Publishers – Writer Beware

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in indie writers, new writers, writers | 0 comments

“Publishers are just middlemen. That’s all. If artists could remember that more often, they’d save themselves a lot of aggravation. ” – Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative

Ah, the lure of the publisher, the allure of the printed book sitting there in your hands, beckoning to you. Isn’t that the stuff of every author’s dreams? An e-book is great but don’t we all long to hold a book in our hands with our name below the title? I know I did. There’s also the sense of security and the idea that maybe we won’t have to work quite as hard, that they’ll pick up some of the load of marketing.
It also seems as if there are so many new choices these days – not just the Big Six, independent, e-presses and small presses, but all kinds of hybrids, include publishing groups and co-ops (where the responsibility for creating a book is shared). And not all of them are truly looking out for your best interests. A number of writers have found themselves contracted to a publisher with no easy way out. I did.
So how do you avoid the pitfalls?
(For our purposes, we’ll leave out the Big Six, the pros and cons there are known – advances (now much smaller), a huge pool of talent in which your book can get lost, gatekeepers with a narrow eye, six months to respond, a year to two years to reach print.)
First, do your homework. Google the company name. If you find that they’re listed on Preditors and Editors or Writers Write, run away. Are there complaints against/about them? Do they sound valid, consistent? Go to their website, find a book that looks and sounds interesting to you. Does the cover look professional? Are there spelling and grammar errors in the blurb (the back cover information)? Where can you buy it? Only from their website? Those are huge red flags. You want your book to look as good as possible and to be available to a wide audience through established booksellers like Amazon.com, B&N and iTunes. If there’s a feature like Amazon’s “Look Inside the Book”, use it. Are there a bunch of basic grammar errors? Is that the kind of book with which you want to be associated?
So, it all sounds good and looks good. Too good to be true? Then it probably is. How’s your gut? Getting some trippy vibes? It’s time to start asking questions…
1. There’s a standard rule in publishing that money flows from the publisher to the writer, NOT the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is blowing smoke. I don’t care what name they call it. If you’re paying them a percentage of your book that percentage is supposed to cover what they’re supposed to do for you – editing, cover art and marketing at the very least. By its very definition in a co-operative environment each writer donates their time and skills to the group as a whole, each contributing to the success of all. But the first rule still applies. If you’re paying any percentage to the publisher, those ‘fees’ should come out of their pocket, not yours. Otherwise, what are you paying them for? Their name? Make up your own.
2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay for your galley or proof copies. No reputable publisher will ask you to do this. That’s the cost of doing business. You’re providing them with their commodity, books. Without you, they wouldn’t exist. To ask you to pay for your own proof copies, even at a discount, is wrong. If they don’t believe enough in your book to invest in it, they shouldn’t have bought it. No reputable publisher will insist that you buy your books in bulk, either, even for a book signing. On those occasions they should provide them – unsold books should then be returned to the publisher or used for subsequent book signings.
3. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay for services you can do yourself. See below.
4. Editing. Read the excerpts. Is that your style? Is it overly simplistic, too Dick and Jane? Or too dark? (I submitted one book to a publisher like that but I had a pretty good idea it would be rejected. And it was.) Are the stories remarkably similar, too generic? Is the quality good? Are you seeing those grammar errors? In a recent post I commented on a reader who was surprised to find an erotica book so literate. (I don’t just write erotica, I’m actually more of a fantasy writer, but that is where I’m published traditionally.) Is most of their work adult, but you write YA? Make sure that publisher is a good fit for you.
