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Crit Cred

Is it just me or should those who perform critiques be required to follow a code of ethics? (btw I did say I was heads down all this week to work on my book but I just had to get this in). Let me explain: whether you are a beta reader, a critique group member, a critique partner or an agent at a conference, agreeing to perform a critique should require a few standards. Specifically, what types of things NOT to do. I’ve had my work critiqued a few times so I know what my responsibility is as a writer: don’t take things personally, learn from the comments, make needed adjustments and incorporate only what is really useful. But what about the one who is giving the critique? It goes beyond just being constructive and pointing out both the good and  the bad, it also requires and I emphasize, requires, some credibility standards. This is especially true if the person performing the critique is getting paid to do so, as in the case of agents at a conference (yes they get paid because the author has to pay for the critique as part of the conference).  If you have hired someone to critique your work, as in an editor, it is within your rights to demand a credible critique. Just because someone has the credentials to critique does not mean they are necessarily credible. Personally, if I am shelling out some dough for you to comment on my work, I want the most for my money. The following are two inexcusable practices I’ve seen done that really should not happen in a quality critique.

Premature questions – I know you have all seen this in your manuscripts: the person uses track changes and before reading the entire 10-20 pages (or whatever the number) they stop prematurely and add a comment about something they usually find the answer to later on in the read.  If you are performing a critique and you ask a premature question, have the courtesy to go back after you’ve found the answer and remove the comment.

Skimming – This should be a cardinal sin for anyone who performs a critique. We writers can tell when you have only skimmed the material. How? Because you end up asking questions again, this time because you skimmed the part that would have answered that question. This is especially insensitive and down right sinful if you are an agent getting paid to read for a conference. I’m not saying all agents do this, but many do, so I say to them, either agree to read fewer pages so that you can commit to doing a good job, or don’t do any critiques. It is not our fault that you did not have time to read the entire submission – most agents get these manuscripts well in advance of the conference. If you want us to be professional when we submit, be professional when you critique.

So now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I must say that some critiques I’ve had were great; very well done. But for those of you who are skimmers and premature-question-askers, p-l-e-a-s-e cease and desist!


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Caveats and things…

Ok I am about to say something I NEVER thought I would say: I am done self-self-publishing.

No, that is not a typo. I did not say I was done self-publishing, I said I was done self-self-publishing. Let me explain the difference.

When I first self-published in 2008, I wanted to learn everything from soup to nuts about the process, so I decided to forego using services such as Lulu and Authorhouse. They were offering to do all the legwork…for a fee of course. I figured, ‘why give them the money when I can probably do this myself?’ And I was right. After a few missteps I did save a lot of money and learned how to do it all myself.

Well it’s 2013 and I just finished self-self-publishing my last book. I saved even more money this year than I did in 2008, but I’ve also learned a few things I would like to share with you.

Just because I can does not mean I should – This is especially true for my first book, which I edited myself. What a nightmare! Not just proofing and the like, but research, fact-checking, permissions gathering. It is all necessary, in fact, crucial to the success of your book. You need an editor and maybe even a researcher because guess what? All this is time consuming. Problem is I must continue do some of these whether I self-publish or not. RATS.

Self-self-publishing also means finding and working with your own cover designer and book layout ‘person’ (there has to be a better name for these people.) Not only do you have to get contracts signed, negotiate pricing, and provide them with the bar code, the back cover copy, the images (if you have particular ones you want used) and, most importantly — the vision — you must stay on top of every little thing in case they miss it (see the blog post Are You Inviting Me In?). This too takes time.

Cheaper is not necessarily better – Don’t get me wrong I love to self-publish, but there comes a time in every SPA’s life (self-published author in case you don’t know) when we have to come to terms with the non-monetary costs. I spend more time away from my husband when I’m working on all of the above. I hate spending time away from my husband, OK? The time I spend doing all this work I could be WRITING…right? And handing this over to someone else would certainly make life easier and more enjoyable.

So yes, I am going to continue to self-publish but I’m going to be smarter about it. First, I am only going to self-publish ebooks (duh, what a concept, huh?) so that all I have to do is write it and format it for epub; that I can do pretty easily, quickly and for FREE. I can create my own ebook covers in Photoshop, again, for FREE. Second, if I want to put out a paperback again I am going to get a publisher. Until then, the only cost I will continue to incur is for my editor —  who I absolutely cannot do without — and the occasional illustrator.  So, my caveat to ‘I’m not going to self-publish anymore’ is taking my extra ‘self’ out of the process.

Whew! Ok rant over. I feel better already. 🙂

BTW my paperback cookbook is The Real Book on How to Cook. Coming to amazon.com real soon.


