Road to Self-Published – Part 2 – Careful Cover Construction

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” might be a popular saying, but in the publishing world, people do it all the time. This is a major reason it’s imperative to have a professional cover for your independently published book.

I envisioned the perfect cover when I first started writing this book. I could see it in my mind’s eye. The thing had mystery and clean lines. It was beautiful.

And describing it became difficult. What? Don’t you use words to describe all the time? Certainly, but even specific words create differing pictures in the minds of those who hear them. Yes, based on their own knowledge and perceptions, another person might visualize something that looks like nothing I imagined I described to a tee.

Whatever file you use for keeping notes on your projects needs to have a page for cover images. Mine is called “Covers I Like.” When something strikes you, click the copy button and paste it into your notes.

CoversILike

Researching your Genre

All this means is heading over to Amazon and typing in the keywords for your genre. For me, I typed “Biblical fiction.” That’s it, and I had 100 pages to thumb through.

Scroll through the pretty thumbnails. When you find one you like, click on it to make it bigger. If it still sings to you, copy that sucker into the aforementioned file.

After I had ten lovely covers, I ranked them in the order of appeal. I might suggest noting what you like about them if it is early and you don’t have an appointment scheduled with your cover designer in the near future.

Resources from other Independent Authors

I personally know two people who are qualified to design my covers. I’m not talking about a friend who thinks they’re a wiz with Photoshop. These people are professional designers with a portfolio of work samples.

If you do not have personal knowledge, this is when you should milk your network of writing friends for information. They will gladly refer people who have served them well in the past. And steer you clear of the ones who were less than desirable to work with.

Here is a list of links that might help with this process:

A Meeting of the Minds

Let’s face it, having control over what the cover on your book looks like is important. Authors want the cover to reflect the contents, and who knows the contents better than the person who poured their soul into them? And then pored over them through multiple drafts?

For me, I wanted the cover artist to consider my thoughts and ideas before jumping off on their own creative path. Maybe other writers are less controlling about the cover.

Cover artists are artists. The photographer/graphic designer that I used is deeply concerned about the originality and perception of his work. Which is great – until it interferes with my own ideals.

If you find your cover artist offering up samples that are nothing like you envisioned (and though you communicated to him), it might be time to find another artist. Don’t wait too late, though, or your project could be in jeopardy of releasing on schedule.

Don’t skimp on your cover. It will cost a few thousand pennies to get the collection of digital files you need for the different platforms. Pay the piper. Your sales will thank you.

Additional Resources:

Book Publishing Guide

What resources have you found for designing covers? Are there other steps in the process I’ve overlooked?

Road to Self-Published – Finding your Perfect Editor – Part 2

everyone-needs-a-good-editor2

This is the second part to a serial post describing my search for a freelance editor. Read part 1 here if you missed it last week.

The first half of the post talked about how I started my search for an editor and the overload of information I needed to sift through before I could contact some editors. Now, what did I ask them? How did I pick one?

What I wish I knew first

Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample edit. Both of the editors I corresponded with happily edited a few pages of my manuscript. It truly gave me insight into their styles and what I might expect when I got the copy back.

Copy editors follow the Chicago Manual of Style. If you don’t know what that is, follow this link to get more information. One of them clung to this more strictly and changed the sentence fragments I used in my writing.

In fiction, fragment have become increasingly accepted. Authors use them to emphasize or make a character’s succinct voice come through more clearly. If this editor intended to correct them all, my manuscript would be a mess of red.

When I asked her about it, she said she would NOT change them if that was my preference. My preference is that they have impact. If they don’t, then they should conform to grammatical rules.

Ask about a time frame. Apparently, many editors are booked as far as three months in advance. I wanted someone to look at my manuscript in 30 days. Luckily, since it is a novella, both of these editors were able to squeeze the estimated 14-hour job into their schedule.

