Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Playing With Cards - The Creative Part of Revising

Last time, I gave a step-by-step rundown of my revision process and explained how I "use" (that sounds so bad) alphas, betas and critique partners. Now, we can begin breaking the process down, starting with the first few rounds of revisions. These rounds are both fun and painful at the same time.

They're fun, because I'm still in the creative part of the process. There's still a lot of new writing going on and I'm coming up with new ideas for plot twists, suspense thickeners and character development. They're painful because it means chopping up what I'd once thought was a masterpiece and putting the pieces back together, sometimes trashing some while also trying to figure out how to weave those new things into something that already exists.

Building a house from the ground up and making it the way you want it is easier than taking an existing home and trying to remodel with the walls, ceiling and infrastructure already there. Removing a wall isn't so easy when you discover it's holding up the second floor or the roof. We're going through a remodeling project right now and even demolition isn't as fun as it looks because you don't want to do irreperable damage.

Same goes for your WIP, which is why it's easier if you don't completely pants your way through the first draft (write by the seat of your pants with no outline). A little planning of at least where your outside walls, roof and main rooms go before you start reduces the stress and pain of having to move any structure points later. I learned this the hard way, having pretty much written both Promise and Purpose by the seat of my pants. When I do at least a basic outline that follows good story structure, revisions are less painful.

However, unexpected twists and turns come up while writing the first draft that cause the original outline to be pushed under a pile of new notes, never to be seen again. I have a better structure than I did if I hadn't outlined at all, but it still needs work. So, even if I did actually outline the book before writing, in the first few rounds of revisions, I'm working on the structure - the plot and character arcs.

As soon as I finish the first draft, I start analyzing it for improvement. Actually, when I first finish the draft, I whoop and holler, do the happy dance and swear it's not only the best thing I've ever written, but the absolute best thing ever written in the history of the entire freakin' universe. It's a damn masterpiece that no one ever will be able to top. Ever. Then the next day, I start reading this brilliant piece of genius and realize, well, um, yeah ... it's crap.

It's for this reason that many authors will tell you to put the WIP aside for at least a couple of weeks so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and mind. Let it stew for a while, or work on something else, so you can be objective when you get back to it. I've tried this. It's too soon in the process for me to do so.

I need to immediately read what I just wrote. I need to remain immersed in that world and maintain that connection with the characters. By the time I get to writing the end, I don't always remember everything that was in the beginning. If I wait to do this step, when I start up again and I'm reading it for the first time, I won't necessarily remember exactly how the ending went down on paper. I lose that continuity, which leads to adding an extra round of reading/revising - once to familiarize myself with the entire story and then again to actually make notes and figure out what needs fixing.

After one night of celebrating, I get back to work. Usually, I'll print out a hard copy of the manuscript, grab my purple pen and go to a different room of the house. I'll review any notes I've made while writing the draft to remind myself of fixes I already know I want to make (when I'm writing, if an idea occurs to me that's not a quick fix, I'll jot it down to put in later). Then I'll read through the entire draft, writing notes all over the pages, in the margins and on the backs.

Reading the story beginning to end allows me to make notes where I was inconsistent, dropped a ball I'd thrown in at the beginning but forgot to catch later, completely left a plot line out that needs to be in there, etc. Now that I know how the whole story goes, I can see how it can be better, so I'm also taking notes on those areas. Basically, in this round, I'm putting in everything I'd meant to originally, but had messed up in the heat of the draft, as well as adding any new ideas.

If I feel good about these changes, I'll get to work, starting at the beginning and going through the entire manuscript, working on these plot and character improvements. If I'm stuck, especially on a major plot point that must be fixed before anything else can be figured out, then I'll let my alpha start reading so she can help me brainstorm a solution. But I'm usually still working while she's reading. When I'm done with this round, I'll definitely give it to her, although, again, I keep working while she has it. Unless I do need her help, her purpose at this point is to cheer me on.

In the next round, I go through the revised MS and make note cards for each scene. Sometimes I'll do on paper cards, sometimes I'll do in Scrivener (if it's not already in Scrivener, which sometimes it is if I did really good outlining ahead of time). I write down a note about the scene so I know which one it is, which characters are in it, the conflict and the purpose of the scene. The best way to do this is using different colors for primary plot, secondary plot(s), and different character arcs. If I'd already done this in Scrivener, I'll revise them because things have certainly changed since the outlining stage.

