Today I’m visiting author Intisar Khanani’s blog and talking about women who write Science-Fiction and the gender challenges they face in this genre.
Stop on by and check it out:
The process of getting an idea onto the page, into a publishable book, and finally into readers hands, has many stops along the way. How does one figure out whether the finished product is ready for the world? Self-published writers, or authorpreneurs, have the added challenge of doing it all on their own. Today’s guest, author Aderyn Wood, offers a road map and some sage advice on quality control before hitting that “Publish” button.
Take it away, Aderyn!
Self Published Fiction and the Quest for Quality
I’m an Indie author and I’m pretty passionate about self-publishing. As such, I want to support and read other indie authors. I’m always on the lookout for self-published books, fantasy in particular, that will get me turning the pages and totally immersed the way my old favourite trad pubbed books do.
But if I’m going to be honest, the search for quality self-pubbed books is not always easy, and it seems in my quest to find some shiny gems, I often end up with a big bag of turnips. The quality varies on many levels. There’s a lot of books with interesting plots and characters, stories that would have held my interest, writing that almost made it, but just didn’t cut it quality-wise, and could have if the author had incorporated quality control measures in their writing-publishing process. As a reader, this is frustrating, as I really want to read and LOVE the work of fellow Indies.
So how can indie authors get quality control? And how do you get it without the budget of a traditional publishing house? We don’t have a team of agents, editors, cover designers and marketers. We have to work all this out, and pay for it, ourselves. I’m by no means an expert, I’m still learning, but I’ve now incorporated strategies that help me gain some quality control in my process. And most of them cost nothing.
So, here’s a process, from writing to marketing, that helps to create the best book for the cheapest possible price – but be warned, you will have to invest some money along the way if you want a quality product.
1) Write your book.
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, whether you write every day or only on weekends, this is the most important step of all. Just write the damn book warts and all, and write it as quick as you can. I spent about two decades of my life saying, ‘one day I’ll write a book.’ Now, (that I’m about to start writing my sixth book) I look back and wish I’d just stopped talking about it and done it already!
2) Let the book ferment. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends locking your first draft away in a dark drawer and letting it rest, like the way we let bread dough rest between kneads. He suggests that it should sit for a minimum of six weeks. So, forget about it for a couple of months. This will allow you to read your manuscript with ‘fresh eyes’ when you return to it. Don’t let anyone see it yet. While you’re waiting, you could work on your next novel, or read some books on writing and/or editing. There’s always more to learn and there’s plenty of good books on writing available. But keep in mind, the best way to learn more about writing, is to write.
3) Edit your book and create your second draft. Get your manuscript out of the drawer, cut out those unnecessary adverbs, make sure your POV is consistent, and tidy up your grammar. Now you’re getting it ready for someone else to read – but not the reading public, not even friends and family, not yet.
4) Workshop your book and welcome robust critique. This can be confronting, especially for new writers. I remember the nervous butterflies when I first had my work seriously workshopped. I discovered so much about what I was doing ‘wrong’. It was how I first learnt about filtering, something I was doing a lot of, and within six months my writing had improved dramatically.
Critiquing is a wonderful part of the process where other people can pick out the flaws in your writing that your brain can’t see, but when highlighted, they become rather obvious – whether they are character inconsistencies, plot holes, places where you need to kill your darlings, or the dreaded info dump – a good group of critiquers will make such weaknesses visible for you. I find the best critquers are fellow writers, and there’s heaps of them around. While you’re at it, do some critiquing yourself. Critiquing the work of others can help you learn a lot about how to improve your own writing. There’s plenty of information around on how to find a critique group.
5) Create the third draft. Now that it’s gone through the workshop grind, you can edit and create the next draft – but it’s still not ready for publishing.
6) Get Beta readers to read it. Finally, you can ask your friends and family to read your book and give you feedback. But if you’ve written an epic fantasy novel, only ask those friends who actually read and enjoy epic fantasy. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the right kind of feedback. You should also give your beta readers a small list of specific questions that will help you get the feedback you need, otherwise you might get very general stuff like ‘it was good’, which is nice, but won’t help you much to improve it.
