Tag Archives: independent publishing

Not Another Edit!

EditsMost non-writers, and many new writers, have no idea that finishing that manuscript and typing END is anything but the end. I know when I started writing, I couldn’t see beyond reaching that final scene. Of course, that first novel was a 300,000 word monstrosity that took me over two years to complete, but the principle is universal.

The first draft is not the final draft.

That truth is even more daunting when we consider how few wannabe writers actually reach the end of their first draft. Of those who do, many lack the determination to see the project to its full completion.

It’s easy to assume the tragic artiste pose and proclaim in an awful imitation of an accent from some European country, “This is my Art and the muse must be honored. The words were given to me like this for a reason.”

Not if you want to sell it and actually have someone read it.

This becomes the dividing line between those who like dabbling in writing as an enjoyable hobby and those who are serious about becoming a Writer as a career.

Some first drafts are pretty good, but pretty good isn’t enough. Every successful author I know recognizes they will need to make several editing passes through each novel before it’s ready. One of the reasons we’re encouraged to write what we love is because if we don’t LOVE our stories enough to work through them at least half a dozen times, we’re going to HATE them before the process is complete.

Many new authors don’t understand this and unfortunately in today’s ebook world, it’s all too easy to complete that first draft and throw the book right up on Amazon.

I for one have read some of those stories. After wading through the piles of novels that make me cringe when I look at the cover or read the first page, I’ve selected one that looked like it had real promise. Many times those ebooks turn out to be pretty decent, maybe have a great concept and tons of potential, but where the author wasn’t patient enough to really finish the work.

I find it tragic when I complete an ebook like that. When I think, “You know, that could have been a really good book. But it was only about 90% finished and needed more polishing.”

What a waste.

Not only of my time, but of the author’s time. They worked so hard bringing that novel to life, only to not put in the effort to get it that last 10%. It’s like Frankenstein stitching together the perfect monster only to not bother raising it up on the platform during the lightning storm. That last 10% is what infuses the story with it’s real life.

That’s one of my fears: that my novels won’t be ready.

I cringe when I think back to my first monstrous novel. With how little I knew about the industry, about editing, I was convinced it was a great work and totally ready to go. Had the ebook revolution already been underway, I probably would have self-published it.

I would have destroyed that story.

I’m glad I didn’t have that option and that the dozens of rejection letters finally clued me in that there was something missing. I’ve since thrown that novel away and rebuilt it from the ground up. The resulting story is ten times better and is one of the eight books I’m preparing for publication in my upcoming “Eight Books in Eight Months” publishing blitz.

Before I pull the trigger on those novels though, I’ve dedicated the time to rewrites, I’ve gathered honest feedback from beta readers, and I’ve worked with professional editors (including Joshua Essoe and Evan Braun) to make sure they’re really ready.

Even so, I still have to wonder, are they really?

This time I feel a lot more justified in saying, “Yes.”

Literary Agents are Still a Good Idea . . . Sometimes

ebook vs physical bookWhen the ebook revolution first began a few years ago, people rallied into two very distinct camps: one was the camp of the revolutionaries who pomoted the ebook-only route and
proclaimed the death of traditional publishing and teased those who still believed in the ‘old ways’ of being dinosaurs.

The other was the traditionalist camp scoffing at the young upstarts and their wild west approach to books, promising that no good end could come to those who started down that dark and unproven path.

It was a pretty exciting (some might say nerve-wracking) time, and no one was sure which camp would ultimately win the war of words.

ReesesThe situation reminded me of the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup commercials arguing about chocolate vs peanut butter. And like the commercial, reality seems to have found a way to bring those two great approaches to book publishing together. It is no longer an either/or discussion.

The most recent evidence suggests that the market is stabilizing. Ebooks now make up a large part of the new landscape, particularly the US market, while traditional publishing has survived the coup and has stabilized. The good news is that more books are being sold through both mediums. As of today, neither ebooks nor traditionally published physical copies appear to be heading the way of the dodo any time soon.

That’s great news for writers.

But the world has definitely shifted and writers need to approach this new world intelligently. The two markets are different, and different types of books tend to fit better in different slots, so writers need a plan.

As Brandon Sanderson, best-selling fantasy author recommends, it is a good idea to take shorter novels that can be produced more quickly (every 6 months max) and publish them as ebooks while taking longer novels like epic fantasy and publish those via traditional publishing, probably at the rate of one book per year. It makes so much sense that most of the authors I speak with are considering or actively pursuing the Reeses Approach, trying to establish a presence in both markets to leverage different strengths in each.