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Gordon’s Gift

There comes a time in every author’s life when they must decide who they are as a writer. Back in 2008 when I self-published my first book, I didn’t consider myself a ‘self-help’ or even ‘relationship’ author. I was just a journalist acting on a pressing need to get a message to women like me. The goal was merely to save them from my fate as a desperate dater. I was not trying to be an expert. I was not trying to build a platform. I was writing from my heart. Ever since then I have written books on several different subjects; still considered ‘self-help’ but not relationship focused. Up until now  it has been easy to ‘do me’ because I never tried to get a traditional house to publish my books, and thus I have enjoyed writing for writing’s sake rather than trying to corner myself into one genre vs another. But I had a talk with an agent yesterday that made me reconsider my loosey goosey, ambiguous approach to publishing. He basically told me to ‘pick a lane,’ sort of what I always tell drivers to do on the way to work. They drift over to my lane without a turn signal, as if they don’t know what lane they want to be in.  To tell the truth, I had been considering my dilemma for sometime but was not wiling to give myself the kick in the pants I needed to take the next step.

So in light of this impetus, I have come to a decision: I will release my last non-fiction book next year (the sequel to Desperate Dating), then proceed to focus exclusively on my other love, children’s — I am working on a MG novel and a picture book.  I do not have to ‘pick a lane’ in the world of children’s literature, which is refreshing.

So, I am writing this post to say thank you to Gordon for his gift: forcing me to examine my intentions and putting me on a clear path to publication. Gee. I guess agents are good for something, aren’t they?


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By Any Means Necessary?

Recently I read a FB post from an author friend of mine. I was shocked to see he was promoting another book — he just released the last of a popular series only a month ago. Aside from my awe in how fast he was rolling these puppies out, I was also concerned because this new book is highly controversial. I didn’t even have to read the elevator pitch because the cover told the whole story. He is writing about a celebrated media case that took place in the city where he now lives. This case is a sore subject to many, particularly those to whom it most closely effected. It is this group my friend has chosen to expose.

Granted, I have not spoken to him yet about this new direction —  he has never written about real people; at least not any who could be readily identifiable — and I fear he may have gotten in over his head. As I read the post, the disclaimer that includes  ‘purely coincidental’  and ‘living or dead’ immediately came to mind. I sure hope he took advantage of it on the copyright page.

So here is my opinion regarding this new book:  Since he has a large following with a penchant for the titillating  he is sure to sell lots of copies, and due to the subject matter, he could be banking on this book being the capitulation that finally gets him the promotional time on national radio and TV he has long been seeking.

The point of this rant is novelists do not have as many avenues to promote their books in the media as do non-fiction writers so if this is a ploy, then by golly he has more gumption than I’ve given him credit for these past 15 years.

Interestingly enough, he has chosen to only release this as an ebook and he is not publishing it under his ‘house’ — the publisher with which all his other works reside. So we will see how this goes over. Who knows, he may be on to something here. When it is finally released I have no doubt it will be as over the top as the publicity it is guaranteed to receive.


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Are You Inviting Me In?

There are SO MANY cliches floating around in the English language. One in particular that is very familiar to most of us is ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’. It is quite apropos when speaking of a person’s outward appearance, but when some attempt to apply this platitude to books, I protest! On the contrary, you should judge a book by its cover and smart readers do just that. I personally am attracted to red books; colorful, creative type, and catchy titles. That is the first hook that gets me to crack the thing open – I want to see if the inside is equally appealing. If I am not tempted to look at it, why on Earth would I even open it?

So, if you are self-publishing and plan to design your own cover, DON’T. That is, of course, unless you are a graphic designer or an advanced  user of Photoshop, Illustrator or some such program. The rest of us artistically-challenged writers opt for hiring a good cover designer. I have had the good fortune of working with two and keep them on speed dial.

There is another popular saying bantered back and forth around the American water cooler — you get what you pay for. That said, don’t be cheap. If the person’s work warrants it, pay them! It is possible to find designers who are cheap and good, but don’t press your luck. Some who can come up with wonderful ideas, may not be able to carry the project through to publication. You want someone who can not only serve up a great concept, but one who knows how to work within the parameters of standard cover output, with preflight knowledge, file type experience and can count (you need someone who knows how to measure the proper width of the spine to hold all those fabulous pages you’ve written.)

To assist you in your project, here is a list to use before, during and after the cover is designed:

Book Design Checklist
COVER
Cover colors correct?
front copy correct?
back copy correct?
ISBN correct?
bar code correct?
spine copy correct?
Logo accurate?
INTERIOR
leading correct?
typefaces correct?
word spacing correct?
page numbers correct?
left-facing chapters?
excess blank pages?
corrections made?

