Read to Me, Baby!

Many have you may have realized I’ve disappeared off social media for a bit. If you haven’t, uh. Anyway, so I’ve been editing the first book in my Tower City Romance Trilogy. I’ve been working on this for a while now, and I’m so close to publishing, I can taste it.

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But editing is a bitch, and it seems like no matter how much I do, it will never be enough. It doesn’t help that I’m taking an online editing class, and every time I complete lesson, I find a million more things wrong with my manuscript.

One class was extremely helpful though and we were told to either make Word read our work to us aloud or to read it ourselves. I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, and it’s a fact that you know what it says so your brain may fill in the blanks and you won’t catch what’s wrong, anyway. I didn’t know Word could read to you so I looked up the directions. You can find them here.

Quite simply, I fell in love with it. I can’t stop listening to my own work. I delight in hearing a perfect sentence or laugh when a piece dialogue sounds as good spoken as it did in my head. Of course, it’s not perfect. He doesn’t say some of my characters’ names right, and he skips over ellipses and em dashes. What does he get right? Well, he reads everything just as it’s written: the double words, the typos, the skipped words. I’m not sure a human could even do this level of proofreading. It’s not fail-proof, he doesn’t know I typed except when I meant accept, but that’s the beauty of him speaking it aloud, you can read along and correct as he goes.

The voice sounds more like this than that, but that’s okay.

This makes it tedious–it takes a long time to listen, correct, listen, correct, listen. Sometimes to the same paragraph over and over again. But I see more advantages of this than not. Audio is getting bigger and bigger, and there are a couple avenues indies can take to make audiobooks of their books.

ACX
ACX stands for Amazon Creative Exchange. Through ACX, for a fee, an indie can turn their book into audio and sell it alongside their books on Amazon.

Findaway Voices
Draft2Digital has partnered with Findaway Voices to give indies another choice than to go with Amazon to turn their books into audio. You can read about it here.

How cool is it that you already have an idea of how your book is going to sound if you decide to turn it into audio?  You won’t have to worry how that two-page paragraph, where, oops, you have six comma splices and five semicolons, will sound. You won’t have to worry if it sounds odd every time your characters speak to each other and they say each other’s names a million times.

Not to mention, that since you have already heard everything in your book spoken aloud, you really won’t have to do anything with your proof but make sure the inside and cover turned out.

So, this is what I’ve been doing for the past few days. I have a publishing date set for November, and I’ve been trying to get through this book. It’s slow going because as I said, he’s finding things I want to fix, so I do, then I listen and have to fix it if it doesn’t sound right, or if I made a mistake while I was fixing my mistake. Yeah, that happens. A lot. But I know that after all this is done, my book will sound the best I can make it.

Have you tried this? Tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature

 

Making Time to Beta Read and/or Edit

I beta read and I edit for my friends. When I beta read, sometimes that turns into light editing—I’ll point out typos, etc., if/when I find them, and I think the authors appreciate that. Sometimes I get asked to do a full edit, and sometimes the author isn’t clear, and I end up doing a full edit, anyway. Doing an edit is almost easier than only beta reading because my eyes immediately start searching for mistakes.

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This is true when I read anything. Reading for pleasure is almost non-existent because I automatically start editing and revising. “I would have written it this way. . .” While this can be good practice, trying to turn it off to enjoy a book is almost impossible. It doesn’t help when I feel justified when I do find something wrong.

But I like to beta read and edit because it sharpens my own skills as a writer. If I see repetition, telling instead of showing, words being used in the incorrect context, head hopping, it makes me more sensitive to it and I spot it more easily in my own work.

Stephen King says you don’t have time to be a writer if you don’t have time to be a reader, and this is true. You learn by reading other people, and you also expand your vocabulary. You improve your grammar and punctuation when you see it used correctly and if you think it isn’t being used correctly, you can look it up. Fact-checking helps you and the person you’re editing/beta reading for.

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It isn’t easy to make time to beta read—we have so little time as it is, writers like to use that time to write.

