What makes a romance novel enticing? That is the million-dollar question.
Is it sexual tension, the act of love, the battle of the sexes, or the sweet tingle of attraction that draws your attention? The answer, of course, is as varied as the people who buy romance novels.
So how do you write a story that will appeal to the widest audience possible without leaving some readers wanting more, yet offending others? The answer is simple. You can’t.
Writing romance is all about finding a balance of passion and tension, and for most of us that means writing what we’d like to read. My first few novels were much steamier than they are now days, and I’ve wondered why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and most of the heat I feel these days is hot flashes. Or maybe it’s because I know my mother will read my books. Either way, I’ve toned down the sex to focus more on why the characters are feeling attracted, charmed, or conflicted.
Let’s talk about those three issues, attracted, charmed, and conflicted. Of course most romantic relationships contain all three, but let’s break it down.
We all understand attraction. We feel it in the bakery at the grocery store and watching a commercial on TV. What is different about romantic attraction? First there’s the whole instinctual need for sex. That topic is universal and well documented. Some romance writers simply go with that. It’s real. It’s easy to tap into and describe. Some readers thrive on reading about it over and over. But there are other, deeper, reasons people are attracted to each other.
Having a basic understanding of human psychology helps nail down why one person may be attracted to another. I enjoy visiting my elderly neighbor because she reminds me of my mother. Is that attraction? Yes, but it’s not romantic attraction. It has been documented over and over that women may be attracted to a man because he either reminds her of her father and she misses that stability and love, or on the flipside, she is looking for the father figure she never had. This type of romantic relationship is fraught with turmoil because it’s unlikely that a woman will find the unconditional love and support of a father, from a lover.
Sometimes people are attracted to another person because they feel comfortable with them. This one idea alone can be a big enough conflict for a whole novel, because what is considered “normal” by some, may actually be violent, or neglectful to others. The relationship may not feel good, but it does feel like the relationships they are used to, and trying something different feels awkward. I personally like to write about overcoming that discomfort and finding a healthy connection, but many popular and angsty books have been written about unhealthy love affairs.
So what about charmed? This is also one of my favorite topics in romance. Charmed is fun, inspiring, and different for everyone. Some folks are charmed by humor, some by thoughtfulness, others by verbal communication. The book The five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, gave me inspiration for about a million love stories. For example, what happens when two people are attracted, but one is charmed by considerate actions like loading the dishwasher after dinner without being asked, but the other is fulfilled and delighted by lengthy deep discussions. Both are healthy desires in a relationship, but how do your characters find balance? One is busy in the kitchen to show their affection while the other feels neglected and bereft back at the table. Another example: A man spends an hour at the flower shop selecting the perfect mix of flowers to show his devotion, but when he comes home late, his lover is displeased that he was too inconsiderate to call and let her know. These healthy conflicts that are centered around the actions that delight and charm a character, to me, are perfect fodder for a great romance.
Last but not least is conflict. As discussed, both attraction and charm cause conflict, but some writers choose conflict alone as the basis for a love story. In some classic love stories the relationship is perfect, but the lovers are kept apart because of war, financial status, or family disapproval.
I chose to write about couples who are kept apart because of emotional reasons that they must find, confront, and alter. The realization and practice involved in this type of conflict is fun for me to twist and mold. I know from personal experience that realizing you have an issue, doesn’t fix it. You have to alter your thought processes and actions and work through changing in order to find a solution. The discomfort and confusion involved with altering your life is conflict enough for me.
To review, what do you find enticing about a love story? Is it the attraction of the characters to each other, the flutter of emotion and charm they find in the company of another person, or the conflict keeping them apart? Or like me, do you love all three?
Have you ever wondered how an author could contrive the colorful characters that draw you into a novel? How do these imaginary people, so full of life and personality, spring from nothing but an imagination? Sometimes characters aren’t even people, but beings from a realm you’d never imagined. How does one mind come up with such individuals? Although there are steps I take to create characters, the process can be both puzzling and surprising.
Some authors feel that their gift of creation is precarious, and if they rock the boat their ability to contrive characters will vanish. They think a jolt of any kind could shake loose their talent and leave them bereft. They carefully walk through life on eggshells, cautious not to alter their lifestyle for fear of losing their unique power. Other authors feel that their creativity springs from living a colorful and varied life; an existence filled with ever shifting perceptions and insights. I take a more middle of the road approach. My life of traveling in our RV is varied and colorful, yet each day I tend to have a similar routine. I certainly gear up to write in a comparable way each day. So what is the secret to unlocking the imagination doors of character development?
I’ve heard of authors who conceive a story in a flash, then closet themselves away for days or weeks, typing furiously until the whole thing is out. But I believe that far more of us agonize over our characters, some for months or years. We turn them this way and that in our mind, considering how they would respond to specific stimuli. What would they notice? How would they feel? Would they have a knee jerk reaction, then change their mind after a few moment of reflection, or hold stubbornly to their first impression? Would this character be a compilation of their experiences, always looking back for answers on how to move forward. Or is the character motivated by the need to feel free, resolute to never alter their course, because everything happens for a reason. Is my character motivated by guilt, or pleasure, or the need to please others? Is she closed off due to a past trauma, or motivated by a single goal. All these questions sound like a phycology class more so than a novel, but motivation is the driving force behind a character’s actions. Once you know the motivation behind a character you can begin to conceive how they respond.
