Worth the Wait

If there is one thing that I wish I could go back and tell my younger self about publishing, it would be ‘take your time’. With my newest book ramping up for release, I have received a number of emails/IMs/Facebook messages from aspiring authors asking questions about how to get published (or If I can help them get published some of the time). While the answer the second question is “I can help tell you about the publishers with whom I have worked, but no, I can’t go and tell them to publish you”, my general advice is to slow down.

As far as answering questions, I am always happy to help just about anyone who asks for it. Far too often I read posts from new writers stating it’s “impossible” to get a book published. Unfortunately, this sentiment is often what has authors fall into the trap of working with a vanity press (a press which charges authors to put their books out). It makes sense why many new writers fall into that trap (and at least enough do to support all the vanity presses around) but being in that much of a rush only leads to problems later down the line.

Recently, I received a question from an author who had published their first book with a vanity press which shall remain nameless and was unhappy with how sales were going. After having paid over a thousand dollars in “start-up costs” (something no reputable publisher will ask for) she hadn’t made even half of it up in sales over the year. She asked if I thought she should now try to find an agent to go with traditional publishing with the hopes that the time/rejection that meant would lead to better sales.

While I would recommend anything over vanity presses (either self-publishing through a platform like Createspace or Lulu) or pursuing traditional publishing (through a large or small press), that ship has sadly most likely sailed. While it is true that some previously self-published books are picked up by traditional publishers later on in their careers, most publishers contract “first publication rights”. What this means is publishers are buying the right to make your book available to the public before anyone else. Once your book as been published (be it through a self-publisher, vanity press, or public novel blog) those rights have been used up and publishers won’t contract the book outside of it being an independent commercial success. The likelihood of them picking it up from a vanity press, especially with the book not selling particularly well, is slim to nil. It’s just not worth their time, effort, or money.

All is not lost for the question asker, of course, she is not forever blacklisted somewhere. Any new book she writes she can either self-publish through a non-vanity press platform or attempt to traditionally publish. This first book is just a bit of a costly mistake.

And so, never be in a rush to publish. Is pursuing traditional publishing confusing sometimes when you’re starting out? Definitely. Does it mean a lot of rejection/effort? More than likely. Is it better than paying someone to publish your book for you? You can bet your socks.

This is not to say that self publishing is also a bad. There are several writers who have found success through self-publishing. Not, however, by rushing. Authors chose to self publish for a number of reasons, amongst them more creative control or writing something that would have a hard time finding a traditional outlet. “I want it published now” should not be the main reason for pursuing self-publishing either, however. Some self-published books are as good, if not better, than traditionally published books with amazing quality. It is up to the author however to make it that way which can take a fair chunk of time and effort, especially when it comes to paying for editors/cover artists/etc. (in self publishing you will be paying upfront for publishing, but namely for freelancers, not a package from a company. Combined with a platform that lets you post books for free, such as the ones mentioned above, this is almost always cheaper than a vanity press without tying yourself to a less-than-reputable company). Self-publishing will likely be a quicker route to publishing than traditional publishing (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who find a publisher on their first query) but to make a quality product it still takes time. You control the release date, but there is no reason taking another six months or a year to make your book the best it can be will make or break the project.

Especially because, as an author, your name is your product. And the internet has a very long memory. If you pay to have a vanity press produce a book (especially a vanity press that doesn’t do a good job editing) people will end up finding that press and book tied to your name even after you’ve moved one to bigger and better things. If you rush a self-published book that just isn’t ready (one with typos and bad cover art) you might later be able to remove it from print, but copies/traces of it online won’t magically disappear.

As an author you will always be improving. Even now, with my third novel just about to come out and over five years of editing under my belt, I don’t pretend I’m a perfect writer. Each new book that comes out will likely be a little better than the last (I would hope) simply because the more you do something the better you tend to get at it. There is no need to chase perfection, but there is also no need to rush. Do your best to only put things out that your future writer self will be proud to have their name on. True, that’s sometimes easier said than done, but truly, there’s no rush. Take your time to make a brilliant product. After all, as an author, your name is your brand.

Layout Templates

Happy New Year’s Eve to everyone (and apologies for the late post this week). Recently I was asked about book and manuscript formatting. While I previously posted some Layout Tips to make your book look more professional when laying out your text yourself, I thought I would now offer a template as a late holiday present.