Now comes the tricky part - deciding which scenes stay, which ones go, what needs to be added and the order of the scenes. I'm a firm believer that the first things that come to mind in the outlining and drafting phases are the most obvious, most banal and cliche and make for a mediocre (at best) or boring (at worst) story. I learned this from Donald Maass and his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. We should question ourselves on everything because with more thought and imagination, we can usually come up with something even more spectacular than our initial idea.

In the first round of playing with my cards, I analyze each one, asking myself if that scene serves at least one purpose to the plot. If it doesn't move the story along or serve a very important purpose that no other scene can do, it needs to go or be combined with another scene. I also play the what-if game with each scene, asking myself, "what if I made this tragedy even worse by doing such-and-such" or "what if that didn't happen at all - how would she react?"

If the scene stays (with or without revisions), the card goes into the keeper pile. If it needs to go, it gets tossed to the side (I never throw away, though, virtually or physically, just in case I change my mind). If two scenes need to be combined, they get clipped to each other and together they go into the keeper pile.

Now, I take the keeper pile and analyze whether the scenes are in the right order. I'll ask more what-if questions - what if he did this before doing that rather than after, what if this was actually the cause to that other thing, etc. Sometimes, I'll shuffle the cards and see what kind of new order of events comes up. I've learned the hard way not to change the order of events too much because usually the first draft is pretty close to the right order - the causes and effects happened organically, which you don't want to mess with. But sometimes, the original order just doesn't work. Or you forgot a scene, which throws things amok. And oftentimes by doing this, even if I keep everything in their original order, I get new ideas for how to ruin my characters' lives and make the story better. For any new scenes that need to be added, I create a new card and put it in its place in the pile.

Once I feel good about my main plot line, my subplots, and my character arcs, my cards are in the order of how the story should be told and I've made any necessary notes. Starting with the card on top (the opening scene), I start rearranging the WIP document accordingly, moving, deleting and adding scenes, while smoothing out awkward transitions and such as I go. By the time I'm done with this round, my plot and character arcs should be pretty much nailed down.

But I want the opinions of other, very smart people, especially those I know who are awesome with plot and character development. So the MS goes off to my first round of critique partners, and this is when I try to let the book stew in my mind without actually working on it until the feedback comes in. This allows me to consider their feedback objectively and also to have a fresh brain when I go back to the WIP for the next round, which we'll discuss next time.

Does this make sense or is it clear as mud? Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My (Ideal) Revision Process

Mention the word "revisions" around a group of writers, and you'll get a mixed chorus of "ugh!" and "squee!" It's true - some writers hate revisions while others love them. Those who hate them say they prefer the creative part of the process and hate getting bogged down with the technicalities of grammar and sentence structure and rewriting the same sentence 23 times before getting it exactly right (only to end up deleting it in a later round). Others say they love giving their stories that beautiful polish, knowing that every change is making the story and the writing better.

I'm kind of in the middle here - I do love the creative process, which for me, continues through the first few round of edits, but the process can also wear on me, becoming tedious and boring. There are only two times I truly hate revisions and edits, though. The first is when I need to make a plot or character change that's going to cause a ripple effect throughout the story. Making this one revision, whether big or small, means cleaning up several scenes, sometimes even adding a new one or completely rewriting one that I already loved. The job feels huge and daunting and I whine about how much I don't want to do it.

The other time I hate revisions and edits is far into the editing stage - that point where I thought I was done, but realize I need to make another pass or two through the manuscript. By this time, I hate - I mean, HATE - the book and the characters in it and I just want to kill them all off. I've read the story so many times that I think the whole thing sucks and I should simply trash it and this whole idea of being a writer because I'm really just a fraud. But when I'm done - well, I love the book and the characters all over again, and I know it's the best book it can possibly be. I learned a secret about how to handle this at the Heather Graham's Writers for New Orleans Workshop last week that I'll share when we get there.

But first, how does this all go together? How do I get from the first draft to that point of knowing I need to make plot or character revisions to the point of hating the book because I've read it so many times and then back to loving it? How do I know when I'm ready to hit the Publish button?

