Lesser Known Pieces Of Editing Advice From 14 Publishing Pros

In the spirit of helping you write the best book possible, we’ve gathered a list of lesser-known editing tips from 14 experienced editors and authors. Between them, these ladies and gents have been through the editing wringer hundreds of times, and house worlds of wisdom we should heed.

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Beth: BZHercules.com, a low-cost editing and consulting service

In short, don’t do it [editing your own work]! It is a huge mistake that can cost an author time and money, as well as cause some embarrassment. Whether the writer is seeking to publish traditionally or to self-publish, there are certain guidelines, rules of grammar, and formatting requirements that are best left to an experienced editor. For example, many of the smaller “boutique” publishers that have popped up on the Internet require use of Chicago Manual of Style formatting for submissions. Many authors do not know what to look for regarding this style (e.g., how to write numbers, titles, and abbreviations, or indent paragraphs) and should use an editor that is familiar with it. The placement of commas is another frequent issue for authors (The serial comma is a killer!), and don’t even get me started on semi-colons (Okay, I will get started—it is necessary punctuation and it cannot just be thrown out of writing because the author doesn’t believe in it! That is punctuation-discrimination at its worst.).

If an author is self-publishing, the risks associated with posting work that is riddled with errors on many of the outlets are actually higher than submitting to publishers. At least the publishers will be discerning. When posting to the DIY outlets, there is a low filter for screening errors until the work is already out there. Often, outlets such as iTunes and Smashwords will ticket submissions that have been reported as containing mistakes, and Kindle will pull them if the “right” complaint is given. Additionally, the reviewers are another source of misery for a self-publishing author who is trying to gain readers. Reviews regarding errors found in books are not always accurate, kind, or specific and giving critics fuel for the fire is never a good idea, possibly damaging an otherwise great piece of work.

My advice, then, is to find an editor with a track record of success. If you are an author who is new to publishing (You are obviously not new to writing, but that does not make your work showroom ready.), then your editor ideally is college-educated in a writing-related field (journalism, English, education, linguistics, communications), open to collaboration, and experienced at navigating through traditional and/or self-publishing (Most editors will provide a free sample edit of a few pages to you; do not, however, ask to see the edited work of others. That is confidential information and if it is provided to you, be wary of the ethics of that editor.). As the author, expect to pay for several passes through your work (one or two isn’t going to be enough if there are thousands of changes needed—although using a couple of editors isn’t a bad idea if they have similar editing philosophies. Again, ask for samples and compare the styles.), be open to criticism, and be cognizant of what you yourself are attempting to put out in the public eye. Every author needs another set of eyes that has an experienced view.

 

Meredith Efken: Fiction Fix-It Shop

Many writers tend to discount the importance of content editing. They focus on copy or line editing, and they either believe they don’t need content help or they fear a content editor will take over the story or change their voice. However, if a story fails, it’s not usually because of a couple of typos but because the story structure itself is weak or because the character development and portrayal doesn’t ring true on an emotional level. The biggest downfalls I see in many stories are:

  1. a lack of understanding of scene structure and a wobbly or disorganized story structure, and
  2. character emotions that are either too shallow or not psychologically accurate for what the character is facing.

A good content/substantive editor should be able to help spot these problems—and do so in a way that enhances the story and your voice. But if you’re not able to hire an editor, at least study some good how-to resources on those topics. My top recs are these: For story structure, Michael Hague at storymastery.com has an excellent seminar called The Hero’s Two Journeys that explains how the outer plot meshes with the character’s inner transformation. For character emotion, Margie Lawson at margielawson.com approaches character emotions from a psychological background and explains how to convey emotions in a fresh and authentic way. For scene structure, take a look at Randy Ingermanson’s article “Writing The Perfect Scene” which draws on the concepts taught by Dwight Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

 

Helen Baggott: Editor

Many writers embark on the editing process and assume it’s all about trimming things down. Often it is, but it’s too easy to edit out a crucial element that causes the plot to crumble. And because you, the writer, have the complete manuscript – warts and all – in your mind, you can’t distinguish between something that is still in the book and something that’s just a memory from a previous version. If you do decide to go for the chop, make sure you look at the bigger picture and resolve any potential issues before moving on.

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C. S. Lakin: Author, Editor

Writers should consider getting a manuscript critique or evaluation before any line editing. Most books have a lot of structural flaws and weak components that the writer can’t see, and it helps to have a professional work with the author to strengthen or fix these weak areas. I always say that getting an edit done on a flawed manuscript is like putting pretty icing on a yucky-tasting cake. The book may look nicely edited, but it’s not going to hold up. So getting that critique done first, at any stage, is so helpful.

 

Kristen Weber: Freelance book editor, Co-founder of ShelfPleasure.com

Put your manuscript away for at least a couple of weeks. When you come back to it for editing, change the size of the font. You need to make it look different so you can actually see it. It’s like when a chair in your house accidentally gets moved – you won’t notice it until you trip over it! It is important to present your eyes with something different so you see what’s really there. And then once you think it’s perfect, give it to someone else to read – and they’ll find even more to fix!

 

Chandra Clarke: Editor

As everyone knows, the problem with editing your own work is that you’re too familiar with the material. My best tip for mitigating that is to change both the font type and the font size on the document. If you’re working in a serif font, change it to something sans serif or vice versa, and make it a bit bigger. This will change the way the text looks just enough to make it seem different, and that will force you to focus more on what it actually says, as opposed to what you think it should say.

 

Gary Gibson: Author

One of the best ways to learn how to edit your own writing is to edit someone else’s. I started writing paid critiques of unpublished novels more than five years ago, and I think it did a lot to improve my understanding of my own writing and in the process made me a much better writer. Before that, I’d been an on-off member of a writer’s group in my home city for more than twenty years.
Taking part in a writer’s group can be invaluable, because you have to think about why someone’s story or novel does or doesn’t work. Even better is when you get to tell them what you like or don’t like about their work – and explain why. Doing that gets you thinking about the process, and the how-to of writing, and how to apply it to your own work. It’s a bit like the old saying: if you want to master something, teach it.

