Book Launch Learnings 3 – Editing

Part 3 – Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series – Editing

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Editing is where I really started learning about producing a quality and professional book. When I was writing the book, when I was finishing the book, I thought that I would read it over a dozen times myself, make corrections and carefully edit the book. I had no intention of spending any money. I would write the book and do a careful job myself and that would be that.

Basic Editing

The first edit was just a couple rounds of spelling and grammar. I used Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check to weed out some of the most obvious and egregious errors.

Next, I installed grammarly and ran it though once. Grammarly has an interesting bonus-feature in that it counts how many words you’ve written in a particular week. The week I installed it I had over 120,000 words written, which put me in the very highest writing group. Obviously I had written those words over years but they were new to Grammarly, so I enjoyed that.

Self-Editing

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I had a plan for self-editing and I executed it. First, upon finishing the book, I was going to read the book for obvious errors. I read it out loud for the first time to my daughter (who was too small to understand) and by virtue of reading it out loud, I was able to flag a number of areas where the book simply didn’t make any sense or was impossible to read through. Reading out loud is a great way to catch a lot of mistakes.

The next level was when I noted that I was saying the same thing too much. I started a lot of sentences with words like, “However, so, thus…” and I hated how it sounded so I read the entire book again focusing just on the start of each sentence.

Each time I read the book I tried to be conscious of my own stylistic issues and clean them up. I also noted sections that I didn’t enjoy reading. Some felt clumsy, some just didn’t have the right feeling, and others needed an injection of description. I also had my wife read it and she told me when she couldn’t picture what I was describing. One example was when I described the seat-cushion boat at the start of the book, I didn’t describe it effectively and had to re-write it a couple times to get it right.

Eventually, I got the book to a place where I thought it was about as polished as I could get it.

Hiring an Editor

I did a lot of research online about self-publishing and it became clear that a professional editor was worth the money. I decided to put out some feelers to see if anybody in my network knew someone who might be interested, and I did some research online and found a few potential editors.

I wanted to find somebody local, and I found a few that felt like good fits. I got a few from www.editors.ca who were interested in my genre. It is important that your editor be somebody who actually is interested in your genre and style. I sent out some queries to the top three and got back a surprising diversity of responses. I truly appreciated what they said.

The first one said that the style in which I had written the book would not jive with her own. Readers will recognize that I use a distinctive voice similar to Jonathan Swift, this is not a typical style or voice for today’s writings and she didn’t feel she would be the best editor.

The other two provided quotes and sample of editing and the one I chose, Bobbi Beatty, responded with just excellent comments. I signed up with her and let her read my book, the first person not in my family to read it through.

It took about a month, but it came back with thousands of edits. I highlight this not to make myself look bad, but just to emphasize the value of a good editor. Some edits are more important and others were stylistic notes. I think that I accepted all but about three changes or notes. She also did a final reading to make sure that nothing got missed the first time.

A note on how important hiring an editor is. If you go to OnlineBookClub.org and look at recent reviews you’ll see that the reviews usually penalize errors quite harshly. You can lose a star just by having ten mistakes. That is ten spelling/grammar mistakes out of perhaps 100,000 words, an error rate of 0.01% is unacceptably high and can cost you a full 1/4 stars.

Hiring attitude

I loved communicating with Bobbi. She was friendly and helpful and provided great notes for me. I told her up-front that I wasn’t working towards a deadline and didn’t need her to rush… I actually told this to each contractor I hired along the way. Nevertheless, she came in on budget and before the deadline she set for herself.

If you hire an editor, and I strongly recommend it. Hire somebody who ticks these boxes:

  • Is interested in your genre
  • Is responsive to your messages
  • Provides a sample edit of your work that aligns with your expectations
  • Gets good reviews
  • Is a professional
  • Actually wants to work with you

Don’t just jump for the cheapest edit. You are going to get what you pay for, and if you want your book to be something of which you can be proud, and that gets quality reviews, spending the money up-front is worth it.