Now you have a few character’s motivations established in your mind you can place them in a setting, confident that they won’t run-a-muck. Or better yet, maybe they will, to the delight and shock of the author. If you are lucky enough to contrive two characters with personalities that play off one another, you are in for a treat. With conflicting motivation running wild, anything can happen. These are the moments I love as an author. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised and delighted by things my characters do or say.
Of course there are other things to consider when creating a character. What do they look like? Where do they live? How old are they? What language do they speak? And again, do these things effect their motivation?
I always ask myself “How can I create a three dimensional character that takes multiple factors into account for their day to day motivation.” I believe the fuller a character has been developed; the more readers will empathize and be drawn into the story. After all, humans are quite complicated creatures. Next I think “What would happen if this character is confront with their worst fear, or situations completely out of their control and comfort zone?” That’s right, what if I contrived scenarios to throw at the character knowing they will struggle to figure it out? Therein lies the best idea for a story.
Next time you pick up a novel, watch as the author develops the character. How do you learn what their motivation may be? Does it become clear through memories or conversation? Are you dropped into a scene where the character is thinking or acting a specific way? Are you clued in by their mannerisms or speech patterns? Sometimes you find out about a character by the way other characters respond to them. The best thing about writing and reading is that the possibilities for character development are pretty much endless…
I write romance novels. Sounds clear-cut enough, unless you’ve ever shopped for a romance novel, then you know better. Right off you notice that there are multiple sub-genres to consider, such as contemporary, western, erotica, gay, paranormal, regency, the list goes on and on. Perhaps the best place to start is a simple definition, so what does the word Romantic mean?
According to the dictionary, the word romantic is defined as everything from dreamy and impractical, to adventurous, dealing with sexual love, and down right imaginary. Sound vague enough? With a definition like that, who could possibly pin down what makes a book romantic? The answer is, of course, that romance means something different to everyone.
So why would an author want to spend years creating a novel that is likely to be considered “drab” by some and “complete trash” by others? Why open yourself to that kind of rejection and ridicule? Because romance is… irresistible. No matter your frame of mind on the subject, everyone loves a little romance.
To some people, romance is a quiet dinner in flickering candlelight, but to others it’s a modern sculpture that requires a tilt of the head and one’s imagination to sort it out. Some may crave the romance of a spectacular view including forests, or ocean, or mountains, while another may consider a cozy corner with a cup of steaming coffee and a cuddle with their cat romantic.
Perhaps the real question for any romance author is, “what do I find romantic?” Is it the touch of fingertips on bare skin? A whispering breeze? Goosebumps that follow a tender kiss on the neck? Roses delivered in a box? Riding on the back of a new lover’s scooter through the winding streets of Paris?
Once an author pins down what romance means to them, can they put it into words? Do I, as an author, want to express my most precious desires to the world, knowing my work will be reviewed, and most likely reviled by many? What am I willing to share?
For me the answer came down to relationships. Not just relationships between people, but how people relate to their environment, their jobs, and their situation. Most of my books are set at a transitional point for my leading ladies. A change is shifting their world, and as they struggle with the uncomfortable feeling of adjusting, I add a man to the mix. After all, isn’t that when the best romance finds us? When we least expect it, or even want it?
I decided early in my writing career that my heroines would never be saved by a man, but they would be strong, intelligent, capable and successful women in their own right, who are not at all sure how to fit a man into their life. So what’s romantic about that?
I’ve come to believe that romance can also be defined as that spark within us that is lit by something sweet, different, or intriguing; a puzzle, a moment that captures your full attention, a brief space of time where you feel something outside the norm. What could be more unsettling than thinking you have your act together, only to find your world tilting on it’s axis? These moments in life fascinate me, make me want to hide away with my laptop and tap furiously until a story is born. Perhaps romance, to me, is… writing.
Like most writers, I write because I’m drawn to put my thoughts on paper. Okay, these days it’s more like converting thoughts into digital data, but you know what I mean. We as writers have something inside that we want to share.
For some of us, it’s a spirit of adventure we want to communicate to our readers, a mystery or thriller that’s been rattling around in the back of our minds. But for me the desire to write is a combination of exploring experiences and outcomes while living vicariously through a fictitious character. My characters are free to travel through events I survived, but they will be far more intelligent, less dramatic, more diplomatic, and all around handle it better than I did. Through my stories I can put my characters into settings I struggled with, then I can manipulate them and the conditions to come up with a far better ending.
Even more fun is to have the characters get opportunities I wish I had been given, and to live through their eyes as they get to do things I may never get to do. I get to explore what would happen if a personality were presented with the conflict and excitement of moving outside their comfort zone and into situations of success and triumph.
Writing gives me the opportunity to travel another road and walk in another’s shoes. So what happens when you come across someone who has actually lived the experiences of a character in your book? My mother used to say “truth is stranger than fiction” but when it happened to me and my work, I was caught off guard.
In my novel Hometown Girl After All, Julia moves to a small town to start over when her life in the city has become unbearable. She finds a love of gardening, which builds her confidence and she eventually opens a flower shop. Imagine my surprise when my daughter sent me a link for an article she read on boredPanda.com that reminded her of my book (link below). The brief article featured a florist’s Instagram feed, filled with photos of her beautiful flowers. The post said Erin had given up her life in the city to live in the country and through planting a few flowers her grandmother had loved, she found she had a gift for growing flowers. The photos in the article were exactly how I had pictured Julia’s flowers in my novel. And the way my daughter had envisioned it too, evidently.