First of all, let me say that every book has been different. The writing process has varied, and so has the revision process. But I do follow a general progression of steps, which I'll outline here and we'll get into in subsequent blog posts.

Before I list those steps, though, I feel the need to define the difference between beta readers and critique partners. At least, this is the difference to me:

Critique partners are other writers (usually published now that I am) or editors who give me detailed feedback. I use them at different stages, which you'll see in a moment, so the kind of feedback may vary, but the point is that they're focusing on the craft of the story and the writing - the technicalities that readers don't specifically notice but know there's just something "wrong" there. My "critters" can explain what exactly is wrong or at least help me figure it out for myself.

Beta readers can be writers, but are also just readers who enjoy reading and can give good feedback on the story, but usually in more general terms. Sure, they'll point out a typo or grammar mistake, and they're really good for noticing inconsistencies (a character's eye color changes, for example, or their aunt has a different name later in the book). But they're also good for overall reaction. While my critters are focused on the trees, the betas can look at the forest. They can tell me if the plot makes sense or if there's a hole somewhere. They can tell me if they loved the whole thing, or liked certain parts but not others. They'll say, "I don't like this character. He rubs me the wrong way." But, compared to my critters, betas may not be able to pinpoint what it is that they love or don't like. They know a character gets on their nerves, but may not realize it's because the words or body language I've given him doesn't mesh with the character I'm trying to portray. Betas are often people with different perspectives - I get The Man's opinion from a male perspective; maybe someone who's familiar with a disorder one of my characters has to make sure I've kept it "real"; and, of course, avid readers who know when a story works and when a character is swoon-worthy.

Now, I do have what I call an alpha reader. She is also my business partner/co-publisher. She gets to read everything first, sometimes even before I do, and her primary function as the alpha is to serve as cheerleader and sometimes idea-bouncer-offer (she serves other roles later in the process). Choose this person carefully because he/she will probably read your book several times before it's ready to be published or submitted. You don't want them to hate you for putting them through that. (The Man will NEVER be an alpha reader for me. In fact, he doesn't get to read until the very end because he won't read it again to see how I addressed his feedback or to see how it's evolved. Then he talks about the book and he's wrong about half the things.) So, yeah, choose wisely.

Proofreaders, one more distinction I want to make, are reading specifically for typos, missing words, extra words, grammar mistakes and the like. They're also making sure that the last round of line edits didn't cause a sentence (or whole paragraph) to accidentally disappear. Yes, that's happened before.

Now onto my process. These are the steps I follow as soon as I complete the first draft in an ideal situation, but sometimes I have to combine some steps to be able to meet my deadlines.
  1. Read-through while taking notes.
  2. First round of revisions for plot.
  3. Give to alpha to read and get feedback.
  4. Second round of revisions for more plot issues based on alpha's feedback/brainstorming sessions, as well as character arc and development.
  5. Give to critique partner(s) who I admire for their excellent plotting and character development.
  6. Third round of revisions to address critters' feedback, as well as scrutinizing and fixing structure of scenes, chapters and paragraphs.
  7. Fourth round of revisions for theme, descriptions and dialogue.
  8. Give to first round of beta readers.
  9. Fifth round (now called edits) addressing betas' feedback and polishing the writing.
  10. Give to different critique partner(s) who I admire for beautiful writing and grammar technicalities.
  11. Sixth round addressing critters' feedback and polishing the writing even more.
  12. Give to second round of beta readers.
  13. Sixth round of edits addressing any more betas' concerns, as well as combing for repetitive words and phrases and finding better ways of saying the same thing.
  14. Give to line editor.
  15. Fix line editor's issues.
  16. One last read-through.
  17. Give to proofreader.
  18. Fix proofreader's issues.
  19. If time allows, give to one more fresh set of eyes just to be sure nothing went wrong while fixing the proofreader's issues.
  20. Collapse from exhaustion ... then celebrate.
We'll go through these in detail over the next several weeks. For now, if you haven't already, I recommend lining up your first round of critique partners and beta readers. And if you have an alpha reader, you can decide whether you're ready to let him/her read your baby yet or if you want to go through it at least once before slicing yourself open and exposing your soul er, sharing this little project you've been working on.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Wrote a Book! Now What?

