Publishing

Self-publishing and the snobbery issue

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I work with all different types of authors, those who are hoping to secure a publishing deal, those who are chasing the self-publishing dream and even a couple who have gone on to secure a deal with one of the big five (or six, or whatever it is). Some of these writers are brilliant, some are really talented, some are steady, dependable story tellers who can spin a good yarn, some aren’t that great, some have accepted help and advice and have improved in leaps and bounds, a few I have advised to go right back to the drawing board and there have been a handful who I have had to advise that writing is perhaps not the path for them (this is at the sample edit stage – I never take a penny from authors in this situation).

You might be surprised to know that most of the authors that I’d put in the first three categories are self-published.

Some of these have chosen this path and some have had it foist upon them, as it were, as they have been unable to find representation. Plenty of them are far better, more skilful storytellers than some of those that have secured representation and publishing deals.

Now, I’m never surprised when people I know who aren’t authors sneer a bit at self-publishing. These ‘outsiders’ don’t really know how the publishing world works or how it’s changed in the last few years. But I am very surprised and very disappointed and angry when other authors sneer at self-published writers.

I mean no disrespect to all the very lovely writers I know and who I’ve worked with who have a publisher when I say that just because you’ve secured a deal it doesn’t mean you’re  a better writer than those who haven’t. Because it doesn’t. You might be a better writer than some of them, but many of them will be better writers than you.

Last week I read two books. One was by a self-published author. Another was by an author who has just been published by a small independent. The self-published book was brilliant. It was a real page-turner, professionally presented, skilfully written and thoroughly enjoyable. The other one, while not terrible, had far too many typos than are acceptable, the story dragged somewhat, and I found myself skipping huge sections.

I have read so many books recently that are ‘properly published’ and that are terrible. I’ve been unable to review quite a few of them. This isn’t always the author’s fault – quite often they are let down by these companies with poor editing. But I have also witnessed a few of these authors bragging all over social media about how wonderful they are and how they are proper writers, and how self-published authors can’t actually be that good, can they?

I really despise this kind of attitude. It’s a tough world out there for writers. We should be supporting each other, not crowing about our good luck and looking down on other writers who may have chosen self-publishing, or, even if they didn’t, might be much better writers.

I have one particular client whose books are an absolute joy to read, right from the first draft. They are intelligent, beautifully written, skilful, concise, the characterisation is a joy. This client is retired and is finally indulging his passion for writing. Can he get an agent? No. No one’s interested. Does that make him a bad writer, who obviously isn’t good enough? No. Absolutely not. It just means that the agents can’t see how to market him, how to pigeonhole his writing. He doesn’t have a social media presence, because he genuinely doesn’t want to do that. He isn’t a celebrity. And he’s far too sensible to be sucked into a lame deal with a two-bit company who’ll do nothing for him just so he can tell people he’s published.

So he goes on writing beautiful stories that I can’t wait to edit, and he makes me absolutely love my job.

So authors, do us all a favour. Learn when to keep your mouths shut. Be sensitive, be kind, be helpful. Celebrate your success, but don’t be a bragger. It’s a long way down from that ivory tower.

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Writing and Editing Tips Part 4: Exposition – the good, the bad and the boring.

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Despite the fact that I quite often highlight great tracts of text and write ‘EXPOSITION’ over them in bold, (actually I’m much more polite than that about it) exposition is, in fact, extremely important. Indeed, exposition is part of every narrative; without it your reader would have no idea what was going on, where anything was, or who the characters were. Used wisely, used well and given the appropriate mode in which to inform, then it does have a valid part to play in a narrative. You can probably have no better example than the bard himself. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Othello tells us a lot about Iago and Roderigo, their relationship and their status. And all in a few lines of dialogue.

ACT I
SCENE I. Venice. A street.
Enter RODERIGO and IAGO

RODERIGO: 

Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

IAGO:

‘Sblood, but you will not hear me:

If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

Without wanting to make this a lesson in Literature and language, the opening lines tell us that Roderigo is socially superior to Iago; he says, ‘Tush!’ in other words, ‘Shut up.’ He must be Iago’s superior to speak to him like this. So, with one word, the audience is put in the picture.

Shakespeare knew that ‘showing’ the audience information about his characters and the setting, through actions and speech was far more entertaining and engaging than simply ‘telling’ them that information. And ‘telling’ is the form of exposition that we have all been guilty of using (yes, all of us, without exception, if you don’t think you haven’t done it then you don’t know what it is). But we do need to let our reader in on things, so how do we go about it without ‘telling’?