Rebecca Horsfall: Author

We’re taught at school that good writing involves using adjectives liberally in our compositions. In truth this is just plain wrong. The use of many adjectives is a sure sign of immature writing. When editing our own work it’s important to notice where we’re peppering our prose with adjectives and prune away all but the essential ones. The same is true of similes; you remember them: “his joints were as creaky as the old barn door,” or “her sudden smile was like the sun appearing from behind a cloud.” Similes almost always seem clunky and immature in prose. Same goes, in fact, for all the elaborate metaphors and figurative language so beloved of our school teachers. The more simple and uncluttered our prose, the more mature it will feel to readers (and publishers!)

Laurence Daren King: Literary Consultant

Set up the word processor for writing a novel, not an essay or letter as seems to be the default. Increase the margin size or font size until you have about eleven words to a line. You will then get a realistic idea of paragraph length. So many authors have paragraphs that are far too long. They think: ‘It’s only three quarters of a page long, I see that in novels all the time’, but they have eighteen or twenty words to a line.

Tania Hershman: Author

Change the page from portrait to landscape and change the font, to try and see your writing with fresh eyes, as if you hadn’t written it.

 

Sam Jordison: Author, Founder of Galley Beggar Press

If you can, cut the first chapter. It’s almost certain to be your worst bit of writing.

 

Fay Sampson: Author

Even after you’ve edited your book to the highest standard you can, get it professionally copy-edited. Writing consultancies like the Writers’ Workshop can put you in touch with an editor who will bring your work up to a professional standard and save you embarrassment later.
If you’re adamant on editing your own work, these professional editing tips will serve you well. After all, having a great story interspersed with mistakes and plot holes is a sure-fire way to have critics pounce, and readers close the book.
What other editing tips do you have? What do you look out for when editing your own book? And what are your most common mistakes?

Redesigning your book cover can make you a full-time self-published author

You’re lacking in sales, you’re not reaching new readers, and you’re running out of promotional steam. What’s one thing that could make all the difference in boosting sales and getting you onto the best seller list? Changing your book cover.

Getting sales

ahmadardalan_1 On July 29th 2014, an author named Ahmad Ardalan published a book titled The Gardener of Baghdad. He had been pushing to get it traction, sharing out the link where to purchase it, hitting the social media wave and working hard for reviews. But the success Ahmad had hoped for wasn’t clicking, a piece of the puzzle was missing.

He was ready to submit to the almighty Bookbub. The standards of Bookbub are high, which is why it makes it such a successful platform for self-published authors to get new readers through. In order to be accepted your book has to be at a decent standard, have a good concept, well written blurb, and a cover that doesn’t look DIY.

Ahmad tried three times to get into Bookbub, but he couldn’t crack it. He approached the KindleBoards for help and the problem seemed immediate- his cover wasn’t good enough, he needed something new.

Your story doesn’t matter if your book cover sucks

I know how hard it can be to be in the constant push to get your book into a consistent tide of sales, and sometimes affording a cover designer just isn’t on your list of priorities when you’re publishing. We can only invest so much, and if we have a few spare dollars of change it normally goes into editing and polishing so that the book reads well. That’s the most important part of publishing a book, isn’t it? The story?

Not if no one wants to pick it up in the first place. Your cover is what sells your book, not your writing. After you get a reader hooked, you’re in, but you have to get them to purchase it in the first place.

Remember, your readers aren’t just spending their money, they’re spending their time which is much more valuable. So does your book cover promise hours of adventure, heartbreak or conflict? Or does it say ‘I spent about as much time editing my book as I did on this cover-so that’s what you should expect’?

When authors go full time, thanks to book cover redesigns

M. Ward redesigned her book covers and her life changed overnight; she shared her experiences with us about it on our blog. When she changed over her books to a more genre specific cover for her romance books, she blasted her way onto the New York Times best sellers list.

Were the covers traditional publishing quality? No.

Did they do the job? Yes.

So what was the problem with H. M. Ward’s original covers? They weren’t genre, or audience, specific. They were creative, and beautiful, and the quality of them was stunning. But they weren’t reaching her intended audience. They weren’t genre specific enough.

Your potential readers are looking for books that:

  • Are in the genre they like reading
  • Hold a concept they are familiar with
  • Have a character they could relate to
  • Is “like this other book they just finished”
  • Looks interesting

The job of the cover: Sell the book

When I saw Ahmad’s plight at reaching new readers for The Gardener of Baghdad, I reached out. The cover needed an overhaul so that the audience knew:

  1. What to expect
  2. The genre
  3. Who it is targeted to

I offered the chance to redesign his cover which he graciously accepted, and got started on some new designs. His original concept made use of a painting but the concept wasn’t clear enough. He wanted to show the light and darkness in comparison to the past, and the present, in Baghdad. The beautiful Garden of before to the war torn city of now. I really liked that idea and thought it just needed refining, needed to be presented in a new way.

The concept he approved does exactly that, by using the bright beautiful garden against the contrast of a dark modern city, with simple, soft text we have grounded the design.

ahmadardalan_2The target demographic: people who love historical fiction, mainly women. By using the pastel colours and painted effects, combined with quiet typography, we have nailed the historical/literary fiction genre. We don’t need to tell the whole story, just make it look interesting and give the audience a sense of what’s coming, to get them onto the blurb.

Ahmad submitted the book with his new cover for the fourth attempt this week. He was accepted.

If your sales aren’t working for you, consider the cover. Reach out to a designer, consult with your self-publishing community for feedback, don’t be afraid to change it up. Covers aren’t permanent, even the professionals don’t get it right first try! Authors like H. M. Ward have proven it could mean the difference between working your regular job, and becoming a full-time author.