If you’re interested in copy editing, book formatting, proofreading and help writing marketing text, most of the editors I previewed had experience with all these things. Yes, you can get this assistance – for a price.

Both of the editors I worked with offered discounts for bundling copy editing and proofreading. I was amazed at the price for the proofreading service since I figured the manuscript should be squeaky clean after the copy edit.

Apparently, things like spelling and punctuation aren’t priorities during a copy edit. This surprised me. How can you make a sentence grammatically correct and clear without altering faulty punctuation and spelling? That must be the English geek in me that connects these two things.

My Final Criteria

The samples and conversations with both Kristen (Kristen Corrects, Inc.) and Lindsey (Lindsey Alexander Editorial) pleased me. I felt both of them would make my manuscript better – ready to face the public.

Both of them seemed happy to go “the extra mile” with me and answer questions not clearly related to the service I was buying from them. Lindsey even spoke with me for fifteen minutes on the phone before I signed any contract.

In the end, I based the decision on experience. Lindsey had been involved in publishing and editing in a more direct way for several years longer than Kristen. In fact, her freelancing business was seven years older than Kristen’s.

I would highly recommend either of these editors. I hope you’ll take the time to click through to all four of the editorial websites I’ve linked to this post. Research is your best avenue for finding the right editor. Your project might fit more easily with someone other than Lindsey.

It’s true, I haven’t seen more than just a few pages of work from Lindsey Alexander. Her willingness to speak to me on the phone and answer a host of questions that had little to do with copy editing – and much to do with my insecurities about being my own publisher – added a ton of bricks in her favor.

Have you hired an editor? Do you have advice to add? What other information would you like to know on this subject?

Writer’s Conference Reflections

Willamette-Writers2A puff of chocolaty goodness wafts by me when I open the door into the conference area. My mouth waters. Stillness underlies the hum of excited voices.

This is my first writing conference. Professionals attend conferences to network and build skills in their area of expertise. I may be pre-published, but I am a professional writer. Time to break out of my writing solace and enter the business world.

Women outnumber men. The largest demographic seems to be the over 55 crowd. This statistic gives me pause. Did they wait to pursue their dream until life settled down?

Everyone is a stranger and yet, strangely, invisible camaraderie pulls us together. The thread of love for words or creating worlds or setting our imagination free knits the crowd into something amazing.

Gawking like a foreigner, I locate the priority one item on my list. It’s just to the right of the main entrance. Yes, the ladies’ restroom. Who can concentrate on anything when the bladder screams like a crowded rollercoaster?

Highlights from the weekend will be covered in this post. Over the next several weeks, I will embellish on certain points that impacted me the most.

Sessions

The planners organized things according to different segments of writing. On the “TV Guide” schedule of events, categories like “literature,” “genre fiction,” “nonfiction” and “business of writing” head the colorful columns. It’s not surprising that most of my choices come from the literature column.

StoryEnginewebConveniently, that will keep me in the same conference classroom for the entire morning. It’s the room where the amazing Larry Brooks expounded his structural genius. (I found out he grew up in Portland, OR, and went to high school with Sam Eliott – of the Dodge voice track.)

Most of the sessions ask us to participate, which gave them a workshop feel. Write the definition of a premise. List the words you know you overuse in your writing. Things that help attendees ingest the information and immediately apply it to their writing.

Presenters ranged from authors to agents, from editors to social media gurus. Each one shared their expertise and opened themselves to questions about their topic. Some of them even rubbed elbows with the masses after the session.

Panels

The first session I attended was a panel of three agents. For an entire hour, those in the audience could ask any question burning in their minds. To say it was an eye-opening introduction to the writing world might be understating things.

Agents might respond to my query in eight weeks. After I send them the full manuscript, it could be another two to three months before I get the phone call offering representation. Or the rejection letter.

Say I sign with Ms. Ideal Agent. I have a contract. But not a publishing contract. It might take as many as 18 months for my advocate to find the perfect publisher for my novel. 18 months? That’s crazy!