As a winner’s gift, Createspace offers NaNoWriMo winners a code for free copies of their book when uploaded to Createspace. While I don’t intend to self-publish my NaNo novel (especially not while it’s still a rough draft) I thought it would be fun to at least see what it looked like in book form for now. Thus, not wanting to spend too much time on it, I changed the story format from manuscript to book format. For anyone who is likewise intending to turn their manuscript into a book, I present you with the template I created:

Book Layout [.docx]Book Layout

While (if you’re intending on full self-publishing at professional quality) this template no way replaces what a professional might do, it is a good start for beginners, including all the headers and section breaks you need to upload a word document to a self-publishing platform as a book.

For those who are looking to submit their manuscripts to agents or publishers (after editing, please, please, please) here is my general manuscript formatting (check each agent’s/publisher’s guidelines before submitting, in case they ask for something specific, but a good all-around format to look professional when submitting):

Manuscript Layout [.docx]Manuscript Layout

If anyone has problems downloading the files, please contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

Happy Holidays!

Novel Layout Tips

News Alert: I am happy to announce that my third novel, The Copper Witch, has officially signed with 5 Prince Publishing for release this coming spring. Updates will continue as release draws closer. So for now, a post about publishing:

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I will be the first to admit that I am not generally a layout person. I do have some experience with it, and now have software that would let me do it pretty simply, but I’m generally an editor, not a designer.

Now, we all have our specialties, it’s to be expected. Being a good editor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good writer, and being a good writer definitely doesn’t mean that you’re good at graphic design. As more and more people go the self-publishing route, however, it’s falling on authors to do their own formatting (at least if they aren’t going to pay for someone else to do it, which is sometimes advisable). As an editor, a lot of my work comes from people planning to self publish. I’m sure there are likewise freelance designers out there to hire to get a book up to professional quality without the help of a publisher and their in-house designers. If you’ve decided to strike out on your own, please keep a few things in mind that even I, with my limited layout experience find annoying in self-published novels (my reviewer self will thank you).

1. Indents and margins. Luckily for self layer-outers, the combination of publishing platform uploaders and many word processing programs saving to PDF make it simpler than ever to turn a manuscript written in Microsoft Word (or the like) into book format. It’s important to realize, though, that traditional manuscript format (8.5″x11″ pages, double spaced, 1″ margins, 0.5″ indents, 12 point Times New Roman font) does not magically become book format just by changing the page size. Most people realize without being told that books aren’t often double spaced, but what people seem to often miss is that indents and margins that seem normal on a 8.5″x11″ page suddenly are giant when something’s 6″x9″. One of the simplest ways of pointing out a book is self-published (or published by people who aren’t used to doing layout) is by looking at the formatting. Indents of 0.5″ rather than 0.3″ make it seem like someone shrunk Word pages rather than formatted a book. Likewise, margins should be made smaller on a 6″x9″ page. Just think about it. 1″ margins on each side of an 8.5″x11″ paper leaves you with 6.5″ of writing space across. On a 6″x9″ page, that’s only 4″. Everything should shrink in proportion.

2. Chapters start on new pages. When writing in manuscript format, it doesn’t always matter if you do a page break or not at the start of a new chapter. In book format, however, each chapter should be on its own page. This can be done simply by just inserting a page break in the document you are using, or you can be a little fancier and have a chapter start slightly down the page from normal. If doing the second, make sure that you use the ruler function on the side of a Word document so all the chapter headings line up on the same part of the page.

3. Scene breaks. When typing in manuscript format, you generally are expected to use some set of markings between scenes (most commonly it is either *** or #). These marks (especially the hash mark) arose as a way to tell typesetters there should be an empty line there as a scene break. While most books just use a “hard break” (an empty line before the next paragraph) for a scene break, using a hard break in a manuscript would make it possible for a typesetter to miss a scene break should it be pushed to the bottom or top of the page. When laying out your own book, however, this shouldn’t be an issue. Get rid of these “scene break” marks for a more professional look.

4. Font choice. Some typesetters have a strong dislike of Times New Roman (feel it looks amateurish) but for someone who isn’t a designers, I truly have no problem with it. The larger point is to use a “professional” font that is serif. After that, Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond–I at least couldn’t tell you the difference.

5. Text alignment. While typing in manuscript format, left text-alignment  is generally the best so you don’t have any strange gaps between words while writing. When laying out as a book, however, justified is the gold standard. If you look in most published books, text is justified to give it a more formal, professional look. Doing so with your own book will lend your layout more credibility.

There are a million other little things that a professional typesetter would be able to tell you about layout that I’m sure I’m missing, but if you take care of these five things, I likely wouldn’t notice it–which at least gives your book a leg up when it comes to first impressions.