Why wouldn’t you change it?

How to increase your mailing list, and your sales numbers, as a self-publisher

Lindy DaleThis week we welcome brilliant author Lindy Dale to the blog, who has been kind enough to share with us her successful strategy for increasing subscribers for her mailing list, and her sales numbers. You can find her at www.lindydale.com/

Let me preface this by saying, if you don’t listen to the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, you seriously should. I got this idea from an interview there. At the time (October 2014) my US sales were pathetic. I was selling about one book a day, if that. I had a mailing list of 49 people. My UK sales were okay but nothing could beat what I’d achieved in UK/US in 2012 when I was making about $2500AU a month. I put this down to two things. One, I got cancer and didn’t publish anything for a year so the momentum was lost and two, the golden days of Kindle had started to come to an end. It was harder to be noticed when the number of books tripled overnight. Add KDP select etc into the mix and my career was at a standstill.

 Enter the podcast where I got this advice:

  1. Start a mailing list (already had one but PA.THET.IC)
  2. Put a link to it in the back matter of all your books and offer a free read if people sign up. So far of the 450 people who’ve signed up I’ve only had five unsubscribe. Two were when I sent out a blast yesterday. I view these as people as freebie hunters who only wanted a free book and wouldn’t have bought my stuff anyway so I don’t care. 1% fall out is pretty good.
  3. Make one of your books permafree. Ie: you list it on Smashwords as free then inform Amazon and they price match. I chose one of my novellas It Started With a Kiss that had never really sold. It had links to the email list in the back matter along with an excerpt from another novel and a buy link to keep reading.

This is when things really started to change. When I made that book permafree it instantly went to #1 in short stories in both UK and US. At one stage it was #1 in Short stories, Women’s Fiction and Romantic Comedy simultaneously (yes it was the free list but hey) It’s been sitting at #20 in the whole UK free kindle chart since October (I think its about #23 today) and over Christmas it was #13. It went from having 3 reviews to 115+. In the US it sits between #145 and #200 in the entire free chart.

From it I get a minimum 5 mailing list sign ups a day. BUT I also get flow on sales because all my books now have an excerpt from another book in the back, plus buy links to that book at the end of it and buy links to all my books with a one sentence teaser. This took me a couple of days to do as I have ten books out.

The results:

Since I did this on October 16th

  • my royalties have increased from $50US a month to $250 (I think last month was three hundred). My UK royalties have bounced back to £450 (that’s about $700AU) a month from about £70
  • My unit sales have gone from one book a day in the US to 5-10 (yesterday after my email blast I got 20 US sales) and from 3 a day in UK to 20. So I’m now selling roughly 30 units a day. This has been consistent since October and is building every month. It went down a bit in the last week but I think that’s because the holiday season is over. It’s also mostly on my novels not novellas and these are priced between 2.99 and 4.99. The ones that are more expensive are the ones that are selling but they are also the latest releases
  • Another interesting fact: My Bastard series of three books has about a 95% read through rate meaning that of those who read book one 95% go on to read the other two. I think this has a lot to do with the beginning of the next book being posted as a free chapter or two at the end of the previous book.
  • Interesting fact 2: I have been testing out having ‘sales’ during this time where I lower my price to .99c but DON’T do any promo (eg: ENT Bookbub etc). when I do this I now get my own sales spike of about 30 sales in a day. If I send a blast to my list it’s about 50. I’ve tried this on every book over the past few months and it’s worked every time.

Fantastic advice from Lindy, so what are you waiting for? Get started on your mailing list today!

Scarlett Talks to Author David Partelow

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“David Partelow was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He is an avid poet, novelist, father, lover of life, connoisseur of sarcasm and all around pain in the hind end. He is the creator of the world of LORE and its continuing novels and has produced a poetry book called “Tomorrow was Yesterday”. He is currently working on the next novel of the Vallance War series in LORE and his other interests include writing adventure, steampunk and horror comedy” (Amazon Bio). David- thanks so much for answering these questions!

Scarlett Talks to Anthony Lavisher on his biggest writing mistakes, what he’s most proud of, and what he thinks shouldn’t be on your book cover.

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Anthony Lavisher
is an author who’s love for writing came from swashbuckling adventures with Errol Flynn. His discipline in his routine, and dedication to his trilogy have set him on a straight course for publishing success! Thanks so much Anthony for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Without further ado…

Author James Oswald on Writing, Publishing, Cover Design, and Running a Farm in Scotland

I’m especially excited to publish this interview with author James Oswald who talks in detail about his life as a writer and his approach to writing books while running a 350 acre farm in his spare time. You should also check out James’ book Dreamwalker which is receiving amazing reviews on Amazonand has it’s print release date set for 14th August 2014!

james oswaldDescribe your writing life as if it were a three course meal

The starter was short, but sweet. I began by writing comic scripts, sending them on spec to 2000 AD magazine, which I’d been reading since it first came out. They bought one of my scripts after less than a year of trying, and I thought my career was made. Sadly, although I tried to get more stories published over the next couple of years, 2000 AD was in a low point in its history, and not buying anything much from new writers.

The main course was a big old leathery steak, needing endless chewing and not really very tasty at all. I wrote short stories, nine novels, more comic scripts, and failed to get a single thing published for thirteen years. I came close a couple of times, but always fell at the final hurdle. I briefly had what could only be described as a Vanity Agent, who pretended to try and sell my first novel before presenting me with a ‘publishing’ deal that was the biggest rip-off I have ever seen. The contract from an unlisted publisher went on for pages, but in summary it worked out that if I paid them a couple of thousand pounds, they would produce ‘more than’ five copies (i.e 6) of my novel in a ‘suitable binding’ (i.e. a ring binder).  They would have had exclusive worldwide rights in perpetuity, retaining upwards of 75% of any subsidiary rights they sold on my behalf. It really was the most dreadful contract I have ever seen – suffice to say I didn’t sign it! I parted company with that agent fairly sharpish too.