National Novel Writing Month (November) has ended and now there are people all over the world asking, "Now what? I wrote a whole book. What do I do next?"

Well, first, CELEBRATE!!! Finishing a book is a huge accomplishment. The saying goes that everyone has a book in them. That may be true, but not everyone wants to write a book. Of the millions of people who do want to write one, only a fraction actually start. And of those who start, only a small fraction actually finish. So you are basically one in a million! Or, at least, one in a hundred-thousand or so. Either way... Congratulations! Do a happy dance, have a few drinks, take a day or two to relax and say, "I did it."

Then it's time to get back to work. At least, if you have any desire at all of possibly pursuing publication. When I finished my very first draft of my very first book, I wasn't so sure about the publication thing. I didn't even know if I had something anyone but me would actually enjoy. I wrote that book solely for my pleasure, and the thought of sharing it with anyone was absolutely horrifying - worse than going into public naked. That was my very soul in those 180,000 words.

Yes, you read that right. I don't have a typo there. My first draft of my first book was a little over 180,000 words. That's basically the equivalent of two normal-length books. I didn't know that at the time. But I learned. And I revised and edited and revised and edited some more. Eventually, I realized it was two books, so I split and rewrote endings and beginnings and revised and edited some more. I (eventually) shared the new versions along the way. My poor business partner who became my publisher read about twenty versions of Promise and Purpose before they were ever ready for publication.

My point? You finished a book, but that doesn't mean it's time to hit the submit or publish button. I don't care who you are or if this is your first or thirty-first book. A first draft is also known as a rough draft for a reason - it's bumpy and choppy, jostling the reader about with its plot holes, lack of smooth transitions and sharp turns that make no sense. The writing is ugly and coarse, except for maybe a few gems that will probably need to be deleted anyway because they do nothing for the story (we call this killing your darlings).

Your book needs work. Lots of it. This is especially true after NaNo or any other time we shut down our inner editor and write with abandon.

I knew this when I finished my first whopper of a draft, if only because while I'd been writing it, more ideas had come to me that I wanted to go back in and add or change. But before I decided just how much more work I wanted to put into it, I needed to know if it would be worth it. I needed some validation. So when a couple of important people in my life wanted to see what I'd been so obsessed with for the previous six weeks, I sucked in a deep breath and tried not to puke when I handed my soul, er, I mean, manuscript over.

They liked it. They had some ideas. They asked questions that made me think and generate more ideas. I couldn't not work on it. I became a little braver and let more friends read the revised version (still one book, though), and this process continued for 18 months. That's right - I wrote the first draft of 180k in 6 weeks, but it was another year-and-a-half before Promise was ready to be published.

Finishing a first draft with a beginning, a middle and an end is a huge accomplishment, and for some, that's enough. They can cross that goal off their bucket list and move onto something new. But I think for most of us, the writing bug bites hard, and we can't just let it go. And even though there is still much work to do, and even though we may whine and gripe about how much we hate it (especially when we've gone through the book so many times, we'd rather stick needles under our fingernails than do it again), we also love it. This is our passion, and we want to share it with the world.

If this is your new goal - to share your book with the world - stay tuned. Over the next few weeks or so, I'll be sharing my revision and editing process. The good news? It doesn't take two years anymore. In fact, some people can complete the entire process in a couple of months. It takes me about six months from the first word to clicking the publish button now. Not as fast as some authors, but we're all different, and I think six months is about as fast as I'm comfortable with.

Before we dive in, you might be like me and want to know if you should even put more work into this thing you've created. If so, take the plunge and let one or two trusted friends read it. If they finish it in a decent timeframe, you have something worth working on. But even if they don't - even if they don't get back to you in months and skirt the question every time you ask, "So how do you like it?" - don't give up. Either get back to work on it or move onto the next project.

If writing is your passion, you'll keep going. And that's the real answer to the "Now what" question: keep writing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rules You Can NEVER Break

As writers, we are constantly being told by the "experts" that we can't do this but we must do that. There are plot and structure rules, writing rules, grammar rules, querying rules and even rules for how to promote our books once we get to that stage. But this is probably one of the most lenient professions/hobbies where "rules are made to be broken." As long as you know the rules and respect them, you can choose to break them. Just be sure that when you do, it's the best choice for you and your story.

