Is Self-Publishing Becoming Elitist? Seven DIY Steps for Self-Editing

Elitist-Eagle-Demotivator - Goggle image

On a blustery Sunday afternoon, a question on a discussion forum has caught my attention. How does a writer on a tight budget manage to self-publish with current advice demanding expensive editing services?

Do you notice how I purposefully say current advice? In the four years I’ve been at this game, I’ve seen the list of the things self-published authors must spend their money on alter many times. Trying to keep up with those dictates will have a would-be author whipping to and fro like an airport sock in the crosswinds of the landing strip.

As I read through the comment stream related to the above question, I was surprised by the number who rejected the idea that a tight budget or even no budget at all was worth consideration. The question was often answered with slavish adherence to the notion that there is no other option but to pay for editing services. No one says how. Perhaps robbing a bank is not out of the realm of possibility.

Let’s break this down. Editing services exist on a spectrum. Content editing will help the writer identify plot holes, structural issues, problems with continuity and believability. Line-by-line copy editing will examine the work for proper sentence structure, grammatical usage and consistent spellings across the manuscript. Proof-reading will catch typos, missing words and misplaced or missing punctuation.

CND money - google image

That is an expensive pack of editing services!

Roasted at the stake - google image

Okay … before I am roasted at the stake for going against accepted wisdom, I admit to as much frustration as the next reader when I download a self-published book and the work is not up to scruff. But here’s the rub – poor editing doesn’t make me stop reading. If the story is good, I will stick with it to the end. I may rail and fume that it could have been so much better but I won’t stop reading.

I don’t want to see budding authors discouraged by the fact that the latest wisdom demands editing services which cost hundreds of dollars.

I’m going to make a few suggestions related to self-editing but first, a caveat. You must believe you have a good story in you to write. That is an absolute prerequisite. Time and hard work will tell if your belief is real. Without the willingness to work hard to write that story, no amount of money spent on an editor can help you!

If you are working on a shoe string and committed to producing the best book you can – don’t despair. Here is what I do.

1. I write, rewrite and rewrite until I feel sure I can’t make my work any better. Of course, I’ll be wrong but self-editing is an iterative process – always bending back and over itself. I will do a minimum of twelve drafts of a novel before that work ever reaches the stage of line-by-line editing. That represents a number of hours dedicated to rewriting and rereading. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland has been helpful to me as I do rewrites.

Structuring Your Novel Cover

2. I put what I’ve written under a microscope by asking questions of my story. Does it make sense? Are point-of-view shifts carried out with clarity? Is the story plausible? Do the characters act true to the way I created them? Does each three dimensional character have a defined story arc? Have I rooted out the repetition and the parts that do not move the story forward? Are the technical details correct? Are the loose ends tied up? A book that I find invaluable at this stage is, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. My copy of Browne and King is heavily underlined, highlighted and filled with post-it-notes.

Self-Editing Cover

3. I create a hardcopy and I read my work out loud – the whole book, every time. I don’t have an audience but I read aloud all the same. This process allows me to catch a number of issues. Redundancies become obvious in a stunning and disconcerting way.

4. I am fortunate to have a trusted other to read my work. (I must emphasize with the italics and my bracketed comment that this person must be someone who is in your corner but not afraid to be truthful.) We get so close to our work that it does take another pair of eyes to point out where things simply don’t make sense.

5. Early in my writing career, I purchased copies of a few basic grammar books. Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style is worth its small weight in gold. I work at applying the basics line by line.

Elements of Style cover

6. I email my word document to my Kindle and I read it there. I catch more typos than I’d like to admit.

7. Finally, I urge you to get innovative – check out your local high school or community college. There may be a teacher or an upper level student with ability in editing who is willing to help on the cheap.

Though it is true that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, if you have started with the silk of a good story, I believe you can make a decent purse without spending a fortune. The key is hard, hard work. If you have a story worth telling, you will not be afraid to invest sweat equity in the endeavour.

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Tuesday Book Blog – Stone Eater

cover of Stone Eater

Title: Stone Eater by D.F. Bailey (2nd book in the Will Finch Mystery Thriller series)

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, financial crime

Amazon Reviews: 7 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4.7

My Four Star Review

D.F. Bailey has hit his stride with this second Will Finch Thriller!

I read the first book in this series – Bone Maker – and the ending stirred my curiosity. Moving into the second Will Finch novel, the author answered many of the questions I had leftover from the first book while spinning a fine stand-alone story. Will Finch, main character and intrepid journalist, is a more fleshed out character in this second offering. The author ties the action of the series opener (Bone Maker) to the second book with seamless brush strokes that never weigh the reader down. No mean feat!

I enjoyed seeing the world through Will’s somewhat cynical perspective. His work cubicle is a “… doleful mix of neglect and oppression.” His exercise regime consists of making it up and down the three flights of stairs to his office. His huffing and puffing upon arrival is a condition many of us can identify with. There is also phrases that delight – sailboats slip back and forth playing the invisible breeze and a man’s life is described as running along a track that is narrow, flat and gray. These few words stand in for so much that need never be said. A gruesome scene is described thus – the girl collapsed on the lawn like a sack of snakes. This metaphor brings the horror of the character’s situation to graphic life.