Dessert would have to be the most amazing confection of fruit and meringue and creme brûlée and chocolate in the shape of the last two and a half years. Self publishing my first two Tony McLean books, seeing sales and free downloads top 350,000 in eight months, getting a proper agent, a six figure publishing deal, making the bestseller lists, all this has made the bitter wilderness years worth the effort. And they were worth the effort, because that’s when I honed my writing until it was good enough for people to want to read and read more.

What’s in your ‘must have’ writers bag, every time you sit down to write a story?

The only thing I have to have when I sit down to write (and forget all too often!) is a clear idea of what I want the particular scene I’m writing to achieve. That and a notepad to scribble in as I go along. I currently write using Scrivener, but I’ve used Word in the past and even the old word processor program on my BBC Model B microcomputer (I know, showing my age!). These are just the tools that allow me to get the words down. It’s the words that are important.

What do you hate seeing on book covers?

Overused stock photographs. There was a spate of covers a couple of years back that all featured the same photograph of a house in the woods, its windows looking ominous as they reflected the light. It was a striking image, but after the third outing it got a bit tired.

For someone who writes fantasy, I’m not a big fan of most fantasy covers (my own excepted, of course!) It’s getting better, but for a while it was almost always some musclebound oaf with a sword, or a scantily clad woman with a sword, or sometimes both.

It’s always disappointing when the cover artist either hasn’t read the novel or been briefed. I have a copy of the US edition of Colin Greenland’s excellent SF novel Take Back Plenty which shows a very badly painted rendition of the main character in the cockpit of her spaceship. Unfortunately no one has told the artist that Tabitha Jute is black.

DreamwalkerHave you ever designed your own book cover? What were the pros/cons? Would you do it again?

I designed covers for an early version of my three fantasy books, Dreamwalker (print version released August 14th 2014), The Rose Cord and The Golden Cage. My intention was to produce very limited quantities of the books, using Lulu, to give to friends and family. They were never for sale. I had a good idea of what I wanted, but lacked both the artistic and photoshop skills really to pull it off. The results look very amateur, which was fine for that purpose, but would almost certainly have deterred readers from picking up the books had they been for sale. I wouldn’t dream of doing my own covers for a book I intended to sell.

What is your writing schedule, if you have one? If not, why not?

In theory, I write in the evenings from about eight until midnight, having already put in a day’s work on the farm. In practice, there are days when the farm work is done by mid-morning and I can spend the rest of my time writing, maybe getting the evening off for a bit of reading. And there are days when the farming goes on all night (lambing time, for example), or when I’m just too tired to write.

Having a contract with Penguin means deadlines and the need to bring a certain level of professionalism to what is, after all, a job. I am under contract to produce two novels a year and to that end I aim to get 2000 words written every day, but quite often fall short of that.

If I had a single piece of advice to give to writers it would be…

Don’t give up. It took me twenty years to become an overnight success. You have to write because you love making stuff up, because you love words and stories. Of course, everyone’s dream is to be published and successful, but that cannot be the sole reason for doing it.

When publishing your book, how important is it to have a well-designed book cover, compared to the other components like a clear blurb, a well written story, established reader base or good marketing tactics?

The first three are all part of the same thing, which is a professional-looking package. The best cover in the world won’t make up for dreadful writing in between. A cracking good story can be ruined by poor formatting and too many typos. An awkward blurb can put people off what is otherwise a fine read. All these elements have to work in harmony.

An established reader base is obviously helpful, especially if they are good at writing reviews and spreading the word about your books. From my experience of marketing tactics, however, unless you’re in the position to spend tens or hundreds of thousands on poster campaigns and national newspaper advertising, nothing much really works other than writing more books. It’s a well-established principle in the publishing business that the best way to boost sales of an author is for that author to bring out another book.

Have you ever had a really great experience with a professional, in the self-publishing industry (such as an editor, designer or formatter)? What happened? What made it so good for you?

I was introduced (electronically – we’ve never met IRL) to the book cover designer J T Lindroos by a friend who had used him to design his own ebook covers. Juha is a brilliant designer, who charged a pittance and worked through many iterations of design until we hit upon the right feel for my first novel, Natural Causes. I had less of a clear brief for the second one, The Book of Souls, but what he came up with on his own was sensational. He jokingly said he’d like to be paid more if the books did sensationally well, and I took great delight in sending him a substantial bonus when they did.

Are you a pantser, or an outliner? Why?

Very much a pantser (although I prefer the autocorrect ‘panther’). I’ll work out in my head or on my whiteboard what a scene or a story arc is meant to achieve, but no more detailed planning than that. I tend to write the first draft very quickly and organically, with lots of notes of things to go back and change. The shaping comes in the rewrites.

I did once try to plot a novel from start to finish. Like Natural Causes it was based on a short story, so I knew how it ended and the broad arc it would travel. I spent about a month planning each scene in meticulous detail before sitting down to write the thing. By the time I got to the end of the first chapter, I’d introduced an entirely new character who turned out to be pivotal to the novel. Shoehorning her into the existing plan and shuffling scenes around to make it all work meant the writing took twice as long as usual, and the finished result isn’t that good.

If you couldn’t get paid for writing in money, what would be your alternate choice of payment (keep it clean, eh?)?

Like my main character, Tony McLean, I have a penchant for fine single malt whisky, so I guess being paid in drams would work. My publisher and agent both seem to have taken this on board, judging by the occasional (and very welcome) bottles that arrive in the post. Fortunately my publisher also pays in money!

What is the one thing that distracts you most when writing?

<strike> being asked to fill in questionnaires </strike>Twitter.

