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10 Things I’ve Learned After 7 Years of Blogging

Today, according to WordPress, is my 7th anniversary of blog writing (nearly 6 with this blog).  I started this blog because I got my first story sale with my short story Death Watch, which was published by the good folks over at Liquid Imagination.  Originally my blog was my website, and though I have since separated the two, a lot of people still find me through this blog.

When I started out, I really didn’t know what to expect.  And seven years later, I still really don’t know what could happen.  But here are at a few things I have learned since starting out.

1 – Getting traffic to your blog is hard.

It took me a long time, a really long time, to gather up any type of blog traffic.  I tried funny posts, writing posts, life posts, and mixtures of all three.  What I learned is the topics don’t really matter, it just takes time to start showing up in search results and for people to come to your blog looking for certain content.  Which leads to number two.

2 – Pick a topic for your blog

Pick a topic for your blog and stick to it.  Does that mean I don’t blog about life? No.  It just means that the general topic of this blog is books and writing.  I love the movies, video games, and hockey.  Sure I mention those in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve written blog posts on those things.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to write on other topics, but you’ll get a better following if your blog has a theme.

There are exceptions to every rule.  My post, Eight Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Washington is not writing related at all, but it is the only post that gets a hit at least once per day.

3 – If getting traffic is hard, getting a following seems impossible.

For the longest time, my family were my only followers.  It look a long time to work up to a decent following and to keep them following.  There are a lot of ways to get the regular following and keep them, and many of those are involved in these things I’ve learned.  The truth is, no advertising ever worked.  The only followers I ever got were from reading a post of mine and liking it enough to follow the blog.

4 – Losing followers is very easy.

People stop following a blog for many reasons.  The most common, you offended them.  Society has placed a lot of weight on being offended, as if it really means anything.  I’ve lost followers when they found out I’ve got LGBT characters in my novels. I’ve lost followers because I’ve mentioned I own guns.  I’ve lost followers because I made a Trump joke.  You will also lose followers if you don’t blog in a while.  I lost most of mine during my two year hiatus.

5 – You can’t please everyone.

So you may be thinking that you should sterilize your blog from any possibility of offence.  I tried that in the beginning of my blogging days.  Hell, I used to try that in the start of my writing days.  Well, fuck ’em. People will get offended by what you say.  If they don’t, does your writing carry any real passion anyway?  As I said above, people think being offended means something.  It doesn’t.  What I have learned is that more people appreciate the honest writer connecting with his audience than they do a sterilized blog.  You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

6 – Listen to your audience.

Many of my blog post ideas come from blog comments or my social media.  I’m not saying you need to ask them what to blog about next, though you can a time or two.  But pay attention to what they are saying about your blog.  As a self published author, I noticed many of my readers were talking and interested in that aspect.  As a result, I wrote Self Publishing, a post in which I explored what Self Publishing was all about.  It took more work than most of my posts do, but it was also the most successful post.

7 – Read and connect with other bloggers

You really need to read and connect with other bloggers.  For one, you will see what is trending and discover what other bloggers like you are doing.  This will let you know if the topic you want to blog on is over-saturated or that it is of no interest to anyone.  But also you can work with others to do guest posts and other connections to attract their followers to you and your followers to them.

8 – Guest posts are great.

Guest posts are a great way to drive followers of others to your blog.  For a long period of time I was doing an author focus blog series that allowed guest posts from other authors.  It drove new eyes to my blog that may have otherwise not visited.  Don’t expect a ton of new followers from it, but you just might get someone poking around your blog for other stories.

9 – Don’t expect your blog to be a revenue stream.

I’m not sure I have made any book sales from people who came to read my blog.  In most cases it is the other way around.  People have come here after reading my work.  Some to complain, but most because they liked what they read and wanted to see more.  Also, ad riddled blogs suck to read (of course we have no control over the WordPress ads).  One ad maybe, or sponsored content is okay.  But some blogs read so heavily of sales pitches that they become no fun to read.

Also, don’t overly self publicize on you blog. It isn’t wrong, but it is a fine line between content and advertising.  The point of a blog is to connect with your audience, not sell them shit.

