Tag Archives: editing

My Self-Publishing Journey: Pareto’s Law Revisited

I wrote a while back about Pareto’s Law: the 80/20 Rule. That’s the idea that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. The trick, of course, is knowing which 20% of your effort is producing the results.

Castle Rock Publishing is preparing to publish DANGEROUS TALENTS. Part of that process is deciding what level of editing to pay for. DANGEROUS TALENTS has been through multiple rounds of critique with authors who have published well over 100 books between them. Is that enough?  Do I (as the owner of Castle Rock) hire a less expensive editor to go over this much longer book? Or do I stick with an editor whom I know does excellent work? Do I pay for a developmental editing pass I may not need, or do I pay only for copy and proof editing?

This is no small matter. I’m in business. Every dollar spent up front pushes the break-even point further away. At the same time, my books represent me. They can build or hurt my reputation.

I’ve made my decision based on my dedication to producing high quality entertainment for you, my readers. But I wanted to share my dilemma with you because if you’re self-publishing these are the kind of decisions you’ll face too.

In the meantime, I want to announce the winners of my drawing for a free copy of one of my books. These winners may choose either a print or digital copy of VEILED MIRROR, LIGHTBRINGER, or DANGEROUS TALENTS when it’s released next spring.

Congratulations to Christine Wunch, Caroline Mickleson, and Benita Grunseth. Thank you for leaving reviews of my books. You can contact me with your preference at FrankieRobertson@earthlink.net.

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My Self-Publishing Journey: I am the Decider!

I just got the 2nd pass edits on LIGHTBRINGER back from Edits that Rock. One of the questions Rochelle raised after the first round was whether I wanted  to discuss religion quite as much as I did. In much of today’s paranormal romance, the big questions of religion are carefully skirted so as to not offend and lose readers. This isn’t as true in science-fiction and fantasy. A significant number of authors in those genres have tackled religion head-on, but not so much in romance.

I had what I think is a fairly average Christian upbringing, colored by an early love of science-fiction and fantasy.  In SF and fantasy it’s often acknowledged that in building a new world, religion is an integral part of  what motivates people. So for me, if characters have a conversation about life after death (VEILED MIRROR)  or angels (LIGHTBRINGER) it doesn’t make sense to pretend religion doesn’t exist.

And yet . . . I am paying Rochelle for her expertise, and I do want to actually sell my books, not just decorate Amazon’s website with my listings. So I thought pretty hard about her advice. I was free to take it or leave it. As I mentioned in a previous post, unlike an editor at a traditional publisher, Rochell has no leverage — the decision was all up to me.

I’m pretty good at catastrophizing. I can worry that a minor misstep can doom me to utter darkness and failure with the best of them. Interestingly, as I’ve progressed on my self-publishing journey, I’ve felt less of that. Where I used to worry that if I didn’t write the perfect synopsis I would be exiled to the outer reaches of writer purgatory, now a decision about editing is just that, a business decision.

In the end I decided to trim a few sentences from LIGHTBRINGER for the sake of the larger story arc of the Celestial Affairs series. And that’s the point of this post: It’s all about the story you want to tell. Every story has its audience. Don’t worry about that. In my opinion, the priority should be what works best for the story, not protecting the author’s ego and not potential sales.

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Going Deep

I’ve been working the last two weeks on the conceptual/developmental edits for LIGHTBRINGER. This is the first of three phases of editing Edits that Rock does in a manuscript level edit. Rochelle sent me a sixteen page analysis with specific suggestions for revision and explanations for those requests. In several places she reminded me that these were suggestions and that LIGHTBRINGER  is my book.

The relationship an author has with an editor who is buying her work, and an editor she hires, is necessarily different. In the latter case, the author is under no compulsion to follow the editor’s advice. She’s paid for it, but whether she takes it is entirely up to the author.

I read Rochelle’s feedback four times before I started work. The first time was to get an overview, the second through fourth times I took notes. I bounced ideas off my husband and friends (fortunately they’re quite resilient) and then I dove in. I agreed with most of Rochelle’s recommendations and have incorporated them. I thought a couple were off the mark.