It’s good to find someone who is open to collaboration as well. Likely, you have already envisioned your cover and have some elements you want to ensure are included. Don’t be adversarial or unreasonable; you are developing a business relationship. You may need this person later to clean up someone else’s mess (or your own) so you want them to be willing to do so. And please pay promptly! Most of these folks are freelancing and we all know what that’s like. 😦

The end game is to make sure your book looks like..well..a real book and cannot be singled out as ‘self-published.’ If you do this part correctly, you are sure to get them to look inside!

PS: Here is one of my covers. Didn’t they do a good job?
cover_1


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Let’s Not Be Lazy

Taking on the task of self-publishing your book can seem daunting; especially when you consider all the work involved: you must first be a writer, then a proof reader (if you’ve hired an editor); art director (if you’ve hired a cover designer or illustrator) and project manager to ensure it all gets done correctly and on time for whatever print deadline you’ve set. You must also be an administrative assistant to yourself — after all who else is going to purchase your ISBN numbers and bar code (once you have determined a fair price), upload your manuscript to the copyright office, find a distributor to press and print the on-demand version, and the list goes on?

Today I am going to add one more task to the plate that you should seriously consider. The aforementioned list is not only time-consuming, it’s costly. My first book cost me $2,000 all told, and that was due to the fact that I had to learn all these things on my own and made some mistakes. Nowadays, it still costs me about $800 to put out a complete product, but I am getting smarter and the advent of ebooks is making it even cheaper for us do-it-yourselfers. The task I am referring to is what used to be called layout. Some call it blocking, but whatever you call it, it is the action of putting your book in a readable format for a paperback. Yes, even if you are creating ebooks, you have to consider that you will need a paperback at some point, such as when you hold a book signing. Are you going to hand out thumb drives with your book on them?   — hmm, now that I think of it that sounds like a good option — anyway I digress. What I want to tell you is that you can lay out your own book rather than hire someone to do it for you. I am learning to use Adobe InDesign so I can do just that. The software is expensive but you can rent it by the month from Adobe for under 30 bucks. But you still have to learn how to use it. That can be solved either by buying a book (I like the Visual Quick Start series; it’s the easiest) or you can get a monthly subscription to lynda.com (about 25 bucks) and watch a ton of videos on how to do it. I have chosen the latter this time and am really enjoying what I learn. Now, I may not create all my books myself, but I at least want to know how to do it in case I am so financially strapped that I have no other choice.

So the the moral of the story is don’t be a lazy self-publisher, get out there and learn something!


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The Self-Publishing Simpleton

I often ask myself, when I am particularly interested in hearing the answer, why the terms ‘ making money’ and ‘self-publishing’ have to be given equal consideration when deciding if the latter is a feasible route for new authors to take. Time was that using the terms together in a sentence was akin to the crime of uttering an oxymoron. But nowadays traditional authors and a few fortunate newcomers are doing both. This alone seems to be the impetus to the new legitimacy of this publishing channel, but I question why money has to be the sole factor in elevating its status.

As you have heard me rant on before, I came into the field of self publishing when it was the evil twin. Even if my work looked the same (good cover, proper grammar, a platform, etc.) it was rendered inferior simply because it was DIY. Granted, when I came into the game many self published books looked self published, but I was not deterred. I pressed on, intent to learn as much as I could to overcome this stigma. But making money was not the ultimate goal. For me, I have wanted to be an author since childhood. My cousin was a successful children’s author and she was my encouragement. I was writing poetry in 1st grade and short stories in 4th; I even wrote a 60 page story using all my classmates as characters. My teacher allowed me to read it to the class at the end of each school day. How cool is that? So my foray into a serious writing career was heartfelt and nurtured; it was never about making money.

I went to college for journalism, ended up with a masters in project management and resigned myself to making money the old fashioned way: working. For me, writing is not a means to and end but an end within itself. I write as therapy, as amusement, to fill a need, or to answer a burning question. I love giving advice so self-help became my main genre (besides, I’ve made enough mistakes and learned from them that I could write 100 books).

Since embarking on this journey I’ve also learned much about the craft; reading books in the Writer’s Digest series, getting advice from Dan Poynter, doing research and yes making mistakes. It’s been a wonderful, fascinating ride and it’s what keeps me going to work so I can have the means to create my books and get them published. And the best part is when someone reads one of my books and says it touched their life, that means the world to me. Now, if I can just get them to write a review. LOL.

Some people say ‘I love my job’ but I say, ‘I love my passion.’ If that makes me a simpleton, so be it.  They say God looks after fools and babies; who could ask for a better protector?