I’ve often likened writing to other occupations: you don’t have a business without product to sell, you wouldn’t want your child to go to school with a teacher who wasn’t always updating her skills, you wouldn’t go to a doctor who wasn’t constantly going to workshops, seminars, and publishing in medical journals.

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You can’t write books without reading other people’s work or fine-tune your voice without reading editing books and how-to books about the craft of writing. No organization is making you do those things; a company isn’t going to give you tuition reimbursement. You are your own boss and it’s up to you to keep learning for yourself.

Beta reading is fun, and it’s helpful, and someday you’ll need a beta reader. What goes around comes around, so try to make time when you can.

Tips on how to beta read:

  1. Sometimes you’ll start beta reading a book that doesn’t suit you. Figure out why it doesn’t before you say anything. If it’s not your preferred genre, speak up before you agree.
  2. If it is your genre, make notes as you read. What feels off? Is the beginning slow, are the characters flat? This is why you’re beta reading—to give useful feedback. Don’t be vague—the beginning lacked pizzazz. How was it boring? Maybe the action picked up in chapter two.  Did the author start the book in the wrong place?
  3. As you read to the middle look at the characters. Are they still interesting? Are they battling an inner conflict? Are they struggling? A saggy middle is something many authors, including myself, have an issue with.
  4. Look for inconsistencies. Are the characters’ physical attributes the same throughout the book? If they have a pet, do they disappear half way through the book because the author forgot to include it?
  5. How is the dialogue? Does it flow? Do what the characters talk about further the story?
  6. Do any scenes seem to bog the story down?
  7. When you reach the end, think of the story as a whole. Are there any plot holes? Any minor characters that could have been developed or any of their storylines that don’t make sense? (Ask if there is a sequel in the works if this is the case, sometimes the foreshadowing won’t make sense. But foreshadowing should only make the reader curious to read the next book, not make the reader wonder if the author dropped the ball.) Does the ending give you a satisfied feeling? Does it feel rushed? Do the characters complete their internal journey, face their fears,  finally get what they want?

Ideally, the author you’re beta reading for will give you ample time to read the book before publishing and tell you a reasonable deadline. Sometimes, if they’ve finished editing it and the piece is ready to be published, the author won’t wait.

This can put you in a bad position if you’re finding typos—you won’t get a chance to give your feedback to your author. If you’re given a deadline try to stick to it. But the urges to hit “publish” are strong, and if your author goes ahead and publishes without waiting for you, try not to feel hurt or resentful. You can still finish beta reading and forward on the mistakes you found. Perhaps s/he fixed them without telling you.

Sometimes you might be expected to leave a review. Ask first to be sure—especially if you didn’t care for the book. You may want to skip leaving a review rather than leave a poor one because this book is will be new and no review will be better than a bad one.

Anyway, beta reading or editing for people is win-win. It helps you become a better writer, and it helps the person you’re reading for.

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We need to help each other be better writers, one chapter at a time.

Vania Blog Signature

Staying Positive Online

Every day we do a little something to build our platform: send a Tweet, write a blog post, post an update on a Facebook Author Page. As authors, we need to stay relevant; we need to produce content to stay visible. We want people to find us and our books, and that won’t happen if you neglect a blog or don’t update your social media. The more you post, the more visible you are—that’s how it goes.

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But it’s difficult to produce content, and it’s just as difficult to remain upbeat and cheerful all the time. Sometimes you need to let out a little negativity, a little frustration. The chapter you just wrote is shitty—let’s tweet that out there for some sympathy. You tell your fans on FB that you’re having a bad day. You dropped a jar of pickles on your foot and you post your black and blue toe on Instagram. Sometimes those things aren’t bad, but your fans, the people who read your books, don’t want to hear it all the time. Twitter is a great place to pout because misery loves company; when I’ve had a bad day, there’s always someone there who can relate. But I don’t want to be known as Twitter’s Debbie Downer and neither do you.

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This goes for other things on the internet as well. There’s a lot of controversy about whether or not to leave “honest” reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads. This isn’t controversy as a whole—a reader who reads a ton of books every year and reviews them can say whatever s/he wants. They are readers and consume books as readers only.