5. Are they making a huge fuss about numbers, rankings and so on? Is the fuss legitimate? If you’re #4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Kitchen Appliances, is that a valid ranking for your contemporary romance, Cooking Class? Not really. Outside of the kitchen appliances listing, notice that it says Nonfiction. Yes, you want to market where people share the same interests as your book but if your book is the only fiction book in ten listings… being #4 isn’t all that great.
6. If they’re offering to put your book in print, who is doing the printing? I honestly never considered asking that question. I didn’t think I had to, after all, they were a publisher, right? So therefore they had a printer. To my surprise, one company was using CreateSpace to do their printing. (See Rule 3) I already had two books in print through CreateSpace on my own but that publisher made it sound as if he had a local printing company. Never assume. You know what happens when you do.
7. Ask what their pay schedule is and what your percentage is for e-books or print. Is it different if you do book signings? WHEN do you get paid? Smashwords pays quarterly, most regular publishers pay monthly, but both will provide you with a regular accounting of how much money you can expect to receive. The same should be true of any publisher. You have a right to know when your first paycheck will arrive. After all, you have bills just like they do. If they can’t give you that information, if they waffle about how they can’t give you accurate figures, that they have to account for returns, etc., RUN. At absolute worse they could simply deduct a return from your next check but a reputable publisher wouldn’t – returns should be few and they accept that as a loss, as the cost of doing business. (If returns are excessive, someone needs to look at the book.)
8. What is their marketing plan? How do they market their authors? (Again, see Rule 3) Is it largely through Facebook, Twitter and blogs? What else do they do? You want a concrete marketing plan that will take you beyond what you can do yourself. Does it mainly consist of book signings which you have to arrange, not them? Then you’re in the wrong place.
And if you hear pie in the sky promises – I can get you on Leno, for example – ask yourself how many authors Jay Leno has on his program? None. It’s all smoke. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.
9. Check out their Facebook pages. Is there chaos and drama around them? Do you want chaos and drama in your life? If not, then walk away.
Indie publishing is hard enough without people making it more difficult, or outright ripping you off. I have yet to see the money from my book and I have a pretty good guess I never will. Despite it being a legitimate Amazon best seller. It regularly floats in the Amazon Top 100. I haven’t given up entirely but that’s the price you pay for not doing your ‘due diligence’ – your research.
There are people out there more than willing to prey on our hopes and dreams and many authors will pay almost anything to realize those dreams. I know one writer who put thousands of dollars of his own money into a print version of his books. I don’t know how many are still in boxes. Print books are much more difficult to sell. Getting bookstores to take a chance on giving precious shelf space to an unknown, independent writer is difficult. So many authors do that and their garages are filled with broken dreams. Many walk away, their hopes dashed.
For a while I struggled, trying to fit myself into a round hole when I was a square peg. I put my hopes of seeing my books in print under a publisher’s name…until I learned all the lessons above. Now I’m experiencing the delicious freedom of being able to write my books the way I want to write them. If I’m going to do print, I’ll do them myself. And I won’t have to share a penny. No one will make money from them besides me…in tandem with Amazon and CreateSpace, or B&N, Smashwords, etc., of course.
That’s not to say that the traditional way is wrong, but unless what a publisher offers you makes your life easier, what do you need a middleman for?