7) Create the fourth draft. Do yet another edit, incorporating any feedback from your beta readers that you choose to take on. But, it’s still not yet ready for readers to buy.
8) Get an editor. Hire a real, professional editor with actual editing qualifications who is not a friend or family member and who you DO have to pay. Everything up to this point has been free. Or would cost very little (an online subscription to a critique site might cost a small annual fee). To hire a real editor is going to cost you real money. But you know what? This whole process can take a while. It takes me about six months, and that’s enough time to save up the money. I always budget for at least $1000 to get a real editor to edit my work. But at this point, after the manuscript has had so many other eyes on it, it’s in pretty good shape and makes the editor’s job that much easier.
Sometimes my editor has charged me less than her original quote because she didn’t have to spend as much time on it. Joanna Penn has an extensive list of editors and editing resources on her site. However, every country, state or region will have local editors and resources available. I found my editor through my state’s association, Editors Victoria, and their freelance list – so check out your local resources too.
9) Create your final draft. Incorporate that all-important feedback from your editor. Ok, now it is ready to face the world!
10) Send out ARCs. This is a new step for me that I’ve only just incorporated with my latest release, but it’s totally worth the time. I used to think it was somehow ‘wrong’ to ask reviewers to review your book, but that was just silly. Sending out Advanced Review Copies has been a long tradition in publishing houses, and Indies are just as entitled to employ the practice.
By contacting reviewers and politely requesting they review your book in return for a free Advanced Review Copy, you will get some early feedback, and reviews posted very quickly after publishing. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can modify or fix any typos, or anything else, instantly, both before and after the book has been published. A good place to find Indie friendly reviewers is on The Indie View.
10) Publish your masterpiece. Assuming you’ve paid for a real cover art designer to create the cover – yes, this costs real money too, but not as much as hiring an editor. I usually pay no more than $200 USD for my cover art; also assuming you have gone through a rigorous process with your blurb/book description, it is time to publish!
11) Market your masterpiece. Yes, this means paying for real book sites to advertise your book, and again you have to pay with real money. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can spend as little as $10 – and in some instances this would be the best course e.g. if it is your first book. The more you pay (in most cases) the more return you will see. Marketing does not mean abusing social media with ‘buy my book’ posts. Something, I’m embarrassed to say, I did after my first publication. Yes, I was one of those authors who sent out way too many tweets, all focused on some kind of ‘buy my book’ message. Now I hang my head in shame about it, but at least I am fully qualified to inform you that such use (abuse) of social media has no real positive effect on sales. It’s not a surprise really; social media is awash with spam.
So that’s my process as it currently stands. I’m happy to report that I’ve had good feedback so far, in terms of my rather small number of reviews from readers who have enjoyed my books and the ‘quality’ of the finished product. But, I’m still learning, and it’s early days in my writing and publishing journey. I’m sure my ‘quality control’ process will continue to evolve. One thing I would like to do in the future (when my budget allows) is to hire an additional editor to better reflect the kind of rigorous process inherent in a traditional publishing house.
I think we indie authors owe it to ourselves, our readers and to each other to ensure that a self-published ‘label’ doesn’t equate to poor quality. I’d love to hear any ‘quality control’ tips from fellow authors – do you have a ‘quality control’ measure that works for you? Or have you made mistakes (as I have) in your writing/publishing journey?
Many thanks for providing a thorough and thoughtful run-down of your process, Aderyn! I fully agree with all of these points!
Check out Aderyn Wood’s book, Currently FREE today and tomorrow only (12/2 & 12/3)! Pick up your copy while there’s time!!
The Raven (The Secret Chronicles of Lost Magic Book 1)
‘The Secret Chronicles of Lost Magic’ is a collection of histories that will take readers on a journey into a rich new fantasy world. Enjoy stepping into the dark days of time in this sweeping prehistoric fantasy. ‘The Raven’ is the first Chronicle in a collection set in a vibrant new world by Aderyn Wood.