After I get a real contract from a publisher, it could be another 18 months before my book makes the shelves of the Barnes & Noble at the mall. Talk about a LONG process. No wonder so many people are independently or self-publishing.

I’m hardly a mathmetician but that looks like almost three and a half years from original query to holding a published novel in my hand. That’s the math if my first querying attempt nets a manuscript request which leads to agent love. So that whole five year timeline from finished to published makes more sense now.

No wonder people are self publishing books on Amazon like there’s no tomorrow. Five years is more tomorrows than some people have to invest in a writing dream.

Critiques

For an additional fee, writers could submit twenty pages of their manuscript and a short synopsis to an agent, editor or author of their choice. This had to be done six weeks before the conference for best results. Some people walked in with a manuscript to get a critique on the spot, but since the windows for meetings were ten to fifteen minutes, I doubt it could have been in-depth.

I surfed the conference webpage to find someone who wrote or represented my genre. The closest I could find was a writer of adult urban fantasy. I booked her and whipped out a synopsis (which I felt clueless about producing) and submitted the pages.

I was her last appointment for the afternoon because she was presenting a class on hour later. We spent more than 30 minutes discussing my manuscript weaknesses. It was well worth the money spent.

More on this process later.

Pitches

Isn’t being discovered the reason pre-published writers attend conferences? Based on the number of attendees presenting to three or more agents or editors, the answer must be yes.

Fortunately, I attended a session taught by the agent to whom I presented my work. My pitch seemed to already meet her guidelines. It pays off to spend hours researching.

Pitch sessions lasted ten minutes (which is a long time in the real world of pitching ideas). The group of authors entered the room and shuffled to the round table where their industry professional sat waiting.

A surreal process really. More specific details about my own pitching experience in a future post.

Attending this conference opened my eyes to many things about my chosen path:

  • It is packed with thousands of others hoping for the same outcome
  • It takes fortitude to stay the course in the face of rejections
  • I don’t know as much about the craft of writing as I thought
  • The business of writing? I know nothing, Jon Snow.

At this juncture, I intend to attend this conference (or another local one) next year. I hope to network more at that future event. I may need to take a class: “How introverts network with other introverts.”

Is there a specific aspect of the conference you would like me to share information about? Have you attended a conference? What advice do you have to help me build networking skills?

An Update on the Progress of my Manuscript

I hope someday to connect with my readers on this blog. As of this moment, I know most of my faithful followers are family, friends and other writers. Thank you for your support.

According to Jedi Master of Social Media, Kristen Lamb, I shouldn’t write about writing on my blog. My readers don’t care about it. In theory, I agree with her expert advice and follow it to the best of my ability.

However, I’m breaking her rule today. (Just this once, Master! I promise!) As an unpublished author, I don’t have the type of “readers” who only want to learn about the writer behind the story yet. In fact, some of you have actually asked how the manuscript was coming along.

For those of you who want to be “in the know,” here’s a rundown of my novel’s life:

  • Book one in the series started the beginning of September 2013.
  • Book two was written in 23 days during NaNoWriMo, November 2013
  • Book three was finished by the end of January 2014 (which was a miracle as far as I’m concerned, considering what was happening in my life at that time)
  • Read-through and rewrite of book one took most of February
  • Stage one revisions were completed by March 21
  • Manuscript sent to six beta readers for return by April 15, 2014 (Tax Day: a happy coincidence?)
  • First week of May spent making changes to the manuscript based on feedback from the beta readers (They improved the story so much. I love them!)
  • Stage two revisions finished by May 21
  • Read-through and final touch-ups
  • Manuscript to proofreader by May 30
  • First query letter to top agency of choice with sample pages sent June 6, 2014
  • Submit first 20 pages (and a synopsis) for critique by Alex Hughes at Willamette Writer’s Conference by June 18

What I hope happens next in this process:

  • An agent asks to see the whole manuscript
  • When I meet with Katie Reed of the Andrea Hurst agency at the conference in August, she asks me to send the manuscript
  • One of these agents loves my story and signs me up
  • They help me edit and perfect the manuscript (Yes, I know it isn’t perfect)
  • A publisher picks it up by the end of October, and I see my first book in print by October 2015

I know that’s a crazy long timeline. This arduous process is one thing that makes indie publishing look more attractive and self-publishing amazing. I need the traditional route for my first book. If it gets picked up, I know I’m ready to be read by the general public.