Recommendations

You need to hire an editor. Every minute of time you spend editing, and ever dollar you spend on a professional editor will save you a great deal down the line. It isn’t even a question for me now, while I thought I would just do it myself at first, On Swift Wings wouldn’t be anything like it is now without my editor. I appreciate Bobbi’s work so much. (Thanks Bobbi)

Tomorrow: Cover Design

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Book Launch Learnings 2 – Writing

Part 2 – Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series – Writing

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Yesterday I wrote about my planning process, today I write about… writing.

Before you begin writing a book, make sure you enjoy writing. Unless you’re planning on writing a ton of books, or you are certain to catch lightning in a bottle, writing is tough and not frequently rewarding unless the act of writing itself is of interest to you.

Time

The first question is time. You really need to find a way to make time for writing or you’ll get nowhere. I started by writing in the margins of my time. There is a reason it took almost three years to write On Swift Wings. I bought a fold-away keyboard for my phone and I actually wrote about half of the book the same way I did my planning, on the train, at lunch, whenever I had five minutes of time. Sometimes that meant that I didn’t write anything for a few days or weeks at a time.

One thing I did to buy myself time, no laughing, was to delete all my stupid games off my phone. I wanted to write a book, and it occurred to me that all the time I was spending tapping on games that are surprisingly addictive, and yet really boring and unimportant, was consuming those little blocks of time that could be used productively.

A second thought was to avoid social media. I didn’t delete them, but I made a conscious effort to not spend idle time scrolling through it. You’d be surprised how much you don’t miss out on things when you don’t read thoughtless nonsense all day.

As I got deeper in, I set aside blocks of an hour in the evenings to work, and that helped get the book done much more quickly. I set some goals for myself and posted them so that everybody could see what I was doing. It is a way of holding myself accountable. I don’t like letting people down, even if they don’t really care if I do.

Read and progress

A mistake that I made, writing over a long period was that I often forgot what I had written before. When I got to the editing phase this required me to go back and correct double-writings several times. I usually remembered what I wanted to write, I rarely stopped thinking about the book, but I definitely forgot whether I had already put it down a page or two back.

It is certainly easier if you re-read what you’ve already written to ensure that the contents and style flow the first time. If not, you’re in for an editing adventure. If you can write it all in one go… you might be a magical wizard. Most people can’t pump out a quality novel of 100,000+ words in one sitting. Take your time to cover your flow.

Be flexible

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I’ve stated in my planning blog that I wrote out the exact flow and structure I intended to follow including a very specific ending. As I wrote the story, I didn’t like the ending that I had originally envisioned. It didn’t fit with the tone and content of the story, and would have felt extremely out-of-place at the end of it. I believe that the readers would have felt cheated and confused. If I had rigidly held to the original plan, it would have made the story worse.

Similarly, at several other parts of the story, I realized while providing details and descriptions that the original plan left me with too little breadth to paint the necessary picture. I really wanted to avoid any deus ex machina fallacies, where suddenly a most fortuitous event magically gets the character out of a sticky situation. I wanted the story to provide reasonable solutions to problems if the main character could find it. At one point my editor, Bobbi, wrote a comment that read something like, “Isn’t that lucky?” She flagged something really important there that I had done inadvertently, and fortunately it gave me time to carefully fix it.

Re-write

The first time I write something, I usually get the gist of what I want and a readable story, but if I go back and read it, I usually criticize the crap out of it and re-write it several times. Each time I re-write, it keeps the plot, but I tend to add more literary devices, more vivid description, and better satirical elements. I know it makes the process much more time-intense, but taking the time to re-write is a really important part of my process.

A word of warning though. If I let myself re-write something too often, it becomes an overly-cerebral pile of nonsense that nobody wants to wade through. You have to trace through Beautiful Mind-style cobwebs of interconnected thoughts, often with key links deleted during the re-write.

