A Professional Editor and the Indie Author

I am contemplating self-publishing, and one of the things I have considered is hiring a professional editor.

But I can’t afford it.

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Yeah, about what it feels like

Yes, yes, I hear many of you now saying, “of course you must hire an editor. It’s how you get your best work.”

I’ve heard this refrain a lot, and I mostly agree. But I still can’t afford one.

Let’s do the math together.

Most content editors charge anywhere from $0.01 to $0.03 per word. If you calculate that out for a 75k romance novel, that’s anywhere from $750 to $2,250. The higher end of this is more than I gave for my first car. I get that they’re spending a lot of hours on the process, so the price is the price. Line editors are around the same cost-per-word from what I’ve gathered as well.

I understand these people are putting forth hours of effort and are probably (depending on the editor) worth it. But, I maintain the indie model can’t really support it.

Most indie published books sell around 250 copies over the life of the book.

No, I’m not missing a zero there.

If you price your book at $2.99 and sell 250 copies, the total gross made by the book is $747.50. Yeah, not enough to pay for a single edit by the least expensive editor. And let’s remember, the author doesn’t get the full $747.50. Depending on where they sell it, they can expect about 80% of the total. The percent they get drops if they ever discount the book to $0.99.

So, assuming the author keeps it at the $2.99, and sells all 250 books at this price, they are looking at $598 in lifelong earnings. I’m not even going to bother discounting this for the time value of money. Because really, it’s not worth it.

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Okay, forget I mentioned the time value of money.

But, but, but, you say. My book is going to do so much better! I had an editor.

Okay, I hear ya. Maybe it will help. And giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will say you do two standard deviations better. You sell 500 books at $2.99 each. You’re still looking at total author earnings of $1,196. Barely enough to pay for the base editor.

And the chance of selling that additional 250 books? Depends on the standard deviation to the mean, which I don’t have the underlying data to calculate, but given the standard bell curve, we can assume it grows increasingly less likely.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Still, there are other expenses like marketing, book cover, etc. that also need to be considered beyond just editing. And, that’s assuming you’re looking to just break even and not make anything for the time the author devoted to writing the piece.

This doesn’t mean don’t hire an editor. If you can afford one, do it!

But what this usually means for me is when I can’t afford to have a professional do a job, I learn to do it myself. Like back when we first bought our house and I learned to paint a room and lay Pergo flooring.

I’m working on perfecting this process, but it does make a sound argument for trying to publish via a traditional route, if for nothing more than the professional editing.

But if it doesn’t work out, and I do go indie, I’ll look forward to the day I can afford an editor.

Consume vs. Create

It’s so much easier for me to consume than to create.

I think we can agree that it’s easier to sit down to a delicious supper than it is to make one. Easier to wear a clean shirt than do laundry. And it’s easier to read a book than to write one.

You’ll note from the number of book reviews lately that I’ve been doing a lot of reading. As a writer, you’d think that would be a good thing. Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s a symptom of a much nastier beast.

The decision to consume someone else’s work rather than make my own. And, I’ve been consuming a bit of it lately. Some of it’s good, some of it’s not, and I have been trying to make a point of figuring out what works in the different novels I’ve been reading. That’s one of the reasons I write the reviews.

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I’d love to say that while I’m reading, I’m also taking time in the same day to edit. But that’s not true. I have a limited amount of non-work, non-kid time. If I’m reading a lot, you can guarantee its cutting into my writing time. Or devouring it altogether.

I could say I’m toying with ideas. That would be true. I have ideas for two more stories percolating. But that’s not what’s consuming my time.

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I could say I’m listening to my muse, studying steamy scenes, or any number of other things. But, they’d be lies. The truth is that I really don’t want to edit my story. The POV edit for a book is brutally hard. Harder than any other edit I’ve done, except the last POV edit. Does it need to be done? Probably. I mean, yes.

And maybe therein lies part of the problem. While my brain knows I need to do the rewrite, my heart is a little bitter. I still read authors who write with the POV I did on this novel, but they’re best-sellers, and I’m not. They get to do it, and I don’t. So does it need to be done? Yes. Do I want to do it? No. And there’s the difficulty.

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If we boil it down, it sounds an awful lot like procrastination dressed up as research. Because of course I have to read books in my chosen genre to become a better writer when I should be editing.

Yup. Procrastination.

Sneaky little sucker. Apparently, the brain can trick you into procrastinating, making you think you’re doing something else.