From high fantasy to paranormal, Aderyn’s stories cover the broad spectrum of Fantasy. Inspired from childhood by the wonder and mystique of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising and the adventures in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, her love of the Fantasy genre has been life long. As a writer, she brings characters and places to life in stories filled with magic, mystery, and a good dollop of mayhem.
Aderyn studied Literature, History and Creative Writing at university, travelled the world, and taught English before becoming a full-time writer. She is also a part-time farmer passionate about self-sufficiency and poultry. She lives in a cosy cottage on a small farm in Victoria, Australia with partner Peter, their dog, cat, and a little duck called Snow.
Explore her work:
The Raven (Latest Release, High Fantasy)
The Viscount’s Son (Paranormal novella, #1 in a trilogy)
The Borderlands: Journey (YA Contemporary Fantasy, #1 in a trilogy)
My guest today is Tyson Mauermann of the popular Speculative Book Review blog. As a veteran reviewer and a participant in The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, I asked him to share any pointers he had for authors based on his experience reviewing self-published work. Below he provides some great advice:
I have been in the book reviewing game for five years now and I guess some consider me a bit of a pro. It has led to an editing gig with a few authors as well as a job with the up and coming publishing company, Ragnarok Publications. So when I was asked to come up with a guest post about the Do’s and Don’ts of self-publication it took me a little while to actually put together a small list.
1. Edit. Edit. Edit.
And when you are done with that edit again to be sure. Your book might be the best thing since sliced bread but if I find several glaring errors I will put the book down and do my best to forget about it. My advice is to find a reputable editor. Some charge quite a bit but find one in your price range and use them. Better yet, use two if you can afford it. Aside from grammar they should help you with character development, story arc, and plot.
2. Give the bloggers some love
Early reviews are critical and if you can send the book to several bloggers asking for an honest review, then do it. Ask them if they would be willing to publish their review on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Rifflebooks, and Shelfari. As long as the review is honest you should gain a better understanding of your writing. Also, don’t ask the blogger to remove or edit their negative review if you receive one. Not everyone will love your book and a few negative reviews, if they are honest, shouldn’t hurt your book as the reviewers that enjoyed your book will outshine the negative publicity.
It should be noted that I often turn down review requests based on the email an author sends me. If it is full of errors or comes off as unprofessional I tend to delete it and not look back. If the email is professional but I am swamped with books, I find the time to reply back and politely decline their review offer.
You should also make it easy for the reviewer to review your book. Have the book available in several different formats. I don’t accept PDF files as I have a Kindle but other reviewers prefer that format. Pay close attention to the contact page on their blog site. It should help you narrow down their preference and if you can’t find it ask or offer all the formats.
3. Be active
If you want to be successful in the (self) publishing game you need to be active on social media. Facebook, Twitter, and forums like SFFWorld and Reddit are a great place to start. That doesn’t mean spamming every few minutes but getting to know your fan base and taking an active role in the discussions. Places like SFFWorld have a spot to pimp your book but if you engage with the book readers and have something worthwhile to say, you will find them more receptive to trying your book. If you do gain an audience keep them informed and stay active long after your book has hit shelves.
4. Offer some free content
If you create an online profile give them a chapter or two to sample. You can generate buzz and word of mouth will quickly spread to your fan base.
1. Don’t respond to reviews
While you may receive a few nasty reviews avoid the temptation to lash out at the reviewer. I have had this happen on a few occasions. One went so far as to email my wife and threatened her to get me to remove my scathing review. Another created a sock puppet army to attack my review. I built my reputation on honest reviews regardless of how personal a relationship is with an author; it is how I became a reviewer. If you engage one reviewer you will get a negative reputation as the reviewing community is a pretty tight knit group and we do talk to one another and keep each other informed of some authors’ behaviors.
2. Search out reputable self-publishing companies
Many authors are very willing to talk to you about their personal experiences with publishing companies. There are a few that you should avoid at all costs and they will help you to sort the good from the bad.