Immediately, I had to follow the chain of links to find who this woman was. Erin’s blog Flower Farm Journal is truly lovely. One of the things I love most, is that the whole front page is devoted to promoting other women who are florists, farmers, and photographers, like herself. What a refreshing view in this day and age of never ending self-promotion! And it keeps getting better from there. As you click through pages of Erin’s site, you find tutorials on how to grow beautiful flowers for yourself. I could spend hours reading these pages filled with brilliant photos.
As I read the story of Erin’s farm for the first time, I felt as if the spirit of my book was coming alive. Julia’s story in Shabby Chic after All is one of recovery, unexpected friendship, love of neighbors, and healing. I was thrilled to read the following quote from the “Our Story” tab of Erin’s Flower Farm Journal web page.
“Years ago we left the hustle and bustle of city life and moved to the Skagit Valley to pursue a slower, simpler and more intentional lifestyle for our little family. We dreamed of eating fresh vegetables from our garden, tending a flock of chickens and planting a small orchard. Shortly after we moved in, a generous neighbor brought his tractor over and tilled up a new plot of ground so that we could plant a garden. His kindness that day offered a glimpse into what country life would be like.”
In my novel Julia finds healing through the growth of her garden as well as love and friendship as it draws people to her. Here is another quote from Erin’s page.
“…word got out and someone ordered a jar of flowers for a friend. I’ll never forget that day as I nervously knocked on her door and awkwardly thrust the bouquet into her hands. Surprised, she buried her face in the flowers and tears immediately welled up in her eyes. She was instantly transported back to her own childhood summers, to a time of great happiness and to her own grandmother’s garden…right then and there I knew I had found my calling.”
I’ve personally have never had the opportunity to move to a small town in the country and start a flower shop, but in my mind it felt lovely. It seemed like a scenario that would be healing and promote friendship and confidence. I couldn’t be happier to see, at least for one woman, this has been a real life experience. Erin’s business has grown far beyond anything Julia ever dreamed in the novel, bravo Erin! But who knows, maybe Julia will return someday in another novel, and her dreams may have burst their seams as well.
Thank you Erin for being an inspiration to many, and for living your dream. I encourage you all to check out her blog and enjoy the gorgeous flowers and photos that she creates. And never stop dreaming!
(Posting your book for sale)
This blog post will discuss how to distribute your book. Distribution sounds ominous, and I was worried about it myself, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Distribution basically means posting the book files online so your customers can buy the book. If you want to have your books available to be ordered in brick and mortar stores like Books a Million, you may need a self-publishing firm to help you get you book into Ingram or other big distribution companies, but this blog will focus on managing distribution yourself and at little cost.
I personally use two simple account types to distribute my eBooks and printed books to Amazon for sale, 1) Kindle Direct Publishing, and 2) Create Space.
To sell eBooks on Amazon you need to create an account with Kindle Direct Publishing. It will walk you through all the steps to upload the eBook files and cover file. You can save as you go and log in multiple times to finish setup. You will do this at https://kdp.amazon.com There you will have a dashboard where you can see each of your eBooks for sale. To complete this process Amazon has a few requirements. You’ll need an EIN from the IRS. (You can do this online at https://goo.gl/u9CfaA) You will also need a bank account so that KPD (Kind Direct Publishing) can direct deposit your royalty checks, and the bank account must be in the United States. The KDP process is paperless and you can log into your KDP account anytime to see your sales. Depending on the options you select when setting up the book, you can sell eBooks on Amazon worldwide this way. Be advised that payment to you may be based on the number of books sold, the way you set up sales, and a minimum dollar amount reached.
For printed books you can create an account with Create Space. Create Space is owned by Amazon and manages the printing and shipping of your paperback book. Thanks to print technology called print on demand, authors have the ability to sell printed paperback books affordably. Create Space posts your paperback book seamlessly with your eBook on Amazon. When the reader purchases the printed book online, the files are downloaded to the printer and one copy will be printed and shipped to the customer. Since the printing process has been simplified from old fashion movable type to digital files, it’s much quicker and cheaper than it was back when they had to print hundreds of books at one time to be cost effective for setup time. You will pay a portion out of each sale for this service. It cuts down on your royalties, but it saves you from the need to pay in advance to print and ship a bunch of books you may never sell. Be advised that this process can take up to three weeks, so if you plan to advertise your book for a holiday or to friends for a birthday etc, allow time for the printing process. You can also order copies for yourself, to sell or give away.
I found the process of uploading files to Create Space simple. It walked me completely through uploading the print layout and cover files needed. They also have 24 hour phone support, which was helpful. Once the process was complete they sent me a sample of my printed book. What a thrill it was to finally hold my first book in my hand! Note that you will need a bank account for this process as well, because the royalties of sales from your printed books will come through Create Space.
Create Space also offers services such as editing, formatting, cover design and more. You can find more info at www.createspace.com
If you don’t want to deal with distribution, most self-publishing firms will charge you several hundred dollars to distribute your book, then take a portion of your royalties, and be advised that they can take a big portion. When I went through my first publisher in Canada they charged so much that the price of my book was inflated to the point that it was completely out of whack with the competition, and I got only a few cents per book sale. Book Fuel is the only company I’ve found so far who will charge to distribute your book but then manage your royalties for a low flat monthly fee, not a portion of each sale. If you choose to have a firm distribute your book, you will most likely log into their system to check sales and you’ll get a check from them, not Amazon or Create Space.