Do you think that a cover should have specific elements of the book, like characters and places, or is it better to be simple and symbolic to give just an impression of the book and the genre?

It very much depends on the genre and the territory in which it’s being sold. Different things work in different places and for different kinds of stories. The covers of my crime fiction books tend to be photographic, usually showing a vista of Edinburgh or somewhere obviously Scottish, with heavy dark clouds overhead. The images only very loosely refer to anything in the books.

For my fantasy series, on the other hand, the covers are hand drawn, with motifs that closely reflect what goes on in the books. A photographic cover just wouldn’t work for fantasy.

What’s your worst writing habit you just can’t seem to shake?

I know perfectly well the difference between its and it’s, their, there and they’re but when I’m typing fast I often get them wrong. A standard practice now with my final draft is to run a search and replace on all of those words, just to double check!

Are you a one-manuscript-at-a-time author, or do you have several on the go at once?

I write just the one manuscript at a time, but I may well be editing several others and possibly doing the publicity rounds for yet more. I did a library event a few months back where I launched into a description of a scene as an example to a point I was trying to make about the book just out, only to realise halfway through that the scene in question was in the book I was currently writing.

I have enough ideas for different genres and characters to write many books at the same time, but I think my head would explode after a while. There also isn’t the time, what with a farm to run.

What is something you see self-published authors doing time and again, that you think doesnt work?

Trying to sell their new book on social media. Twitter, Facebook and the like are great for interacting with your readers, but actual mentions of your book should be few and far between. If you must sell anything, sell yourself, not your book

Should you respond to reviews of your book, good or bad?

If it’s a great review and you ever meet the reviewer, by all means say thank you. If they post a link on social media, RT it and thank them there if you want to. If someone reviews your book on their blog, link to it and send your readers their way. But always do it without comment.

If it’s a bad review, however much you disagree with it, no good can come of you arguing your case. Best to leave it behind you and move on.

 

About James

James Oswald is the author of the Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries. The first two of these, Natural Causes and The Book of Souls were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. Set in an Edinburgh not so different to the one we all know, Detective Inspector Tony McLean is the unlucky policeman who can see beneath the surface of ordinary criminal life to the dark, menacing evil that lurks beneath.

Dead Men's BonesBook four in the series, Dead Men’s Bones, published by Penguin, is just out and available from all good bookstores.

James has also written a classic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro. Inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, it follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men. The first three books in the series are currently available as ebooks, and will be appearing in a Penguin paperback edition soon. The final two books in the series will be out next year.

In his spare time, James runs a 350 acre farm in North East Fife in Scotland, where he raises pedigree Highland cattle and New Zealand Romney sheep.

Shirley Anne Edwards Talks about Writing, Schedules, Alternatives to Writing and Motivation

I’d like to reach out and say a massive thanks to Shirley Anne Edwards for agreeing to answer these questions about publishing, inspiration, morivation, book design and writing in general. What If BookShirley first found her love for books when she read Nancy Drew’s The Secret of the Old Clock Tower at thirteen. She now reads close to 20 books a month and spends most of the rest of her time writing. Her current work in progress is What If?which you can find out more about at the end of the interview!

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your writing career?

I decided to start publishing too late. I wish I could have published a few years back. Self-doubt kept me from publishing my stories.

What are you most proud of in your writing career?

To be able to finish a full length novel and have the self-confidence to publish it.

What’s in your ‘must have’ writers bag, every time you sit down to write a story?

I must have something to drinks, usually iced tea and somewhere comfortable to sit. I also keep a notepad next to me at all times to jot down any notes while I write.

What do you hate seeing on book covers?

I don’t understand the appeal of a woman’s naked back while she’s wearing jeans. A cover like that doesn’t interest me as a reader.

Do you think it’s better for author’s to hire a designer, or to try designing their book cover themselves?

If you have the experience at cover design, I so go for it! If you have a background in art and computer art programs that enables you to create your own covers, why not? It will save you some money.

What If BookWhat is your writing schedule, if you have one? If not, why not?

I try to write for an hour each day during the week, and increase my time during the weekends. My goal is to write 10,000 word weeks.

If you could outsource one thing when it comes to self-publishing/writing, what would it be, and why?

Formatting and uploading files to various online stores. It would help me save a lot of time if someone else did it. That’s why I plan on paying something

What’s one of your best skills as a writer?

I have a big imagination, so I would say letting my imagination run wild so I can see where it goes and what the final outcome will be.

What’s one of your biggest weaknesses as a writer?

I’m impatient. I wish I could type faster in order to get the words in my head on the page quicker.

If you didn’t become a writer, what other hobby/profession would have filled that hole?

I love children, so probably a teacher, perhaps operate my own daycare center or teach Pre-K or Kindergarten.

What is something just a little bit odd/weird/unconventional/secret about yourself that helps or hinders your writing?

I like to write in complete silence and in one specific room in my house.

Do you write full time, and if so how do you maintain motivation?

I’m just starting out so I’m not a full time write yet *fingers crosses for the future*

If I had a single piece of advice to give to writers it would be…

Believe in yourself and write what you love.

What style/genre/design of book covers do you like the most? Why? Can you share examples?

I’m a sucker for those covers that have puppies on them and a scene near a lake or in a forest.

When publishing your book, how important is it to have a well-designed book cover, compared to the other components like a clear blurb, a well written story, established reader base or good marketing tactics?

All these things you mention are very important. If you’re cover isn’t appealing and your blurb is hard to understand, why would anyone buy your book? Also a well written, edited book is first and foremost above all else.

Do you consider yourself a hobbyist, or a professional as an author?

I would say I’m in the in-between stage. I do hope after What If? Is published, then I can say I’m a professional.

Are you a pantser, or an outliner? Why?

I’m an outliner. I like to see where I’m going as I write and where my characters end up.

If you couldn’t get paid for writing in money, what would be your alternate choice of payment (keep it clean, eh?)?