When you're in the first draft, such as in NaNoWriMo, though, you can completely ignore pretty much all those rules. Whatever has been broken can be fixed - if you want to fix it - during revisions and rewrites. It's not the time to be hung up on such details.

However, there are certain rules you absolutely, positively CAN. NOT. BREAK. I don't care who you are. Unfortunately, even the biggest and brightest authors do so. I'm talking about breaking the rules you've created for your own world.

What are the rules of your world? Well, they can be anything from how far away your protagonist and antagonist live from each other to what powers a supernatural or alien being possesses. Paranormal, fantasy and sci-fi authors probably create more rules for their worlds than other genre writers, but all authors have rules they create for their worlds.

When you break these rules, people notice and they will call "foul!" Authors such as J.K. Rowling and Charlaine Harris have had inconsistencies in their series and readers have noticed. Sometimes, these are little things that make readers say, "Ha! You messed up. I feel so smart." But sometimes, this breaking of your own rules can cause readers to say, "Bogus! That can't happen!" They feel cheated and even offended, thinking the author believed they could get away with it because readers are too stupid to notice.

I write characters with supernatural abilities and have created a world with my own take on paranormal creatures such as vampires, werewolves and mages. I have to be very, very careful to stick to my own rules. Sorcerers are more powerful than warlocks, who are more powerful than witches and wizards. Based on the rules I've set, it's highly unlikely one of my witches can beat a sorceress, so if that happens, I better have a damn good way of explaining it.

My characters' abilities also have parameters surrounding them - rules I can't change later simply because it's convenient. This can make writing hard sometimes, but just like we can't break the law of gravity in our world, as an author, I can't break the laws of mind-reading in my world if they've already been set.

As a prime example, look at Breaking Dawn Part 2.


I caught a major flaw with the twist at the end of the movie that most everyone has called epic. I have to agree that what they added to the movie that wasn't in the books was amazing and the visual intensity was absolutely necessary because the books lacked it. Whether you're a Twilight fan or hater, no one can deny it's been a phenomenon and they could not end this with an anticlimactic scene like the books. Unfortunately, the world's rules were broken to do so.

I'm not talking about how the movie differed from the book. I thought it actually did well in keeping to the book, except for this one part, which like I said, was necessary and could have been awesome. So I'm not even going to refer to the books, especially since it's been a few years since I've read them. However, we just watched all the movies over the last week to prepare for this last one and they're fresh in my mine. Here's what I noticed.

In New Moon, Alice says she can't see Bella's future when Jacob is around, and also adds something along the lines of "I can't see past you and your pack of mangy mutts!" That is a rule set three movies ago - Alice can't see the future if the wolves are involved. In Eclipse, it's some of the same - Alice can't see the end fight because the wolves are involved. In Breaking Dawn Part 1, they're talking about the fetus and Alice says she can't see its future just like she can't see Jacob's. This has been a rule set and adhered to for three movies. Nothing has happened to change this rule.

So how, then, did Alice see the future of the whole fight that involved the wolves? She couldn't have seen Jacob and Nessie as they tried to get away. She couldn't have seen the wolves fighting the Volturi. She could not have shared that whole fight scene with Aro. And since Aro can see every thought she's ever had (a rule established in New Moon), he would know this flaw to her gift. So Alice couldn't have even made up the vision to try to trick him.

The writers (I include the author here because she's always been closely involved with the scriptwriting from what I understand), the director and the producer (who happens to be the author) needed to make the ending HUGE. EPIC. Talked about for months or longer. But the way they chose to do it broke their own rules, and they could only hope nobody noticed. Actually, I personally think they hoped everyone would be so relieved that all those people didn't die, they wouldn't care that the rules were broken.

But really, whether you noticed it before or just now see it, how does that make you feel? Cheated? Disappointed? A little angry? Ticked off because the makers thought you were too stupid or enamored to notice? Annoyed but you're okay with it because it was still an epic ending? I'm sure there will be people who feel any of these emotions and many others. My point to you is - how do you want people to feel about your own writing?