* * * * *

This blog was originally posted at http://www.indiesunlimited.com on February 1st, 2012.

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A Convocation of Kings – Second Edition

Posted by on Jan 27, 2012 in #fantasy, epic fantasy, indie writers, writers | 1 comment

Why a rewrite, you might ask? Many would argue that a professional writer – and I consider myself a professional – would never do such a thing, that you should never release a book that isn’t finished.
Well, I didn’t – insofar as the perfectionist in me would allow. I was happy with A Convocation of Kings, it was a good book . It accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, said the things I wanted to say – that love can conquer all and  the hatreds war engenders are never over when the fighting is over, among others.
I remember reading a quote from a famous artist that said that even when the painting is on the wall of a museum he could spot  little things he might have done differently.
Another quote says that a work of art is never truly finished, it’s just abandoned – a quote possibly attributed to DaVinci.
I understand both quotations. (and yes, writing is an art.)
But a point has to be reached where you simply have to say – It’s done.
Go to any one of thousands of writer’s groups and you’ll find dozens of people who have been working on the same manuscript for years, endlessly polishing, questioning each word or phrase, critiquing each other’s work, but never submitting a single manuscript. And they probably never will.
I understand that, too, but there is a point where you can actually tweak a story to death, render every sentence sterile and remove any semblance of soul.
You want it to be the best it can be, but sooner or later, you have to let it go.
So I made A Convocation of Kings as good as I could make it, and then let it go.
So again, why the rewrite?
Because, as any artist or writer can tell you, sometimes your mind is wandering and then suddenly this idea pops up out of nowhere. I was working on this completely different project when I had this brainstorm about A Convocation of Kings. Was it anything specific? I don’t really remember. I was just driven to take another look at it. (Ask my husband, I disappeared into my writing room for the better part of three weeks.) I just knew it could be better and how to get it there. So I sat down, started on page one and did an extensive edit, tightening some scenes, making others clearer, expanding on others, deleting one or two that didn’t move the story forward while adding others. New characters popped up and a small character got bigger, to reflect the part of the story that revolved around the main characters.
I’m hardly the first one to have done it. Stephen King released a Complete and Uncut version of The Stand because he wanted to put back in some scenes that had been edited out.
In the past, that wasn’t possible. That may be one of the blessings of being an indie writer, especially of e-books. It’s a new world, a new way of doing things, and we may now have the freedom to make changes on the fly – whether just minor grammar changes or something as extensive as with A Convocation of Kings.
All I know for certain is that when I finished, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. A Convocation of Kings was a good book. I really believe that now it’s a better book.

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Ancient Cultures/Modern Writing – Avoiding Prejudices

Posted by on Oct 19, 2011 in #history, #writing, ancient cultures, ancient egypt, authors, egypt, writers | 1 comment

One of the things I find amusing is to listen to people talk about ancient cultures and describe the lives of those who lived then as ‘hard’. In comparison to ours, they definitely were. After all, most people barely lived past the age of forty and cause of death would be as likely from tooth decay. That was for men. We act shocked by the idea that young women of that time were married by twelve and old maids at fourteen, without considering that by the time their children were adults they’d already lived over half their lives. That’s if they survived childbirth, one of the leading causes of death for women. Many children died young, either in childbirth, or from disease or accident.

Yet if you asked those people if their lives were hard, they’d be surprised at the very notion. After all, it was all they knew. It was life, they lived and loved, worked and fought, had children they nurtured. Just like us.

Many archaeologists and historians, though, operating under modern prejudices of society and faith, made similar assumptions and judgments – those ancient cultures were barbarian, filthy and pagan, they must have led a miserable existence. This despite all evidence to the contrary. Don’t believe me? See how many movies portray the people of eras as unwashed, as if they didn’t know simple hygiene. Yet ancient Egyptians used makeup, balms and ointments – many scented – and were nearly obsessed with cleanliness. It would take Christianity to make bathing a sin. In truth most ancient cultures were far more advanced, happy and egalitarian than assumed.

For the ancient Egyptians, its clear from their writings and their statuary that marriage was a sacred institution for them, and husband and wife were considered equal. As were women in general, many of whom ran their own businesses.
In most ancient societies the relationships between people, whether as couples or friends, were important and valued. If you read their writings, without the cynicism imposed by our own society, you can see it. In ancient Egypt husbands wrote to wives and wives to their husbands, of their devotion to each other without shame or embarrassment. Something that in our society until the last half century. Imagine something like that now.
There are tales throughout history of friends who sacrificed their lives for each other – now we refer to such friendships in derogatory terms like bromances, or BFFs.

