The last struggles before publishing

I’m finishing the THIRD edit on Legendary Magic. That might seem excessive to some people, but it’s my usual process. I’m planning on an early September release, so the clock is ticking. For me, this is the most stressful part of self-publishing and there are many early mornings when I get out of bed in a rush because there are things that need to be done on the book before I forget. I usually think of these things right before I fall asleep the night before so by the time dawn comes, I’ve had at least seven hours to obsess.

And I do mean obsess. The last few weeks before the release mean crazy dreams. Last night I dreamed my husband and I ordered Japanese food from a food court on the North Shore for ourselves, a Japanese businessman, and a woman with purple hair from Germany. When the food didn’t arrive in two hours, I ventured into the kitchen to ask about it and nobody spoke English. Eventually, a hostile old woman began waving a ticket in my face while yelling that someone wrote one of the items down wrong, so they didn’t bother to make any of the food. By the time I found that out, all of the other restaurants were closed and I had to explain to my husband and two strangers who didn’t speak English that someone didn’t get something written down right, so we would all have to go hungry.

In the light of day, it’s clear to me that I’m afraid if I don’t get this book edited perfectly and immediately, I’ll starve and let down not only my family, but complete strangers. This is simply not reality; it’s just the stress of pre-release jitters. It happens every time I get itchy to publish my latest book.

There is no quick fix to this part of the process, but I do have a few strategies to keep me focused. I’d like to share those with you in case you find yourself in the same boat.

1.) Set a vague date. Don’t nail yourself down to a specific day until you’re sure you can get everything done by that date. If you’re self-publishing, you don’t need a deadline to strangle you. A vague date is good enough to get you on track and working toward a more specific day.

2.) Work out your pre-release marketing strategy. There are tons of places to post about your new releases, so make yourself a list of all of the ones you plan on using and set it up as a document so you can work on it in small chunks. I’ll post mine as soon as I’m up to the portion of my process (I’m not there yet – that’s the beauty of being an “indie”).

3.) Disconnect the internet. There are myriad places where indies go to chat about their books and connect with other indies (I have several, and most of the links are on the side of this page). If I can hop on-line I can see who else released what book and then spend a few minutes commenting on posts and pages. This leaves me feeling even more pressured to just FINISH! I generally complete my books in my living room (on the couch with my dog) and as far from the business end of writing as I can get.

4.) Since I publish exclusively on Amazon (that’s another discussion entirely) I can go in to my dashboard and upload my cover, blurb, details, and tags and save the draft until the book is done. That gives me peace of mind that all that’s left is the final conversion.

5.) Give your beta-readers a loose timeline. Mine know that when I give it to them, I’m itchy. They usually take no longer than two weeks to read. They’ve been with me a while now, so once the book is in their hot little hands, they flood me with emails and phone calls to point out the little things I need to go back and fix. Once I give the draft to them, we’re on short time. I edit, fix, and rephrase daily depending on their feedback. If there’s something glaring – I stop them all and fix the error – then I send a new copy out and we start up again. I’m in constant contact with them during this process and they are my salvation!

I should mention here that I have two groups of readers. The first group gets a rough copy, then I edit the draft a second time, take a few weeks off from the story, then the book goes through another round of editing. The copy that’s been edited three times goes to my second set of readers. The next time I finish a book, the two groups switch tasks (so everyone doesn’t have to read the not-perfect copy every time). While I do have a friend who edits for me (one with a Ph.D. in English), I also read the edited copy and sometimes sneak a change or two into the final draft because I am that obsessive.

As I get closer to publication, I’ll tell you where I am in the process in case something I do would make another author’s life easier. It’s hard to remember that you’re not alone when you’re an indie. You just need to work a little harder to find the tricks that make your process work for you.

Happy writing!
Leigh

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Efficient Author Strategies

I keep a journal with story ideas – it has two sentence descriptions for some stories and nine page layouts for others. I have a file of book covers on my computer for books I haven’t written yet. I already have my next five writing projects outlined in my head and yet sitting down to the computer and hammering them out isn’t always easy because there doesn’t seem to be time. Most writers have a backlog of writing that needs to get done, but there are a few who seem to publish a new book every few months.