If you don't want anyone calling "foul!" or "bogus!" or "cheater!" then you can't break the very rules you have set. And if you find that you absolutely need to, then you better have a very good way of explaining how that rule can be broken. Maybe a necklace weakens or strengthens your character's ability. Maybe a time-warp has changed how your spaceship generates power. Maybe an earthquake creates a chasm that now requires your character to travel two hours to get to his best friend's house three blocks away. If you have to break a rule and can make it believable, just be careful not to do this more than once or twice. Otherwise, you come off as a lazy writer with poor planning skills.

Yes, rules are made to be broken. Even some grammar rules, like "don't use fragments and incomplete sentences." Sometimes breaking a rule makes the story or writing better. But unless you want to piss off your readers, never, ever break the rules you've created for your world. Because someone will notice and will out you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What NaNo Is Teaching Me

Tomorrow marks the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I'm not quite at halfway to 50,000 words. Ugh. I'd hoped to be at 50K by now so that I could actually complete the novel by the end of the month. Because, really, 50K does not make a novel, unless it's a middle-grade chapter book. My own tend to be around 100K and to feel truly proud to say I wrote a novel for NaNo, I wanted to actually complete the entire first draft. I don't see that happening.

I'd hoped by writing something completely brand-new (not a Soul Savers book), I'd be all excited about these new characters and world and would be going crazy when I had to take care of real-world stuff, chomping at the bit to get back to the story. That's how I'd been when I'd started the very first draft of what is now Promise and Purpose. I was absolutely in love with Alexis and Tristan and wanted to spend as much time with them as I possibly could (and actually, that's how it still is with them). The characters in this new series, however, have been harder to get to know, and it's taking me time to fall in love with them. So when I'm not writing, I'm not constantly thinking about them, which makes it harder to sit down and write.

But that's what we have to do to call ourselves writers: write. "Butt in Chair" is our mantra, and there's a reason for it. When the excitement of a shiny new idea wears off, we still have to plant our hinies in the chairs and write. When we're stuck and don't know where to go next, we can take all kinds of showers, play solitaire, go for miles and miles of walks and even clean, but nothing's really going to get done if we don't sit down and write something. Anything. Just do it.

Although I know this, NaNo is teaching me in a different way. I'd always wondered why the founders of this great idea chose November. After December, this has to be the absolute worst month to hole oneself up to complete a novel. It's time to plan for the holidays, start shopping, make menus, have people over for Thanksgiving, spend time with family, etc. Why couldn't they pick a boring month like February or July? Why not January, when people can make completing their novel a resolution?

Well, the "why" doesn't matter. It is what it is. And that's what NaNo is really teaching me (or at least reinforcing for me). No matter what's going on (or not) with the story or in the real world, we have to put our butts in the chair and write if we want to reach our goal. We not only have to get in the habit of writing every day, but we have to do so even when there are so many reasons not to. Even when there are more distractions than usual. And if we know there's going to be specific times that we absolutely cannot write (e.g., Thanksgiving Day), then we must plan for it so we can still reach our goal.

So I'm learning to write with music that has words without being distracted. Maybe someday I can actually write in a coffee shop or airport. Since not having inspiration is new to me, I'm creating new habits of forcing myself to write even when I don't feel like it. I'm getting better at planning my writing time around real-world happenings, which is good considering all the traveling I'll be doing next year while still trying to get 2-3 books out.

In other words, I'm learning how to be a true professional writer. That's not really the point of NaNo, but that's what it's doing for me, and just in time since I am now a full-time author and publisher. Even going into NaNoWriMo for the first time, I knew it was about more than writing 50K of crap just to say you did it. At least, for me it would be. And I'm happy to say that it is doing so much more. So even if I don't finish a full draft by November 30, I'll know this month has totally been worth it. And no worries - I will make that 50K goal no matter what it takes.

So what does NaNoWriMo do for you? Are you participating in NaNo? If not this year, have you in the past? What have been your lessons?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Expert" Advice

I know I said last time (er...last February) that maybe I'd revive this blog and here it is, 9 months later and I'm just now getting around to another post. Plenty of ideas come to me - there are all kinds of things I can say about writing, revising, editing, indie publishing, etc. There are many topics to cover for this blog that is for other writers, new and experienced alike. But the thing is, when I really start to think about a topic for a post, I can't help but think, "But who am I to give this advice?"