People also had rights many today would envy. In early Rome women could get divorced and own their own property, something that didn’t exist in some parts of the US until this last century.
Yes, there was slavery, but slavery still exists in this world, and many slaves had better rights than many of those who work on production lines or in cubicles, since their owners were at least required to feed and clothe them.
Cultural assumptions were also much different, or non-existent. Homosexuality wasn’t an issue. In many cultures no one cared.
Sexual roles were also less defined. Without the societal assumption that women were the ‘weaker’ sex, women in those ancient cultures were able to do any job or hold any career they wished. Even serve in the army.
For example, in some pre-puebloan societies it was men who did the weaving – a task considered women’s work for many these days – and a boy who wished to court a girl took a particularly fine blanket, woven by his own hands, to his prospective mother-in-law for judgment.
Yet in much of our writings we tend to condemn those societies based on our own cultural assumptions. It’s easy to do so, after all, through the lens of our own judgments.
For instance, we condemn Cleopatra and portray her as being a harlot for marrying her brother but by the terms of Egyptian culture, what she did wasn’t sacrilege or incest, it was their culture. After all, the Gods Isis and Osiris were also brother and sister (a neat way to explain how the first gods managed the whole procreation thing, unlike in the Bible, where a whole different tribe just appears).

What we do tend to forget is that some of these cultures existed, relatively peacefully and successfully for centuries longer than ours has.
We are fond of the image of Rome as that of the Coliseum and the ‘poor Christians’ being thrown to the lions. It was a fairly common, if brutal, punishment for criminals in those days. Yet from the point of view of the Romans, many of those early Christians were criminals, condemning the religion of others, fomenting rebellions, stirring up slave riots and fighting among one another. And much of that image isn’t historically accurate either.
We condemn ancient Rome for its excesses and yet some in the US Congress or on Wall Street could certainly give them a run for their money. As we also tend to look down on the pharaohs and early Caesars but most of them understood  they held their place at the will of their people. More than one ruler found himself overthrown when they forgot that. Some folks in power now might do well to remember it.
Given the importance of interpersonal relationships among those early societies, an argument could be made that the first sign of their failure was when those relationships were devalued, when the excesses of those in power diminished the value of those relationships and began to take away their rights. Not that they were all perfect, but in many cases they were far better than we’ve assumed.
Some of what we know now appears relatively new, but isn’t, but the assumption that there’s nothing new to learn is equally untrue.
The burial place of a female gladiator was only recently – relatively – accepted as such, in spite of  the fact that  all evidence pointed to her sex as being female. The evidence for it long existed, it just couldn’t be seen past the lens of our own assumptions.
We’re still uncovering new information. They just recently discovered previously untouched (except by thieves) ancient Egyptian tombs.
We now know that we understand much less about the ancient Incan culture than we once did, based on new discoveries.
So, are you or will you write your novel from the point of view of your cultural upbringing, to espouse a certain concept, or will you try to write it without preconceptions? And how will you market it? As ‘factual’ or as a ‘re-imagining’?
There is a group of reviewers that say they’ll review your novel, not just the quality of the writing, but for historical accuracy. My only question is, whose history? From which point of view?

For example, if you’re writing a western, and you want your female character to do certain things, would her actions have been acceptable or even possible for the period? I had started one, but was caught short by questions about that era. A little research reassured me that not only was my concept possible, it was even more likely to be right than the images we have of western women now. I’ll definitely be citing my research on that one.
In a few days I’ll be releasing a new book, a thriller/horror/romance based in time of the early dynasties of ancient Egypt. I’ll make no claims that it will be 100% historically accurate – it is fiction after all – but I did try to stay as true to that era as possible. For example – I had my heroine riding a horse, possible given where she’d come from but unlikely even then, and certainly in ancient Egypt. The horses of that time hadn’t advanced so much, they were much smaller. Breeding and time would change that.
The problem is that many people assume the author made the effort to do the research and so believe a lot of what they read. However I know a lot of books that were/are wildly inaccurate historically, others just mildly. Bodice-ripping is much harder to do than most assume. And let’s not talk about the movie Pocahontas. I also had someone chide me about the danger of using the word Nike in the title of my book Nike’s Wings – it was clear  the individual had no clue that Nike was the Greek goddess of victory and not just a shoe manufacturer. Most of us know of a few novels written about ancient cultures from a specific point of view and some of those authors have quite a devoted following. If the native cultures they described could read those books, I wonder if they would recognize themselves? Especially given that some historians and archaeologists now question some of those assumptions?
So, what does this mean to us as fiction writers? (Non fiction writers have different issues) What are our responsibilities when it comes to referring to or describing these incredibly complex ancient cultures? First, before we put pen to paper, we must decide how true to that culture we want to be, how fictional is fictional? What do we owe those ancient societies? What do we owe our readers?
Honesty, that’s all.

