Friday, May 23, 2014

Ask your editor: EVERYTHING! I mean it, ask your editor everything.

I have a new, young client who has hired me to edit her dystopian YA novel. This young woman impressed me from the get-go when she explained that she wrote her first book to help engage her history students more with the material she was introducing to them in the classroom. Her level of commitment and her enthusiasm for learning in general really reeled me in. I wanted to work with her!

She sent me a sample of her book—a few pages from the beginning—to give me a feel for the story and her writing style and abilities. (I always appreciate this.) In turn, I edited the sample and returned it to her so that she could see how I would work with her book. (There are many editors who believe you should never provide a free sample. I am not one of them. If I feel a writer is generally interested in working with me and not out to scam some free services, then I totally understand their desire to see what I would do with their “baby.” They need to feel they can trust me and that I’m not going to butcher the book—unless it needs it!—and that I’m out to help them make their book the best it can be. How are they going to really know that if they don’t get a taste of what I’ll do with it? But I digress ….)

After she reviewed the sample, she let me know she was really happy with what I had done and she had some questions for me based on my edits. Most of her questions where technical—why a comma here and not there, etc. I answered them and encouraged her to send me more when she had them. At this point, she hadn’t technically hired me; we hadn’t signed the contract yet. But she was eager and wanted to learn, and I trusted we would end up working together.

She took my advice and used the feedback I had offered her on the sample and revised the WHOLE manuscript before she actually hired me and sent it to me. She benefitted from that advice, I benefited from that advice (as she fixed problems I hadn’t even seen yet), and the book benefited from that advice. She has asked me to leave as many comments as possible as I perform the first round of editing to let her know what I think is working, what isn’t working, what affected me, what didn’t affect me, etc. Essentially, she wants to peer over my shoulder as I work and see my reaction to her words.

I love working with people who want to learn. It’s the teacher in me. I welcome their questions, and I love to see them grow and succeed.

My point to this blog is this: As a writer, never be afraid to ask questions of your editor or your beta readers. Don’t be afraid to hear negative criticism—in that, this isn’t working, that doesn’t sound true to that character, etc. Isn’t it better to have your editor and your beta readers find those problems and help you fix them than your readers pointing them out after you publish your book?

Give your editor and your beta readers encouragement and license to dissect your book. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask for it to be explained. Be open to learning and hearing different points of view. You will grow from it, and your book will be better.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rush to self-publish? It's hard not to, but I'm waiting.

I’ve noticed that people who self-publish often impose on themselves “launch dates” for their books without allowing (what I would consider) enough time to properly prepare their books. I blogged about this a while ago in more detail, so I’ll try not to repeat myself here.

When we self-publish, we have no one looking over our shoulder to offer advice or pull back on the reins if we’re rushing headlong into launching a book that looks less than professional, whether that’s because it lacks a well-crafted cover, it contains formatting problems, or it reads as though we’ve never been introduced to an editor—let alone spell check. Everything is up to us.

I’m getting ready to self-publish my first book (third novel written, first to throw out there to the world), and it’s incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m beginning to understand why people rush. I can’t wait to go to Amazon and search for my name and have my book pop up, ready to buy. I can’t wait to read the reviews. I’m chomping at the bit, anticipating how many people will discover my book—people I’ve never met and may never meet.

And no one is telling me, “Sharon, first you need to do this, and then you need to do this, and then you HAVE to do that.” If I wanted to upload my book today, I could do it and the waiting would be over. I would soon know how many people will find it, and how many people will like it.

But my book’s not ready. Not yet.

For one thing, my cover isn’t done. I’m so excited by the concept my brother has shown me, and I’ll likely get a chance to see the first draft of it this week. If I sign off on it, he tells me it won’t take him long to finish it. I could create something else quicker, using CreateSpace’s cover designer, but it wouldn’t be as good, and it wouldn’t have my brother’s input. It’s worth it to wait.

My formatting isn’t quite done either, but it’s close. I basically need to double-check (and I’ll probably triple-check) the guidelines to ensure I haven’t missed anything. I don’t HAVE to do this, but I know it’s wise to take my time. I know (as an editor) how easy it is to miss the little things. Would these little things impact the readability of my book at this point? Probably not. But if I can find them and fix them, why shouldn’t I?

I also want to spend some time here on my blog introducing you to the history behind my novel The Dragon’s Daughter. I have some chapters to share here to give you a little insight into where these people came from and why they are the way they are. I hope by doing this that I’ll be building in you some interest to read the book. I hope these backstories will make you curious about their world and their lives and that you’ll want to pick up The Dragon’s Daughter after reading these little chapters. It’s not quite time to share those, but it’s getting close. And I definitely don’t want to publish my book until I’ve done this.

We live in a world where we want everything now, now, now. And for the most part, we can get just about anything now, now, now (or close to it). I just don’t think that’s always a good thing.

I understand, now better than ever, the desire to rush to publish. But my book will get only one introduction to the world. I want it to the best introduction it can get, and that, to me, is worth the wait.

I don’t have to rush.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

So what if agents don't want my book ... I'm self-publishing!

As I mentioned in my previous post, self-publishing makes me nervous. But it also makes me very, very excited.