But.

We are writers as well as readers, and that can be a problem because every review you leave is added to the foundation of your author platform. This question comes up a lot: Do you post honest reviews? Most authors will tell you that no, they don’t leave poor reviews—it’s not their place. Especially if the book they’ve read is an indie book. Some authors will say no because they don’t want people to do the same to their books. Some don’t just because they don’t want to post any negativity online. I tend to agree with the authors who say this simply because I try to keep my online presence as positive and as cheerful as I possibly can. I’m a contemporary romance writer. I’m supposed to be in love with life, right?

When I first was introduced to the indie world, I read a lot of indie—and I quickly became discouraged.  Poorly formatted books, books that needed an editor, books that were boring—I discovered why indie publishing has a bad reputation. I read some good ones too, don’t get me wrong, but the books that weren’t that great—I didn’t review.  Because let’s be honest, I was new the game, (still feel like I am most days) and who in the hell was I to criticize a book? It’s not like I’m selling a hundred books a day (though I aim to change that sooner rather than later.) But even then, while my success may justify a negative review, do I want to throw that kind of negativity out there?

Unless part of your platform building is being known as a reviewer who will give an honest review no matter whose toes you step on, then I would suggest not giving unsolicited advice in the form of a review. I’ve given advice to my friends who ask in private messages. I’ve beta read for friends. I’ve edited for free. Doing that, one on one, can do more for your platform than giving a book a bad review. Throw good karma into the online universe, and good karma will come back to you.

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But I believe that advice is good for every situation, not just book reviews. One night at Olive Garden the waiter forgot to put our order in. My sister and I were going to a movie, so we didn’t have time to wait for him to fix his mistake. We had to make due with our drinks and the salad and appetizer we ordered. Did I bash Olive Garden online? Did I tweet to them to get better service in their restaurants?  No. Well, I posted on my personal Facebook profile that if you wanted to actually eat the food you ordered, eat elsewhere, but I made it into a joke and I did not post any harsh words related to the event. That night we were kind to the waiter, and we left. (The chocolate martini I drank probably helped.)

When the movie theater gave us stale popcorn, did I post about it? No. (Luckily that occured on separate evenings, otherwise that would have been a bummer of a night.)

Sometimes I get down just like everyone else, and I do tweet to ask for advice or a cheerful word, but I do not make those posts the mainstay of my platform, just like I don’t use my blog to bitch about the publishing industry or my lack of sales.

I share my frustration with and about the indie community: I want our reputation to turn around. I want people to think quality when they think of an indie book. I want people to want to buy indie over a traditionally-published book. So I will post advice, I will write about things I wish indie authors would do (take the 8 point space between paragraphs out of your manuscripts please, and can you full-justify your file even if Mark Coker tells you not to?). But I would never post a book review and say this author needed an editor, or the formatting was so screwed up I couldn’t read it and too bad I wasted 13.99, you shouldn’t either.

Stay positive online, put a smile on someone’s face, be a friend, be a contributing, productive writer in the indie world, help where you can, offer advice when asked.

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In the words of my oh-so-wise mother-in-law, “Don’t crap where you eat.”

What do you think? Let me know!  Vania Blog Signature

 

(Thank you to pixabay.com and unsplash.com for the photos.)

 

Have You Heard of Kindle Scout? I Haven’t Either

I was going to write a blog post on a very important question–when you are published by an Amazon imprint are you considered Traditionally Published? Because these imprints won’t take just anyone–you have to submit just like you would an agent or a publishing house. But is that the only difference between being published by an Amazon imprint or hitting publish on KDP?

That’s a great question but one we’re not going to explore here. I found something else during my research: Kindle Scout.

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What is that, you ask? Good question because I didn’t know what it was either. Chris McMullen’s blog post about Amazon Imprints popped up when I was doing some research on imprints and I came upon another publishing option Amazon offers.