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But, this rewrite won’t write itself. I’ve already put so much into this book, I can’t leave it as electrons in my machine. The hero is one of my favorites I’ve ever written, and he deserves his story told and his happily-ever-after.

Back to the grindstone. Giving myself a deadline on Crowned Prince (possibly renamed to Dracor’s Chosen) really has helped. Perhaps I should draw a line in the sand and say I’ll have Knight of Valor’s POV rewritten by September 1st. There, I said it.

*gulp* Time to edit. Right after I finish Dracor’s Chosen. Still have until the end of June…

 

How about you? Ever had procrastination hide as something beneficial? Or do you always know when you’re procrastinating? Do you find it easier to consume than create? Maybe you like editing more than I do?

 

Endings Suck

As humans, we aren’t really wired to cope with endings. For much of human history, food was scarce and predators a very real threat. We had to seize the moment. Eat whatever food was available. Fend off immediate threats.

Think about it. There are no “good” endings.

  • The end of a relationship, even if we’re the one that ended it.
  • The end of a candy bar
  • The end of a book
  • The end of life itself

While ending a book isn’t anywhere near as epic as the end of life itself, a reader has invested many precious hours of their life into what I’ve written.

They deserve a good ending. When they don’t get it, fans riot.

Remember Mass Effect? If you never played it, many of the fans of the game were angry at how the writers ended the trilogy. We’d invested ourselves in three full games, only to be cheated at the end.

I suspect they ended it the way they did to lure players into a MMO that they were planning.

Instead of launching that MMO, they ruined their brand, and many players, myself included, haven’t touched the game since.

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As an author, ending the story is as important as beginning it. Maybe more important.

If the writer kills off the characters to get that ending, don’t expect to see me investing my time in another one of their books. I don’t just expect happily-ever-after, I demand it. This is my escape. If I want sad, I have the Economist for that.

I’ve heard the excuses:

  • But it doesn’t give me the impact I want. I need a Romeo and Juliet ending.
  • I have a message, a happy ending doesn’t convey it
  • But some stories just don’t have a happy ending
  • I need a jump-off to my next novel (which is a fast way to make me angry. Give me a whole story, a complete story, and let the next book(s) stand on its own)

 

My response to these excuses:  Get more creative.  I want better. I want an ending worth the time I invested.

With these thoughts in mind, I started to edit the ending of my current novel. After a couple of hours, I knew the ending sucked. Not Mass Effect sucked, but it was still bad.

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My beta reader was right. It needed something more. Something epic. A man has to choose between right and wrong, and his choices dictate not only his life but that of a kingdom. This should grip the reader and make them anxious before resolving it.

I cut over 8,000 words. That’s 10% of my novel. And I started over to write a better ending. To write an ending that would make the reader do a fist pump. To write an ending worthy of the time the reader spent in my world.

Yeah, it’s hard to cut that many of my darlings. Again. But I hope it’ll be worth it in the end.

 

How about you? Do you prefer a happy ending? Do you demand it? Ever do a massive rewrite and watch a huge chunk of your story disappear behind the Delete key? Ever have to rewrite a whole ending?

 

 

Top 7 Things to Focus on When Editing

I’ve talked to you about my first drafts and how they require a great deal of editing. I think most novels require some level of editing after they’re complete.

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As much as we’d all like to produce J.K. Rowling or Stephen King level work on our first draft, I have yet to see someone who does. I try so hard not to cringe when I hear a writer say they’ve just finished up, they’re going to take a look at it, and then self-publish.

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As I am working through this first rewrite, there are 7 things I really focus on:

1. Beta reader Comments – this isn’t entirely fair as I don’t even let a story out to Beta readers until I’ve done a revision or two. But once I do send it out, I take their comments very seriously. These are no people who’ve spent months with these characters in their heads. They frequently see things more clearly than I do as I sometimes get lost in the trees and can’t see the forest.

 

2. Characters – this is where I spend the lion’s share of my time. I’ve put together a lot of stuff on heroine analysis herehere and here. And on heroes here and here. During this first revision process, I know my character a lot better than when I was writing them. They’ve shown me more. I’ve been with them all the way through the end of the story. Seen their foibles, felt their fears. Seen them succeed or fail. I know a lot more about them, and I can bring that back through the whole story. Here are a few things I consider:

  • Do I like the hero or heroine? If either are unlikeable, time to rewrite. And no, this doesn’t mean they need to be “perfect”. Truly likeable characters seldom are.Is what the character doing within their personality?
  • Are they making choices true to them? For example, is the British spy-master forgetting who he is and what he does to marry a woman being manipulated by a French spy-master. Please, please, please tell me no. Or go back and rewrite it.
  • Do their words in the dialogue sound like them? I still struggle with this, but a prince and scullery maid should not be using the same words.
  • Do I want to see them get what they want? Will the characters getting what they want give the reader that happy smile that says “I just read a great romance novel”.