Let’s take a simple example. Your protagonist, Bill, is tetchy because he didn’t get much sleep. First of all ask yourself the question ‘does it matter? Does my reader need to know this?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say this:

Bill was tetchy this morning as he hadn’t had enough sleep.

Now that’s really boring. And if you do this all the time then it’s really, really, really boring. So how can you give your reader this information without ‘telling’ them?

Use dialogue, and use action. These two things can help enormously and will bring interest, movement and life to your writing:

‘For god’s sake, woman, why is this coffee cold?’
The mug followed its contents into the sink, the clatter drowning out the cheery tones of the radio DJ.
Emily lowered the newspaper.
‘You could always make it yourself. That would be a refreshing change. Anyway, why are you so grumpy?’
Bill sat down opposite his wife and placed his head in his hands.
‘Did you not hear it?’
‘Hear what?’
‘That bloody noise from next door. All night that same scraping and bumping. Then they started screaming at each other. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.’

I know this isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting than the first example. After all, here we have a scene not just a sentence. And we have also learned quite a lot – Bill likes coffee, but he expects his wife to make it (is he a sexist pig perhaps? Is there conflict in the marriage? Resentment? An impending divorce?). We also know that there are some pretty strange people living next door, who are up to all sorts of things in the night. And of course, we also know that Bill is grumpy because he didn’t get much sleep.

Exposition through dialogue can be very effective then, but do be careful. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know. For example,

Bill adjusted his tie in the mirror. Emily smiled and straightened it, patting him on the shoulder.
‘Don’t look so nervous. You’ll be fine.’
‘I know, but I have to make this work. I really need this job. If I don’t get it I don’t know what I’ll do. The mortgage is due next week and we’re already three months behind. They’ll be looking to repossess if we don’t pay up.’
Emily nodded.
‘I know. Then there’s the money we owe your mum. It was nice of her to pay Tarquin’s school fees for the last two months, after all they were about to kick him out. But we can’t keep relying on her. Not now she’s got all those medical bills to pay. How awful that she should break her hip falling down the stairs on her birthday.’

Now I know this is an extreme example, but lots of writers do this. Bill doesn’t need to tell Emily how far behind their mortgage payments are – she knows. And Bill knows his mother paid Tarquin’s school fees, and everything else Emily tells him. If your reader needs to know this information, find different ways to show it – have a letter arrive from the bank just as Bill leaves for his interview, or have Emily visit her mother-in-law in hospital and be told that there is no more financial help.

And remember, as with most things in writing, and indeed in life unfortunately, less is more. Don’t bog down your narrative and bore your reader with unnecessary detail. Show them what they need to know and let them put the pieces together.

Do you have any examples of exposition – good or bad – that will help other writers? Do share them here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 3: Editing and Proofreading your Work

Novels, short stories, articles, even blog posts, all need a thorough proofread and edit before submitting or publishing. Of course, if you’re writing a novel, then it really is worth considering hiring an editor –  see my previous post here. However, everyone needs to edit and proof their work at some stage. This can be a tricky job and one that many writers detest – they want to get on with the fun part, the actual writing, and for them editing and proofreadinging is a pain. It may well be (although I have to say I really enjoy it, even when I’m editing and proofreading my own work), but there are ways to make the chore a little less onerous.

Clear desk – clear mind

messy_desk_2
Make sure that when you sit down to edit or proofread that it is your sole focus. Clear everything else off your desk, close emails and the internet, put your phone somewhere else and focus on the task in hand. If you’re distracted, you’ll lose the flow of the work, or your place in the text.

Give yourself a break

biscuits
Editing and proofreading take a lot of concentration and focus. It’s impossible to do either for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Don’t try to work for longer than thirty minutes in one stretch. Get up, walk around, make a cup of tea (and have a biscuit). Give your brain a five or ten minute respite. But don’t check Facebook or Twitter or your emails. You’ll just get sucked into wasting an hour.

To spellcheck or not to spellcheck?
Spellcheck is a really useful, if much maligned, tool. Do use it, but don’t rely on it. And when running a check, don’t drift off and end up changing things you don’t want to change because you’re not really looking and you just click the ‘change’ button automatically! Remember, spellcheck isn’t an alternative to editing and proofreading; you still need to go through everything yourself.

Get printing
Many people find it difficult to spot errors on a screen. Print off a hard copy of your manuscript and use a pen to correct errors.

Know yourself!
As you are working through your manuscript make a list of any errors that crop up again and again. Do you use ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ for example? Mixing up ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’? Too many unnecessary dialogue tags creeping in? (See my post here.) Is there a word you overuse? (I know I use the word ‘really’ far too much, in novels, blog posts, even emails!) Jot them down and you’ll know what to keep an eye out for, and you’ll also learn what to avoid when you’re writing your next masterpiece.