So how do writers get down to work so they use their time most efficiently? I’ve been experimenting with ways to make my own writing more prolific and here’s what has been working for me:

Disable your internet. I can spend hours popping on and off the ‘net, so I turn off my internet when I’m sitting down to write. There are also programs you can buy that will restrict your access to only certain times. It’s a huge time-suck when you’re checking you various social media sites because there has rarely been a time when I’ve logged onto facebook without finding something interesting that I clicked through to!

Keep an outline running. I write with two documents open on my screen – the manuscript and the outline. The outline is a fluid document that I add to as I work – sometimes the story goes in a direction OTHER than the one I originally envisioned. I revise my outline so I’m not spending precious writing minutes going back through the story to check a detail.

I’m also a huge fan of index cards. I like to write the plot twist on one card and then each character’s role in it on others. It makes it easy to reference those little interlocking pieces that can take hours to add or days to untwist when the story is done.

When I don’t feel like writing – I edit. I edit ruthlessly – but as my writing habits have improved, the process of editing is way different. When I wrote my first book I had to “trim” the manuscript. I found long passages where I was obviously “in the zone” and wrote for hours on end. Those passages needed to be trimmed. Now, when I’m in the zone, I tend to get better flow because I write so consistently. I don’t lose the thread of the story because I work on it every day and I edit the last page or so of the previous day’s work when I sit down to write. That keeps me brushed up on where I was going.

Set a “plot-point goal”. I rarely write without having a point in the story that I’m aiming to reach. I set plot-point goals when I turn on my computer. I want to get to the castle or I want to get to the point where I bring back Coyote. The goal focuses my writing and keeps me thinking ahead for places where I need to add things or connect threads.

Use your research time wisely. Even though I write Urban Fantasy, I do research. I have a spreadsheet that I work from and I copy web addresses of sites that are interesting to me into the spreadsheet. I code by topic, key word, and type of site (description, photo, map, etc.) and when I’m researching I bookmark sites in a separate folder and then add the information to a spreadsheet. I do this because I’ve spent hours trying to find sites that I remembered seeing something interesting on and that’s FRUSTRATING!

So go forth and write – efficiently!

A new pet peeve (as if I needed another one)

I’ve been trolling Amazon reading book blurbs from other indie authors and I have noticed a trend that disturbs me. Does this trend appear to be working? Will people buy their books because of the burning questions? Is there a better way to write a blurb?

Are you getting my point?

As I sigh dramatically, I wonder how much effort it really is to take a moment and tell about the book rather than asking a question you think the reader will be dying to find out – my conclusion is: Not much effort at all.

As a reader, I read because I like the description – not because I need answers. The questions are not questions I would ask the author about their book.

Will they get the crooks or die trying?

Will the cake fall and ruin her career as a pastry chef?

I really don’t care because the blurb writer didn’t build me up before asking the questions. Maybe if he or she told me this:
Suspended above a pit of hungry alligators that looked like they hadn’t eaten in weeks, Carla and John knew the crooks were only a few feet away. If they could reach them in time, the case would be solved. If another strand of the frayed rope snapped, they would be lunch. Some days are more than just another day at the office.

That might make me wonder if the characters will live and if I care enough to read how they wound up suspended above the pit.

If the other blurb told me the character’s house was mortgaged to the hilt and the one way to save it was to win the international cake competition and prove that she is the best pastry chef in the world so new people would come to her restaurant and the increased revenue at her struggling cafe would stop the bank from foreclosing on her home…maybe I’d worry about the cake falling -if the run-on sentence didn’t kill my enthusiasm.

I have to admit, when I see questions in the blurb I sigh dramatically and wonder…

Did they run out of things to say about the book?

Or am I just getting jaded?

This is not the time to blend in with the crowd!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/self-publishers-authors_n_2909998.html

This is an interesting article on indies who have signed with traditional publishing companies (and a few who passed up the first deal). It’s these interesting angles that can see you through the rough spots, like lagging sales or writer’s block.

The important thing I took away from this article is this: There’s an increasing amount of competition out there. With some brilliant writers in the market your story needs to be as polished and as perfect as possible. You only get one chance to make an impression on a new reader. If your book isn’t as engaging and clean as it can be then you’ve lost your chance at getting a second sale. There are other indies out there who are making sure they can offer quality material on a consistent basis.

Think about it this way: Everyone with an idea and a computer can publish a book. In that vast sea of material, there are droves of authors with perfect manuscripts. You need to be on your game – and that’s when the magic can happen.

Get writing!