10 – It is okay to blog for yourself.

It is absolutely okay to write a blog for yourself with no aim to gain followers.  You might accidentally acquire a few anyway.  But not every blog has to be for fan connection or to gain more readers.  Some can be for the hell of it.  You can have as many blogs as you like too.  The choice is yours.

BONUS: We’re all full of shit.

Here is a bonus thing I’ve learned, everything on the internet about how to write a great blog is full of shit.  This one included.  What worked for me may not work for you.  Lord knows I read a lot of crap, that when I tried it, did’t work for shit.  More to the point, articles with things I’ve learned titles are there to help you see what was learned.  You can use it, or you can toss it.  The choice is yours really.

It is your blog, write what you want, but I’ve shared what I’ve learned.  Your results may vary.

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I Call BullSh*t: Authors Shouldn’t Read Reviews

productReviewI know I haven’t been the best about blogging regularly lately. So many new things going on and so many excuses to give you.  So now, I wanted to get back into this with the regular feature I promised, but never delivered on. The I Call Bullshit series where I take things I was told starting out in writing and blow them apart.  The first one was on how I was told that social media marketing was really easy.  It is not.  This time I am going to go over a big one.

I was always told, don’t read the reviews of your work.  Just ignore them all and keep putting out books.  But that is complete bullshit. Perhaps if you are George R.R. Martin you can pass on reading the reviews, I suppose your success tells you what you need to know.  But even still, I think he should be reading his reviews too. And who knows, maybe he is.

First people tell you that everyone is a critic, and this is true. It is also true that you can’t please everyone.  Some people will genuinely hate your work and for no other reason than your style. Not every book is good for everyone. I think once you realize that, there isn’t any reason not to read the reviews.  Even the bad ones have something for you in them.

And there is the reason you should be reading your reviews, there is feedback from actual readers there. You would listen to your Beta readers if they told you they didn’t like something, you may not change it, but you would listen. So why wouldn’t you listen to the person who paid money for it? Some of that money you received.  Readers should be the reason you are writing stories. So to ignore their comments is a spit in the face of the reason you write.  Sure, you may write for yourself. Or you may write because you like to create. But if you took that writing and had it published in anyway, you did it because you wanted someone else to read it.  So you should be listening to their reviews.

Reviews, good and bad, are a precious gift. They are so hard to get.  I have had just one review on Volition Agent since July 6th of 2013. One review and a year of nothing.  Broken Trust has had just one review since itsrelease over a month ago.  And Dissolution of Peace has 20 reviews, but it has taken three years to amass that many.  So getting reviews is far from easy. I have given away free copies asking for a review in return. I have done promotions to get the book in thousands of hands through a KDP free day.  And, I’ve begged and pleaded with my friends to write a review. And it doesn’t come easy.

The point is this. Even a bad reviewer took the time. Something so many readers will not do.  They took the time to tell the author and other customers how they felt about the book. So I make sure to check them at least weekly and to read them. I do this because it is feedback. Feedback from someone who took the time to let other readers know what they liked and disliked.  It is the reviews that lead to a second edition of Dissolution of Peace, because there was consistent feedback that too many typo and grammar mistakes slipped through the cracks.  And it is the same set of reviews that has pushed me to get the sequel out.

And I am not just talking about Amazon or Goodreads reviews.  I am also talking about the blogger, the Facebook comment, the Tweet, and all the other ways that authors get a review.  We should be reading those because they speak volumes about what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong (or at least not to our reader’s enjoyment).

Because I will tell you my stance.  Getting no reviews for a full year, that stings a whole lot more than getting a sub-par review.  I am sure there are people who read it who must have liked it, but they couldn’t be bothered to review it. And that feels like I did something really wrong.

I have noticed a shift starting to happen in this “don’t read reviews” movement. That is the independent author.  Authors like me who are publishing our own work.  I am seeing more and more independent authors saying that we should be reading reviews. And I think this comes from the fact that we are typically the struggling artists who finally decided to take our work into our own hands and put it out there for the world to see. And, we are desperate to know if we made the right choice.

valid-stampThe main difference is that Traditionally Published Authors already have that validation. They have an agent, editor, and publisher that loved their work enough to put it out on shelves and stamp it with their name. Where as the independent author, the only validation that our work gets is from the readers.