That is the approach I am taking.

Last year I entered the ebook world with an urban fantasy novella, Saving Face. This year I will complete and e-publish a trilogy set in the same urban fantasy setting. Those books are the beginning of my indie publishing market penetration, the chocolate in my Reeses.

At the same time, I still chose to secure the help of an agent, and am working with him to find a traditional publisher for my big fat epic fantasy novel, and another large YA fantasy novel. The signs are promising, so hopefully deals will be struck with both of those series this year. These are the beginning of my traditional publishing market penetration, the peanut butter side to the equation.

Some people ask, “Why do I need an agent now that we have ebooks?”

The answer is, “You may not.”

If you are convinced your only road to publishing is to directly e-publish your own novels as an indie author, or perhaps go with an ebook-only publisher like Musa Publishing, then an agent is not going to be able to add any value to you.

But in the traditionally published book world, agents still make a lot of sense. They not only have access to many publishers that authors just cannot reach, but they have established relationships with sub-agents to sell their authors’ works internationally. Those international sales can provide a huge advantage for authors, as the ebook revolution has not made such inroads in much of the rest of the world and physical copies still make up the majority of book sales there.

So when a writer decides to pursue traditional publishing for some of their works and they find an agent who extends an offer of representation, the next step is to establish the writer/agent relationship.

This generally results in a short legal document that both parties sign that lays out the agreement between them. It should include the percentage commission the agent expects to receive from the various types of media through which the books can be marketed. For example, a common commission rating is:

  • US Rights: 15%
  • UK or Foreign Rights: 20% inclusive of sub-agent’s commission. 15% if direct.
  • Translation Rights: 20% inclusive of sub-agent’s commission. 15% if direct.
  • RADIO 15%
  • THEATRE 15% Subject to negotiation
  • TELEVISION 15% Subject to negotiation
  • NEWSPAPER & MAGAZINE ARTICLES, S,SHORT FICTION,ANTHOLOGY 15% when applicable (7.5% when contract vetting only)
  • FILM 15% Subject to negotiation

The agreement should also include a termination clause, which allows for either party to terminate the agreement, usually with a month’s prior notice. Generally the agent still collects commission on those works which were sold through them, and will collect commission for any works sold within a set period of time after the termination of the contract if they were the ones who submitted those works to publishers (usually 90 day window).

Given that many authors now follow the hybrid Reeses Approach, it is a good idea to include a clause in any agreement signed that explicitly states that those books which the author directly e-publishes on their own instead of traditionally publishing through the agent and a publisher who will produce physical copies are exempt. But any ebook royalties on the electronic sales of those books published through traditional publishers and negotiated with the help of the agent are included in the commissions they would expect to receive.

The agreement should be short, simple, and clear. I am not a lawyer, but that is my opinion.

So yes, I am a believer in the Reeses Approach to book publishing. I did sign with an agent and I am anxious to sign that first deal with a traditional publisher that he is working to line up for me because I see value in getting hard copies into bookstores and gaining access to the international markets that would be difficult to penetrate as an indie-only writer. I am also loving the indie publishing route and am looking forward to completing the new trilogy, getting those books online, and participating in all of the exciting marketing opportunities for indie writers.

Working with Editors

Working With EditorsAs writers, we love to focus on writing, on creating that next great story. It took me a while to realize that typing “The End” is only the completion of the first part of the process. Once we finish that first draft, get the story out to beta readers, compile all the useful feedback, determine edits, and finish subsequent drafts, we finally have a story we feel rocks on all levels and is ready to go.

That’s when we need editors.

Some indie authors try to claim they don’t need an editor, but I’ve never seen any such story turn out well. Not as well as it could have been. Not as well as it should have been. Not well enough to compete in today’s market with well-read readers who can spot an unedited story fast.

A book without an editor is like a theatrical production without dress rehearsal. You’ve got the characters, the dialogue, costumes, and a setting, but the whole has not been polished to where an audience can enjoy it.

Why invest so much time in producing a book only to undermine the finished product?

Usually the reason is one of two things: Time or Money.

Time: with the internet making it so easy to get books available to readers, it is so incredibly tempting to skip the careful edit and just getting it out to readers faster. Why wait when you could be selling copies already? The truth is taking a little more time and polishing the story will result in far better reviews and far more copies sold. I’ve started reading books that skimped on final polishing, and I was universally disappointed and usually threw the book away without finishing.