One of the suggestions that was harder for me to do was adding a couple more scenes from one of the bad guy’s POV. At first I didn’t think it was necessary. Then I wasn’t sure where to put them, or what should be in them. Finally my subconscious sent me an email, and I was off. I had a blast writing these scenes deep in Dave’s POV. When I first drafted him, he was just a bad guy, doing what bad guys do. By the time I finished the book, Dave was going to be a continuing character in the series. And now, with the addition of these two little scenes, the reader will get to see Dave as more than a guy with a gun. Even better, these scenes help establish a tone that I didn’t know I wanted before, and foreshadow other events in the book, doing triple duty.

The next stage of edits will be deep line edits. I can’t wait! (Written with a certain amount of irony.)

As far as I’m concerned, my editors are worth every penny.

 

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Pareto’s Law: The 80/20 Rule

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people.  He furthered his observation in his garden by noting that 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pea pods.

Why the heck am I writing about an Italian economist who liked to garden a century ago?

It has since become a rule of thumb in business that 80% of sales will come from 20% of the clients. Are you getting the idea now?

As self-publishers have to do it all:  writing, production, marketing. Our time is limited so we have to use it wisely. If we accept that 80% of the results will come from 20% of the effort, we have to determine which 20% of the effort is bearing fruit. Or peas, as the case may be.

I’ve written about spending money instead of my time for a cover. I spent a small amount of time finding an artist: evaluating the portfolios of several artists, choosing one, contacting her, then evaluating the three iterations of the cover she produced, requesting revisions. All of that took far less time than learning to do it myself and produced a cover that was better than anything I could have come up with in far less time.  Twenty percent effort=80% result.

Likewise, there’s the question of how much time to spend on self-promotion. Social media is free and there are many, many venues to use to get your brand out to the public. But it can be a HUGE time-suck.  Many authors make the mistake of suspending writing in favor of spending their time promoting. This is a mistake, in my opinion. There are multiple surveys that show that the two most effective ways to influence people to buy your books is

  1. Have a good reputation for writing good stories, and
  2. Have people recommend your book to their friends. How do you make that happen? See number one.

It follows that the best use of your time is to

  1. Write good stories, (80% of your time) and
  2. Let people in your niche know about them in a friendly, not spammy, way (20% of your time).

If this sounds so simplistic as to be insulting, please forgive me. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself of.  And in fact, I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Okay, so what about writing that good story? I’m a believer in the idea that my self-published books should be as good as I can make them, right now. I owe that to myself and I owe that to my readers. I owe us both a nice cover, clean formatting, clean prose, and most importantly, a good story.

I don’t owe anyone perfection.

The question is, how do you know when the story is ready?  When do you stop revising and editing and say it’s good enough?  Can you say, “It’s good enough”?  I think the words “good enough” raise the hackles of many a writer. “Good enough” implies to them that there’s still room for improvement, and if you stop short, before a story is as good as it can possibly be, you’re a slacker, a hack, a lesser being undeserving of sales.

Arithmetically, it’s not possible to achieve 100% perfection. Two iterations of the 80/20 rule will get you 96% of the way to perfection. Three will get you 99.2% of the way, etc.

Of course, we’re not talking about arithmetic, we’re talking about writing, and writing doesn’t add up in neat little sums the way numbers do.  I can’t tell you when your story is good enough. I can tell you that it’s possible to revise your first chapter over and over and never finish the book. It’s possible to finish your book and revise the spark of life right out of it. It’s also possible to put a book away for a year, come back to it and make it stronger. There is no right answer that works in all cases.

The point of this rambling is: Use your time effectively. Where you’ll be tomorrow is the result of what you choose to do today. I know from experience that it’s incredibly easy to scatter one’s efforts and achieve very little. Spend less time on FaceBook and Twitter and reading blogs, (except this one, of course :-)). Instead, write, revise, then send it out the door.  Tell a few friends about it, then write another story.