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Hate Storms and Self-Publishing

(Note: Having written this post a few days ago, I have spent a fair deal of time debating whether or not this should be posted as I do not especially like the idea of spreading things that end up quite so hateful and dramatic through this blog. As this situation has showcased an important point about self-publishing, however, I have decided to hit “publish”. Should anyone have any comments, I only ask you attempt to remain respectful. Unnecessarily rude comments will be deleted).

Last week, a blog post for a woman named Quin Woodward Pu went viral detailing her response to what otherwise seemed like a pretty benign “I’m not feeling it” text message. While I do personally agree with the bulk of commentators that her text back to this unnamed man seems, well, crazy, one thing got me thinking. In passing in Pu’s text she mentions that she is “a 25 year old with two published books and a condo” as evidence for why she won’t be affected by him not being interested (I think?) With that detail out there, it didn’t take long for one commentator (what can I say, I sometimes like reading angry responses to things on the internet, it’s a guilty pleasure)  to find her book on Amazon and bring it into the hate storm as fair game.

As of me typing this blog post, both books have been brought down to below two stars based on an influx of one-star reviews that, more likely than not, are tied to her blog post (some directly mention the blog post in the reviews). Now, I never support writing mean reviews for books that are focused on the author rather than the book itself (just recently Goodreads cracked down on reviewers after an author pulled the release of her book from being attacked with one-star reviews before anyone could even read her book because of asking what people thought was a “stupid” question on a site forum) but the ones who read either the book or the free excerpt on amazon and thought the writing was bad quickly pointed out something else–both of Pu’s books are self-published (Amazon lists the publishers of books on their listings and “Createspace” [Amazon’s self-publishing platform] is the one listed for Pu).

Now, there are several very good self-published books out there. For authors who want to maintain complete control over their books, or are just sick and tired of the traditional publishing model, it’s a great option. But while the self-publishing stigma is slowly starting to dissipate as more authors start putting out quality books through such outlets, the reaction to Pu’s books shows that stigma is far from gone.

The problem, you see, is that by passing the power to publish from publishers to authors, you lose the gatekeepers (and the support systems) publishing was once use to. In some ways this is good. As I’ve stated before, publishers buy books they think will sell. If they don’t think a great book will come off the shelf, they will pass on it. Self-publishing allows a great book to attempt standing on its own merit. It does mean, however, that anyone can put out anything in any state. The people employed to find good stories and writing (acquisitions editors, slush pile readers, [and to be honest] publishing interns) aren’t controlling the publishing platform anymore. If someone wants to publish a book that is barely legible from typos and entirely nonsensical, they can put it out there and point to being a “published author”. Without the support system publishers offer as well (content editors, copy editors, cover designers, etc.) it is entirely on the author to make sure they are turning out a professional product (either by being multi-talented artists who can also do graphic design or putting up the money to hire freelancers/editing firms before going to print). And the fact is, many self-published authors just don’t take the time to do so.

I did read the free sample of one of Pu’s books before writing this post, and did I, personally, think that sample at least shows good writing? Not especially. Even the first few pages have typos that should have been picked up and as an editor I would have had several notes for her to work on before going to press. Do some of the people who have taken the time to read a bit–rather than simply attacking her as a person–truly believe that that’s what the book deserves for a rating? Very possibly (unless the book gets much better further on, I’m not sure it would have gotten much better marks from me). Does she deserve her books ending up in the hate storm that’s becoming attached to her name? That’s where it gets difficult.

Like I said before, I never support rating a book that’s available off an author’s personal life/their beliefs/anything that isn’t the book’s own merit. It is a nasty thing to do, period. With Pu’s seemingly self-important attitude about being “published” as a talking point, though, it nearly seems as though she purposefully threw the books into the line of fire.

Who knows? There’s the old adage about any publicity being good publicity. Perhaps people will start buying her books just to see/to hate read them, in which case, good for her, royalties are going to go through the roof. Personally, I think what this example really says, though, is that one needs to be careful when self-publishing. Using a platform like Createspace or Lulu shouldn’t be a mark of shame on any author, but when you’re bypassing the gatekeeping method so long used in publishing for your own path, you are opening yourself up to the full brunt of critiques to your book. There is no “idiot publisher” people will point to whose fault it is for letting a bad book out in such a state. It automatically becomes some “idiot author” who thinks “they’re good enough to sully the name of books” with their opus. Your book suddenly has to carry the entire weight of proof that it is a good book. Otherwise, it’s simple for the great internet droves to dismiss as some nobody who just wants to see their name on a cover without being a “real” author.