Trust that you’ll cover any glaring issues during editing, but make it good enough first. Editing isn’t cheap or quick.

Check Requirements

Here is something I didn’t know when I started. Different genres expect different word counts. I was aiming to have a good book, I didn’t really care how long it turned out, but I wanted it to probably be >100,000 words. Depending on your genre, 100,000 words might be way too many or too few. Look up what you’re writing and find out. In my case, my editor suggested that literary fiction could be a little longer, so I got a bit lucky that way. Another consideration is that when printing your book; number of pages directly affects cost. I wouldn’t trade quality for a few pennies per book, but if you write a Tolstoy-like epic with a million words, it’ll eat your profits, and probably reduce your sales enormously.

I’m certain there is more that I’m forgetting, but my window of time for the day is closing.

Tomorrow: editing.

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I hope that this section on writing is of some value to you. If it is, comment here or get a hold of me through my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

Going it alone (with freelancers)

July 31, 2019

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Hiring service providers brings its own challenges and rewards.

Once I had decided that I was going to self-publish, a whole new world opened up. Without a traditional publisher, and keeping away from vanity publishers, I would need to research, find, hire, manage, and pay each of my various contracted freelancers myself. I have mentioned before that I really didn’t know anything about publishing at the start, and totally overestimated my own abilities. I’m OK with that, I’d rather think I can do more than I can and pull back when I realize my own limitations than to underestimate myself and achieve less than my potential. At basically every stage where I ultimately hired a service provider, I experienced the same or a similar process.

Stage 1 – I will do it myself!

Original plans called for me to do everything. I was going to plan, write, edit, and format the book. I was going to draw my own cover art and market the book on my own. Tag me as arrogant, but I wanted to try all of these, and I felt like I could do a good enough job if I tried hard enough. I am ok at all of them, but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Stage 2 – Research requirements

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Self-publishing requires a lot of research.

Unlike a school project where a teacher tells you all the things that need to be included, there is no definitive requirements document explaining what you need to do to properly edit a book, format the interior, and design a cover. Even now that I’m done, and properly understand the end requirements from experience, I’m not sure that I could properly do any of these myself. Anyway, I researched each one before I gave them all a first try. A blessing and a curse of writing is that the other people who are experts are also writers. They like to write, a lot. There are a lot of resources out there (like this blog is turning into) of people who are eager to tell you everything about their experience. Many of them have written books about how to write books and have them published, I’m not planning on doing that, but rather than a calm stream of helpful advice it is a bit more like a tidal wave of information. Once I had found her, my editor helped to filter some of the more important things. I can’t emphasize how valuable it is to have a guide on this travel.

Stage 3 – Try and try again

I edited my book several times myself, checking for grammar, consistency, idiocy, structure, content, etc. I made several book covers, sought feedback on my Facebook page, edited, and refined them. I formatted my own document using a template I bought online. I took each part as far as I could manage. I did my best, and I felt I did OK, but not good enough. I resolved early on that I would not let myself say, “imagine if I had actually…” like an athlete who sabotages himself before a big race. I wanted to run right through the finish line. The right way to do that is to get the correct people on my side.

Stage 4 – I shouldn’t do it myself!

I concluded that I couldn’t get it sufficiently edited for a professional product. I came to the same conclusion that for a good book, a properly created cover was necessary. With the formatting, I felt confident that I could put a reasonable product together on my own experience, and I think I did come up with something passable. I trusted my editor at this point, who suggested that proper formatting would be a worthwhile investment.

Stage 5 – Research the freelance market

There are a lot of freelancers out there in every field. Whether for editing, cover design, formatting, etc. I wanted to find people compatible with my communication style, who were interested in my book. I did a lot of research, I searched on Editors Canada for Calgary-based editors and found a few people to talk to, I polled my network to see if they knew anybody and drummed up a couple names from there. For the cover design, I considered doing a design competition, but pulled back on that idea when it became clear that experiences there varied dramatically, with all parties generally being dissatisfied with the result, both the artist who feels undervalued and the buyer who doesn’t feel like they got what they wanted. It also hardly feels fair to ask hundreds of people to do the work and only have one or two get paid anything for their troubles. Ultimately I found a few people online who had done a number of covers that I quite liked. Formatting was easier, my editor recommended someone she had worked with and I trusted her judgement.