Go backwards

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As discussed in my previous post here, we become so familiar with our work that our brain fills in the gaps for us. We know what that sentence is supposed to say, so our brain glosses over it, stopping us from seeing errors that a reader will pick up on instantly. One way to avoid this is to read your manuscript backwards. That way your brain doesn’t know what is coming next and it’s easier to spot mistakes.

Read out loud
I know lots of people are uncomfortable doing this, but it really helps. Reading out loud helps you to spot all sorts of errors including typos, misuse of commas or missing commas, problems with flow and awkwardness. It also helps immensely with checking dialogue to make sure it sounds natural (see my post on writing dialogue here).

I’d love to know your editing and proofreading tips; do share them by leaving a comment.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Why you need an editor Part 2 : A writer’s view

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I recently edited a novel for a wonderful writer, Quil Carter. Quil very kindly offered to write a testimonial to use on this blog. When I received his testimonial, as well as being really thrilled and pleased with his kind words, I realised that he also had some extremely good advice for writers, whether considering self-publishing, or already published. I decided that, rather than writing another post about the necessity of an editor, it would be really useful for authors to see things from a fellow writer’s point of view. So here, in Quil’s words, is why you need an editor:

If you are on the fence about whether you need an editor or not, let me tell you… you do. You can have as many friends look over your manuscript as you want, but in the end, you need someone who knows what they’re doing and Alison is that person. Believe me when I say Google will not help you if you want to try and edit on your own. It’s full of confusing misinformation, frustrating contradictions and will most likely teach you bad and incorrect habits. The buddy you asked to proof-read your book will most likely make it worse too.

If you do say defiantly ‘nah, I’ve already read it over and so have several of my friends and it’s fine’, it isn’t, it really isn’t. Grammar, sentence structure, where colons go and more complicated things like awkward sentences or just parts that are not needed are all things that need a professional’s touch, not someone with an ‘okay’ understanding of editing and grammar.

Still on the fence? Let me paint a picture for you: You just spent over a year writing something that you’re proud of, something you consider your baby. You finally decide, after going over it many times, to self-publish and put your work out into the world.

Then the ratings come in, and even if they are good you start to notice people commenting on the editing. ‘Needs an editor’, ‘it was a great story but it had some grammar mistakes’, believe me… it will crush your soul. All of a sudden you will be pouring through the original manuscript trying to find these errors and when you do… you will be picking apart EVERYTHING and second guessing things you once thought perfect. You will become neurotic, it will stress you out and it will not be a fun experience. You want people to see your writing, your plot-lines, your character development… not errors.

You’re a writer, and you should be writing, not picking apart grammar, or forever googling ‘semi-colon’ in hopes that maybe you’ll finally understand just how to use one.

Solution? You need Alison! She is perfect for self-publishers; not only is she here to help you with issues with your manuscript she knows things that I guarantee you don’t. Not only did she send back my edits days before she said they would be done, she did a wonderful job and offered suggestions on my book that helped make it better. Alison is easy to work with, professional and I am eager to use her again for my future books.

Your book deserves to be perfect; after all the time you put into writing it you’re selling yourself short if you don’t use Alison as your editor. With her golden touch you can make a good book amazing and if you have an okay book she can give you the tools needed to make it amazing. She knows her stuff and she knows what she’s doing.

One of my favourite parts about using her was the report that she included in her edits. She pointed out areas of my writing, bad habits that continued throughout the book she was editing (and that I know are in my other books) that I never realized I was doing. So not only did she do a great job editing, she has also offered suggestions that I feel will make my future books even better. I appreciated that a lot. I have used her report as my own personal writer’s guide and have referred to it many times to remind myself of parts that I need to fix for my future work. That is actually something every writer needs. Chances are you are making the same mistakes throughout your book and having them pointed out and corrected has been a huge help for me personally.

All in all, save yourself the stress and get Alison. I couldn’t be more happy with her work, and she has my full recommendation.

Quil Carter, author of The Fallocaust Series

Calling all indie authors – want a review?

five-star-review

 

As a newly published independent author, I have come to realise how important reviews are. Without the publicity department of a traditional publishing house, indie authors need to help each other to get the word out there about their work. For this reason I have decided to expand the purpose of my blog to include reviews and interviews with other indie authors. My first review of the wonderful ‘Thores-Cross’ by Karen Perkins will be here soon. Please see the Reviews page for more information. Thanks.