And so, if there’s anything to take away from all of this as an author (other than don’t post inflammatory things on the internet without purposefully hoping to get a stir) it is to be thorough when planning to self-publish. As your own publisher, it’s up to you to make sure that your work is the best it can be before being sent off into the world. Nobody else is going to. Hire an editor (hopefully a good one) if you can. Get tons and tons of beta readers and an English teacher to copy-edit (at the least) if you can’t. You are taking a road to publishing that has its benefits, but also many, many pitfalls to watch for. Don’t make it easy for people to dismiss you with a pat on the head.

As to people attacking you as a person, not your book, in a review? Ignore them. Seriously. They’re jerks.

(For those who wish to see the blog post that sparked the hate storm, you can find it here [assuming Pu doesn’t feel the need to remove it at some point]. Fair warning though, of all the comments I’ve found around the internet about this story, the ones on her blog are by far the worst,  devolving to mean comments about her race, appearance, and weight rather than any comments about the post/her actions).

I. Us. Them.

Recently I started contract work with a small press taking on any extra editing work with which they found themselves (don’t worry, people who have contacted me previously about editing work, I am still taking private projects as well with the same rates as always). What once again working with a press has made me think about, however, is the difference between working with a private editor (whether you intend to self-publish or then move on to submissions) and working with an editor your publisher assigns.

After introducing myself to one of the authors I’m working with for the press, I found myself a little taken aback by the email I received back. Now, nothing about it was rude or combative (I haven’t even started on the manuscript, so I wouldn’t imagine there’s much to argue about at this point–and for the most part authors I know are pretty congenial with their editors) but I didn’t contain a lot of “I” language (“I’d like you to…” “I want help on…” “I think you should…”) which was a little jarring.

Now, before I continue, when you as an author contract me (or any other private editor for that matter), “I” language is the norm. I, as a private editor, am here to help you make your manuscript everything you want it to be. If you want me to focus on X and X alone, that is all I will touch. If you want suggestions on how to substantially alter the manuscript/story, I can do that as well. I am working for you, the author. I am completely honest with my suggestions/changes I believe should be made, but if you just want one thing (or even don’t want to follow a single suggestion I give you) that is up to you. It’s your novel/short story/memoir. You can do absolutely anything you wish to do with it (just try to stay away from things that might get you sued if you’re planning on publishing).

When you have an editor through your publisher, however, the entire dynamic changes. If I am your editor through a press, I am now working for your publisher, not you (just look at who’s paying the bill). While I have never met a press that wishes to entirely railroad an author by unilaterally making changes, by signing that contract, you generally give final editing approval to the press. If you refuse to make those changes, they can either choose to drop your book entirely, or send it to print as they want it, depending on your contract (I know even from reading my own published books I have found one or two instances where a sentence was entirely reworked after I saw the “final” edit. None of them have really mattered all that much as far as the “integrity” of the story, though, so I’ve never really cared. Just something I’ve noted). As your editor in this instance, I am here to make your story the best it can be–but also to make it into what your publisher wants it to be.

For this reason, I’m not used to the “I”s quite so much in this kind of editing. Especially when it comes to big things. You might actually “want suggestions as to adding X subplot” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get them. Not without the okay of your publisher. The reason you should do any substantive edits before you submit to a publisher is, once you’re contracted, you’re not really supposed to change your story that much. If you talked with your publisher ahead of time/have discussed changing X, Y, and Z, I’m more than happy to help you with that. If you have just suddenly decided you don’t like your ending anymore–you better believe I’m not touching that without an okay from the editor-in-chief. A publisher has contracted your book as they have read it. Acquisitions has read both a synopsis (probably) and the full manuscript (I would hope, if it’s any sort of good press), and decided this is something they have wanted to put into print. Your manuscript as you have currently presented it to them. They didn’t, however, agree to publish this general story with other major changes you have now decided you’ve wanted to make. Perhaps they don’t like the idea of the new subplot, maybe they think the current ending will sell better, maybe they don’t want the story to be any longer purely for space reasons. Whatever they think, it is their decision to make (and my job to help execute) not the author’s.