Bring on book three! I’m ready to read Lonesome Hunter and to see what Will Finch will do next.

cover of Bonemaker                       cover of lone hunter

Before I leave you to trot off to the Amazon site of your choice and check out D.F. Bailey’s books, I want to add a note about the titles and the covers. Superb. The two word titles all link the series wonderfully and each of them packs a punch. The covers are visually attractive, consistent and guaranteed to catch the eye. Well done D.F. Bailey.

Pre-Spring Garden

The amen of nature is always a flower. (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.)

Open crocus - Guenette photo

Today’s sunshine opened this lovely crocus for my admiration and camera.

Her body calculated to a millimeter to suggest a bud, yet guaranteed a flower. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Closed crocus - guenette photo

Surrounded by the wild, these few beauties await the full sun.

“A friend cannot be owned
That is plain to see
Friendships must be shared,
Just like our friend, Ruby”
(Stephen Cosgrove from Rhubarb)

Rhubarb - Guenette photoThe first sighting of rhubarb is always greeted with glee.

 

Christmas Rose - Guenette photo

The Christmas rose (Hellebore) continues to show off it’s delicate roses and cream coloured glory.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant. (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Seedlings - Guenette photoSeedlings on the go under the grow light.

Gardens are not made by singing, “Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade. (Rudyard Kipling)

Cold frame - Guenette photoKale seedlings and overwintering celery snug in the cold frame.

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. (Gertrude Jekyll)

Overlook in the sun - Guenette photo

A chair in the afternoon sun from which to enjoy it all.

Building Castles in the Sand

Bruce & Emma in the sand - Guenette photo

“Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” (author – Shannon Hale)

Never has this quote meant more to me than in these days when I start out on the hesitant and often lurching journey that will one day culminate in the fourth Crater Lake novel.

My sand consists of character sketches and grids, location descriptions, lists of major and minor climaxes, scene ideas, title options, timelines, research notes and random snippets of dialogue – all in no particular order. As the file on my desktop for this novel grows – the box into which I shovel this sand – I know I am making progress.

It is hard to trust this process as I shovel a few more loads of sand onto my story board. Definitely a messy business but this board is something I cling to. It exists in real time and space in a way that all my digital notes cannot rival. It is wonderfully solid though constantly evolving.

My mind rushes ahead, backtracks and gets stuck with regularity. I repeat myself, lose sight of important insights between one document and next and cart around a book that burgeons with quick handwritten notes. It occurs to me that there must be a neater, more linear way to proceed.

No doubt, but that way wouldn’t be my sand or my sandbox. I wouldn’t be working to build my own castle. Finding one’s way into the telling of a story is as utterly unique as there are writing practitioners. There are no blueprints for creativity. Just a messy sandbox waiting for a world to be wrought from

Sedona - Bruce Witzel photo

Marketing 2016–The Tangled Web & the Dog Poop

Tangled web - Guenette photo

2016 is well on its way and I am overdue for an updated, book marketing plan! I am resolved to not step into the same piles of dog poop marketing that I’ve trod on in the past. I have been slow to learn but I hope the proverbial penny has dropped.

So, here goes:

  1. I’ve decided, for the upcoming year at least, to limit sales of my ebooks to Amazon in order to enter the Kindle Select program and be eligible for Kindle Unlimited readers. Amazon is the marketing giant and to hold out against the promotional opportunities they can provide is like being a fairly useless bell clanging in the wilderness.
  2. I’ve made up my mind to keep on applying for a BookBub promotion slot until I am successful – no matter how long it takes. In the past, I couldn’t wrap my head around paying a hefty fee to give my book away but I’ve since added up all the dollars I’ve spent on marketing ideas (that were a total waste of money) and realized I could have afforded a promotion on this highly-rated-to-succeed site.
  3. In 2016, I’m going to take the dictum about the need to build an email list much more seriously. If you sign up as an email follower to my blog, you should receive an email message offering you a free ebook copy of my book of short stories. I’m still trying to work out the kinks on this but do give it a try. The sign-up button is on the right-hand bar of the page. You should be directed to email me and request either a mobi or epub file. This email sign-up means you get email notice when a new post appears on my blog. It also means that you are giving me the nod to occasionally email you and let you know that I have a new release or alert you to a sale on one of my books or the book of another author I admire.

Since beginning my marketing journey in the spring of 2012, I have been bombarded by all the newest strategies that promise to skyrocket my book through to the top of a seething mass of self-published works.

