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!
The other day someone said to me “Are you an author or a writer?” For a moment I was taken by surprise and didn’t know how to reply. I asked what they meant and the reply left a sting. Their answer was: “Have you published a book? If you have then you are an author, if not, you’re just a writer.” Just a writer? I nodded politely and walked away, not being big on confrontation with strangers, but true to my usual form, about two hours later I came up with exactly what I wish I had said.
I should have said that anyone who scribbles a note in order to remember a thought, even a shopping list, is an author.
Sticky notes have become an office staple, after all. We leave notes on a regular basis in the form of texts, posts, and tweets, even many of the alarms we set on our phones are a way to push an intention into reality. So what exactly is this thing we call a writer? Is it as easy as jotting down an inspiring thought and sticking it by your mirror, or is it more than that?
Maybe the difference between an author and a writer is form. Whether you write poetry or greeting cards, if you want to develop your writing from sticky notes or notebook scribbles into a recognized format, there is a process. Step one for a novel? Give your work a name! I tend to have a title I use to refer to each work, then I have a plan B and C in mind. Sometimes a story develops in a surprising way and the title no longer fits, but give your thoughts a title and start referring to it as a book. (For the sake of using correct terms, a novel is a work of fiction, so if you’re writing is historically correct, it won’t be a novel)
Once you’ve decided you’re writing a titled book, what comes next? I wrote two complete novels based on personal experience; trips, relationships, etc., where I changed a few names to protect the stupid. (Usually me) The plots of these stories rambled and meandered, as real life often does. I once asked a friend to read part of one such diatribe. I was particularly proud of the amazing job I’d done telling exactly what had happened, blow by blow. When my friend finished reading, he looked up and said it was okay, but it would never really happen. I was flabbergasted. Due to embarrassing content I didn’t want to argue that indeed it had, but I’ve since spent much time contemplating what makes a story feel “true”. We all know that truth is stranger than fiction, but where had I gone off track with the storyline? Of course many authors love to write about things that have never happened and never will, thus science fiction etc., but in my case I wanted the story and the characters to feel plausible. The content was real, but somehow I’d lost the reader and he couldn’t relate.
One thing I’ve come to realize is that most people have expectations when they pick up a novel. You certainly do if you have a favorite author. What all is wrapped up in the anticipation that causes someone to buy my book over another? I write contemporary romantic comedy novels, so I had to spend some time to understand what people who buy contemporary comedy romance novels expect. Of course I have the option to write my story how ever I want, but at some point I had to decide that instead of writing a wandering story of my choice, I wanted to create a story that would feel like a romantic comedy, thus meeting the expectation of my readers.
At first I balked against the rules of story development, feeling that it would somehow limit my story. After all, I’d once read that all I needed to do was put my characters up a tree, throw rocks at them, and get them down again. Yes, I thought I was somehow gifted enough to flout the rules and create from scratch, a wonder of literature. But once I swallowed some pride and tried to follow story development guidelines, I found that I was forced to write a much more complete and well-constructed story.
The guidelines I speak of are as follows: Stasis, trigger, the quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal, and resolution. The truth is, if you can construct a story around these eight story arcs, you can form a good solid story. Using this format, the plot will keep moving forward and come to a unswerving conclusion, which most authors know can be challenging. If you find that you have individual storylines wandering off into space that can’t be resolved, consider giving the side stories similar rules, or even their own book. There are many ideas out there on story development, but do some research into your genre and consider following good advice.
Remember that the general idea of a story is to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you keep getting bogged down or tangled up in the middle part, consider using some guidelines to help find your way out.
Next time we’ll talk about some of the tools you can use to keep track of your well-constructed storyline, but for now, keep writing!
Do you ever think you want to write a novel? Do you have thoughts to share or a story growing in the back of your mind? Are there characters so real in your imagination, that you know how they’d respond in a given situation? Maybe places you go feel like scenes in your story. If so, maybe you’ve wondered how to get organized, get started, or make your dream of writing a novel become reality.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but after writing multiple full length novels and publishing two through different publishers, I have some information about my experience that I’m willing to share. There are things I’ve learned the hard way, things I wish I’d known when I started years ago.
There are many ways to write and many options to publish, but it all starts with the story. Do you have a story line fully formed with a beginning, a middle and an end? Or maybe you have a group of characters that are bugging you to become a story. In my case, some of my books sprang from a need to write about my experiences. Writing was a way to analyze what I’d been through and share it with others.
No matter where you’re at in story development process, start getting your ideas on paper. Scribbled notes can become a story, or a spread sheet, even a little notebook tucked in your purse will help you organize your thoughts. My ideas come at times I can’t type them out, like when I'm walking the dog, so I put them in my phone notes or a keep a notebook handy. I tend to be very visual and once I have a group of ideas together I can begin to piece them into some sort of order.
Using an outline is vital for me to create a story. Once I have some ideas collected I start to lay out the storyline. Sometimes I realize my idea is too simple, but usually, once I begin to lay it all out, I see that it’s a bit tangled and needs to be cleaned up. Just remember that if you can’t get your story to make sense, neither will a reader.
In upcoming blogs I’ll write about outlines, storylines, character development, grammar, editing and even publishing. I’d love to hear your ideas and input as well you experiences. Let’s write!