But, as time passes I suspect we will continue to shift away from this idea that authors should avoid their reviews. I think it is important we listen to our readers and become better from it.

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A Guide For Beta Readers

productReviewSo you’ve been tasked with beta reading a novel, or maybe you’re an author looking for what you should expect from your readers.  The real question, for you, is probably what do you do?  And when I look around, I don’t see many guides for beta readers.  So here is a guide you can use, whether you are a beta reader, an author, or an editor.

What Is Beta Reading?

I just finished editing my next novel’s manuscript, and I found it hard to get beta readers.  When I spoke to several other authors, I found that they too had this problem of getting new beta readers.  I think this is largely for two reasons.  The first is that many don’t know what a beta reader is, and two, many are intimidated by the idea.  Beta reading is essentially a trial reading.  A beta reader reads over an early form of the manuscript for an upcoming novel.  This manuscript is often a little rough, but largely publication ready.  It just needs a little bit of polish.  They are the readers that are trying out this novel for the first time.

Don’t confuse Beta Reading with Advanced Readers.  Advanced readers generally are receiving a finished, and publication ready, copy of the book called an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy).  They are reading a copy of the book for editorial purposed to review the book.  It is a very different thing than Beta Reading which helps to polish the book for publication.

What Are the Qualifications of a Beta Reader?

There really aren’t any specific qualifications needed to be a beta reader.  I think this is something that most people don’t realize.  It sounds fancy, so people assume that they can’t possible help out.  But a good author wants beta readers from a cross section of people, to give the best representation of his potential readers.

Some of the people that authors want to beta read: They want a mixture of men and women.  They want a wide age range with the bulk of them falling in the books target demographic, but they do want a few people a little older and younger than your target audience. They want people of various educational background. They want people from different belief systems.  They want people from different fields of work or study.  They want a few fellow authors or editors, but mostly they want regular readers.  They want readers of their genre and potential cross genres.  For example, Volition Agent is science fiction, but it has action and thriller elements, so when I selected beta readers, I chose a few action and thriller readers.

As you can see there is no “typical” beta reader.  So no matter where you come from in life, if you like reading and want to help an author mold his work, you can be a beta reader.

So, what should I expect?

Each author does beta reading a little bit different.  With Dissolution of Peace, I sent out a few chapters at a time to the group and then compiled there results and sent out the next set.  When my next two novel manuscripts I just sent the whole manuscript and waited to compile the answers at once.  Some authors are more involved and like to have you read a few chapters and then meet up on Google Hangouts and have a group discussion about those chapters.

Expect to get a Word or PDF document that is in standard manuscript format.  That means it will be double spaced and in a uniform font. It won’t be a finished book, remember it still needs its polish.  Expect to be given some basic instructions too.  Some authors are very specific about what they want, others are more open.  I’ve been more open on my last few manuscripts.  That is something that is entirely up to the author.  Some will want you to make notes using the Word Comment function (which is my favorite).  Others will just want notes on a separate sheet. I prefer a combination of both.

Also expect a deadline.  Authors are often working under deadlines and they need these notes back from you by that deadline.  If you can’t commit to that deadline, then don’t agree to be a beta reader.  Authors are expecting responses from all of the beta readers (typically authors don’t select a lot of beta readers, I go for around ten).  So if the deadline doesn’t work, it is best to say so.  This way another reader can take your place.

What do I do?

Read.  But make notes while you read, either on a separate sheet or using Word’s comment function.  Do NOT change anything on the author’s manuscript, unless they have instructed you to.  And if you do, make sure you turn on Word’s Track Changes function.  Otherwise, the author will never know what you changed.  If you aren’t allowed to make changes to the manuscript but you see something glaring, you can use the comment feature to point it out.  Author’s don’t mind you pointing out typos and grammar issues, but that generally isn’t the focus of beta reading.