And so, some tips if you are going through editing with your publisher (after you celebrate that you’ve found a publisher, of course):

1. Acknowledge there will be edits. You’ve (hopefully) already edited your novel within an inch of its life by the time you’ve started submitting to agents/publishers, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t go into more edits once it’s contracted. If your publisher “doesn’t do” edits or suggests you hire an editor yourself, consider finding another publisher. It’s your publisher’s job to make sure your book is the best it can be before it hits the shelves, and while that might be subjective, it means more edits before it hits the presses. Even the best-written, magnificent, certain-next-best-seller out there is going to come back to you with red lines in it. Whether it’s just them tweaking things to fit their house style guides or wanting massive changes, there will be edits. Embrace it. There is always room for improvement when it comes to writing.

2. Acknowledge your publisher has different goals than you. You are the author. Your job up until this point has been to tell an interesting story that you love the best way you know how. You are the creative brain behind the project. Your publisher is the business side of things. It is your publisher’s job to print and market your book in a way that will make both of you money. Publishers don’t stay in business by slapping a cover on something and sending it out to bookstores. They do their best to keep an eye on what is selling, figure out why, and then try to make your book do that. If they think they can make your book do that more easily by deciding on some changes, they are going to do that. That is their job/what enables them to sign those paychecks.

3. Make all the changes you want before starting to submit. I’m well aware at some point you just sort of have to set your pen down/close your laptop/sign off Google Drive and say DONE when it comes to edits. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a book that I felt there weren’t other possible edits if I just looked at it again. Perhaps this line would sound a little better if I X. Perhaps I shouldn’t have included that other love interest. Perhaps I should have thought to tweak…If you’re anything like me, you’re never 100 percent satisfied when you go back and look at (even published) works a year later. The trick is bringing it up to a point where you are satisfied with it, when it is the best it can possibly be at that exact second, and then casting it off into the world. Otherwise everything would remain a perpetual work in progress. Once you have made that choice (to send it off) accept that it is done. Sure you can make tweaks here and there, but if you think you might want to entirely rewrite the ending you aren’t done. Self-motivated major changes should have no place in your manuscript once you have an agent/publisher interested in it.

4. Listen to what major changes a publisher/agent might want before signing anything. In interest of not getting into fights with authors/ending up having to pull a book after they’ve put a ton of work/money/effort into getting it ready for publication, most publisher will let you know any major changes they’ll want before contracting you (“major” meaning completely writing out a character, changing the ending, or chopping an entire subplot. That sort of thing). If you say “okay” mean it. If it’s something you can’t deal with, turn the contract down. As hard as that might be some times.

5. Don’t try to go behind your publisher’s back. Especially not with your assigned editor. As I stated above, when working for a press, we editors have to primarily be concerned with keeping the publisher happy. If you want a major change, we are most likely going to go to the publisher anyway to get an “okay” it’s not going to happen, have us pass it up and go “Oh well, that’s what the author wants. Too late to change it.” That’s a pretty good way for us to end up not getting paid until we put it back. If you happen to decide at the last minute you need something changed, discuss it with the higher ups. If they say go for it, your editor will likely be more than willing to help you make them.

6. Remember your editor is not the enemy. All that said, your editor does (or at least should) want to work with you and help make your book the best it can be. We didn’t get into the business by hating good books, after all. Yes, we will tell you “no” about your own book if our bosses say “no” to us and sometimes suggest changes you don’t like that lo and behold the publisher decides to go with, but we aren’t doing it because we’re out to get you. We make suggestions we truly believe will make your book better and/or are required by the publisher’s style guide. Please try to be understanding (or at the very least not send us angry emails).

7. If you don’t want anyone touching anything without you having the final say, consider self-publishing. Now, I really don’t intend this tip to sound flippant, but it’s the truth. As soon as your signature is down on a publishing contract you are generally signing away the right to final say over just about anything (check your contract, final say on cover art/edits are generally explicitly given to the publisher). At that point your recourse to keep something you’ll put your foot down over from happening to your story is to try to pull the project all together. As I’ve said before a publisher is more than likely not going to railroad you and turn your heartbreaking tale of two lesbian lovers into a feel-good novel about two best friends out on the prowl for guys. If your publisher were interested in a story completely different from the one you wrote, they would have said no to you and looked for that story instead. Many publishers get hundreds or thousands of submissions a day/week/month. There’s no reason to try to rewrite an entire novel to be something you might find elsewhere. You do, however, have to accept that you might not get the exact cover you want or have that one sentence back the way you think is perfect. If you are worried about those things, you do have a way of publishing while maintaining complete control over your work. Self publishing. Self publishing of course has its own ups and downs, but working with an editor answering to someone other than you is not one of them.