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My Self-Publishing Journey — Learning As I Go

As I’ve mentioned here before, one of the decisions I had to make when I decided to self-publish was how much to do myself, and how much I should outsource.  Time and money were the two players on that see-saw.  I knew if I took my time, I could learn to do pretty much all of the necessary tasks and I would end up with a pretty good product because I wouldn’t let the book out the door until I was satisfied. I also knew that while I was doing all that learning, I wouldn’t get much writing done, and as I wrote in my last post, each new book is your best promotion for your last one.

In light of that, I as I said here, I decided the money spent outsourcing the production work to professionals was the best  investment in my business and my future.

So then I had to find the professionals to outsource to.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there are lots of places to find referrals. Mark Coker at Smashwords has a list of inexpensive digital formatters and cover artists he’ll send for the asking. The kindleboards are another source of info, as are the blogs of other self-published authors like Joe Konrath.

I didn’t know how long each step of production would take so I just dove in and contacted my first choice for a cover artist, Kim Killion at Hot Damn Designs.  She sent a questionnaire that I filled out, and two weeks later she sent the first draft of a cover to me. I sent back some requests for changes which she quickly implemented.  I wanted a few more refinements and sent those to her. Busy with attending a conference, she is still working on those revisions.

What is worth mentioning is that I felt reluctant to ask for more changes that second time. Perhaps this is a problem more common to women, but I had to remind myself that Kim had not complained or communicated a limit to the number of revisions I could ask for. I had to remind myself that this is one of the perks of self-publishing as Barry Eisler has mentioned — that I’m paying for a cover I like. I don’t have to settle for what my publisher chooses for me. (Which is not to say that all publisher-provided covers are awful, just that as the one in control, it’s up to me to choose.)  As soon as I get a final cover I’ll post it here and show you what the progression was.

I think starting with the cover was a good idea, even though it will probably be done long before I finish with the edits.  I know from getting the cover for VEILED MIRROR (coming out September 21st)  that seeing a cover makes the book seem real. Not to mention the visual is great advertising!  In fact now that I think about it, there’s no reason to wait until the book is finished.  Having a cover already designed could be an inspiration to write faster!

Soon after I contacted Kim, I emailed Rochelle French at Edits that Rock.  So far I’ve received their free five page edit and decided to go with their full manuscript level edit.  I debated with myself for some time about whether to spend the money on a professional edit.  LIGHTBRINGER  had been through two different critique groups of multiply published authors, and I knew that Kris Tualla had used a series of beta readers instead of professional editing to good effect. What decided me was yet another blog urging the benefits of professional editing for self-pubbed authors, and the discount ETR offered to me as a new client.  Then I saw their incredible attention to detail in the five page edit and I was sold.  They do three different rounds of editing at ETR. I can’t imagine any editor at a big publisher could do better.

That allayed any lingering doubt that by self-publishing it, LIGHTBRINGER would be sub-standard.

I’ve also contacted three different digital formatters, and decided to use Lucinda Campbell.  I do not yet know if I’ll hire someone to format the interior of the POD version or let Amazon’s CreateSpace manage that.

This has been a rambling post, but that’s appropriate to the subject matter because just I dove into the nuts and bolts of production without being sure what to tackle first.  And that’s a good thing, because I’m further along than I would have been if I’d continued to collect even more information.  At some point you have to choose: fish or cut bait.

This is a learning process for me.  When I publish my next book, probably FIRSTBORN, I’ll know better how long each step takes and be able to plan better.

 

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To Rewrite, or not to Rewrite, That is the Question

With apologies to Shakespeare:

To rewrite, or not to rewrite: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous reviews,
Or to take arms against a sea of typos,
And by opposing end them?

Of course, rewriting is much more than correcting typos. As Dean Wesley Smith defines it in his post, “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Rewriting,” rewriting is “when you go into a manuscript after it is finished in critical voice and start changing things, usually major things like plot points, character actions, style of sentences, and so on.”