3. Avoid blatant advertising on newsgroups and forums
Join a few sites and take an active role in it and once you have participated for a while, then you can plug your project but don’t go spamming. Nothing turns the community off more than the constant bombardment of your work. You will lose more than you gain.
4. Don’t harass reviewers
My current review queue is well beyond 100+ books. I try to review in the order received but if a book grabs my attention or I have enjoyed the previous book in the series, I will read it next. The reviewer is going to read it, it just may take a while to get to it. We have lives and sometimes it takes priority over your book. If it has been more than six months feel free to reach out to the reviewer but nothing irks me more then an author who expects me to drop everything to review their book. If the email is especially obnoxious I may even put it even further down on the review pile or reject it completely.
5. Don’t skimp on a cover
While it may seem like a bargain to grab a generic cover, a picture is still worth a thousand words. If you find the right cover you will find an audience. Also, don’t choose a cover that will get you banned. If you choose to show nudity on the cover Amazon and other major retailers will ban it. Stay classy.
6. Finally, don’t burn your bridges
You will most likely receive a few letters from agents, editors, and publishers turning down your book. That is okay. Learn from it and move on. Who knows, they may just accept your next book. A scathing letter in reply from a place that turned down your book will make your next endeavor an even steeper hill to climb, which could have been avoided.
The life of a writer is a challenging one. Ours is an uphill battle against self-doubt and the blank page. Throw in the business of getting our books out to readers and, well, the train can go off the rails a bit. Author, entrepreneur and podcaster Michael La Ronn offers some things to focus in on to find success.
5 Things No One Told Me About Being a Successful Writer
Authors are always looking for secrets. This article is full of them. This year, I’ll be finishing my second year as an indie author. After two years, fifteen books and countless hours of learning, there are at least a thousand things that I wish someone would have told me when I was just starting out.
This won’t be your typical self-publishing advice article. Trust me, you probably haven’t seen this advice before. If you’re looking for advice on marketing, writing a bestseller, or finding readers, you won’t find it here. There are a ton of resources out there. The writing posts on Anela’s blog are a good start. What I’m going to teach you comes BEFORE all of that.
Let’s talk about what really matters: how to plan for your eventual success.
#1: Focus on the Fundamentals
OK, so I lied a little. You know the first lesson already: it’s all about the storytelling. When you’re just starting out, this is very easy to ignore. You’re going to chase after shiny things: sales, advertisements, reviews, social media, experimental promotion techniques, shortcuts, anything that will help you sell a ton of books and quit your crappy day job. You’ll invest so much time in these things that your writing time will suffer. Pretty soon, an entire year will be over and you won’t have anything to show for it but a lot of money spent on things that didn’t make you any money at all.
New authors never believe me when I tell them this. I got laughed at a few months ago when I gave this advice to a writing group, actually. They’re going to learn this lesson the hard way.
The first thing YOU must do, above all others, is commit yourself to producing more books regularly, faster, and better. Think about it like this: if you buy an ad and it doesn’t sell any books, you’re going to regret it. You’ll especially regret it if you buy a bunch of ads that don’t perform. Will you ever regret publishing a new book? Ten? Twenty? Never.
When I stopped chasing shiny things that didn’t matter and focused solely on writing more books, I got the sales I had been trying to chase before. My sales doubled. Not kidding.
#2: Develop a learning plan
Remember in school when teachers passed out a syllabus with all the things you were going to learn in the class?There’s no set syllabus for being a writer, but I developed one for myself. It’s a very, very long bulleted list that covers virtually every element of the writing craft and business. I systematically knock things off the list one by one. I’m continuously adding to it every time I encounter something that I want to learn. It’s a living document that will never truly be conquered, but every time I cross something off the list, I’m more in control of my career.
In this business, the most successful indie authors are the ones who are the most knowledgeable. You must spend the time and money on your own continuing education, or you won’t last very long.