Here is what I have learned:

  1. Book contests advertised on the net that charge fees are a waste of money. My take on this could be coloured by the fact that I never win but even so, I stand by my opinion.
  2. Book review sites that charge a fee to move one up the list while claiming that one is not in fact paying for a review are a waste of money. These type of reviews can not be posted as an Amazon review because of the fee paid. The review I received was heartfelt and obviously by a genuine reader – kudos for that. On the down side, I’m assuming English was not the first language of the reviewer and the quality of the written review reflected that. It is clearly a darkly shaded nuance that this type of service is not, in fact, paying for a review. In retrospect, I would rather have not kidded myself, paid more (say to Kirkus) and got my money’s worth. Lesson learned. 
  3. Paying for a book blog tour is a waste of money. Okay, let me speak only to my own experience and preamble my comments by saying that the two tours I paid for were both under $50.00 US. I don’t know what might have happened if I’d paid the big bucks. I will say this, a fellow author shared that a recent tour cost upwards of $350.00 and resulted in minimal to zero sales.
  4. Twitter is fun but don’t expect that time spent creating book selling tweets will amount to much. I’ve said this before and I’m happy to say it again – I love Twitter. Occasionally, I tweet about one of my books but this is more for the challenge of seeing what I can say about my own work in 140 characters or less. Maybe the whole dynamic of selling books on Twitter changes when one has tens of thousands of followers. I very much doubt it but I don’t have that personal experience to call upon.
  5. A Facebook author page is a great thing to have. I love mine and I enjoy posting things that I think will be interesting to fellow writers and readers alike. Most schemes aimed at increasing one’s following on an author Facebook page seem to me to be a woeful waste of time and if they cost anything, a waste there, too. I’ve tried targeted update boosts, again at the low range of financial investment ($10.00 to $20.00). These boosts never amounted to much of anything.

So there you have it – my proactive strategies to move forward and reactions to my past efforts. My most important insight is this:

I have to keep my personal benchmarks of success in focus.

Too often, the dizzying claims by fellow authors of thousands of sales make me lose sight of the positive feedback I receive about my own books. I had a phone call yesterday from a woman who wanted to purchase yet another entire set of The Crater Lake Series. She has a friend she will gift them to. I think this is her third such gift.

I set out to write because my objective was to tell a story through the voices and experiences of a group of characters that once read, could not help but change the reader in some essential and yet possibly indefinable way. That desire may result in a body of work that never breaks through to huge sales. So be it. 

Let’s start a dialogue here. What do you think of my current strategies? What about my take on the past marketing poop? How does one balance personal benchmarks of success with the reality of selling books? Talk to me, people. Let’s pool our collective knowledge. I promise a thoughtful response.

Sunset over the lake - Guenette photo

Hard Survival in an Unforgiving Landscape

Pencil sketch - Casa Destino - June Guenette (2)

It’s a pleasure to have a book reviewed by a respected fellow author. A couple of weeks ago, I received just such a treat for my newest release – Maelstrom.

5.0 out of 5 stars The damage we humans can do …, 24 Jan. 2016 – By Mari Howard

Maelstrom (Kindle Edition)

As a fan of Francis Guenette’s Crater Lake series, I was interested to read this new book, a collaboration and edition of her late mother’s manuscript, Maelstrom. Before purchase, I already knew from the author that it would be a very different novel, and of course wondered in what areas.

The story, which has been outlined by other reviewers, takes place not on the Canadian West Coast but in some arid, desert-like part of the USA. I was never sure where, but thought maybe New Mexico? And like Crater Lake books, in a small town setting, but a very different one. The town is dominated by its ruthless, amoral sheriff, though as the plot progresses we learn of the network of complicated relationships and special interests which has intensified his rule.

Like the Crater Lake books, all turns on the damaged personalities involved, and how they interact: but in this setting, the damage is lethal, and the results are far more violent. It is indeed a book which surveys how tragically violent and destructive human beings can behave towards one another. The view of human is by no means the “Rousseau” one that we are all basically good: most of these characters could be said to be basically bad, weak, or both, and the author doesn’t hold back what we as a species are capable of, especially in male attitudes and actions towards women.

However, it is also a Francis Guenette book despite the differences. We can still discern her psychological training, experience, and knowledge, her concern for the fate of the mixed-race and Native Americans, her feminism (to give a name to something more subtle than that), and her ability to weave the consequences of damaged personalities for good or for destruction. This, as the story progresses, becomes increasingly obvious, and makes the book a page-turner. Her love and respect for wild and domestic animals is there. She also weaves into the story a theme found in the Crater Lake books – a boy who has what can be called ‘second sight’ – though it may have other names.

Recommended, unless you are a reader who prefers a rip-roaring good crime/adventure story to a study of how it is to be human in an isolated township and an arid setting. This is hard lives, hard survival, in an ‘unforgiving’ landscape. But it ends with some hope.

Arizona - Bruce Witzel photo

Mari Howard is a UK based writer and author of Baby, Baby (The Mullin’s Family Saga – Book One) and The Labyrinth Year (The Mullin’s Family Saga – Book Two). Check out my Amazon.com review of Mari’s book, The Labyrinth Year.

Baby, Baby Cover                                Labyrinth Year Cover