Smith is in the camp of “Not to.”   His advice is to just write, spellcheck, touch up, and throw your story up on Amazon. “You have to write new material to learn. No one ever learned how to be a creative writer by rewriting. Only by writing.”

Here is where understanding the terms is really important.  As I understand what Smith is saying, by “rewrite” he means making major structural changes to a story. By his definition, any story that needs that much work is broken. You’re better off taking the important idea you started with and redrafting the story from the beginning. He relates a conversation with Algis Budrys:  “So I asked him if he ever thought rewriting could fix a flawed story. His answer was clear and I remember it word-for-word to this day: ‘No matter how many times you stir up a steaming pile of crap, it’s still just a steaming pile of crap.’”

Unfortunately, I think some writers will fail to understand that Smith isn’t saying you shouldn’t do any more than the barest clean-up on your manuscript.  I missed this point on the first read through.  He does recommend doing “touch-up” drafts, sometimes more than one. And for new writers these “touch-ups” may be extensive.  They might even be considered rewrites by some. Whether this would be considered “stirring a steaming pile of crap” might only be discernible after you’ve stirred it a while. Nevertheless, I think that new writers can learn from rewriting. I have.

When I first starting to write, I’d read a lot of stories.  That means that story structure was deeply embedded in my subconscious. That’s a good place for it to be, since that’s where a writer’s creativity resides. When you’re writing that first draft, you want to let your subconscious take control. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate having an outline. You can use an outline and still fill in around it with wild creativity. But during the first draft you must not let your internal editor rule. Lock her in a box if you have to.

Once your first draft is done, however, let your editor out of the box. (Here’s a good resource for self-editing.) As Joanna Pen did with her draft of Pentecost, you have to ask yourself if what’s on the page matches what you set out to create. Her process was quite involved, and not every manuscript will need this level of revision. What I’ve found is that by examining my work and recognizing areas that fail to accomplish what I tried to do (either by my own perception or with the help of other readers) and then fixing them, I have learned how to avoid making the same mistakes in the next story.  I learned from rewriting (or touching-up, if you will).

What you don’t want to do is get stuck reworking one manuscript over and over and over. That way madness lies (and a lack of publication).  Smith makes a valuable point about learning from writing. Sometimes it’s better to redraft, write something new, or several somethings.  You can always bring back what you’ve learned to that earlier manuscript.

Or not.  There’s a lot to be said for just moving forward. As the Italian driver said in Gumball Rally, “What is behind you is unimportant.”

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Reading Like a Writer

It’s a truism, especially among fiction writers, that you should read what you want to write.  A lot of it.  That’s the only way to understand the tropes common to that particular field of writing.  But I think it’s really not that common for people to start writing a book in a genre, or sub-genre they don’t already love.  Most of the time, I think folks have been reading a particular kind of book for quite some time before they get their courage up to give it a go themselves.

So you love romance, or science-fiction, or westerns, or mysteries and you decide to write your own.  Sometimes it’s because you read a book that wasn’t so great and you said to yourself, “I can do better than that.”  Sometimes it’s just because you have stories of your own that you want to share.  You write regularly, you read how-to articles in magazines, and you join a critique group so you can learn your craft.  And you do.  You learn what works and what doesn’t.  You learn the rules and when to break them.  And you keep reading because you love the genre.

And you find that far fewer of the books you used to devour are as satisfying as they used to be.  Now there’s an editor in your head reading over your shoulder, whispering, “I would have done that differently.”  “I would have written that scene from the other character’s point-of-view.”  “The author should have expanded that scene (or made it shorter).”  “Too many flashbacks.”  “Info-dump.” That voice, that awareness, seldom remains silent.  It will never let you read the same way again.

But that’s not a bad thing.  Because you’re now reading like a writer, you’ll become more selective, and you’ll be learning from the best.  The voice will also be saying, “Wow, that’s cool!  How did the author do that? Can I apply that to my book?” And when you stumble upon a book that is so good that your internal editor forgets to comment, savor the experience.

Then buy another copy and read that book over and over until the covers fall off and you understand what worked.

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