The worst thing you can do is look at something and think, “I’ve got a good grip on that. I don’t need to learn anymore” (or some variation on that thought). If such a thought ever crosses your mind, chances are you probably haven’t even begun to understand how it really works. Guaranteed. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I “knew” something about writing (pacing, storytelling, character development), only to discover, embarrassingly while running my mouth in the presence of professional authors, that I actually didn’t know anything at all.
There are many layers to learning. Start educating yourself and never stop. And stay humble. It’s good for you.
#3: The best business advice comes from non-writers
While you should absolutely pay attention to how successful indie authors are conducting their businesses and implement what makes sense for you, you should pay more attention to other businesspeople and how they do it. Reality television is great for this. For example, I recently watched two seasons of “Hotel Impossible” on Netflix. It follows Anthony Melchiorri, a famous hotelier who travels to struggling hotels around the world. He shows them the reasons they’re struggling and how to fix them. He’s brutally honest sometimes overbearing, but he knows his stuff.
Almost all of Anthony’s advice on “Hotel Impossible” can be applied to writers. In fact, I learned more from two seasons of “Hotel Impossible” than all the writing business books, blogs and podcasts I consumed previously. The best way to learn how business truly works is to approach it from odd angles. Look at the music industry. Listen to interviews with entrepreneurs like Jim Henson, Walt Disney, Mark Cuban, etc. Watch shows like Hotel Impossible and Shark Tank. Take nuggets from their advice and apply it to your situation. This will give you a clarity that other writers won’t have. You’ll learn the true fundamentals of running a business. You’ll also be able to identify the critical mistakes that your contemporaries are making and how to avoid them for yourself.
#4: If you don’t manage your fear, it will manage you
So much of being a writer is about overcoming fear. Here’s a secret: just about every mental struggle you will have will be rooted in some kind of fear. Worried about your sales? That’s fear. Don’t think that readers will like your work? That’s fear. Think it’s impossible to write a novel in one draft without revision? Yep, fear.
Dean Wesley Smith, an indie writer I admire, says all the time that there’s nothing to be afraid of in this industry. It’s true. Any fear you have is imagined. It’s not real. It took me a long time to learn this, but when I did, I skipped light-years ahead. I highly recommend Dean’s “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” series. Read the books in that series several times and internalize them.
Learn how to be fearless. Stand up for your art and believe in yourself. Keep the fear at bay, and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
#5: You’re always going to be impatient about something
Namely, sales. But they’re not going to come at first, and that’s okay. Use your first few years to cement your understanding of the writing craft and business. The beginning of your career is the best time to fail. No one will ever see or care about your mistakes. That’s a wonderful thing. In your early years, focus on laying the groundwork for your eventual success. This means developing your learning plan and embracing it. This way, when you reach success, you’ll be ready for it.
Have a vision for the next five and ten years. This is hard when you’re just starting out, but as you release more books, you’ll be able to see the future more clearly. I already know what books I’m going to be publishing in the next two years because I have a greater vision of what I want my overall catalog to look like. As that vision slowly becomes a reality, I am confident that readers are going to love my books. But it’s going to take a lot of work to get there, and it’s hard NOT to be impatient.
Fighting impatience never gets any easier. It’s actually a good thing because as long as you don’t give up, it will keep you hungry.
Bringing It All Together
The above lessons are just a few of the many lessons I have learned. Here’s the recap:
You’ll be able to avoid most career-ending mistakes if you follow my advice. This will ensure that you’ll be ready to embrace your success when it arrives. If you keep writing, reading and learning like I am doing, you’ll get there eventually.
Here’s to your success!
I want to thank Anela for inviting me to do a guest post on this blog. I had a lot of fun writing this.
Many thanks to you for such an insightful article!
Michael La Ronn writes fearless fiction. His novels feature unlikely heroes such as teddy bears and vegetables, and his writings are filled with quirky and imaginative humor. He also co-hosts the To Be Read Podcast where he talks about the books he’s reading. You can find him at www.michaellaronn.com.