All kinds of authors and editors give advice on writing - people who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me. Many indies share their "expertise" on becoming successful as a self-published/indie author.

Sure, I've written four full-length novels and a novella, but I am by no means an expert in writing and story-telling. Yes, my reviews are excellent and I have a solid readership who love my books. But who am I to give you advice on how to write amazing characters or craft a plot? I feel like a novice myself.

As for being an indie author and self-publishing - I've been blessed with tons of success here, too. Most indies don't sell more than 1,000 books. I've sold (not including free downloads) nearly 150,000 books. But am I an expert? Far from it.

Many times I see an author write a blog post - or even a whole book - about craft or marketing or successful indie publishing, and I can't help but (silently) ask the question, "Who are you to give this advice? What are your credentials? Have you achieved this yourself?" To me, there's nothing worse than wasting my time on bad information. And when others' careers and/or livelihoods are at risk, I think it's even more important to be sure that if you're going to tell others how to be good at something, you better damn well know what you're talking about.

And that's why I have a hard time giving advice on this blog, which is supposed to be geared toward helping other writers. If I don't feel 100% confident that you'll achieve your goal if you do it my way, I'm not going to tell you to do it my way.

But then I think, "There's nothing wrong with sharing what has worked for me so others can at least try it." And really, that's my philosophy with all so-called "experts" and the advice they share - read it, learn from it, go into it knowing that it may not work for me. Because that's how this industry is right now as it goes through some serious growing pains - what works for one person may not work for another.

So that's the theme of this blog now - "What worked for me and may - or may not - work for you." Well, the motto needs work, but that's the philosophy anyway. I've always meant for this blog to be for other writers - a place to discuss anything writing and publishing related, and hopefully to help other writers as they embark on or continue this crazy journey of being a writer.

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and as it kicks off tonight at midnight, I imagine I'll have a lot of thoughts on the writing process over the next 30 days. I'll share those thoughts here, as time and my brain cells allow. Will this blog be chock-full of the answers you need as you're writing your own NaNo novel? Um, no. But hopefully you might find something inspiring that sends you on your way of discovering your own answers, or, at the least, encourages you to keep going because you know you're not alone in your struggles.

Then, when NaNo ends, who knows? Maybe this blog can be permanently revived with at least monthly posts about writing and indie publishing (and all things related). For now, let's get through the next month. 50,000 words, here I come!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Advice About Going Indie

Did you know I'm still alive? Ha! I know, I know. I haven't posted on this blog in ages. With Devotion's release and managing my other blog (, I just haven't had the time. But this is my blog about writing and sometimes I have something to say about writing or to writers specifically, so I don't want to close it down. Today is one of those days.

I'm often asked what advice I'd give to writers who are considering self-publishing. There's a TON of advice I could give. But here's the most important things I can tell you before you dive in:

First, do your homework and be sure you understand all that it takes—formatting and uploading is the easy part. It’s all the marketing and promotions to get your book noticed that authors don’t expect or want to do. It takes a lot of work, but it’s so worth it.

Then, commit to this as your career path. I don’t mean you can’t keep trying to go the traditional route, but throwing up one book that didn’t get an agent just to get it out there is not going to make you happy. The more committed you are, the more success you’re going to see. This means commitment to marketing and promotions and also commitment to your readers by bringing them more of your work – more books for them to enjoy.

Hire an editor and, almost as importantly, hire a professional cover designer. Many people will suggest saving yourself the money and creating your own cover in PowerPoint. Trust me – covers make a HUGE difference. I have graphic design experience and used fancy software and everything to create my original covers. They weren’t bad and even won some Best Cover competitions. But after I hired someone much more experienced and talented than me to redesign them, I now have covers that rival any of those produced by the Big 6 publishers. They’re gorgeous! And they’ve made a HUGE difference in attracting the right audience and boosting sales.

You’ve made the investment of your blood, sweat, tears and hours upon hours of time to write your book. It deserves the monetary investment to hire an editor and cover designer to really make it shine. Especially when there are virtually no other costs to self-publish.

So that's my initial advice. I actually have some other topics I want to write about soon, too, so maybe we'll see a little revival here. Hopefully, I'll have time.

Are you indie? What advice would you give to writers considering this path? Are you a writer considering self-publishing? What questions do you have?