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How to Write a Killer Blurb

Posted by on Aug 24, 2011 in blurbs, new writers, writers | 0 comments

A blurb is the book description you find on the back of a book or online to describe a book’s contents. After your cover, blurbs are the second most important selling tool you have for your book, so you want it to grab the reader’s attention. The blurb is the essence of the book, a distillation of the characters, tone and conflict of your story that should, if it’s effective, lure a reader into wanting to read more.

Most run at least two paragraphs, but some are longer, roughly a minimum of 100 words to a maximum of 250. How can you condense all that important information? 

Here are some examples from some classic novels:
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…. When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.” To Kill A Mockingbird

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires…
The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning … along with the houses in which they were hidden.
Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames… never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.” Fahrenheit 451

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
The Help

There are a number of commonly accepted elements to creating a good blurb:

The Hook
The story element that grabs the reader’s attention, something unique, a fresh twist, or just the emotional core of the book.

Conflict
Both external – world is coming to an end – and internal – the H/H isn’t sure they can do what needs to be done.  (H/H – hero, heroine)

Emotion
What drives the H/H, the tone of the book. The driving force – love, vengeance, retribution. The tone can be light, a romp, or a dark fantasy.

Risk
Emotion, physical, societal or whatever. Something important to them can be lost.

Characterization
The essence of the main character(s)

Setting
Both geographic and emotional – lost in a harsh desert, fighting through a lush jungle, romance in a small town

Goals
What are they trying to accomplish? Just surviving? Winning the day? Clearing their name? This is an important element.

Motivation
Why are they doing it? Particularly, why for your characters? Why does Frodo keep struggling to reach Mordor? To save his people? Or to live up to Sam’s view of him?

What’s stopping them?
Who’s the bad guy? Or is it a massive earthquake with the attendant destruction?

Will they succeed?
You don’t actually have to answer this, but you must introduce the element of doubt or leave the question open. Too much information is a blurb’s worst enemy.

In each of the examples, you have a piece of all of these individual elements, sometimes in a single sentence. There’s obviously conflict, risk and characterization in the first– how did Jem get his arm broken? (those of us who’ve read that novel know, of course) ‘enable us to look back on them’ – there’s the emotion. The voice of the blurb sets the tone, setting and characterization, and the goal is to make Boo Radley come out. Nothing, though, is said of the central conflict of the book.

Notice, too, that the first two are considerably shorter, but The Help was a more complicated novel.

Keep in mind that genre matters, too. If you’re writing a terse thriller, you want to keep your blurb terse, too.

From Barry Eisler – The Detachment
When legendary black ops veteran Colonel Scott “Hort” Horton tracks Rain down in Tokyo, Rain can’t resist the offer: a multi-million dollar payday for the “natural causes” demise of three ultra-high-profile targets who are dangerously close to launching a coup in America.
 But the opposition on this job is going to be too much for even Rain to pull it off alone. He’ll need a detachment of other deniable irregulars: his partner, the former Marine sniper, Dox. Ben Treven, a covert operator with ambivalent motives and conflicted loyalties. And Larison, a man with a hair trigger and a secret he’ll kill to protect.
 From the shadowy backstreets of Tokyo and Vienna, to the deceptive glitz and glamour of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and finally to a Washington, D.C. in a permanent state of war, these four lone wolf killers will have to survive presidential hit teams, secret CIA prisons, and a national security state as obsessed with guarding its own secrets as it is with invading the privacy of the populace.
 But first, they’ll have to survive each other.