Kindle Scout is a book competition open to writers in qualifying countries. The book must be 50,000+ words and never been published anywhere before. It’s similar to self-publishing in that you have to submit your own cover, (I’m assuming you can hire someone) do your own editing (again maybe hire someone), blurb, and formatting. It is then vetted by Amazon staff and if it is chosen, it is entered into the competition.

What happens after that is up to you, as it’s called a competition for a reason. You’re supposed to drive all your friends, family, and fans to the Kindle Scout website where they are to vote for your book. After the nomination process, once again your book is vetted by Amazon staff. Which is a sneaky way of saying, even if your book received a million votes, Amazon Scout still may not choose it. I guess that’s a safety loophole for them.

If your book is chosen, Amazon will pay you a $1500.00 advance and 50% royalties after you earn out.

The whole process takes 45 days.

I summarized the whole process, so anyone who is considering this should look at their submission guidelines carefully.

Here are a couple other blog posts about it:

Jane Friedman had a guest blogger on her website who used it as a book launch. (If your book isn’t chosen Amazon gives your book back to you after the 45 day period is over and you do with it what you want.)  I think that is a great idea, and her blog post is here.  (Thanks to Gareth S. Young, you can find him here, for the heads up on that article.)

Another great blog article, courtesy of Gareth, is by Victoria Strauss, who is a Watch Dog contributor on Alli, (Alliance of Independent Authors) and she gave it a tentative stamp of approval, and you can read it here.

Overall, it doesn’t sound like a bad program. You can go on the website and browse the books that are entered and see for yourself what kind of competition you would have.

Good luck!

 

The Shocking Revelation of Editing

When I write, I can tear through a manuscript pretty quickly. I have more free time as a mother of two who works full time should, and being I can write at my job if I know what I’m writing, I can put words down at a fairly acceptable pace. You would think I could crank out books, and believe me, that is one of my main goals as a writer.

But what holds me up is all the %#!*&$# editing I end up doing. I have to edit a lot because yeah, I’m still learning my craft, (I’ve complained before I feel like I’m skidding my wheels and this is a big reason why) and there’s not a lot I can do to speed that up besides doing what I’m doing. I’m learning not to head-hop, I’m learning how many points of view work in a book. I’m learning to write without all my naughty words. All of these things will help me put out a book that will reduce the amount of editing that I need before I can publish.

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When I have to edit my book, I take a lot of selfies too.

One of the things that took me by surprise was that amount of time it took adding the “set it aside” time everyone recommends before reading it again. I completely understand this, and I do it myself. I’m doing it now, putting aside one manuscript while I write the next, and when I’m done writing it I’ll go back to the first. But doing this takes so much time. Who wants to take so much time? Here you have a completed manuscript, then you read it, and read it again, and even again, fixing things as you go, if you’re lucky to find them, because let’s face it, by the time you read it that many times you know what it says by heart and it could turn to Greek and you wouldn’t even notice. And now you’re supposed to set it aside for a week, a month, whatever. What are you supposed to do? All you want is to publish the darn thing.

After you think you can’t do any more with it, then come the beta readers,  and if they find stuff you missed, you’re at it again. Then maybe you send it to an editor or a proofreader, and then you have to fix those things, too.

It’s nutso and when someone would tell me they’ve been working on their book for two or three or four years, I would just be, forget that I’m not doing that. But guess what? I’m doing it because I have to.

I won’t always have to.

I’m getting better. I’m learning which POVs work best, I’m learning to not head-hop, I’m learning not to write using my naughty word list.

One day I’ll get there, and a 77,000 word novel won’t take me two years to publish because I’ll have all the lessons I’ve learned already in my head as I write a new book, and I won’t have to go back and fix all those mistakes I didn’t know I was making in the first place. My career is just beginning; one day I’ll know what I’m doing.

And that day can’t come soon enough.

More articles on letting your WIP sit so you can read it with fresh eyes:

http://www.hillarydepiano.com/2011/12/i-just-finished-a-novel-what-do-i-do-next-let-it-sit/

http://annerallen.com/finished-your-first-novel-what-to-do-now/

 

Don’t Rush to Publish!