Self Published Blunders

I try to review self-published books on this blog, but in all honesty for every one that I’ve been impressed with, there have been three that have annoyed me so much that I put them in a special folder on my Kindle titled “GAVE UP”.

These books have something in common with each other, and there are a few major errors I want to point out to self published authors. We can’t run with the big dogs if we’re rushing to publish – bringing a traditionally published book to market takes many months at least – years at most. There are edits and beta reads and publicity campaigns. While I admittedly suck at the publicity thing, I do pay attention to editing and I have my books read by many readers before I publish. Here’s how I can tell instantly that a fellow indie has rushed to publishing:

1.) The first chapter is tight, but the subsequent ones shoot off on wild tangents or have random thoughts inserted at odd places. This is a case of too much editing in some spots, and not enough in others. I read 3/4 of a book that I thought was decent and then found a rambling twelve page scene that was inserted to “tie up loose ends”. It was so out of sync with the rest of the book that I read the first line of every paragraph to try to get through it – even that was more trouble than it was worth. The book was excellent – until the tangents started. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so – Amazon sent me an email that the book had been revised significantly due to editing issues.

2.) Different fonts, line spacing, and margins appear throughout the book. Seriously? Amazon has a preview file that needs to be meticulously checked to avoid this. I hate bad formatting. It’s the easiest thing to fix and it just looks lazy if you don’t do it.

3.) A cast of thousands. It’s distracting when I have to try to remember who everyone is, what their back story is, and how they relate. I shouldn’t need to keep notes to follow the plot.

4.) Plot, sub-plot, sub-sub-plot, under-sub-plot. Again, the reader shouldn’t have to work that hard.

5.) The vast wasteland of extra information. This is the one that really separates traditionally published books from indie books for me. The story’s going along great and suddenly it comes to a grinding halt while everything is explained and the characters get ready for the big finish. I think of it as D-Flailing. The appetizer (point A) is well thought out and makes you want to read the story. Points B-C (B)build some tension and (C)characters. D-Flailing grinds the story to a halt while the author (E) explains everything you need to know but he/she couldn’t fit (F1) into A-C and then you’re off again with a great build up for the (F) finale.

There are other things that I find distracting, but they’re not usually serious enough for me to give up. Numbers 1 and 5 are similar but they occur in different parts of the book and I think they serve two very different purposes. An author who has too much going on in the book takes wild tangents throughout the manuscript. An author who can’t figure out how to connect the tight beginning to the fantastic ending suffers from problem 5.

Over the next few weeks I’ll post pointers about how to fix these problems. Along with a review of a book that I’m currently reading – as long as the book doesn’t flail too much.

Brushing up the old stories

I cleaned up a few thumb-drives I had lying around and found a few old stories that I really liked, but that I hadn’t worked on in years. Feeling inspired (and perhaps a bit nostalgic) I pulled a few of them onto my laptop and began editing and reworking one in particular. I learned a great deal about how far I’ve come since I started writing.

While the story was sound, the telling left a lot to be desired. I was guilty of the age-old sin of telling instead of showing. A few reworked scenes later, and I found that it was easier to keep the basic premise and a few key scenes and just start fresh with the idea. While hunting around the manuscript for things that I wanted to keep, I found that I was leading down the same path that my new version took.

That could be because on some level, I remembered the story; I’m more inclined to think that the story has a natural progression and while I can rework scenes, the bones of the story lend themselves to a solid form that incorporates the little twist and turns I am compelled to write. When I got to the end of the old draft, I found I was coming out in the same place, despite some major revisions.

Maybe as writers, we subconsciously write the story and we get so lost in the details that it takes the distance of a few years or months to clearly see where we were headed without the distractions of overly written scenes and careful attention to every piece of dialogue. What I’ve found with my own writing is this: I can take off on a tangent, but ultimately I wind up exactly where I planned.

Haul out some of your unfinished manuscripts and read with a critical eye. My guess is you got lost in the minutia of the story, but under a bumpy skin is a strong bone structure that can be reworked into a glorious new entity.

A Productive Year

2012 was a very productive year.  I published two full length novels, a short story, and a novella.  Add to that, the four novels I have in process on my laptop and someone could get the impression that I write every time I get a spare moment.

That is not the case.  My first novel probably took me four years to polish and publish.  The second one was easier, but I had a portion of that one written before I published the first book.  I also had a portion of my new novella written – it took me three weeks to tighten it up and proof it.