Invariably, I answer “no” to some of these things, and that means rewriting. Sometimes it means changing the characters early on in the story, and that usually flows into changes later.

And that means the ending must change. *sigh* Perhaps with practice, I’ll get better at getting the characters right earlier in the writing process and not have to scrap the last 10-15% of the story.

 

3. Point of View –  This is an area that an editor corrected me on. Once, romance authors were allowed to go back-and-forth between the hero and heroine’s point of view in the same scene. Best-selling authors and authors who started when this was allowed are still allowed to do this. Those of us that are trying to break into the genre aren’t. Changing the point-of-view and making sure I stick to it has been one of the most difficult aspects of rewriting for me.

 

4. Plot – A lot of this is taken care of by character actions. But, I want to make sure things are logical and consistent.

  • Is anything happening that appears weird, unusual or out of context?
  • Am I keeping things happening at a realistic but not boring clip? This should be true for the external plot as well as the romance itself.
  • The romance is the main plot. But I can’t tolerate lack-of-communication or stupidity, so it has to be real things keeping the characters apart.
  • Is it engaging? Do I want to know what happens next?

 

5. Descriptions – My first draft is pretty bare bones. What will ultimately be a 75,000 – 85,000 word novel starts out at around 50,000-60,00 when I’m done. Why? Because I’m so busy getting things done in the story that I skip right over descriptions. My first draft sort of takes place in a void. Yeah, there are occasional descriptors, but nothing that pulls in the reader with sounds and smells. Maybe even tastes.

 

6. De-Clunking –  Revising clunky words or phrases and streamlining the actual words themselves. This takes a larger chunk of time than it looks, but it’s important that the story reads well/

 

7. Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling I don’t bother much with this in the first edit as so much that’s going to be rewritten, I wait and save this revision for prose I’m pretty sure isn’t going to just get cut.

 

How about you? What’s your rewriting/editing strategy? How do you tackle it? What do you look for first? How long do you wait after writing the first draft to start revising it?

The Joy of . . .

Editing. You knew I was going to say editing.

After working through my latest book, I now have three in various stages of editing. While I thought I was to the finish line with Knight of Valor, some feedback I received on point-of-view is going to require a massive rewrite. Not in my bag of tricks at the moment. I am too invested in these characters still. Maybe not good, but I have other choices.

So that leaves the story I just finished or Crowned Prince. I’ve learned I can’t edit well when I’m too close to the story, and I’ve really only gone through Crowned Prince three times.

Some of you may write a pretty awesome first draft. That would not be me.

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Yeah, kinda like this.

 

I’m somewhat amused by non-writer friends who think a revision requires some fine-tuning of spelling and punctuation. While that might have worked for their college term papers, I want so much more from my writing. After all, I can’t think of a single college term paper I’d have spent precious free-time reading.

Rewriting, as hard and messy and unpleasant as it can be, has a certain joy of its own. You get to watch your half formed lump of clay look a little more like David and a little less like that play-doh project your toddler made.

Crowned Prince is in decent shape, but I need a more epic ending according to my beta reader. I get it, and I agree with it. The ending did feel rather taped on after all the other events of the story. I sometimes fall down at the end in my early drafts, and I need to clean that up.

I also need to work through point-of-view issues. Easier for me to do in Crowned Prince for some reason. Fortunately, I got that advice before I started my third novel, so the POV in that will be easier as it was written to follow the “new rules”.

So there it is. My project over the next few weeks (months?). Last time I delved into editing, my daughter was diagnosed with some medical issues. I didn’t have it in me to give the editing the full attention it deserved. I did get through it, but not the way I should have.

So, time to start again. And let’s hope this time it goes a little better.

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How about you? Does your first draft require a lot of editing? They say writing is rewriting. Have you found that to be true? Any tricks you use in your rewriting or editing process?

 

Held Together With Paperclips, Clothespins, and Craft Wire

I’m sure there are some people out there that can put together an amazing first draft.

I am not one of them.

Mine looks more like this:

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Yep, novel I finished looks pretty much like this. If you look closely, you can pick out the knight and wizard. Look close. Very close.

Yeah, not exactly the image of the chivalrous knight in shining armor or the powerful prince in line to be king.

How did I end up here instead of with a smooth refined work?