Stage 6 – Contact

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With the exception of the formatting, which was done on my editor’s advice, I had the same thing happen with both the my choice of editor and book cover design. I contacted several people about doing my editing and my cover design. In both cases, the person who I had thought would be my likely first choice rejected the contract.

The first editor to whom I spoke said that I had done a great job of staying very true to the original in terms of tone and voice, and that her editing style was better suited to a close narrative distance. The second editor, who I ultimately picked, was Bobbi Beatty of Silver Scroll Services. When I got in touch with her she wrote me a novel of advice even before I hired her. I felt like she was thoroughly engaged immediately, and I liked her communication style. She seemed interested and excited. I told my wife that I think I had found my editor.

A similar thing happened with the cover design. I found a group that I thought had done some really great covers, but when I contacted them with my book and idea they told me that because my book included ‘fantasy’ worlds and characters, they would be unable to source appropriate images. I don’t hold any malice about this, they didn’t understand my book, and obviously weren’t familiar with Gulliver’s Travels. I pushed on and found a great team at JD&J Book Cover Design. They responded virtually immediately, gave me a timeline and details, took my information and ideas. As with Bobbi, I felt confident with these guys that I had the right people for me.

Stage 7 – Contract

This was pretty easy in every case. Each of my team requested some percentage of the contract up-front. I wanted some details like non-disclosure agreements to protect my own work. (As with most first-time authors, I was unreasonably afraid that somebody was going to steal my ideas.) Each of them provided me with the cost up-front, the timeline within which they would get the work done (and all of them succeeded in completing on schedule) and communicated with me any issues or concerns.

Stage 8 – The Waiting Game

Hungry hungry hippos!

Oh man this is a hard part. Sending something I’d worked on for so long to the editor, formatting, and even book cover designer was like sending my kid to their first summer camp… which I haven’t done yet, so I can only imagine. I told each of my team that I wanted to be the model client. I promised to pay them immediately upon receiving the invoice, to respond promptly to any questions, and to not pester them. I asked them to take their time and do a great job, rather than worry excessively about hitting deadlines. I meant it! I even said that if the book was bad, to just tell me that. I meant that too!

Once the manuscript was out of my hands, I couldn’t do anything about it until it was returned. Every day felt interminable. I waited with bated breath, unsure, and lacking confidence that somebody wouldn’t come back and say, “your book is awful.” Even though I had told them not to worry about deadlines, I still had them circled on my calendar hoping that they would meet them anyway. (they did)

Stage 9 – Final refinements

At each stage, there is always a little back and forth as some details are touched up. A little font change here, a couple last questions about the edits, a few details on the cover, etc. As I had chosen people with whom communication was easy, these refinements went smoothly and quickly. As well as I could have hoped. Ultimately, I was very pleased by the results.

Stage 10 – Payment

promised I would, and I believe that I did pay each of them within a couple hours of receiving their invoice. I know it is important to be paid promptly. One way to show respect and appreciation is to pay quickly.

Stage 11 – Thanks

Really mean it!

I can hardly emphasize how valuable it is to find the right people for your team. I wouldn’t have nearly the final product today that I’m proud to say is mine without all their help. They were worth their weights in gold.

Bobbi, my editor, was my MVP. Beyond cleaning up my rambling, comma-soaked, first-timer manuscript, she provided the guidance and feedback that I increasingly realized I desperately needed. Her ability to match her edits to the tone and voice that I desired was fantastic, her comments and direction were right on point, and her attitude was brilliant. I would strongly recommend her, and when my second book is complete, I will certainly get in touch with her again.