BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 9: Contests and Awards

PART 9 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Contests and Awards

Apologies for the delay in publishing this blog entry. I have been at the beach for a couple weeks flexing some 3D artistic muscles while planning the next literary endeavour.

Fun in the sand aside, I had intended to write one last entry in this launch series about contests and awards. I’ve talked at length about how first-time authors need something to separate themselves from the pack. It is still crucial to get good reviews on all the major sites like Amazon and GoodReads, and some paid promotion is pretty important as well, but I’ve also put On Swift Wings into a number of contests.

Why Contests?

Contests are another way to identify and guarantee the legitimacy of your book. If you can get a reputable organization to award it some note of merit, your book immediately edges up a few notches in the to-read list of not-yet fans. I’ve come across a number of these, and I evaluated them based on what I could find online. Ultimately I entered a few of them and I’ve received some pretty good feedback (and a couple wins.)

Wins and Placements

The biggest win for On Swift Wings came in the ReaderViews Literary Awards. On Swift Wings won the best Western Canadian Fiction category as well as second place in the Humour/Satire category. That was a pretty cool win. It also reached the finals in the IndieReader discovery awards. In a couple weeks, I have one more contest drawing to a conclusion on September 1, but it would be pretty cool to pull another credit down to stick on the cover.

To that end, you’ll note that the updated cover has the awards and some 5-star seals affixed now. This is to help it be recognized and to stand out once more. I’m quite pleased with the new cover, as an aside, it is more representative of the book in general. And it is really cool to put a few commendations and awards on the cover to show off a bit.

Thick Skin

Not all contests will be winners. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you write, not everybody is going to love it. In my case, not everybody can even understand it. On Swift Wings was written in the unique style of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Swift is a very talented and well-known satirist, essayist, and novelist. I got feedback from the judge of one contest who absolutely hated the book. They didn’t understand the genre (essay), they didn’t understand the words, they hated the style, and they weren’t even familiar with Jonathan Swift or Gulliver’s Travels. That’s totally ok, if you’re putting anything artistic out there, it can be assured that not everybody will be your fan. It takes a thick skin to read some of the negative feedback to be sure, and contests are no different.

I’m really proud of the good words I’ve read about the book. Most of the negative stuff has either been things that I intentionally put into the book knowing that they wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, or the feedback has been unhelpful trolling, which doesn’t bother me except for the diminished average rating.

Launch Summary

I feel like every day I learn something new about the entire process. It has been, and continues to be a pretty incredible ride. I hope that the blog posts I’ve written will prove valuable to you, whether as an author or as a reader interested in knowing more about the adventure.

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If you haven’t yet, please give On Swift Wings a try. I’m very proud of it on a number of levels, and would love to hear what more people think. I’m working on a couple projects related to the book right now. I’ve still got “The Immortals” on the go, but it has taken a backseat while I’ve been working on a (not-so) secret project that I hope to be able to unveil and release in a few weeks. More to do, more to learn, more fun.

Thank you for reading my launch learnings, may your world always grow!

BW

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!

Book Launch Learnings 1 – Planning

Part 1 – Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series – Planning

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Planning seems a right logical place to start when talking about the learning and ideas relating to writing a book. In this entry, I’ll discuss planning and inspiration. This entry will likely be more personal and less transferable, but I’m sure there will be some useful gems in each entry.

This is meant to be thorough, but hopefully it will give some insight into my thoughts and maybe increase your enjoyment of the book knowing the work put in behind the scenes.

Inspiration

I always felt like I wanted to write a book, it has always been on my to-do list. The idea of sharing my thoughts with the world, and even more, to discuss them, is very appealing to me. I wasn’t sure that I ever would but it was always on my mind. I wrote my entire master’s thesis in a month, start to finish, 180 pages, so I knew I could write something of length but I was never a top performer in language arts, I performed best in social studies and math, and I think that gets reflected in my work. Any reader will undoubtedly notice the political and economic themes apparent throughout. A source of inspiration is the real world and some of the challenges that are apparent in today’s society. Writing on social media hardly seems valuable, as that forum has long ago become a shouting match within similarly interested echo chambers. A book, I feel, has more potential to cross political boundaries.