What Should I be Pointing Out?

I think this is the number one question beta readers want to know.  Here is a list of some things.  Authors may ask for more, but this generally covers all the bases.

Questions that Pop into your head – Point out to the author when and where a question came to mind.  Sure, it could be answered later, or not at all.  The author can see if he is putting the right questions in your mind during the right parts of the story.

Areas where you lose interest – Point out areas where you begin to lose interest or your feel like the author has slowed down the story too much.  For example, you might read a long drawn out paragraph about a starship’s engines and you feel your mind starting to wander rather than focusing on what is being said.  Point that out.  It could be what is called an “info dump” and we need to fix that.

Dialogue that doesn’t work – Perhaps some of the dialogue seems fake.  Or you don’t think a street thug would use such proper English.  Point out confusion areas where you are not sure who in talking.  Also point out scenes where dialogue is taking place but you don’t know where it is taking place at.  Dialogue absent of scene.

Passages you had to reread – Point out areas you had to reread a few times to understand.  It could be an awkward sentence, or an over technical passage.  But if you had to reread it, it is probably worth pointing out.  It is also worth points out if you reread a passage because you like it a lot (see below).

Story gaps – Point out things that the author doesn’t seem to explain.  There are gaps in the story line or something you don’t follow.  It is easy for us authors to forget you don’t live in the same world we created and while we know this happened in the “background” it may not be obvious to the reader.

Plot Holes or Weak Plot Points – Plot holes are dangerous for authors and weak plot points are sometimes even worse.

Unbelievable Story Elements – I like a good twist as much as the next reader, but I don’t like being completely shocked to the point I’m screaming “yeah right!”.  I like to read a twist and be both surprised but also think back and realize I could have seen it coming.  A character who can suddenly stop bullets with her bare hands on the last chapter, but there was no hint to this ability anywhere in the book before, is something you may want to point out.

Use the expertise you do have – We all have knowledge about different things.  Don’t be afraid to share it.  I recently read a book where a character carried a Glock (pistol), and the character repeatedly “flipped off the safety”.  As a Glock owner, I wish I had beta read that novel so I could have told the author that Glock’s have no external safety to flip off.  The safety is ingratiated into the trigger.  In my next novel, Broken Trust, the location of the novel is based on Lagoon Valley (though modified), near my hometown.  The problem was, I refer to the lagoon.  One of my beta readers pointed out that a lagoon is a body of water near a coast.  Not the case in my Lagoon Hills city.  It is really a lake.  The point is you have knowledge that you can, and should share.

Tell the Author of your Ignorance – Just like you have expertise in certain fields, so does your author.  And that tends to mean we do one of two things: We either show off our knowledge and really it has no point in the story.  Or, we assume everyone knows what we are talking about, and it leads to confusion.  Point out both of these to the author.

That’s out of Character – Point out things you see a character do that you feel are not in line with the character.  Characters evolve, but generally not suddenly.  If it doesn’t seem right point it out.

I loved that line – Here is where beta readers tend to forget.  They forget to praise what they like.  Even now, I listed it way on the bottom of this list.  I suppose it is human nature to point out what is wrong first.  But you need to tell an author if you liked something.  Did one line stick out in your mind or hit a special cord with you?  Tell the author this.  Did you love an action scene, or a character’s particular dialogue, or did you love a particular twist?  List those for the author too.  List the stuff you liked for the author too.  Let them know where they really hit the nail on the head.

General thoughts – Here is another point beta readers tend to forget.  I like to take a moment at the end of each chapter (or section of chapters), and again at the end of the novel, to tell the author my overall general thoughts on it.  Both the good points and the bad.  Things like: I really liked how character X is starting to come to her own in this chapter, but I wish she wouldn’t have been so weak with Character Y.  Or, I really loved this action packed chapter, when it was over I couldn’t wait and dived right into the next chapter.  Any general thoughts are good for the author to consider.  Maybe they were looking to slow things down, or speed things up, or give a since of romance.  Your general thoughts will tell them if they hit that mark.