When the time comes, this website will light up with release dates, promotions and events. My life will get crazy because the publisher will be demanding the next two manuscripts in the series. Hopefully, I will be able to get them perfected in the year it takes for the first one to find the shelf at your local bookstore and on Amazon, of course.

Thank you for encouraging me to stay the course toward seeing my life-long dream come true. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Self-Editing for Writers

I’ve been an editor since I learned to read, always finding errors and mentally rewording awkward sentences. (Isn’t awkward an awkward word to type? The k surrounded by ws just feels so…awkward.)

Self-editing can be a whole different ball game.

To help me stick to my guns, I purchased the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. With chapter titles like “show and tell” and “point of view,” it seemed like it would offer straight-forward and applicable instructions.

It does. According to chapter 11 “Sophistication,” I’m a hack. Several of the sentence variants I rely upon in my writing have been overdone and thus are considered immature by many editors (the authors of this text included).

When you’ve just completed your degree in English and Literature, this sort of insult incites the arched back of a territorial kitty. I was the outstanding graduate, so how can I be a hack? I’m still processing that information. It doesn’t take me to a happy place.

It occurs to me that the things I learn from Browne and King can be put into action when I get to Step 6 of my rewrite. You can imagine that after my reaction to chapter 11, the second one I read, by the way (who reads a book in order if it isn’t fiction?), I am less than thrilled to continue my study of this text.

I have also noted on several writing blogs I follow that hiring an editor is recommended, even for those seeking traditional publishing (which is my plan at the moment). Since story structure seems to be an area where I’m weak, I am considering having a professional check that for me – once I finish the rewrite.

Do you feel writers can edit their own work to an acceptable level if they’re going the traditional route? I can see a definite need for a professional edit (and proofread at the end) before anything is self-published.

What is a Writer?

In the many years since I first began to form my thoughts into stories (age 9) and poetry (age 12), I’ve often vacillated between considering myself a writer – or not.

When I check out dictionary.com, I see there are five separate definitions for the word:

writ·er  [rahy-ter] Show IPA

noun

1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

2. a clerk, scribe, or the like.

3. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.

4. (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….

5. a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

I obviously qualify under definitions three through five. I write my thoughts down, have written prose using first person and am able to write. I believe I even fit the second definition, since I’m the clerk for my church.

It’s that first definition that gets me. If it weren’t for the qualifier “especially as an occupation or profession,” there would be no doubt that I am a writer. I have written a few books, many stories and some articles.

Should the distinction be made at “author” rather than “writer”? I write, therefore I am a writer. Until I’m published, I am not an author.

What is the consensus from my readership? Does it take publishing to make you a writer? Or is that what it takes to become an author?

Two Terms to Go

Image by 123rf.com

Embarking on yet another eight week tidal wave of mental expansion, I can’t help but smile. My beaming face dwarfs the sun. Of course, since I live in the rainy Northwest, it isn’t hard to eclipse that brilliant star. This time of year, the clouds do a fine job of it.

Both of my classes are applicable to my major and they seem interesting. It looks like I will be reading so much for class that I won’t have time for any recreational reading. I may even have to trade in my fantasy “one chapter before bed” for school-related reading material.

Context of Writing

In the class description, the context of writing should educate students on the publishing industry. With course objectives like: identify and examine the driving forces of the literary marketplace and examine current trends in publishing, it appears I might learn something.