You can also upload your book to online sellers such as Barnes and Noble (Nook for eBooks) and Books a Million online. Each bookstore company will have different requirements. My first two books were available for two and a half years at every online book seller possible, yet 99% of my sales were through Amazon. I’ve chosen to keep it simple and sell only on Amazon, in order to focus on writing rather than managing multiple online accounts.
More and more options are becoming available to help authors get their work published. Do your research to find the option that is best for you. Distribution is only the beginning of the long hard road to market your book, but that’s another story. Don’t let the complexity of the process get you down. Write and edit your book, get your files created, and get your work published!
Items required to post
your book for sale online
Your novel is edited, rewritten and ready for readers! Next comes the little-known part of the process where multiple computer files must be created to post your book for sale online.
Chances are, you’ve created your novel on a computer. Some writers still prefer to use an old fashion typewriter, but be advised, if you want to self-publish your novel, you will need the manuscript to be in digital format (such as Microsoft Word).
To sell a printed book online you will need to create a Print Layout (Sometimes referred to as a book block). The Microsoft word document of your manuscript will be reformatted to create the print layout, so editing must be complete. The print layout file is the file that will be sent to the printer to print all the interior pages of your book. You will be able to open the file on your computer to see exactly how your book will look.
When creating a print layout you must make choices about the inside of your book. You’ll be selecting trim size, which is the size in inches of your book’s length and width. You’ll choose text fonts and sizes for the main body of the book, as well as font sizes and types for chapter headings. Paper type is a factor to consider as well because this will affect the width of the book spine. You’ll select page header and footers, which could include your name, the book title, and the page number. The print layout will include the copywrite page that contains the author’s name/names, the publisher info and address, the date and edition number. You’ll also create a page for dedications.
If you hire a self-publishing firm to help you create the print layout file (like I do) there is a process of creation and approval you’ll go through to be sure you’re happy with the finished product. They’ll create and send you the file and you’ll check and approve it or mark up changes. Once the print layout is complete, you’ll know the page count of your finished printed book!
At this point the cover needs to be designed. You’ll need two cover files, one for the printed book and one for eBooks. The cover for your printed book will include the back cover, the spine, and the front cover in one PDF file. The back cover will be on the left side, the spine in the middle, and the front cover on the right. When printed, this will become the paperback cover that will wrap around the printed pages to complete your book. The spine width of your book is dictated by the page count in the print layout, (And paper type) so you must complete the print layout before designing the full cover. If you plan to sell only eBooks you need only a front cover. You may have noticed that when buying eBooks you don’t see a back cover unless the book is also available in print.
When you post your book for sale you will have the option to create a cover for free, or to upload an already designed cover file (such as a PDF file you have already created or one professionally designed). Some authors are much better at creating a cover than others. Many factors come into play with cover design, including the genre of your novel. I personally want my books to look as professional as possible, so I pay Book Fuel to create my covers, and they are absolutely lovely, if I do say so myself.
No matter if you use a free cover creator, or if you hire a firm to design your cover, you have to provide all the text you want included. Firm may help you with fonts, etc., but you must write your own synopsis as well as the other components you want on the cover such as your website link, etc. (We’ll discuss creating a synopsis in another blog. The synopsis a very important marketing tool and one of the most difficult things to write.)
If you decide to create your own cover, you’ll have the option to use your own photo or select one within the creator, just be sure you own the rights to any photo you use. Just because you buy a photo online (from Shutterstock etc.) doesn’t mean someone else can’t buy the same photo and use it on their book cover as well. Read up on rights to photos.
Your cousin may have drawn a lovely picture for you, but will that picture on the cover look professional? Maybe, maybe not. You can find people on Google, Twitter, and even Instagram, who will create covers for you for as low as $99. If you’re good with graphics and text you can create a decent cover using the free cover creators. On the other hand, some of the covers I’ve seen were obviously created by a novice. The idea is to make your book look as high quality as possible. After all, the reader is looking for a good book, not one that may be thrown together. Most readers don’t know which books are self published, but they will be able to spot a book that looks cheap, poorly done, or even down right strange.
When I published my second book and it went live online, I was horrified to see that the title of the book was not visible against the background graphics. It looked fine full size on the computer screen, but when thumbnail size, (like on an Amazon page) it looked as if it had no title at all. I’d paid hundreds of dollars and waited months to have this cover designed by a publisher in Canada and I was very upset. Be critical when designing or approving your cover. Open an online bookstore, go to your genre, shrink your cover small, and compare it to the other books. Be honest about how it compares. Have people you trust look at it too. You’ve worked far too hard to have your book overlooked because of something as trivial as a color selection, artwork, or font style of the title. You’ll also want to watch text font and size, especially on the spine where it will be smaller than on the front. Will the font you choose make the printed spine too hard to read?
Next in the process is to create the eBook files. This is the actual file that readers will download when they buy your eBook online. Amazon has a specific file format and other eBooks such as Barnes and Noble’s Nook, have a different format. I tried to create these files myself, but they were admittedly way above my techno level, so I paid Book Fuel to create them for me. Multiple types of software are required and the files created are complex. Depending on your computer, you won’t be able to open these files, you’ll need a specific reader or translator to check them. Creating these files yourself can be done if you’re very savvy, but there are many places out there to help you create them. When I posted my books online myself for the first time, I found it very reassuring to know that the files were created professionally and my readers would not see glaring errors in the format of the book.