Characters – I think this is another point that authors need from beta readers, but are often left off.  Give a thought on the novel’s characters.  I like to do this as part of the summary.  I go through each of the characters I remember and I tell the author if I like them, didn’t like them, and why or why not.  I tend to get more detailed and explain what I liked and didn’t like about each character.  It gives the author a better idea if they are hitting the mark with how the readers feel about a certain character.

NOTE:  Never get insulting with you comments.  The criticism you give should be constructive in nature.  That doesn’t mean some of your comments won’t sting a bit, but as long as you are constructive with your comments it is fine.  Here is an example: “You’re being foolish if you think a woman would ever say that.” versus “I don’t think Character Z would really say that.  It doesn’t seem inline with anything she’d done or said before.”  See the difference.

What will the Author do with everything I note?

That depends on the author’s process.  I will wait until I get all the notes back from all the beta readers.  I read all the comment made.  I then reread the manuscript and go through each area line by line.  Chances are, if the majority of the readers comment on something, I will make changes to correct it.  If just a few, or even only one, reader comments on something then I have to decide on that change on a case by case basis.

This is one thing that I have seen frustrate a few beta readers.  They complain that the author didn’t make some of the changes they suggested.  The truth is the author did take your suggestions under consideration, but in combination with all the other reader’s suggestions.  If nine readers like that Character X is a jerk, but you hated this about him; chances are the author will keep him as a jerk.  That isn’t to say that he won’t tweak Character X based on some of your suggestions.  Remember this is the author’s novel and they will make changes they feel best suits the story.  But rest assured, they did read everything you had to say and took it all as important.

What happens next?

Well for me, I like to adjust the story based on the reader comments and then send it to my editor.  Other authors do the beta read step twice and will get a different set of readers to read it again.  That is up to the author.

Summary

So now you have a guide on what to do as a beta reader.  I find beta reading a lot of fun and an excellent chance to really help develop an author’s story.  As an author I enjoy getting beta reader feedback, it is often the only time I get a direct feed into a readers thought on my story.  With this guide you can be an effective and excellent beta reader for any author out there.  No go forth and help an author out.

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The Difficulty of Turning a Hobby into a Career

There are a lot of careers out there that can be hobbies too.  Painter, Photographer, gaming, sports, blogger, and of course writer, these are all examples of careers that are also hobbies.  There is nothing wrong with being a hobbyists, and you might even make a few bucks on a hobby.  Some hobbyists work very hard on their hobby, and I am not saying this is a bad thing.  But some of us take a hobby, and decide to make it a career.  But there are a ton of stumbling blocks a long the way.

As a writer you take on being in business for yourself.  You have to have the drive to work even when no one set deadlines, or when there is no boss telling you to get something done.  This can be difficult for writers.  We tend to be day dreamers and get distracted with ideas and fun little thoughts.  We can also be distracted by a shiny new book that we just have to read.   All off these things make working for yourself a challenge, which often ends in a lack of time to complete tasks.

The financials of turning a hobby into a career are another matter to consider.  If you plan to publish your own books, then you have to pay for a lot of things.  You’ll need a freelance editor, a cover artist, an ISBN, and order proof copies a long the way.  Even if you don’t self publish, you will have the cost of marketing (don’t count on publishers to do it all).  Also include travel expenses for conventions and workshops to improve your skills.

Oh, and you cannot forget the Tax man.  I am not a tax professional, so I don’t have many tips on this.  I can say that you should keep track of all your expenses and income related to your career.  And though you may not make any money at first, your ultimate goal is to start making a profit and that means you’ll eventually be paying taxes.  As a business owner, I do recommend you find a trusted tax professional and get some tips and tricks from them.

You will likely need to keep a “day job” in order to make ends meet.  They truth is that starting any business, including the one that used to be a hobby, means that you need money.  Not just to start-up your business venture, but you need to plan on financing your self for the next 5 years.  And, you probably have a few bills of your own to deal with (or probably tons of bills).  This all means that you will likely need a real job at first.  You will need some way to help pay everything that needs to get paid.  You may be lucky and have a spouse that can work full-time and support the whole family.  Unfortunately, especially here in California, that seems to be getting rare.