The lesson for me is this:  It’s not about writing a novel from start to finish.  It’s about writing down all of those little ideas until I have enough to complete a story.  I write complete scenes, and I don’t always know where the characters or story are going next.  I write until I’m stuck and then I put it away for a few hours, days, or weeks until I get inspired again.

In the meantime, I might open another story I’ve been working on and write a little on that.  I might even start a new one if I’m so inclined.

When I feel like I’ve finally written everything I want to on one story, that’s when I start to really tighten up my novel and pay attention to word usage, pacing, grammar, punctuation, and all of the other technical things.  If I bog myself down in those things before the story is finished, I just end up frustrated.  Once I enter the editing phase, the other things I’m working on are ignored so I can focus on completing the one that’s done.

My eventual goal is to finish all of the manuscripts that I have started.  If I don’t stop starting new ones, I’m going to be at this for the next six years and that doesn’t sound so bad to me today.

Create Space Cover for Destructive Magic

I learned that the cover design is what throws me when I’m publishing a new book – go figure, since I’m an artist…

However, with Elementary Magic I changed the cover FOUR times.  So I don’t have the same issue this time, I completed the cover of Destructive Magic on Create Space – even though I’m still editing the book.  I’m relieved – and I think it turned out pretty nifty.  Again, the service was EASY to use!

On a whim I decided to try the Create Space service through Amazon – it was amazingly simple.  Log in, download the formatted Create Space Template – do a whole bunch of copying and pasting of your material into the template and voila!  You have a book.  The hardest part was getting my chapters headings formatted the same (I’m a little compulsive and I wanted 5 returns before the chapter heading and two after – it’s an OCD thing) – but that was the hardest part.  I decided to include the first two chapters of the next book in the series at the end (a nifty little marketing strategy!)  Also, the free Cover Creator tool was simple to operate and it changed my cover image, fonts, and colors easily.  I would recommend it.  I copied my chapters directly out of my Amazon html file (I’ve told you before about saving multiple file formats) and the Create Space template coped amazingly well with the text.  I am exhausted at the moment, but I’m doing a few marketing strategies in the next few weeks, and I’ll report in on them.

Editing – the slash and burn pass

I’m editing Destructive Magic and this is my second pass through the book so I thought I’d share what I’m doing to polish it up.

Ruthless deletions!  (Yes, I am a mean editor).  I may have loved the scene when I wrote it, but if it doesn’t move the story along, it’s highlighted and deleted.  I don’t try to “make it fit” if it doesn’t naturally do it.  I call it my “slash & burn pass” because I use delete more than any other key on the computer.  There’s a downside to that:  Once I delete, I have to rework the scenes surrounding the now missing scene so the story flows.  Here’s how I do that:

I read the “Previous scene that gets to stay” and ask these questions:  Where is the character physically, emotionally, experience-wise?  Where do I need to get her?  What does she need to learn/struggle with/lose in order to get to the next scene?

The next thing I do is take away something she needs to be successful.  There are two ways to do this:  One, delete it.  Two, give the “oh, crap! moment” where the character realizes it (usually the realization comes too late for her to fix it).  This is where I give the character voice so you know a little more about her.  Does she lament the loss/lack of something or does she find another way to cope without it?  Does she get mad and throw a tantrum or does she just give an eye roll and move on?

Then I read the “Next scene that gets to stay” and ask:  Is the character prepared to be there?  Should she be?  Usually, she shouldn’t be prepared in my novels, so I focus in on what she needs and how not having that makes it harder for her or how not being prepared puts her in a dangerous situation.  Then she has to figure out how to get out of the scene and into the next one (Providing I didn’t delete that one as well).

I think of two types of editing:  Story driven (including the technical aspects) and Character driven.  This part of my editing is story-driven because I’m moving the plot along (a technical skill), but once my scenes are cut to the bare minimum, it becomes more character-driven because it lets me show the reader what kind of character they are cheering for.  Deleting scenes for me helps me stretch the characters and bring depth to them.  It’s not where we are but how we react to our surroundings.

I have no problem deleting things and sometimes I have a separate document called “(title of book) deletions” just in case I get carried away.  The purpose isn’t for the reader to read every single word I’ve ever written – it’s to take the reader on a journey with a character they know and can identify with.  Unnecessary scenes distract from that goal and leave the reader asking the deadly question “where are we going with this?”

My delete key is feeling neglected, so I’m off now to get rid of some more scenes.  Happy editing!