A few more notes about the cover. If you want your website to be on the cover, you will of course need to purchase a domain (website address) and then create your site. (More about this in another blog) Most traditionally published books include quotes on the cover by reviewers, so you’ll need at least a few reviews. The back cover is also a good place to put your author bio as well, so you’ll need to write one.
There are several other vital items you will need to publish your book. One of these is an ISBN. An ISBN is a number that uniquely identifies your book, and facilitates the sale of your book to bookstores (both physical and digital) as well as libraries that want to buy your book. With an ISBN, your book will be listed in Bowker Books in Print®, which is used by all major search engines and most bookstores and libraries. You will need to purchase an ISBN or have your publisher purchase one for you. You can do this online at http://goo.gl/nDZFHF You’ll also need a bar code for your printed cover. You can purchase barcodes online. There are many options, here is one http://buyabarcode.com Self-publishing companies, such as book fuel, will furnish you with a bar code when they design your cover. This bar code will be used to scan and manage your book in all types of bookstores.
That sounds like a lot, but in short you’ll need to create the print layout, the eBook files, the cover, and all the information you want on the cover. You’ll also need an ISBN and a bar code, as well as other optional items such as a website address.
It can all seem very overwhelming, but don’t give up. Take it one bite at a time and you’ll be able to complete the process. Good luck and keep writing!
Next blog post we’ll discuss the actual processes involved to post your book files and make it available for sale!
Preparing your manuscript
to be self-published
Now that you know what self-publishing is all about, lets look at your manuscript.
First and foremost you need a completed novel manuscript, referred to as a draft. The hard cold truth is, you must have a finished draft that is complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you get stuck while you’re writing you can hire all kinds of help, but we’re talking about publishing.
Be sure to do some homework on the formatting of your word doc. Line spacing, font size, font type, and margins are all very important. You don’t want one glance at your work to prove you’re an armature.
When you type the last line of your story draft and punch that final period, you are far from done. Editing is vital to refining a draft into a novel.
The first editor of your work is you! Reread everything multiple times. Reading out loud will help you find errors. When I sit down to write, I reread what I wrote the previous day. Not only does it help me get back into the swing of the story, but also I find missing words and typos. If you’re like me, your typing skills may not be top notch, so as the story comes out I get excited and fat finger keys.
I once read some fabulous advice that really helped me polish my writing. It said that once you finish you novel and you’re sure it’s perfect, put it away for a few weeks, maybe a month, then come back and read it again. This can be a real challenge, especially if you’re excited to get things moving, but it’s worth it. It’s amazing how a little time gives you fresh insight. This alone has been one of the best tools I’ve ever used to find and correct problems within my story. When you’re too familiar with your work you become blind to problems, kind of like sitting next to something stinky for a long time and you can’t smell it after a while. (Not that your work is stinky) Let your writing marinate, then come back for another look. Again, it’s about presenting the best product you possibly can.
Next comes the plot and character development edit. This edit helps you polish the story line and the characters. Much of this type of editing can come from family, friends, and reading groups (groups who meet locally or online). They will read your story and say things like, “I’m confused at this part” or “What are you trying to say here?” See if readers can pick out the turning points. Ask them questions about characters like “Can you feel how upset (sad, happy etc) she was?” or “Do you understand why he did that?” If you have a complicated scene, don’t fill them in in an advance, see if they can understand and picture the scene as they read it. This is the point you’ll get feedback such as “What ever happened to…?” or “I’m lost.” Feedback is fundamental to plugging the holes in your writing.
My early novels needed to be heavily edited. Even now, as I get a better grasp of my writing style, I still need a fresh eye to help me. As I write, I see the setting and characters in my mind’s eye, so I understand the motivation and thought process behind my character’s actions. I may or may not have done a very good job at portraying all that in a particular scene, and a developmental edit will catch this. Developmental edits will also help you monitor the “speed” of a scene, to see if you are rushing through a part pr skipping ahead, causing your readers whiplash.
A copy or line edit comes next to catch grammar and typos. Traditional publishing houses spend a vast amount of time editing, even the writing of the most gifted and popular authors. Every professional writer knows beyond a doubt, that professional editing is required. Unfortunately, since self-published authors are most likely paying for the process (and editing is pricey), they want to skip this step. It’s a well known fact that first time authors usually believe their work is super fabulous. In reality this opinion is based on inexperience. Your writing most likely isn’t a mess, not hopeless, just needs more work. Please believe me when I tell you, if you haven’t had a professional editor look at your work, you’re in for a shock. I’m not talking about friends or neighbors or family, the people who love you. I’m talking about someone who’s JOB is to find every little problem, who knows the industry and isn’t afraid of hurting your feelings. No matter how great your work is, it WILL need to be edited. Do not consider skipping this step.
For me a copy edit looks horrible when it comes back because the punctuation is all marked up. Don’t expect any high fives back from the editor, they are looking for even the tiniest of error such as the number of spaces after a period, and comma placement. This edit is the polish on your book. Again, edits can be a bit painful to the ego, but the more time and money you spend on edits, the better your novel will be.