It’s a first draft, and I don’t do much editing as I write because it slows me down. I need to write while my muse is whispering to me. Let the creativity flow. I managed to put together 60,000 words in 6 weeks following this method. Yes, it needs rewriting, but I have a starting point.

Revision pulls out my analytical side, and this crushes my creativity. So, when my first draft is done, my work is held together with a lot of paperclips, clothes pins, and craft wire.

Yes, I can already hear many of you now. Write an outline! Not sure an outline would help my first draft get better, but . . .

Outlines Don’t Work for Me

I know, blasphemy. Almost every bit of writing advice I’ve ever heard has included this. I have yet to make it work.

I start with an outline for a story. I’ll even do character sketches and map out their arcs, blurbs for secondary characters, the whole thing. But I’ve never finished a story I first outlined.

The more I try to force myself to outline, the more rote and dry the story feels until my creativity has abandoned me and my writing feels about as interesting as eating sand.

This is my analytical side shining through. Once that comes out, you aren’t putting it back without a fight. My day job demands I be analytical, methodical, and precise. That side of me has been well-honed.

If you invoke that analytical side, I will follow that outline at hell-or-high-water.

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Maybe not that high of water . . .

I tried slogging through and forcing myself to stick to the outline on four different novels. I now have four half-finished books that will probably never be completed. Unless I run out of ideas and make myself go back to them.

I have since learned to let the story morph. To let it go places I never intended and watch my outline crumble.

Watch characters change in ways I never expected. Watch them reveal things about themselves that crushes my Author-God plans and means a rewrite must happen in the beginning to lay the groundwork for it. Or possibly a bigger rewrite as the character I planned to write is not the one that exists in the story.

I try very hard to turn the Author-God mode off and let things flow. Yes, it creates rewrites later. But at least there’s a finished version to rewrite.

I’ve come to accept that rewrites just are.

We’ve all got our process, and mine doesn’t have to mirror yours. It’s about getting it done, and I’m sure as I get more experience, my methodology will change.

 

How about you? Do you write polished first drafts? If so, what’s your secret? Do you write outlines? Do you stick to them if you do?

 

Me and My Big Mouth

Ever say something you wish you could take back?

Most of us do, and this happened to me the other day. Don’t even remember where it came from, but I said I had managed to put 50,000 words on the page for a new story in a month. I figured another 10,000 words should take me to the end of the first draft (I write skeletons, remember?).

My muse heard that, because of course she did, crossed her arm over her chest and flew away.

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In case anyone’s seen mine.

I am not sure what to do to convince her to come back. Perhaps she needs me to eat a bag of oreos while trying to finish the chapter I’m working on, knowing full well I don’t like oreos.

Not sure what her demands are as she’s made herself rather scarce.

It’s not writer’s block because I can still make some headway, but it’s not the magical page devouring progress I was making.

And no, I know better than to take a break and wait for her to come back. Uh-uh. Played that game and lost more than once.

So, time to apply bottom to chair and bleed out as many words as possible.

Perhaps when she sees I’m sincere, she’ll return. If she doesn’t, I’ll scratch out the rest of the words to the ending of the story the hard way. Even with her inspiration, when it comes time to edit, there’s no easy way about it.

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But if you’ve seen her, please tell her I’m sorry. I’ll shut my mouth until the book is finished, and she’s booked her vacation to Cancun while I start the revision process.

 

How about you? Have you ever lost your muse? Why? What did you do to get him/her back?

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

Yes, I am ignoring the fact that it’s Halloween. That I will most likely be spending the evening trudging through the brutal cold of the Great Lakes region at the end of October with a child dressed in a costume designed for Florida.

Instead, I’m focusing on this being the eve of NaNoWriMo 2016. This stands for National Novel Writing Month. This is the month were writers attempt to produce 50,000 new words in 30 days. That’s roughly 1,700 words a day.

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Many who will take part in the challenge have already begin plotting. Putting together their outlines, character sketches, and world maps to be ready for tomorrow. Some even clean the house, do laundry, and stash away frozen meals in preparation for being devoted to writing for the month.

I, however, have done none of those things. And not just because I have a spouse and two small children.

I will not be joining you this year.

I will be finishing up my last project which will equate to about 60,000 words in 6 weeks. Roughly 1.4k words a day versus the 1.7k NaNoWriMo wants. Might not be at the NaNoWriMo pace, but not too bad. And I kept my sanity.

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Instead, I will be making a concerted effort to rewrite and revise the three (yes three) novels I’ve completed and make them publication ready. My goal is to try to take these the traditional route through an agent and a publishing line like Avon.