The major downside to having to get a day job is that it means a significant cut into your time to focus on writing and being a writer.  If you really want to make this happen, then your work hours get extended signficantly.  In my case, I work 40 hours a week.   So that is a big cut into my time.  The sad thing is most people don’t understand either.

You will need to improve your skills and start networking with others.  This means you need to attend workshops, conferences, and conventions.  This is one area that I missed out on until this year.  There are a lot of online ways to network.  Of course there is Facebook, Twitter, and the like.  But there are also online writer groups, which allow you to network and improve your skills.  There is also NaNoWriMo.  You can also find many other online conferences and workshops to attend.

But there also in person ways to network that you can’t miss out on.  Conventions and writing conferences are held for various genres and range in size.  Some are free, some will cost.  There are travel expenses to consider in this.  But if you want to be good at your hobby turned career you need to attend these things.  You need these things to propel yourself to the next level.  Even if you just want a hobby, you can’t go wrong with learning more.

But traveling to all these conference to network and market gets costly.  It also gets a bit tiring.  But the cost is the biggest stumbling block for me.  And, as I will touch on below, family doesn’t always understand.  There could be fights over the cost, or the fact that you can only afford to go by yourself.  There will be some you are dying to go to (for me it in LonCon3) but you just simply can’t go.  At least not without causing a divide in your personal life.  But, make the best effort to go to any conference you can.  Make the effort to learn.  When you are not writing, editing, or marketing, you should be learning about how to get better.

Now here is where your dedication of taking this to the career level is tested.  Most of your friends and family don’t understand what you are trying to do.  They see the “hobby” as just that.  They can’t understand that you want to make this a career and that means you have to dedicate your time to this and sacrifice a lot of other things.  You work a day job, you need to work on your writing, and eventually you need to sleep.  That means that you miss a lot of other things.  You might not watch much TV.  You might spend a lot of time locked in your office.  And you might not get to the dishes that day.  And, in the case of my wife, she doesn’t understand that.  It is hard to make them understand that you are essentially working two jobs.

Since I enjoy writing, it only embellishes the hobby mentality.  Since I am having fun, I clearly can’t be working.  But that isn’t the case.  There are a few parts of writing that I really love.  Writing the story, developing the characters, and seeing the cover art are all things I love.  Editing, marketing, and coming up with titles all stress me out.  I dread that part of the job.  But I also know that when it all comes down to it, it is worth it.  In any case, because you love to write it can often give the appearance that you are having fun and choosing writing over your friends and family.  In some cases you are, but you are also doing this for them.  It is important that your family, especially your kids, see that you are trying for your goals so that they can put hard work into their own goals.

The success rate it low.  That is the one major problem with turning a hobby into a career.  There is a low success rate.  How many aspiring authors fail?  How many give up?  It takes a ton of work, and there is no guarantee of making anything of it.

I don’t think people understand the amount of work that goes into this.  It could be that you ran out of money.  It could be that your family nagged you too much and you quit.  It could be that you become impatient waiting for success.  It could be that you simply ran out of time to accomplish anything.  Or it could be that you just didn’t think it was worth it anymore.  It is hard to work for yourself, and it is hard to make people see your own vision of your future.  But you need to decide what your vision is and make a goal of it.  If you can hold out for just a little bit longer, you just might make it.  You just have to find people who trust that you are not just a hobbyist, and there is a career to be had.  Good Luck.  Now go set those goals.

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The “Cooling Off” Period

So I finished yet another first draft for a novel.  I’ve come to the part of creating that many writers suggest, the cooling off period.  Some call it “letting the manuscript rest” or “getting away from the story for a bit.” This is the time after completing that first draft that you walk away from the manuscript and let it rest for an extended amount of time.  This is supposed to disconnect you from the story and give you a chance to see it “fresh” eyes.

File this under: Reasons Your Book Isn’t Published Yet.