Probably the best advice I can give you about publishing is not to rush.

I’ve always promoted doing as much as you can yourself—especially since your first book is pretty much a loss until you write more and have more books available for purchase. When it’s when it’s your only book available, you’ll never get back what you put into it. (Unless you have a tangible way to measure pride and satisfaction.)

Combining the fact that this is your first book with doing it all on your own is dangerous. You’ll never be sure if your book bombed because you’re an unknown author and this is your first book, or if it’s because your book sucks. Publishing a superior product rather than a POS will take some of the guesswork out of the question.

You want to put your best work out there, so when you have more books available you don’t have to waste time fixing it. Being it is so easy to update files in Kindle Direct Publishing, you may get into the habit of updating your files and covers all the time. It’s a waste and you’ll never move forward. Fixing your files in CreateSpace is easy too, but your book isn’t available until your files are approved, and CreateSpace’s approval time is longer than KDP’s. People still can buy your Kindle book while the new file is being approved, but it will be your old file.

Here are some tips to not rush:

Cover

Never publish your first attempt at making a cover. Make many covers. Many, many, many. Try different pictures, fonts, and color themes. Take your best two or three and turn them into a contest on Facebook or Twitter. Enter all the names of the people who chose the one you decided to use into a drawing and give a signed copy of your book to the winner. Ask for lots of feedback. There are plenty of people online who are willing to give you an honest opinion.

Research your genre, watch picture manipulation videos to learn how to do what you want. If your idea is too much for you to do on your own, or you just can’t get your vision from your head onto the computer, ask for help.  Don’t publish your first attempt. Keep it clean, keep it professional. One day you may change your cover to bump up sales, or because your skills have improved, or because you found a better picture. All I’m saying is, don’t make it a habit. You’re supposed to be writing more books.

Formatting/Book Interior

The inside of your book needn’t change much. As you grow your library you may want to add those books to a list in the front or back matter letting your reader know they are available. Maybe you’ll want to fix typos, but don’t get caught up with this. You’ll never stop editing, and I feel it’s disrespectful to the people who previously bought your book before your fixes.

CreateSpace takes 12-24 hours to approve files, and your book is not available during the approval process. You can lose sales going into it to fix to too many times.

KDP takes five hours, but don’t use this as an excuse to fix every little thing. Plus you want your paperback and Kindle files to match. Publishing your book as close to perfect as possible will save you lots of time in the long run.

Blurb

Changing your book’s description is simple enough, but if you offer a paperback you’ll want your product information to match the blurb on the back of your book. Again, CS has to approve any changes and this takes time. Blurb writing is difficult, every writer loathes it. I find it easier to write blurbs for others than for my own books. Research how to write one and get plenty of feedback from people who both have and have not read your book. The people who have read it can tell you if it’s accurate. The people who have not read your book can tell you if the blurb makes them want to read it.

Editing

I’ve written a lot about editing in my publishing series, and in two prior blog posts. Editing is the worst because of all the waiting, waiting, waiting. For other people. To read your work. You’re waiting on someone (or hopefully many someones) to read your work and you can’t say anything or you’ll seem rude. If you pay someone, hopefully, you come to some kind of a time agreement. If your friends are doing you a favor, you need to be patient. I’ve edited for people who have published before I was done. Please don’t do that—especially if they keep you updated and they are finding things. It’s rude, and frankly, it hurt my feelings. What I advise you to do is forget about publishing it. Work on something new. Work on your cover—can you make it better? Work on your website, or write a few blog posts and schedule them out so you’re ahead. Try to get into a blog tour, or ask some of your friends who run blogs to interview you. Beta-read or edit for someone else. There are plenty of ways to fill your time and still feel like you are moving forward career-wise.

Be patient.

Don’t rush into publishing. It will save you a lot of time down the road, and a lot of regrets, because you’ll never now how many sales you lost because of a poor cover, or your first 20% in the Look Inside feature has typos in it and a potential reader didn’t want to take a chance on the rest of your book.