An epic fantasy may require more information or you can just set the scene…
G.R.R. Martin – A Game of Thrones

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Here’s one of my own, part of my epic fantasy series, and one of my bestselling books – Not Magic Enough
For Delae, a lonely landholder on the edge of the Kingdoms, a frantic knock at the door on a stormy winter’s night brings more than a cry for help. After centuries of war Elves have little contact with the men, but Dorovan can’t bring himself to ride past those so obviously in need. And so begins a tale of love, honor, duty and determination…

Very short but it’s a novella and all the elements are still there.

And for one of my romances – Director’s Cut – the emotional content needs to be emphasized in romances:
Once the golden boy in Hollywood, Jack Tyler’s life and career are on the skids. Struggling to find some direction, a visit to an old friend brings him to Millersburg, and the community theater group there. He’s fighting his demons, hoping to rediscover his roots and his love of theater, through them.
He also discovers schoolteacher Molly Brighton.
Molly, though, wants no part of the sexy new director. He’s too handsome, too charming, too dangerous to her heart.
The attraction is difficult to ignore, especially when aided by Jack’s old friend, an unrepentant matchmaker with his own reasons for bringing them together.

Last and finally, the purpose of a blurb is to get the reader to want more, to open that book up and answer the questions each blurb asked. 

How did Jem’s arm get broken and why was it so difficult to talk about? Guy Montag was burning books, why? What will happen to the three women when they cross those defining lines? Will Rain and his team of irregulars succeed in their mission – and who is it they’re supposed to kill? What happens to the Starks? Or when Dorovan meets Delae? Will Jack overcome his demons or will Molly walk away?

And that’s what a good blurb should do…

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A little word on the Indie Author/Editor self-editing conundrum

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in #writing, editing, editors, new writers, writers | 6 comments

Lately I’ve found myself on the wrong end of several sticks on this subject – oddly being perceived as being anti-editing, which I’m not. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Finally, though, I did. It’s me. Or at least, maybe it’s reality.

So… Now I’m about to burst some bubbles.

For those who think editing doesn’t matter, but especially for those who think being an Indie writer is a short cut to the kind of success Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath and a few others have had switching to traditional publishers…

It’s not.

And most especially for those who think your prospective agent/editor/publishing house will do your editing/polishing for you.

You’re about to have a VERY rude awakening.

Think editing is supposed to be collaborative? Interactive, a polite interaction between professionals? Pardon my bluntness, but… grow up, you’ve been watching too much TV.

Here, courtesy of Jessica Faust from BookEnds LLC – a well known literary agency – from her Submissions 101 blog entry:

Before getting started, before even writing a query, you need to make sure your book has been written, rewritten, edited and polished, and, as you have heard from me before, I even suggest you’ve already started writing your next book so you have something to focus on besides just the query process. Fiction and narrative nonfiction (i.e., memoir) writers will need to have completed the full manuscript.


I didn’t even submit my first manuscript until the second was complete.
That’s a submission folks, not a completed manuscript. In the traditional publishing world you not only have to be a good self-editor, you have to be a really good one! If that manuscript isn’t polished to a fare thee well, it will end up in the circular file beside their desk with a form rejection letter back to you for your troubles. They don’t have time to ‘fix’ your work and to them it says volumes about your commitment to your writing. Or rather, the lack thereof.
A multitude of errors says the same thing to your readers – that you just don’t care enough about your craft to do it right! Get enough comments about mistakes and they will stop reading your books. Amanda Hocking hired a good editor as soon as she made enough money to afford one. Konrath was a pro already but there’s no doubt he had someone editing for him. What makes you think you’re so hot that you don’t need to do the same? Or at least a beta reader or three – preferably ones for whom English was a subject they did well with in school.
A good editor doesn’t have the time – or to be honest the patience – to mollycoddle your sensitive feelings.  Even, or (that word again) especially, editors for small presses or for Indie writers. It’s a job. It’s how they make their living and they make their living by doing a lot of editing for a lot of people. And they may do it in addition to their day job, just like you. (Same thing for reviewers, BTW)

