ALWAYS proofread before pressing Send. Double-check to whom you are sending it while you’re at it; Autofill is as dangerous as Autocorrect is annoying. Not only that, shepherd your words. Do they flow? Is the message clear? Are you assuming the reader will know what you are referring to, or do you state it? Concise clarity is the goal. Get to the point and make it shine. Then, think how it will sound if you’d have to read it on the witness stand. You heard me. Long ago, I had a boss who would drill that in for all correspondence, not because anything untoward was afoot but because writing can easily be misconstrued if it’s not put into context. Clarify the context, don’t overstate, don’t offer more than required, stick to the facts, be polite and exhibit professional etiquette. This kind of writing will get you that raise.

Writers are often told to “kill your darlings”. Bloggers need to skip the filler. There’s nothing worse than reading a post and, two paragraphs in, realizing the writer is trying to achieve a word count. Most of us visit a blog to be informed or entertained; we don’t want our time wasted by repetition or attempts at being clever. Respect your reader. Skip the filler.

When conquering longer works, such as that opus of your soul, editing and proofreading become quite the bugger. This is where your mind can really play tricks on you, filling in the blanks or making your eyes cross. I recommend the “pay as you go” method of editing. Go back to the beginning every so often and give it another read-through. How is the flow? What can be omitted? What needs flourish? Catching errors and repetitions, fleshing out details and characters help keep you on track and can guide you back to your original intent if you find yourself wandering off the mark.

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Writing is all about the rewriting. I’ve been fortunate to work with several “young” writers (those just starting out, no matter what their age), and have attempted to drill that adage into them. The hope is to alleviate the frustration they feel when getting edits and notes. What’s always surprising is when I get the revision back, and more errors of the same nature are made. That’s when I ask, “Have you read this out loud?”

If you are writing a 200+ page book, you might have fallen off your seat thinking of taking the time to read your book aloud. But you should. At some point, you need to stop being the writer and put yourself in the reader’s seat. How does it sound? How is the flow? Is that description clear? How is the plot developing? Is there still a plot? Keep in mind that not all readers consume a book in a few sittings. Many (like me) pick up and put down a book with long pauses (days, weeks) before returning to it because, as much as we enjoy the tome, we are super busy. Your writing should allow for that. Be generous to your readers in that way. If someone found your book with the first 30 pages missing, they should be able to piece together those absent aspects because of thorough writing. At the same time, you don’t want to over-explain things to a point where those who will take the time to finishing your writing in a sitting or two aren’t annoyed. That’s a fine line, and it’s where taking the time to vocalize your work helps immensely.

Writers cannot be so precious with our words that we don’t see the need for improvement before anyone else passes us a note. Sometimes, we are too close to the work to see what’s working, what’s not, what needs to be cut and what needs to be explored, and a trusted, outside eye is not only welcomed, but needed. But becoming your own editor first is a skill worth acquiring. Especially if you are an independent.

On occasion, I’ll meet a writer who believes their job is to “create”, and it’s an editor’s job to “shape”. Oh, golly. Where does one begin with that? It’s a wonderful fantasy to have, I suppose, but the days of an editor finding raw talent and polishing it into a stunning career is long gone. Even if you are fortunate enough to land a deal with a traditional publisher (congratulations!), you need to bring in solid, well-crafted work. Talent lies not just in the creativity, but in the skill to shape the work yourself.

It really isn’t that hard once you develop an editor’s eye. One of the exercises I give clients is to grab a book by a favorite author. Take any paragraph on any page and edit it. Make improvements to it. Trust me, it can be done, no matter how wonderful the writing. Try it right now. See? Not only is it easy, it’s kind of fun. And if you can do that for a superstar, you can certainly edit yourself.

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