Every time I send a piece of work to be edited, I have delusions it coming back with only notes of praise attached. The truth is that an editor’s job is to find problems, and they will. They are looking with a critical eye, in order to catch and correct errors or omissions, before your readers find them. And in the long run, I’d much rather get one or two scathing returns from a professional editor than disgusted feedback from a multitude of readers. Imagine how bad it would feel when you finally get your book finished and published and when comments come in from readers, they aren’t about the characters or the fabulous plot twist, but about typos and bad grammar.
A good editor will also immediately find your less favorite parts of the story; the parts that you rushed through or weren’t very “into” as you eagerly moved on to a more exciting part the plot.
A processional editor will mark up your word document and you will have the opportunity to accept or reject their changes with the click of a button. If you are being published the traditional rout, you will just see the work after the edit is completed, it’s not your choice what gets changed. (Some publishing houses are more considerate than others.) A self-publishing firm will want to be sure you approve the edits before they proceed because you own the writing.
Note that all computer files for both printed books and eBooks will be created based on your word document, so every space and return is important. You will only be able to make minimal changes to a few words once you have approved the word doc and moved forward. This is because the format of the print layout and eBook files are rigid, and if you try to change out a short word for a long word, for example, it may throw off the margin or footer. As far as punctuation, be aware that little things, like hitting return twice or more, or extra spacing, can throw off formatting software. These tiny errors in your writing can really gum up the works moving forward.
After you receive an edit you get to do a rewrite. This is where you stare at your brainchild and attempt to find a way to incorporate another person’s opinions and attitudes into your story. I once had an editor tell me that I was one of the best rewriters she’d ever worked with. I’ve never forgotten that rare compliment. She said I was very good at weaving in corrections and solutions without them feeling like a fix. As you work through an edit, always keep in mind that rewriting is a part of writing.
To add insult to injury, editing will be, by far, the most expensive part of self-publishing. Having said that, it is also the most fundamental for success. No one wants to spend money to be told their writing has problems, but be assured that your writing, like mine, needs to be edited.
Perhaps your cousin is an editor for a newspaper, or your mother is an English Lit professor. If so, you may be able to get quality copy editing for nothing. Just remember that friends and family likely have jobs and lives of their own and it may take them a long time to edit an entire novel.
Another option to save money on initial editing is to work with a writers group. Readers within the group will edit each other’s work. Just be advised that these are usually not professionals, and they can be opinionated or worse. There is a big difference between good feedback you get from a beta reader (someone who reads your unfinished work and offers you advice or support) and a copy editor. You want someone who won’t squash your “Voice” or style, but will help you understand what is expected within your genre.
Edits are very important because in all reality, our readers deserve the best books we can create.
So finally your manuscript is edited and perfect and ready to present to the world! How do you go about that? Read part three!
Self-publishing is a popular term these days, so what exactly is it? Can anyone publish a book? Maybe you’re writing a novel, but you’re unsure what all is involved to publish. Here are some insights into the process. Hopefully knowing what lies ahead won’t deter your efforts, but will enlighten you. This will be a four part blog, simply because we have so much to talk about!
Part one will cover the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
In part two we’ll discuss preparing your manuscript to self-publish.
Part three will go over many of the processes involved to put your novel on the market.
In part four we’ll talk about marketing and sales.
What does the term Self-Publish mean?
The difference between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing
Before the internet changed the world (and Amazon became a leader in book sales), there was only one way to publish a book, the traditional way. You had to get an agent and beg and plead with a publisher for your writing to be considered, sometimes for years. For most authors this process ended in failure. Publishers considered themselves the gatekeepers of good literature, making sure that only quality works were published. (But of course, the value of literature is subjective) Only a select few authors were ever chosen to be published, partly on the merit of their work, but also by spending years struggling and finding connections in the industry. With the advent of digital files and accessibility to readers online (as well as Amazon’s broad reach and power in the market) anyone can now publish writing themselves, for better or worse. As a reader you now have the option to purchase (or even get free) work written by anyone and everyone. As a matter of fact, you probably have no idea which of your favorite authors are self-published, and which are traditionally published. For example, authors such as Terry Goodkind, who have been traditionally published for years, have switched to self publishing their books. The author of Twilight, Stephanie Meyer, was self-published before she was selected to be traditionally published. And of course we all know that J.K. Rowling was turned down for years by traditional publishers before someone took a chance on people being interested in books about teenage sorcerers.
To begin, lets talk about the basic differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
A traditional publisher buys your novel from you and then they own it. It’s theirs. You maintain only the right to put your name on it once they’ve worked it over. The publishing company will change the content of your work, design the cover, sit on it for years, anything they want really, because they own it. Typically the traditional publisher will pay you a tidy sum upfront, then you get a percentage of the royalties per sale. The traditional publisher pays for all the editing (editors on staff) as well as the preparation and printing cost for thousands of books. They then pay for distribution of eBooks as well as shipping the printed books to bookstores across the country or even the world. They also pay for your airfare and hotel expenses to travel to talk shows and book signings to promote your book, including all the posters and banners and blah, blah, blah… You get my point. The tradition publisher is making a huge investment in your book, and you are along for the ride. (Thus their fierce pickiness) Sadly, unknown authors don’t get much promotion, and if your book doesn’t sell well within 30 days, you’re pretty much dropped like a hot poker and you have to buy back thousands of books. Funny how that part isn’t usually mentioned.