The second source of inspiration was my children. When I read Gulliver’s Travels to my son as a baby, I saw a style that was similar to my own, and subject matter that could be used as a platform to share my thoughts and initiate conversations. My children are inspiring because I want them to know me and who I am, regardless of what happens to me. If I can make the world a better place for them through my thoughts, that is my highest objective.

Pre-planning the foreword

When I started writing On Swift Wings, it was originally just meant as a way for me to vent my own thoughts into something permanent. Writing is my way of interpreting and handling all the myriad news and information that is perpetually bombarding me daily.

I actually wrote the first draft of the foreword before anything else. It reads more difficult than the rest of the book because it was really the foundation upon which the rest of the book was written. I considered it the bare bones, and many of the themes and macro-scale ideas are introduced there. I wrote and rewrote, edited and restructured the foreword a dozen times before I even started writing anything else. The foreword was in some ways the mission statement for the book, a bit like a personal reminder of why I was writing it, and a talisman reminding me which way to go as I waded through the actual process of writing.

The foreword may be wickedly over-written, but it is something of which I’m very proud. It is the highest hurdle in the entire book and it comes right at the front. I’ve been criticized for including it in the book, but without it I feel that the rest of it is greatly diminished.

Don’t feel bad if it is tough, it is meant to be a challenge, and it is based on an important element of verisimilitude from the original.

Respecting the original (But not too much)

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https://www.gutenberg.org/files/829/829-h/829-h.htm

It was originally just meant for myself and those I love but as it got clearer I felt compelled to make something bigger of it as I mentioned in my inspiration. Once I decided that I wanted to write a book based on the world of Gulliver’s Travels, I knew I had to show respect for the original work. The first rule I created was that I had to respect the original immutable facts of the book, regardless of how uncomfortable they were. I could bend and shift things, but some things don’t and can’t change. The best example of this is on the island of the yahoos and Huhuneem. The feral yahoos are black and Gulliver spends quite a lot of time trying to figure out if they are human or not. It would hardly make any sense that magically they would have changed colour and were now Caucasian, Asian, or any other. That led to an uncomfortable bit where I had to figure out how to handle that without making it seem that black people are somehow inferior to others. The original book has some pretty crazy racist overtones that I wanted to avoid duplicating if possible:

These differences are common to all savage nations, where the lineaments of the countenance are distorted, by the natives suffering their infants to lie grovelling on the earth…

Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (1726)

Recognizing the need to respect the original, but certainly not willing to repeat 18th century attitudes was a challenge, and I needed to study the book and what people thought of it. I read several reviews and commentaries about the book and wrote pages of notes. I wrote about the meaning of various metaphors from the book and made sure I fully understood the contents therein. I compiled a comprehensive stack of notes about each chapter, location, the geography, politics, characters, themes… everything that I could gather to make sure I respected the immutable boundaries. I still wouldn’t claim to be an expert on Gulliver’s Travels, reading a few websites doesn’t really make anybody a qualified expert, but I feel that I was at least a competent reader.

The Plan

Once I had the research completed and the compass provided by the foreword, I started to plan out the rest of the contents of the book.

I had a small black notebook from SAIT, a local college, and I just started writing out ideas. I carried the notebook with me everywhere. I’d jot down ideas while on the train, when waiting for something, at work when I had down-time while a model or program was processing or code compiling. I read a number of comedians’ books who say they just note any funny thought when it came to them, even in the middle of the night. I considered that, but if I let myself dwell on current events and politics too much in bed, I don’t sleep. If I couldn’t carry the notebook around, I used a website called dynalist.io to keep track of ideas.