Have you gone through the querying process with agents? Have you labored and labored over your book, revised your book, sweated your query letter, revamped your query letter, cussed and fumed and cussed some more as you wrote (or tried to write) your synopsis?

Having done all of that, have you then sat on pins and needles (actually, sitting on pins and needles might be more pleasant), waiting to hear back from those agents? Have you jumped as if poked by one of those pins every time a new email comes in, knowing it’s probably not an agent, but if it is an agent … good lord if it IS an agent … Will she hate it? Will he love it? Will she offer any advice at all if she hates it? Will he just send a form rejection that says, “Although we believe your story has merit, we don’t believe it’s a good fit for our list right now. Other agents may feel differently, though, and we wish you the best with your book.” (No, I didn’t copy and paste that. I’ve gotten enough of them, I know how they go.)

Have you gotten that much anticipated, can’t-believe-it’s-in-my-inbox response that says, “I really liked these first three chapters. Could you send the full manuscript?” Have you gotten up and done a little jig after reading that—and after squealing like a tween who just saw her pop-star idol? Have you then waited in breathless anticipation, barely sleeping, barely eating, checking your email every two minutes whether you’ve heard the notification or not, just hoping, barely daring to hope that the agent will get back to you and say, “I’d like to talk to you. When can we speak on the phone?” (I’ve never had that happen, so I don’t know how that goes for sure.)

Have you ever had to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and convince yourself to keep trying because yet another agent said no after reading the full manuscript? Have you wondered, “Why am I still trying to put this book out there? No one wants it. Maybe it really does suck.”

I’ve done all the above with three books, The Dragon’s Daughter being the last one that went through the process. I corresponded with some really amazing agents, some people who were very generous with their time, both in reviewing my book and in offering me advice and insight regarding what I could do with it that (in their opinion) would make it stronger. I appreciated that. I took much of their advice to heart and believe the book is stronger for it. However, at the end of the day, I’m still in possession of a book that no one wants to represent.

Except me.

And this is where self-publishing gave me a whole new perspective. Once I decided I wasn’t going to go the traditional route (or, more accurately, once it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to go the traditional route), but I was going to self-publish, a weight lifted.

All of the sudden, a door opened and I knew that my book was going to make it out into the world. All my books that I have yet to write are going to make it out into the world. I will sweat them. I will revise them. I will seek feedback from others, from beta readers, and I may even decide to query the next one too … just to see. But my words are actually going to have a home and a place in the world. I’m not at the mercy of New York City anymore. I have the power to do this on my own.

If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.

Self-publishing gives me butterflies. But most of them are the good kind. I’m looking forward to sharing my book with you.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I'm going to self-publish. Here's why.

After a lot of thought and research, I’ve decided to self-publish my third novel, The Dragon’s Daughter. It’s a coming-of-age story about Mariah Baxter, the 16-year-old daughter of a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon, and it caught the interest of sixteen agents with impressive client lists, some of whom suggested revisions and read it again after I’d revised. The results, sadly, were the same. No one wanted to take a chance on me. I’m not famous. I don’t have a huge platform or a ready-made audience. They all said no.

When I started writing novels about ten years ago, I decided I would publish traditionally or not all. Now, granted, ten years ago self-publishing was not what it is today. But even after I finished querying the agents I felt were best suited to represent The Dragon’s Daughter and been turned down by them all, and even though self-publishing no longer bears the stigma it once did, I still felt like it wasn’t for me.

Self-publishing scared me. Hell, I’m going to do it and it still scares me.

I’m scared to self-publish because it’s all up to me. I have to make sure I do everything I absolutely can to promote my book. I have to try and reach as many people as I can and introduce them to my book. I have just shy of 300 Facebook friends and fewer than 50 Twitter followers. My blog gets sporadic interest, but I definitely need to be writing more here. I hope more than 350 people buy my book. But whether they do or they don’t, it’s up to me.


I have to worry about the technical issues: Is it proofed to within an inch of its life? Is it formatted correctly? Do I want white pages or cream pages? (White.) What do I do about a cover? (I ask my amazingly talented brother to design one.) Should I let Create Space assign me an ISBN or should I buy my own? (I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy my own.)  Should I create my own “publishing company”? (I put “publishing company” in quotation marks because I do believe I am going to do this, but I have no intention of publishing anyone’s book but my own.)

But when all of this is said and done, the biggest concern for me is the quality of the story. Did I write a book that other people will enjoy? Did I create characters that seem real, that seem like people you might actually meet one day, people that you will think about long after you’ve finished reading my book? Is the story believable? Do you care about it and about (at least some of) my characters?

I believe in my book. I believe in my characters. I believe in my story. And that, my friends, is why I’m self-publishing. I want to give my book a chance to see the world. I want to introduce you to Mariah, Chloe, Jeremy, Justin, and the dragon himself, Craig Baxter. I want you to sympathize with the struggles these kids go through, and I want you to hate the dragon—and his blackhawk, Jimmy Burns, Jr.

And I think you will, on all counts.

My brother is designing the cover as I write. I’m still sorting out ISBN and publishing company details. I’ll keep you posted on what I learn and what I decide.

And I’ll be sharing little stories about Mariah’s family before I release the book, stories that go all the way back to the Civil War.

Please come along with me on this wonderful, scary, adventuresome ride of self-publishing. And if you have stories of your own, please share them.