But now we can self-publish! What does this mean? Basically, self-publishing means you pay for (or do yourself) all the services the traditional publisher would do. This includes paying to have an editor edit the manuscript, formatting the printable files and eBook files, book cover design and creation, printing costs, distribution (both paperback and eBooks), and the big thing most all authors hate, marketing. One of the biggest differences between self-publishing and traditional pushing is that when you self-publish, you continue to own your novel through the whole process, because no one is buying the rights from you.
As the option to self-publish gained popularity, firms offering publishing services popped up overnight. For a fee, these firms will do the work of a traditional publisher for you. It will cost you several thousand dollars per book though, and those fees have to be paid in full before you get the finished product to sell. Not a happy thought. However, at least one self-publishing firm, Book Fuel in Denver Colorado, (the one I use) allows me to make payments over time, so I can get my books out there and continue paying for their services from my royalties.
Bear in mind that as a self-published author, no one is paying you for your novel up front. The only money you will receive are royalties from your book sales at the very end of the publishing process. The good news is you get higher royalties than you would through a traditional publisher, depending on your book prices. Having said that, be sure you understand any conditions set by your self-publishing firm. Most firms who handle distribution of your novel will control your work once it’s published and take a portion of your royalties. You will have to go through them to change anything about your book, including the price and sales or coupons. With some firms, changes are impossible or very expensive. (You can handle the work of distribution on your own if you want to, and we’ll talk about that in part four) The whole point of self-publishing is that you can do as much or as little of the process as you choose, (or are able) but if you have someone else do it, it’s gonna cost you.
It’s important note that most self-published authors sell the majority of their books online. No matter if you chose to sell printed books, eBooks, or both, much of the work to prepare your book for self-publishing has to do with creating files in specific formats for online sales. Only traditional publishers (through their closed traditional system) can get books into stores such as Barnes and Noble (sometimes referred to as brick and mortar stores because they are actual stores not virtual stores). Brick and mortar stores are still tied into traditional markets to purchase books to sell, and they tend to ignore the pleas of thousands of self-published authors. If your book is selling exceptionally well online and people begin requesting it in stores, the corporate office of a store may buy multiple copies to sell in the store. (Great news!) But as a new self-published author, you are pretty much looking at selling your book online. Some bookstores will allow self-published authors to do book signings, but you will be responsible for contacting the store and convincing them that you and your book are worthy and professional.
In all honesty, a few self-publishing firms have always existed, but they were called vanity press or vanity publishing. Due to the huge price of editing, design, printing, etc, only wealthy or crazy people spent thousands to print a book knowing they had no way to get the books into stores. It was referred to as vanity because authors had the audacity to believe their writing was good enough to publish outside the system. This all changed with the advent of the internet and eBooks, giving self-published authors a sales outlet beyond brick and mortar stores.
Admittedly, with the option for anyone to publish anything, comes the opportunity for tons of crap to be published. The decision of whether writing is good or bad now falls to the reader rather than an unseen person in a publishing office. Many changes have rolled through the publishing world as a result of this. Since the traditional system can be circumvented, people working in that industry have suffer significant income losses and have spent the last ten years shouting out about the danger and evils of self-publishing. Prices have also been affected. In 2009 Amazon wanted the right to sell all eBooks for $9.99 and to release them on the release date of the hardbound book. Court cases ensued and new rules had to be established pertaining to pricing and when eBooks are released, similar to the regulations on video vs movie releases back in the early 90s.
In a nutshell, self-publishing means you can get your book on the market without the help of a traditional publisher. You won’t have the support either, task wise or financially, but you can do it yourself. In the past it was nearly impossible to get a publisher to invest in you or your writing. You had to get an agent with connections in the industry to even have a chance at getting your foot in the door. Now, with the power of the internet, and a lot of hard work, you can publish your book on your own.
Read parts Two, Three and Four to see how!
Have you ever picked up a new book and started reading, but for some reason you lost interest? Or maybe it was confusing and you got frustrated. As a beginning writer, you may be surprised to learn that the actual structure of chapter one is vital to the success of your novel. What your characters do in chapter one has the power to compel your readers to continue or toss down the book in frustration.
We’ve talked about expectations based on the genre of your novel, but readers also have expectations for the first few pages. Not only was I ignorant of this when I first started writing, but I didn’t want to be constricted by rules. I wanted to write something new and invocative, something fresh and in my own voice. Come to find out, it doesn’t work that way, at least not for beginners. When you’re struggling to shoulder your way into the market, why fight the recipe for success?
First of all, remember that most people don’t search through a bookstore hoping to spend cash on a book they’ll hate. There may be some doubt as they begin reading, but for the most part, readers hope they have found a story they will enjoy. They want the characters to be believable and someone they can care about, good or bad. They want the plot to be interesting, and the story to open up before them. If the reader starts out on your side, you don’t want to turn them away. Research has shown that a reader will go along with the flow for the first two pages of a novel before they begin to get frustrated or disillusioned. That gives you only about 500 words to get it right.
So what are these guidelines for a successful first chapter? There are many ideas out there but here are some basic strategies to keep in mind.
First and foremost, you don’t want to turn your readers off. The two quickest ways to aggravate a reader are to confuse them or insult their intelligence.
If you plan to write a flash-bang beginning and then resolve and explain the goings on later, be advised that you have two pages to hold the interest of your reader. You must somehow give them enough insight into your character, or even the setting, to keep them on track and compel them to keep reading. Some part of those pages must be believable, interesting, and ring true to the reader. If the reader has no idea what’s happening or why the characters are acting the way they do, you have only a few pages to fix it. At the very moment you’re trying to draw the reader in, you certainly don’t want them to think “This doesn’t make any sense,” or “What rubbish,” . (I’ve always wanted to write the word rubbish) Be sure to give the reader a reason to trust you and continue on with hope. Make them care.