Money: Editors are not free. Yes, they’re an investment and authors need to find a way to cover that investment. If you don’t believe in your story enough to make that investment, convinced you’ll sell more than enough copies to still profit, then how are your readers going to believe in it?

Then again, with avenues like Kickstarter available, it’s often now possible to raise the money to cover such costs up front instead of having to fork over all the cash yourself. I plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign for one of my stories next year.

How do you find a good editor? There are lots of editors out there, and just like anything else, there are good ones and bad ones. Here’s where networking comes in. Talk with other authors about editors they liked and ones they didn’t. Good editors will provide a listing of stories they’ve edited, and that can provide great insight into whether or not they might be a good fit.

Once you find an editor, you’ve got to get on their schedule. Good editors are sought after and usually their schedules are booked out weeks or even months. Get on the list early, and don’t be late with your work. If you miss your deadline, it may be a while before they can fit you in again. If you see you’re going to be late, notify the editor as soon as possible to make it easier for them to rearrange their schedule with the least amount of disruption.

I worked with our own Joshua Essoe on the manuscript for Set In Stone, a YA Fantasy novel currently in the hands of my agent. I realized I needed to make some significant changes to the manuscript prior to sending it in, so we had to reschedule a couple of times. Joshua was very accommodating, but I tried to warn him far in advance, as soon as I realized I was going to be late.

That brings up another point: make sure your book is really finished prior to hiring an editor. If you’ve just completed your first draft, I’d recommend you take the time to have some beta readers finish it and compile their feedback. It’s likely you’ll need to make some changes. Go through it a couple more times to ensure it’s really where you want it, and that the book you wrote is really the book you thought you were writing. Only then will you be able to maximize the benefit of an editor. If they’re so busy giving you feedback on major structural issues with the work, it’ll be harder for them to help you really polish it. And if you want to go back again to hire them for a second pass, that’s going to cost more since they now have to invest more time in the project.

Even when your book is DONE and ready to go, you’ve found the editor you think will be perfect for the work, and you’ve sent it off to them, there’s the question of style. Some authors and editors just don’t see eye to eye on matters of style. There’s no way I know of to completely protect yourself from running into a situation like this.

Working with Joshua, I was extremely pleased. His comments were spot on, thoughtful, and insightful. I agreed with his approach to editing, and almost universally applied his suggested changes. With a different manuscript (also in the hands of my agent), I wasn’t quite so lucky. The editor was very experienced and well respected in the industry, and much of their suggestions were beneficial. However, we differed over some aspects of style. At first this worried me, and I wondered which of us wasn’t getting it. That’s where working with a second editor on a different work proved beneficial. I could compare the two editors’ styles, and realized they approached the same questions sometimes from very different points of view, with very different resulting recommendations.

So I had to make very conscious decisions regarding my own style and how I wanted to apply tone and voice to each story. I had made some of those decisions while writing, but hadn’t clearly defined it. The editing process forced me to choose specific stylistic approaches in each story. Only then could I see clearly which advice to accept and which to ignore. In some cases, the editor didn’t understand the style, and gave bad advice.

Just like everything else, it’s a learning process, and I consider the funds spent on editing both manuscripts well worth the investment.

Take away:

  1.  Prior to engaging an editor, make sure the book is really done.
  2. Find an editor you feel you’ll be able to work well with. Use advice from other authors, and do your research.
  3. Get on their schedule well in advance, and don’t be late with sending them the manuscript.
  4. Notify them early if you fear you’ll miss a deadline.
  5. Study their feedback carefully. Some of it may not be right. In the end, it’s your book and all decisions are your responsibility.
  6. Don’t ever release a novel without a professional edit.

Making Sure Your Ebook is REALLY Ready To Go

Pile of BooksThese days publishing a book isn’t the roadblock it used to be. Many of us are e-publishing even while often still trying to land a traditional publishing deal. It is so easy to get a book out there – almost too easy.

I’m seeing some pretty wildly differing stats on how many books were published in the past couple of years. Bowker, the company that issues official ISBNs, lists the numbers of books published with those ISBNs, but many authors who only e-publish don’t bother getting an ISBN, so those numbers are woefully short. I saw one statistic that claimed 3,000,000 books were published in 2011, and estimated 15,000,000 in 2012.

Even if those numbers aren’t 100% accurate, I think it’s safe to assume millions of books are flooding the e-book marketplace. It’s so easy to e-publish that there are no quality controls out there. The sad truth is that many of the millions of ebooks flooding the market are terrible. I know several kids in high school and even middle school who proudly proclaim they’re published authors with multiple titles to their name. They look at me funny when I tell them I’ve been writing for years and just released my first ebook and ask what took me so long!