If I was paid in free food or free coffee, I would be happy.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I wrote an article for my school paper when I was in First Grade. Writing is in my blood.

Should you respond to reviews of your book, good or bad?

Based on all the interactions I’ve witness from authors have with readers or reviewers over book reviews, I would say it’s best if that author keep their opinions about a review to themselves. When an author comments, specifically on a review they feel is negative, regardless of how many stars given to that book, it always spirals out of control and becomes very angry and mean.

More About Shirley:

I’m a Northeast girl who first found my love for books when I read Nancy Drew’s The Secret of the Old Clock Tower at thirteen. I’m a bit quirky and silly at times, and love anything in entertainment from movies to television and books. I read close to 20 books a month and spend most of the rest writing. My debut novel called What If? A young adult murder mystery with a touch of romance mixed in will be out in the fall of 2014. Each week I post a new chapter of What If? On Wattpad. You can find it here: http://www.wattpad.com/40628622-about-what-if You can find me at my website: http://shirlwriteredwards.wordpress.com/. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shirley.edwards.31924 On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShirleyAWriter

About What If?

Sixteen-year-old Wendy Wyman is bereft over the death of her best friend, Peter Preiss, whose body has been found at the bottom of the town lake. She blames herself because she allowed him to go back to his family’s lakeside boathouse late at night where they had just made love for the first time. She wonders what she could have done differently to stop Pete from being killed, and thinks back to the beginning of the school year when her whole life changed forever. Wendy will stop at nothing until she finds out the person responsible for killing Peter, who was bullied by most of the students in their junior class. She is in for even more of a shock when she finds out that not only did Pete keep dark secrets from her, but a few of her close friends are hiding ones as well. This also includes Dylan Mayone, the new popular boy at school, who wants her for his own, and may have had a hand in Pete’s death. Once again, thanks so much to Shirley for agreeing to answer these questions! Can’t wait to see where your writing career is headed!

Patty Jansen

Interview with Patty Jansen: On Book Cover Design, Writing Well and Responding to Reviews

Patty JansenI’m super-stoked to have fantasy author Patty Jansen on the blog to share her thoughts on book cover design,  what it takes to write a great story, and responding to book reviews!

A quick bio:  Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. She has also sold fiction to genre magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Redstone SF and Aurealis.

Her novels include the successful Icefire Trilogy (dark fantasy) and the Return of the Aghyrians series. Her novel Ambassador was published by Ticonderoga Publication in 2013.

What are you most proud of in your writing career?

There are many things I could be proud of. My official pro-level publications. The stories I sold to Analog, my win in the Writers of the Future Contest. But I personally get the most satisfaction from looking at the home page on my website and seeing all my books lined up. A lot of fun went into writing those. I love all my books.

What do you hate seeing on book covers?

Samesy stuff. Half-nekkid bodies, preferably headless. Sultry teenagers staring broodily at the reader while wearing “fight” gear that wouldn’t last two seconds in a real fight. Photomanipulated covers in general, especially when using clearly recognisable models. Stock photos that get used over and over again.

Do you think it’s better for authors to hire a designer, or to try designing their book cover themselves? Explain.

It depends. Some authors should stay as far away from a graphics manipulation program as possible. Others can have reasonable talent to design effective covers. Unfortunately, not all graphic designers are created alike. I’ve seen covers “professionally designed”, even by big publishing houses, that are simply not up to scratch. In that case an author would be wasting money paying a designer. Just because you pay someone doesn’t mean that they do a good job. If you hire someone, look for a designer whose work is in a style you like. Look for someone who can do typography. Poor typography can absolutely ruin a cover (Not sure it is important? Look here (unintentional language warning; please put down any coffee you’re drinking right now, unless you want it to end up on your screen): http://ow.ly/i/3NH9k).

When you go to a designer, you want to be able to say “I want something in the style of XYZ” where XYZ is a book that designer has done.

Have you ever designed your own book cover? What were the pros/cons? Would you do it again?

I always design my own. There are several reasons for this, and cost isn’t one. My greatest fear in hiring a designer is that the designer in question may produce something I don’t like. This is why premade covers are so great, but premades also use stock photography a lot, which can mean that other books will use the same photos for the cover.

If I design my own and it doesn’t work, I can easily change it. I can also do so quickly and without hassle or trodden-on egos (except my own, but that’s another story).

I currently have one cover up that’s designed by Tom Edwards, because I didn’t have any skills in the style that I wanted. It was great to work with him. But I’ve also had other designers flake out on me and there are no words in the English language to describe how much I hate it when people just vanish without having fulfilled their promises. Unfortunately, it tends to be disturbingly common with artists.

I started doing my own because I have used graphics programs before and used to design full-colour non-fiction books.

I am aware that I have no formal training in cover design but some of the covers I’ve done I’ve been unable to improve on, such as the Icefire Trilogy covers. They’re distinctive and I know you can’t read the titles very well at thumbnail format, but the design works. Every time I try to touch those covers, everyone goes NOOOO, please don’t!

If it were up to you to decide the next book to movie release, what book would you choose?

OMG, I would so love to make Ambassador into a movie! It’s got the right amount of thriller-y tension, it’s got an alien planet, it’s got space ships (seriously, what is a movie without space ships?), and people are blowing up stuff and it comes complete with an alien shoot-out in a suburban shopping centre. What more do you want?

If you could outsource one thing when it comes to self-publishing/writing, what would it be, and why?

I’ve just started to outsource formatting. I hate it. Hate, HATE. Besides, formatters do a beautiful job. It takes me days and a couple of different pieces of software and a bucket full of swear words to figure out why EPUBs won’t validate. *Bashes head against wall*. This falls solidly under the WIBBOW rule (Would I Be Better Off Writing).

If you could eradicate one whole genre in the publishing industry, what would it be and why?