What about suspense? Certainly some genres call for anticipation, but be very careful in those vital first few pages to make the problem clear, not confusing. In life we stumble about wondering what’s going on a good portion of the time, but a reader will most likely have no patience with bewilderment just as their getting started. Make the reader trust your competence to lead them through the story.
Writing can be very cathartic. You have the power to place yourself (or a character) into a situation and then control the outcome. We certainly don’t have this power in reality. With this in mind, some beginning authors place characters into situations they themselves have not figured out, which leaves the reader in the same uncomfortable position. You are the first audience for your novel. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it surely won’t make sense to a reader. If the first chapter feels lackluster or blurry to you, you can be guaranteed it will feel flat or be confusing to your readers as well.
Maybe you have a setting in mind for a story, and characters to place in the setting, but you’re not sure how to develop the characters in a way to draw the reader into your story. Maybe your character’s personalities and motivation are still a bit foggy in your mind. In the book Characters and Viewpoints, by Orson Scott Card, he suggest that you think “Who suffers the most in this situation?” Focus on the person who needs most to change things, and that person will be one of your main characters.
Next, to help you move forward, Card suggests you ask “What made this happen?” What is the purpose?” and “What is the result?” “What can go wrong?” By thinking about these prompts you can begin to pull out information about the character’s motivation, thus helping you decide what to include in those important first few pages to draw your reader into the story.
Readers expect to be introduced to the main characters right away, but be careful not to introduce too many characters in those vital pages. Hone your writing down to fundamental characters and leading ideas to cut down on confusion. Also be careful to not name your characters with similar names or names beginning with the same letter. In the beginning, your readers will have little patients for going back to reread and sort out who is who.
Consider how much of those first few pages you devote to describing minor characters or events. Don’t lead your reader’s early expectations down the wrong road, this can only lead to frustration.
We all want to write a finely crafted novel, but the first few pages are perhaps the most vital to your novel’s success. Unlike early in my writing career when I was driven to create something extraordinarily different, I’m now search for ways to fashion my stories in the most appealing and effective manner. Never hesitate to look for what is working in the marketplace. Successful people are often willing to share their secrets. Snap up these details like the jewels they are, and begin creating your story today!
You want to write a novel. You’ve got great ideas and you’ve named it. The characters are even ready and willing to go, but with your busy work schedule and hectic life, are the ideas stuck in your head? This blog post will offer you some ideas how to get the plot onto paper, be it pulp and ink or digital.
If your story is still unorganized characters running around having a great time, you need get control of the story. One way to get a grip is to make a mind map. Grab a piece of paper and pencil and start scribbling ideas on the paper. Don’t worry about organization or order, or even the type of idea, just write a phrase or a few words that will help you get a scene, a character, or plot idea onto the paper.
Once you can’t think of anything more, draw a shape (like a circle, square, or triangle) around each type of idea to identify what it represents. For example, an oval around characters, a square around scene ideas, etc. Once that is done, and don’t be scared to add ideas as they come to you, connect the thoughts that go together with a line. For example characters that go in a scene, etc. See the example below.
Once you have a visual representation of your ideas, you can begin to separate them into plot lines. If you’re now out of time, at least you have your story on paper! Look at your mind map often, scribble on it, adding ideas, lines to connect plots, use it as a map to guide to you through the story’s plot. Once you can see a story line worming through your map, you can put together an outline.
On the other hand, is the story all laid out in your mind pretty much from beginning to end? If so, you are one of the lucky few. Or maybe you’ve been rolling it around in your head for years, fine-tuning the whole thing over and over until it plays like a movie. If so, you’re ready to write an outline.
In the last blog we talked about story arcs, the parts of a story that make-up a solid story line in your genre. Now is the time to pull those out story arcs out and put them in order on the paper. I use Microsoft Word for Mac, but there are many tools available.
See an example of the story arcs I use below.
Next, begin to fit the scenes of your story where they belong between the story arcs. I make my story arcs bold and in red so I can clearly see them as the backbone of my story. Don’t worry about sentence structure or grammar, just ideas.
Usually at this point you’ll realize an important part of the story line may be missing. You can add ideas or leave it blank. Many times my outline is incomplete or changes as I write the story, so I continue to update, change, and fine-tune the outline as I work.
There are other tools you may want to use for outlining, such as spreadsheet formats like Microsoft Excel. Software is written specifically for authors, and offer editing tools etc. Examples are Ulysses, CopyWrite, and Scrivener (to name a few) but bear in mind that most editors, agents, and publishers will expect your work to be submitted in a correctly formatted Word doc.
Using a good outline helps to avoid writing yourself into a corner, or not knowing where to lead a character for a conclusion. Most people don’t head into the kitchen and start tossing ingredients into a bowl without an idea of what they want to cook. You either need a recipe, or at least an understanding of how the ingredients fit together, in order to come with a dish that is pleasing. Unfortunately, many beginning writers expect to start tossing story parts into a bowl and somehow create a cohesive novel.
Next blog we’ll talk about expanding your outline into chapters, but for now, get on the ball and get your ideas onto paper. No matter your approach, you can do this! Go write!