It took a year or more to write your book. Waiting a bit longer won’t hurt.

What’s your biggest publishing regret?

Do You Really Need an Editor? Er . . . Yes?

Orna Ross, from the Alliance of Independent Authors, said in a podcast I listened to the other day, and I paraphrase: “Stephen King has an editor. Why would an indie think s/he didn’t need an editor? It’s the biggest mistake an indie author can make.” Or something along those lines. She, with others associated with Alli, have a lot of informational podcasts. You can watch their videos on YouTube, or find them in your podcast app on your smartphone.

I’m an indie author, and I had a few issues with this. First of all, Stephen King doesn’t pay for his own editor. Not out of his own pocket, and certainly not at a loss like most of us just starting out. Secondly, when he puts out a book, a million people read it, and it more than likely will get turned into a movie. Thirdly, because we are one the outside, we don’t know how much of the editor’s advice Mr. King actually takes. Does he take plot advice? When he’s told one of his characters is reading flat, does he fix that character, or does he tell his editor to shove it?

Comparing us to Stephen King didn’t help her make her point.

Or did it?

Indie authors are in need of an editor more than probably anyone. Especially if that book is their first. Or even their second, or their third.

There are different editors out there; they range in duties from helping you plot before you even write your book (that would be more like a writing coach, but developmental editors have their say in your plot) to simply proofreading it before publication.  These types of editors cost hundreds of dollars, and if you’re told you need even more than one of these kinds of editors, it can be intimidating.

I’ve always advocated that an indie author do as much as they can on their own. This isn’t just about being cheap–it’s good business. You are not only an independent author when you write a book, you need to be a self-publisher if you want people to read it. You need to know what you’re doing so you can make good choices for your business. Especially if you’re planning on doing this for the long haul.

(And you can forget about special treatment from a publishing house if you want to get traditionally published. They ask your book be as close to publishable as possible to cut editing costs. It’s not unheard of to hire an editor to edit your manuscript before you query.)

The bottom line is you need someone else to look at your stuff before you publish it. We all learn something new about writing on a daily basis, so your writing will never come out perfectly, and I don’t believe a writer can spot all their own issues. (We all learn, we never stop, so maybe Stephen King does listen to his editor.) That’s where an editor comes in.

That’s not to say you can’t substitute. If you are in a writing group, your critique partner could stand in for a developmental editor.

Maybe your friend who has an English degree and can diagram a sentence with her eyes closed can read your manuscript and look for such things such as subject/verb agreement, faulty sentence structure, and correct word usage.

Maybe your best friend is a prolific reader and can read for typos.

If you can take the criticism as how it’s supposed to be meant,  not an attack on your writing, but rather an honest attempt to help you improve your work, you can learn a lot from the editors and “editors” in your life.

When you compare writing a book to having a baby–nothing could be truer. You don’t birth a baby on your own. You have an OB doctor, nurses, a doula perhaps, your partner, your mother to give you support. You don’t have a baby alone, and you don’t write and publish a book alone, either.

As for actually paying an editor, a real one who knows what they are doing, that is a decision left entirely between you and your pocketbook.

I use a paid editor, but she doesn’t do it as her day job. She’s a fabulous writer, and she’s a fabulous editor. I’ve learned a lot from her feedback, and my writing has improved a lot over the past year. But she’s busy with her own projects and a full-time job, so I’m doubting she’s going to stick with me and my writing career as she is trying to get her own off the ground. I’ll need to find someone else to edit the contemporary romance series I’m going to be publishing in the coming months.

I’ve learned a lot from beta readers and my editor. I’ve also started to read self-editing books to help me recognize my mistakes and cut unnecessary words. I’ve started outlining so my plots are tighter and there’s less chance of plot-holes. I’ve started doing character workups so I can get to know my characters before I write about them. This saves me from writing flat characters.

You are writing a book–a lot of what an editor can and will do for you, you can take into your own hands as you actively learn your craft.

An editor can help you put your best work into the world.

And that’s what we all want.

You can read a great article about editing here.