I was going to say none. There are genres I have no love for, but other people do. There are genres that deal with topics I don’t want to read about, but I am happy for those genres to exist. Some books deal with the most horrific stuff. Some do so relentlessly. I still think those books should exist.  That’s why we have a horror category.

So yeah, I was going to say none, and then I came across a discussion about incest erotica. I just can’t even wrap my head around that. Incest is awful, a misuse of a position of power against a powerless victim. Incest used as sexual titillation? I don’t even know where to begin. It’s not harmless smut, it’s… I just have no words.

I think this is one of the problems we’ve struck with self-publishing and the issue that led to the whole Kobo/WH Smith debacle. If you give people the chance to publish any old thing they want, they will publish any old thing they want.

I have no problem with people publishing stuff that’s simply very badly written, disgusting, illegal and harmful (er, murder mysteries anyone?) but I have grave problems with works that glorify harmful practices, condone them and present them as acceptable or even desirable behavior.

What is one thing that made the biggest change to better your writing skills? Did you read something, hear something, do something?

I started writing in 2004, and joined the SF-OWW online writing group in December of that year. It was a great learning ground for a beginning writer, even more so because there were (still are) some highly experienced and well-published writers amongst its membership. But a few years later, I felt at a crossroads. “Everyone” at the workshop thought that I could write, and liked my stories, yet they failed to sell.

So I made two decisions: one, I was going to leave the group and find a place where I could find someone from the industry who could tell me why my writing sucked. Two, I was going to get 100 rejections that year. Not saying anything about acceptances, just rejections.

Resolution one led me to the Baen’s Bar, where real-life editors comment on submitted stories. Being there also made me realise that my stories were fine in style, character, plot, emotion etc., but that they lacked content. Science Fiction and Fantasy needs something extra that makes the setting sing. Within a few months, I had my first pro sale.

People here may say: why didn’t you self-publish? Why go traditional? I happen to think that every writer should at least test their fiction against the traditional market. These agents and editors see thousands of manuscripts each year. They know what stands out. The will probably not buy your fiction, but once they start saying things like “This is well-written, but not quite right for us” or something, you know you’ve got what it takes. If you get only form rejections, you’re not ready.

Patty JansenIf I had a single piece of advice to give to writers it would be…

Learn to write before you publish. It sounds like kicking in an open door, but so many writers out there fling their first draft onto Amazon. First drafts are usually poorly-plotted, poorly-written dreck (heck, mine are, too), especially of writers who have not been through any kind of fiction writing training process, whether formally or informally. Seeing those writers come to the KindleBoards or the Why Is My Book Not Selling website which I run is kinda heartbreaking. I don’t tend to coddle, but some of them need a very hard slap to the face to realise that the product they’ve put out is not up to scratch, that they need to work on almost every aspect of their writing.

Some people would say “Get an editor!” but an editor won’t save a crappy manuscript. In fact, a good editor should not accept a crappy manuscript. Many of them, however, do. The writer then goes strutting about “I’ve had it professionally edited!” without realising that line editing is not the problem.

Grammar and punctuation are the absolutely lowest common denominators in writing quality. Much more important is plotting, pace, character, dialogue, tension, point of view and a raft of other storytelling techniques. If you’re like 99.9999%  of us, you need to learn how to do all these things. An editor won’t do this for you.

Learn to write

Learn to plot

Learn to write engaging characters

Learn to maximise tension

Learn to use Point-of-View to maximum effect

Hint: learning this will take a lot of heartache, interaction with other fiction people (either a writing group or a more formal course), a lot of hard work, and a couple of years.

What style/genre/design of book covers do you like the most? Why? Can you share examples?

I like artistic book covers, covers that are painted, drawn or otherwise created. I like life-like paintings with artistic elements. Great realistic watercolours or beautiful computer renders of fantasy landscapes. I have a gallery of great self-published book covers (http://pattyjansen.com/blog/awesome-self-published-book-covers/)

When publishing your book, how important is it to have a well-designed book cover, compared to the other components like a clear blurb, a well written story, established reader base or good marketing tactics?

A clear and pretty cover is extremely important. You want the cover to be eye-catching. I consider “well-designed” to be an extremely subjective word. Frequently when the design industry awards “best book covers” I dislike the covers they choose. They’re often too design-ey. A cover needs to stand out and communicate genre. The picture needs to be arresting, pretty or bright. But the cover needs to be about the book, not try to be too clever or draw too much attention to the design.

Do you think that a cover should have specific elements of the book, like characters and places, or is it better to be simple and symbolic to give just an impression of the book and the genre?

I think a great number of covers are ruined by stubborn authors who insist to their designers that there should be xyz on the cover. This while the designer may not have any xyz in their arsenal or while having too much stuff on the cover clutters the image. The most effective covers are simple.

As an author, I think you should give an artist as much freedom as possible. You should make sure the artist has experience in book covers and your genre. You should provide subgenre, the blurb, and a few main elements of the book. Is it dark and gritty? Is it happy? Is it chatty? Is it modern, historical or futuristic. As author, don’t be a control freak.

Should you respond to reviews of your book, good or bad?

Some people have had great success with responding to reviews, but I’m a hands-off person. I’ve had authors respond to reviews I’ve written, and generally, I won’t read anything by that author again, unless it’s someone I know personally, or the reaction to my review comes much later, such as when I meet a writer at a con.

To me, any author response other than “thank you” just ends up sounding defensive or peeved, especially the horrid “I’m sorry you didn’t like my book”, because it sounds like the author just bit in a sour apple. And then you get the authors who email you to make sure you know how much they thought you were wrong. That definitely goes straight into the bin and the author goes on a black list.