Author-drawn map of Loogenage, closely based on original map of Luggnagg

First I wrote out each of the islands that would be visited. In 1726, Japan was an exotic place, barely more real than the fictional islands of Gulliver’s Travels to the majority of the potential readers. Most of them would never have an opportunity to visit Japan and it was included in the book, I believe, to lend some realism to the story. In today’s world, Japan ought not be treated with the same sort of fictional brush that was presented in Gulliver’s Travels, so I included it only as a passing mention. In fact, there are few places of the earth, accessible today be a plethora of modes, that one might consider to be so exotic as the fictional lands of Gulliver’s Travels. I chose to focus all but the intermediate steps on the islands of the original. As one of many twists, I decided to have my character visit them in reverse order. Another twist that I added was to recognize that a 18th century ship’s surgeon from England would like pronounce and spell words differently, so names like Luggnagg, Houynhhnms, and Blefuscu would necessarily be spelled differently by my main character.

Island Overviews

The first notes about each island are humourously short. Two or three sentences that only describe the most significant thoughts, themes, and changes from the original.

Character Development

Next I constructed the main character. I prepared a backstory, gave him some depth, education, family, etc. I made a special note to myself that he has not read Gulliver’s Travels. I treated this as flexible, but a guideline I would use while writing, and updated as something in this character guide needed adjusting to fit the narrative. It was important that when writing I didn’t accidentally describe the main character as uneducated in one chapter and later a scholar, for example.

You’ll note that I never wrote the main character’s name in the planning. I didn’t have a plan for that. I didn’t like anything I came up with, so I just kept referring to him as “C” in my notes for main “C”haracter. Ultimately, this played an important part when I eventually had to name in while writing.

Causes of Stranding

The next part of the plan involved figuring out ways that the main character would get stranded upon these islands. In the original, it was pretty much shipwrecks and sea-related maroonings. In today’s world, this doesn’t seem a very reasonable expectation of an average guy. Unless I made him a sailor, which would have put me in a difficult position, as I’m not a sailor and have little experience in that area. Most international travel is by plane, so I needed to study aircraft, crashes, and reasons why a plane might go down (without immediately and necessarily killing everybody on board.)

The End

Next, I wrote the end of the story. I follow the mantra, “Start with the end in mind.” I think this comes from Covey. Anyway, if I don’t have a target, my writing meanders without meaning and goes nowhere. I won’t write about the details, but I was very specific about what I wanted to happen with the main character, what he would have learned, and how he grew. A little laugh though, after writing the book, I didn’t feel the ending reflected the tone and I completely changed it.

Layout

Next, I basically wrote the framing for the story. I planned out each act and chapter, I wrote what effectively became the subtitling for each chapter. “The author brings together artists and creative minds…” Then I started adding details about each chapter. I would write key ideas and points to highlight, satirical elements, and deeper considerations. The layout became my step-by-step guide for the actual writing. The layout consists of thirty pages of notes and reminders so that I didn’t accidentally paint myself into a corner, or contradict myself. When it comes to writing, this layout made it far simpler to maintain the storyline and just focus on using literary devices, language and quality.

All together, I filled up an entire notebook before I wrote anything other than the foreword of the book. Thorough planning was crucial to keeping me on task.

Next Post: Writing

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I hope that this section on planning 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!

Learnings from book writing/publishing

As I celebrate the 1st anniversary of On Swift Wing’s launch, I’m going to try to post once each day about each element of the book writing and publishing industry, starting with my original thoughts and ideas going into the things that I’ve learned. If anybody is interested in writing their own books, hopefully this will be valuable information. Of course, you can always reach out to me as well, I’m an open book… if you’ll pardon the absolutely intentional pun.

  • Planning
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Cover Design
  • Publishing
  • Launching
  • Marketing
  • Reviews
  • Awards

If there is anything else about which you’d like to know more, just let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

I’ll try to target one subject each day, but cover it with as much thoroughness as possible and as much meaningful insight as I can whip up.

Everything will be done through the lens of my first novel, On Swift Wings, which is available at stores both online and physical everywhere.

I’ve also made the first five chapters available for free:
https://brettwiens.com/part-one-the-island-of-the-huhuneem-and-yahoo/

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