A good editor will send back your manuscript with corrections and notes. In the non-Indie world these are NOT suggestions and can come off as downright rude. After all their job isn’t to do your work for you, that’s YOUR job, and you should have done it right in the first place. A small press editor in this new world doesn’t have time to waste. Think they won’t ask you to change your manuscript to suit them or what the publisher wants? Think again. Their job is to get a marketable product out. Fast. I know of one author who was dumped by both agent and major publishing house simply because she took too long and it was taking too much effort. And it showed.

Even so, even with all the care I took, my first professional edit was a shock. Believe me, they weren’t sensitive to my feelings. Every edit, though, taught me something else. I learned how to look at my work honestly, to see where perhaps this sentence, phrase or paragraph might work better someplace else and that I have a problem repeating myself. Which is why I need my beta readers so much. (God bless you Erin, Angela, Andy and Mateo, et al.) 

So I learned, and learned fast, to be a very good self-editor. It never occurred to me to do anything less. How could you possibly consider yourself a writer if you didn’t? Was I really so arrogant as to believe I had written the Great American Novel  in one try? (Heck even Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote multiple drafts.) No. My books were and are edited and re-edited every time I find a new pet peeve on a blog somewhere. Even so I still go back to do another polishing draft, just to be absolutely sure, before I post a single book anywhere.(I’m on tenterhooks waiting for feedback on the latest.) That’s why I’d get so frustrated to find myself in the middle of this argument. I thought every Indie author wanted the same, to be as professional as they could be. I still get anxious every time someone contacts me to say they caught a mistake. 
And if you’re a good writer, a professional writer, you should, too.
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What I didn’t know – For New Writers – Part One

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in advice, new writers, writers | 0 comments

First, please hang in there and read the rest of the blog, there is some good stuff here.

Okay now, that being said, before you do anything else, before you research agents, write the perfect query letter for this spectacular idea you have, write your book. Yes, all of it. (It never occurred to me and it probably never occurred to you to think otherwise, but as I’ve learned there are a lot of people who haven’t.) Agents and/or publishers will very rarely consider looking at a book that’s incomplete, and by incomplete, I also mean unpolished. It must be polished to a fare-thee-well. Which is what we’re talking about today.

Now this is where it gets sticky. You’ll see comments about polishing in the editor’s blogs on the publishers websites sometimes. Please read them. They’ll give you excellent advice on what they’re looking for, but one or two also include a list of common mistakes that writers have made. Basic errors in English. I’ve heard or read about agent/editors who will look through a manuscript for specific errors, like sentences that begin with There was *wince*  or excessive use of the word ‘had’, and automatically chuck the manuscript. Considering how many submissions they receive you can’t really blame them, they have to set the bar somewhere.

So, since I have to do a final polish on one of my novels, I thought I’d invite you along on the process as I run through my checklist. By the by, no matter how good you are, if you aren’t doing at least a second draft on your novel, you’re not doing it right. A very few writers, usually those who’ve been with one specific publisher, might  be able to get away with it, but not first time writers. And even they usually get at least one final line edit before they go to print. Being a ‘pantser’ – that is, I write by the seat of my pants, usually in a stream of consciousness – I may be a little more prone to that sort of thing than a plotter – someone who plots out the entire novel. Either way, though, nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. I was advanced English throughout my education, have been the walking dictionary/thesaurus for most of my friends and coworkers, and I make them all the time. (I’m also going to assume you have a copy of one of the books of style like the Chicago Book of Style, or Elements of Style.)

As a pantser, I usually do several drafts – a first draft to establish characters and plots, then additional drafts to lay in details, develop secondary characters, plotlines, atmosphere, description, etc. Then it’s time to settle down to do a final draft, to polish it. So, I pull out my list.