A huge thanks to Patty for answering these questions for me! If you would like to hear more from Patty, you can follow over at: Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, goodreads and her great blog: http://pattyjansen.com/

Jennifer Zane Liar Liar Heart's On Fire

Interview with Jennifer Zane on being an introvert, cover design and writing romance

I’m so pleased to have author and designer Jennifer Zane agree to answer a few questions for the blog! Jennifer has lived all over the US–from Georgia to Maryland, New York to Colorado, including an exciting five years in Montana. Her time in Big Sky country was the basis for her latest book Liar, Liar, Hearts On Fire to be released on 1/16/14 (you can gain access to a sneak peek of the first chapter by signing up to Jennifer’s newsletter on her web page).

When she’s not writing, Jennifer savors the insanity of raising two boys, is figuring out how many meals she can make with a pressure cooker, and teaches a pretty mean karate class. She currently lives with her family in Colorado.

Describe your writing life as if it were a three course meal
As soon as I read this, I got stuck. Immediately I thought of a kid choosing what his favorite three course meal would be. It would most likely start with Fun Dip (those white candy sticks you lick and dip in flavored sugar), then move on to multi-flavored jelly beans and end up with a make-your-own sundae bar.

My books are filled with fun, plausible and realistic but unbelievable bits of mayhem, then finished off with a big sugar rush. Sure, it’s romance, but it’s romantic comedy.

What do you hate seeing on book covers?

No animal should be on a romance book cover (even if the book is about Lassie) unless it’s a werewolf paranormal. Spot or Shadow should be a pleasant surprise inside.

Do you think it’s better for author’s to hire a designer, or to try designing their book cover themselves?

Book covers are like taxes, haircuts and oil changes. Let the professionals do it. It’s worth the money.

 What is your writing schedule, if you have one? If not, why not?

I sit down at my computer the minute the school bus pulls away (yes, the stop is amazingly right in front of my house) and then I work for the next 6.5 hours (when the school bus reappears)

If you could outsource one thing when it comes to self-publishing/writing, what would it be, and why?

Editing. You can look and look and look and you won’t find everything. Your reader will find EVERY single error.

What’s one of your best skills as a writer?

I’d say dialogue. I think it’s where your characters really get to share their personality.

What’s one of your biggest weaknesses as a writer?

Tense. I am terrible at tenses! I think I missed that week/month/year of school. Thus, my reason for wanting an editor.

What is something just a little bit odd/weird/unconventional/secret about yourself that helps or hinders your writing?

I’m an introvert. Big time. I’m not really shy, but I hate new situations, especially social ones. I’m terrible at meeting new people. So it’s pretty hard to do fan events when you’re a little bit petrified! (hint, hint—the next time you meet me, I’ll be just as nervous (or more so) than you!)

What is one thing that made the biggest change to better your writing skills? Did you read something, hear something, do something?

A critique group is the best thing ever. They tell you honestly all the terrible things about your writing and make you feel good about yourself when doing it. They’ll also make you feel like you write like Nora Roberts when they like it. And, most importantly, they won’t think writing romance novels is weird.

What are your favourite websites for writing/self-publishing?

I’m a little biased for www.romcon.com since I work for them. But, indiesunlimited.com is great. I have to say Amazon. Solely because they made it possible for the word ‘indie’ to actually apply to book writing. Ten years ago we (writers) had to form our books to meet the mold of New York’s big publishing houses. That all shifted with Amazon.

Do you think being able to read the title and name of your book cover at thumbnail format (normally on Amazon) is important, even though the title and name of the book is normally to the right of the cover anyway?

I think being able to read your name and book title in the thumbnail image is the most important thing about book cover design. Even if the design is stunning, but isn’t clear as a thumbnail, it’s not successful in the current sales models.

Do you consider yourself a hobbyist, or a professional as an author?

Hobbyist, see below, coincidentally!

What is something that continues to make an appearance in all your work?

Goldie, the adult store owner and master meddler, is the consistent character in all of my romantic comedies. She’s insane. And I wish she was a real person!!

 What’s your worst writing habit you just can’t seem to shake?

Definitely tenses. And yes, there’s a theme here in this interview.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I still don’t think of myself as a writer. It’s more a hobby. I think the phrase ‘when did you know’ about something is for a ‘thing’ that is a true part of yourself. I’m an artist. I ‘knew I wanted to’ be an artist in first grade. It’s a part of me. Writing, for now, is under the tab of Hobby.

Are you a one-manuscript-at-a-time author, or do you have several on the go at once?

I have one-at-a-time on my computer, more than one in my head. I start thinking and plotting several books in my head, but only write one at a time.

Should you respond to reviews of your book, good or bad?

Don’t respond. Take the high road. Sometimes, I think people have mistakenly written a review for someone else’s book instead of mine. Someone compared my book to “Shades”. I was cracking up! My romantic comedies, set in Montana, with some heat and a ceramic garden gnome—like Shades?

 

Jennifer Zane Liar Liar Heart's On FireIf you have any other questions for Jennifer, you can contact her at: jennifer@jenniferzane.com

And please do check out the pre-release reviews of Jennifer’s latest book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18803814-liar-liar-hearts-on-fire?ac=1

And for those of you who would like to read the blurb for Liar, Liar, Hearts On Fire:

Violet Miller is a teacher savoring her summer break until she’s been called in as emergency reinforcements—of the dating kind. She volunteers to help an old flame by pretending to be his girlfriend. In Alaska. At a family reunion. Since the guy is a handsome, lumberjack-sized doctor she’s never quite forgotten, faking a relationship won’t be hard work.

Mike Ostranski is a desperate man on vacation. His mother wants grandchildren and sees a crazy Alaskan woman as a candidate for daughter-in-law. Mike needs Violet by his side to deflect the lady’s advances.

A week in Alaska as boyfriend and girlfriend should be easy for them. They grew up together, even had a brief fling. What could go wrong?

Everything.  

 

A masive thanks, again, to Jennifer for agreeing to answer these questions, and best of luck with the book launch!