I really want to join NaNoWriMo. I want to experience the camaraderie. The joy of making something new. But I also need to get this editing done. I need to have my books in a state where I can query them and try to get them out into the world.

What I really need is NaNoEdiMo National Novel Editing Month!

 

6 Reasons We Don't Take Good Advice

Whether romantic advice, career advice, or financial advice, there are a a slew of professionals out there that offer it . Some free of charge. Some we pay for. Yet, I (and I suspect many of us) are not always good at taking it.  Even advice we’ve paid for.

How many stories revolve around a hero or heroine not wanting to listen to their aunt, brother, sister, mother, uncle about who the right person is for them? Especially if it turns out that person was right?

After doing some digging, here are the reasons I’ve come up with:

1. The Advice is Bad – We’ve all been given bad advice, even by a professional.Sometimes it’s because we haven’t given them the whole story. Sometimes because they don’t understand. And perhaps sometimes because they really don’t know.

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Tried this. It didn’t work. Co-workers looked at me like I was from Mars.

2. The Advice Conflicts With What We Want – I know i’m guilty of this. Not one, but two financial advisers told me not to try to pay off my mortgage as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to hear them. I lived through the Great Recession and remember how much belt-tightening we had to do to get through it when our primary income was cut by 50%. I don’t ever want to go through that again.

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3. Discouraging –  You see this less with professional advice as they are (usually) in the business to help you succeed.

4. Gut Instinct Takes You Another Direction – This is so nebulous, but sometimes, you just know something is wrong. It intrudes on your thoughts during quiet times. You find yourself mulling it over again and again. I have no idea what gut instinct is, (although I suspect it’s your brain working on a problem in the background) but it seems to be right most of the time.

5. It Differs From Other Advice You’ve Gotten – This is always difficult, especially when you’ve gotten advice from two professionals or two very trusted friends/family members.

6. Anger – Or other negative emotions make us much less likely to take even good advice. Here are other good reasons from real psychologists. Granted, these are mostly work related, but they could be applicable.

 

I guess this means I need to look at Point #2 and reconsider the advice an editor gave me on my manuscript. Just because I don’t want it to be true, doesn’t make it wrong.

 

 

How about you? How willing are you to take advice? What makes you willing or unwilling to take advice? How about offer it?

Let It Go

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Now just imagine a crystal palace at the top.

As I’m working on going through DDs clothes and toys, I’m struck by sadness and a little bit of waste as I give away beautiful outfits that she’s outgrown. Some still with tags on (she was a very late walker and couldn’t wear dresses and crawl).

But unless divine intervention undoes medical intervention, we won’t be having any more children. So, we no longer have a use for rattles or tiny little dresses.

With a bit of sadness and the hope someone else will enjoy the fact I loved playing dress-up with my daughters and bought them way too many girly dresses, I box them up to give them away.

It’s never easy, but I do it because there’s no point in keeping clothes that can never be worn again or toys that’ll only collect dust.

If only I could do this so easily with my writing.

I’ve heard Stephen King’s advice to “kill your darlings,” but for me, it’s more than just that.

Its one thing to cut words, it’s something else to cut chapters, a whole character, or the entire ending.

Yet, it’s still just as necessary as getting rid of old clothes. There’s no more point in having my story cluttered with ill-fitting characters, scenes or endings than there is keeping newborn clothes for my toddler, no matter how much I love those tiny overalls or Rose-printed dress.

While the concept is the same, the execution is vastly different.

I am 40,000 words into my third book (I know, I know, I should concentrate more on publishing what I have, but that isn’t fun). I was working away when I realized a scene I was writing would involve the hero and heroine apart for the next several chapters. By and large, that’s a quick way to annoy your Romance audience. The romance between the characters has to come first, the plot, while important, plays a back-up role. Read a handful of reviews on Amazon, and you’ll see what I mean.

I had written myself into a corner. I either had to separate the hero and heroine or I had to rewrite. In a first draft. Ugh. But I cut over 2,000 words and rewrote them. Back on track, with a little more clutter gone.

It’s pretty easy to know what fits your child and what doesn’t. It’s a whole lot harder to quickly see what works in your novel and what doesn’t. But once I do see it, I can’t un-see it. I try really hard not edit as I write, but sometimes it just happens.

In this case, I’m glad I rewrote now or the whole ending wouldn’t needed a full rewrite. It’s kind of like taking the cute dresses back once you learn DD isn’t going to be walking anytime soon.