  1. One of the first things they may or may not tell you in your writing classes or seminars, is that in a novel it’s all about the action. It’s about doing things. People don’t ‘begin’ to do things, they don’t ‘start’ to do things, they DO them. I start by doing a search for those particular words. So, for example – ‘Smoke waited until they were distracted to begin nibbling at her hair again’  vs. ‘Smoke waited until they were distracted to nibble at her hair again.’ Which sounds better? (Smoke is a horse by the way…) Don’t have your characters start to do anything unless it’s the first in a series of things they are going to do.
  2. Ditto feel and felt. Which sounds better – When he kissed her it felt like she tingled all over  -or- When he kissed her she tingled all over?
  3. Next, do a search for contractions. For some reason many writers – and I’m one of them – don’t write in contractions. Especially with ‘had’. He had, she had, rather than he’d  or she’d. But be very careful not to do a universal search and replace, you’ll hate yourself in the morning for it, because once it’s saved that way you have no other choice but to search the entire document for the awkward mess you made of things. (I usually start a new copy when I’m editing, just in case. It’s a lot easier to start over sometimes)
  4. ‘There was’ Sometimes it’s justified. I’d still look at each sentence and see if I can determine if I can rephrase it to take the phrase out. Sometimes it becomes clearer.
  5. *arrggh* The dreaded ‘that’. That she, that he, that they… In most cases the use of the word that is completely unnecessary, but we use it in speech, and so it can sound right when you write it.  And then there’s my personal bugaboo, using that rather than who.  The man that… when it should be the man who… 
  6. Just and only. Always make sure you really need to use them, and then that they’re next to the word you want to modify.  only costs vs. costs only, for example
  7. Was. Jim was shaking his head. Jim shook his head. Always watch for those ‘ing’ words, aka gerunds. If you see a lot of them in your writing in conjunction with was, you need to change that sentence. 
  8. As if/like. Make sure you know which of them you really mean.  Do a search for like, and in each place see if ‘as if’ doesn’t sound better there.
  9. Also watch split infinitives. Not all of them are bad – to boldly go where no man has gone before, where boldly splits to and go – is generally accepted. Some though like “I decided to not go” can sound a little awkward.

One last little hint. By not doing a read-through but a search and replace, it forces you to look at each sentence individually, in isolation. That makes it much easier sometimes to spot errors you might otherwise have missed, or question the wording of sentence. I’ve often caught mistakes that way. 


Polishing can be tedious, but it’s worth it in the long run. Not only will you make a better impression on the agent/editor to whom you’re submitting, but *grin* even if they do accept your manuscript, they’re going to make you fix them sooner or later. It might as well be sooner.


Then pass it off to your beta readers – a few people who will be brutally honest with you about where you screw up. One of mine still teases me about the overuse of the word ‘astonishing’ in one novel. In other words – not friends or family. They won’t and can’t be truly honest with you. I’ve never physically met any of of mine.


Always keep in mind as you’re polishing, though, that you need to preserve your ‘voice’ – your style – and that of your characters. It’s your book. For example, in the fantasy novel I’m polishing two of the central characters are Elven, so to them ‘english’ is a second language. When I first heard Elon speak in my head, he didn’t use contractions. Neither did Colath. So I have to remember that about them and correct it in their speech, in their thoughts, but it’s much easier and faster for readers to read contractions. So I have to watch carefully where I put my contractions, and not to make Elf either sound stilted. As both interact more with their human companions, they use begin (correct usage here, as part of a process) to use contractions more and more as they become used to hearing them. It’s a subtle thing, but it contributes to their voices and the feeling of the novel. 


Okay, good luck on your first attempt at polishing. And… ummmm… I strongly recommend you don’t have a glass of wine when you start. Or you’ll never finish. Voice of experience here. (Although I did finish eventually… *laughing*)

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