The problem is – if your book is one of the awesome ones, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get noticed and not lost in the flood. That’s why promotion and marketing is becoming more important than ever.

When e-publishing the most important marketing tool you have is your book. If you release a book before it’s really finished, before it’s well edited, without a striking cover, you’re tying an anchor around your own neck.

I’ve read more than one ebook that showed great promise. It was ALMOST great. But the author clearly rushed the process, lacked the discipline to do it right and polish it that last 5% that would have made it shine. And as a result, all that hard work was wasted because the final book was merely decent.

In today’s market, we can’t afford to have a decent book, an okay book. When e-publishing it’s vital to take the time to make sure our books are really ready to go. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help get your book there.

Complete more than one pass.

A good author with a solid plan can write a pretty good book in a single pass, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready for immediate release. It needs to be polished, fine-tuned, with each scene carefully reviewed to maximize its potential. David Farland is famous for making up to 10 editing passes for his novels, each one focused on optimizing different aspects of the story.

Take the time to really finish your book.

Get it professionally edited.

Many e-authors hate this step and manage to convince themselves that they don’t need it. Why bother actually investing in our work? Better to just release it and watch the money roll in, right?

Wrong. I can’t stress this one enough. No matter how good you think you are as a writer, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears you’ve already invested in the work, you’re not done. Readers can tell when a book is not professionally edited and they’ll feel cheated and never buy another of your books.

It was a humbling experience for me to see all the marks on a recent manuscript when the editor I hired returned it. I don’t think there was a single page without some kind of mark. I learned a lot, got insights into blind spots I never knew I had, and the resulting manuscript really shines in ways it never could have before. Totally worth the money.

Like anything else, know your editor. Some who claim to be editors aren’t worth your time. You may have to contract with a few editors on different manuscripts to find one you really work well with.

One editor I highly recommend without reservation is our own Joshua Essoe. Check out his website here.

Saving FaceGet a killer cover.

Again, good cover art is an investment, although it doesn’t have to be a ton of money. There are great resources out there for covers at reasonable prices. Michelle Wilber, the woman who painted the cover for my ebook Saving Face is a talented artist who is a personal friend. Many artists are willing to help with covers for ridiculously small fees as a way to help them also break into the market and be noticed. It’s a win-win situation.

Unfortunately many authors just download the first clipart they can find on free sites and slap on a title. Worse, some just download any image they like, even if they don’t have rights to it. Don’t fall into that trap. A good cover needs careful thought to present the right tone and brand, including the right font. This is huge. A good cover draws readers in, while a bad cover kills the deal before the power of your writing has any chance.

Format the book carefully.

Don’t just assume you can take your Word file and convert it into an ebook without more work. Bad formatting marks you an amateur and drives readers away, and Word is notorious for inserting tons of special characters invisible while in that program but glaringly obvious when converted to ebook format.

I learned a ton about that process while prepping Saving Face for release. I found some excellent resources to help. If you are willing to do some simple technical work on your novel, it is definitely possible to produce quality output.

If not, there are great resources out there that will prep your ebook for you for a reasonable fee. I haven’t used them myself, so I can’t recommend one over another, but you can easily get recommendations from other authors. With a little research you can find the one that best fits your needs and budget.

I used two resources primarily in my formatting project:

First was Cheri Lasota’s ebook Design and Upload Your EPUB. The Steps To Your Success. This excellent resource is available for only $0.99 and is well worth the cost. She discusses her approach for formatting an ebook, and walks an author through the steps of prepping a book and uploading it to both Amazon and B&N.

I also followed an excellent series of blog posts by Guido Henkel where he discusses in great detail his process. His is slightly more technical, and if you have some basic HTML ability, is excellent.

There are many other great resources out there, and it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, so long as you make sure you follow one of them and carefully prep your ebook.

Even after utilizing both of these sources and carefully reviewing the final product, I still found a couple of minor errors after releasing Saving Face. Thankfully both Amazon and B&N allow for updating a corrected manuscript. Just don’t use that as a crutch to not doing the work up-front because anyone who’s already purchased your book is stuck with the errors.

If you nail all four of these areas, most likely you’ll have a rock solid ebook ready for release. Coupled with brilliant writing, you’ve covered all the bases to become a player in the game.

Now, just need to figure out how to reach the 10 million readers I know are dying to buy my book . . .