I’ve tried this cooling off period before and I don’t see any point in it. I find it as nothing more than wasting time when you could be getting that book ready for market by starting the second draft.  Instead you waste a month, two months, or even six months waiting for some magic to make you forget the story.  If you are really passionate about what you write you won’t forget the story.  I think this is just a stall tactic for writers to avoid something they hate… editing.  It is also a great way to avoid the even scarier prospect of publishing your work.

Editing is important, and it is necessary to get your work published.  This paranoia that you will miss something if you don’t let it rest is irrational.  You will have beta readers to catch what you miss, you will have an editor to catch anything else that slips through.  So why do we need to waste time with this cooling off period?

I wanted to try this cooling off period.  I really did.  As I finished this manuscript I told myself to give it a rest, wait a month and dive back in.  But come on. A whole month?  There is no way I can do that.  It has barely been a week and I am shaking with the need to reread and edit it.  It is driving me nuts.  I can’t focus on any other projects because all I can think of is Liam, Rachel and Talya waiting for me to share their story with the world.  So all this cooling off crap is going out the window.

I say that you should throw it out too.  Get your book out there.

But a lack of patience isn’t the only reason to skip this.  I’ve talked about those writers stuck in the revision cycle.  They are stuck revising their story again, and again, and again.  The story never goes anywhere.  And I have to say that this cooling off period plays right into this.  As you go back and check over the manuscript and you wait again.  Then you find more.  Then you want to change this.  Now let it cool off again.  Oh, and now I need to change this.  Oh, great now another author has come out with something similar so let me change that.  And now, let it rest again. And, ah hell it has been three years since I wrote this, I know so much more now.

Guess what? You’re still not published.

I don’t think that people realize just how much time they waste on this tactic.  I’ve heard the argument that you can write something else while you wait.  Which I understand.  But if a story is yelling for you to work on it, why hide it in the closet? And even if you do write another manuscript, unless you get past the cooling off period, all you have is a collection of manuscripts with no readers.

Personally I think you should go with what works for you, so long as you keep pumping out fiction.  But I think the cooling off period does little more than waste time and give writers a false belief that they can fully edit their own work.

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The Submission Grinder (A Duotrope Replacement)

I rarely do two blog posts in a week, let alone in a day.  But I was just extremely excited that I couldn’t wait to share this with you.

I have made it no secret that I didn’t like how Duotrope handled their new business plan.  It seems there is a new alternative that arrived today.

The folks over at Diabolical Plots made an announcement today:

We have been actively working on creating a Duotrope replacement for which we will never require a subscription fee.  Anthony Sullivan has been our technical expert, as our resident web guru.  I have been the monkey with the wrench that hits things to see if I can break them, as well as market data entry.  The Submissions Grinder is already running and ready to go, though we have some work to do yet updating the market listings.

I was really excited to hear this.  I knew someone would put forth the effort to try to replace the void that Duotrope has left.  David Steffen appears to have had some of the same frustrations I had.  And a lot of his came from the same places mine did.  I just didn’t like how it was being handled.  And while many of us took to the blogging world to say we didn’t like it.  Steffen and his colleague Anthony Sullivan have put together The Submission Grinder.

I’ve already registered because I liked the idea and I know the folks at Diabolical Plots put out quality product.  And I will tell you what, I absolutely love it.  It is simple.  But what do you really need?  There is a market search, a submission tracker, and pieces manager.  In fact, those of us who are used to Duotrope will find the user interface and information to be virtually identical in most ways.

If you downloaded your Duotrope data from the site, you can upload that Excel CSV file right into their site.  I did that today and now all my submission data is saved right onto The Grinder’s “my submissions” section.  Best of all, your submissions will create a rapidly growing market listing on that site.  I’ve already pledged my support to these folks, if nothing else for the fact that they have proven that they care about writers.  Plasma Frequency will also happily do what it can to support these guys.

So please go check out the hard work these guys put into this.  Be patient with the bugs, as any new (and even veteran site) has them.  But I think you will see that this will quickly become everything you needed when Duotrope went paid.

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Distinguishing Yourself from the “Steaming Piles of Crap”

On of the members of the writer’s group I belong to, and a person I follow on Google+, recently released her first eBook.  I offered my congratulations and she mentioned that anyone can put up an eBook, “…from Stephen King to steaming pile of crap.”