Hopefully, the wisdom I glean will push me toward becoming published. If nothing else, it should at least help me determine if I’m going to go with traditional publishing, indie publishing or self-publishing.

I was required to purchase a prize-winning book to use for all the course work. In addition to reading this novel (more on that in a later post), I have to read Book Business by Jason Epstein. I hope it reads more happily than it sounds. (Newsflash: I read the preface and first chapter and it isn’t too dry – so far.)

Every week I have to write a short paper for this class and I also will keep a blog through the eight-week term. At the end of the term, a six-page paper on the future of the book business will wrap up my publishing enlightenment.

Seminar in American Literature

Finally, my senior level literature class has arrived. With it, To Kill a Mockingbird and a delightful anthology of short fiction taunt me with impending boatloads of reading assignments.

In addition to reading Lee’s masterpiece, I must read another novel. I’ll analyze this novel’s themes around the premise of the class. You’ll love this cheerful theme we’re focusing on: the American ideal of loss of innocence. Should the loss of innocence ever be considered ideal?

My final for the class is an eight-page analytical paper on this yet unnamed novel and a PowerPoint outlining its major themes. Along the way, I will have to write two other papers. Fortunately, the topics have already been given so I can begin the writing as soon as I’ve finished the reading.

Did I mention I’ll be buried with texts and reading assignments for the next eight weeks? I’m hyperventilating from the weight of literary dirt over my thin casket of time.

I was hoping that I might be able to get back to writing my novel this term. With the three blog posts per week, I’ve been barely keeping my head above water. Throw in two long term papers and some shorter essays every week for class, and I don’t see much creative juice being available for the novel.

Should I be making time to write that? I always feel so guilty when I’m not doing schoolwork, and so I write in unfocused circular motion.

Writing Resolutions

I’m so far from perfect…but this is cute!

Isn’t it ironic that my first post of 2013 to deal with writing and resolving to write more regularly should be posted a day late?

Saturday’s chores fell upon me. I delved into the syllabi for my next term in college (come back on Wednesday for more on this). The Shakespearean textbook alone was enough to strangle the will of the strongest, most valiant soldier. My oldest son returned to college – so there were goodbyes to be said.

Now that I’ve attempted to justify myself, I will ask that you don’t forgive such obvious excuses for the remainder of this year. I have some resolutions for 2013 and I intend to keep them.

I resolve to:

  • Finish my English Language and Literature degree. I know this seems like a “gimme” since I’m slated to graduate at the end of June, providing I complete the final six classes. I’ve struggled with the desire to throw in the towel on this one over the past several months because of the added stress in my life.
  • Maintain this blog at the biweekly posting pace. I think I’m going to add some book reviews into the mix and perhaps sprinkle it with more of my off topic writing on occasion. I would love to hear what you’d like to read about.
  • Get my weight back to where I feel healthy and maintain that as a “ceiling” weight instead of a “floor.” Do you see any numbers here? No. (Read: And don’t ask!) They’re written down, I promise, but in my mind I’m a 119-pound 25-year-old, so leave me to my fantasy.
  • Post once each week on my church’s blog. I’ve already started on this one. Since I am a follower of that blog, you can click on the name in the side bar to see my posts. Also, if you get emails when I post on this blog, you will be notified about my guest posts elsewhere.
  • Maintain my prayer journal. Let’s face it, I’m going to need plenty of divine assistance if I’m going to complete all these goals.
  • Finish writing the YA novel. Yeah, I’d print the title here, but the working title isn’t all that inspiring and I don’t want to turn any future readers off.
  • Submit a story for publication. I’m not counting the submission to the SNHU literary journal. I have plenty of other stories that only need a little polish and some marketing legwork to enter the fray of the publishing world.
  • Continue writing four hours  or 4,000 words per week. I will probably try the ROW80 challenge again, as well.

What resolutions do you have? Are writing resolutions harder to keep than others?