And truthfully she is right.  Anyone can do it.  They can go on Smashwords, KDP, or even PubIt and throw together an eBook and sell it in about ten minutes.  I just got done setting up Dissolution of Peace for eBook sales on KDP and was surprised just how quick it was.  I was set up and done in about an hour.  And I spent some time debating the price and royalties options.  On the other hand, the print version has taken almost a week now to get set up and it still isn’t done.  But even that is only because they review the file for “print-ability” but not for content.

So one might wonder how they separate themselves from the crap.  The simple answer is not to be crap.

If you wrote a book in a week, and published it the next week.  Chances are your story is going to be garbage.  You simply miss way to much when you spend so little time on a project.  I’ve talked a lot about the steps you have to take to get your work ready for publication.  If you start cutting corners, it will show.  All told, I will have spent nine years (or more) working on Dissolution of Peace.  From the original manuscript written in 2003-2004 to the final product you will all see October 16th.

Do I recommend taking nine years?  No, not necessarily.  From the time I made up my mind to finish, and see published, Dissolution of Peace  it took almost exactly one year.  In that year, I spent most of that time editing.

The rewrite of the manuscript cut out 30,000 words of pure crap.  Words I might have missed if I didn’t reread the original manuscript.  Next, I read it again.  I corrected the mistakes I found, and read it again.  Then I sent it off to a few beta readers.  They made their comments.  I fixed some things, and read it again.  Then it went to a professional editor.  He sent me back a boat load of suggestions.  I fixed those, rewrote some passages, corrected the plot holes and confusing information.  Then, you guessed it, I read it again.  I fixed a few things and put it in format for publication.  Then I ordered a proof.

ALWAYS ORDER A PROOF.  I know many people who skip this step.  They figure they have caught everything by this point.  They look at the digital proof for format errors and then approve it.  They never hold a proof copy in their hands.  Well I ordered a proof.  And I read it cover to cover.  There were exactly ZERO formatting error.  However, there were twenty-two other errors.  Missing words, typo words, and other things.  Things four beta readers, an editor, and five of my own readings missed.  All of which were just things your eyes miss.  When you see a word in its context you might not notice that “closest friend” was typed “closet friend” in the book.  The fact remains that as I read it in book format, these things came out because it was the first time I had read it as an actual book.  In print.  Not on a computer screen.  I saw my novel in a new way.

And now, as I get ready to approve the final draft I am confident it is ready to be read.  Will I miss something?  I will almost bet money I did.  But even the professionals miss something.  It is one of the ways book experts can detect what edition many books are.  They know of certain misprints, typos, ect in each edition.  The point to this is not to spend forever making the novel absolutely perfect.  The point is to spend enough time with it to make it the best you can possible put out.

I read my story six times in this last year.  If you are not reading your book multiple times to prepare it for publishing, how can you expect buyers to read it once?  If you wrote it and you find it boring to read more than once, it may not belong in the steaming pile, but you should figure out what needs to be fixed to make it readable.

I will also say this.  Grammar and punctuation do not make a book readable but they can may a book unreadable.  If your book is overly riddled with grammar mistakes, they can distract a reader.  However, you can have a grammatical masterpiece, not one grammatical error in the entire manuscript, and still have a steaming pile on your hands.

You need a plot.  A story that starts where the real story starts.  You need a conflict of some type.  You need a resolution to the conflict.  And you need a satisfying ending.  You have to be able to tell a story.  A story readers want to read.  A story with characters people love (or hate for the right reasons).  You need a world for this to all take place in.  Once you master that, you can go back and fix the grammar.

The point is you need to take time with you works.  He who publishes the most books, does not win.

You need to put together a quality novel before you submit it for publication.  If you do that, your work will stand out for the steaming piles of crap that come out.  But also remember that some people will simply not like your novel for their own reasons.  While others may love it.  You can’t please everyone.  We’ve all bought a book we thought would be good only to be disappointed.  But if you take your time to put your best work forward, you will find a following of readers who will love your story.

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