3 things you need to earn notices, publish, and write

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sailing-boat-640There are three assets anyone needs for a career in books. See, you’ll craft a writing career out of your writing life. First you have a writing life, personal and intimate and regular. Then you move on to a writing career. Maybe not full-time, but you consider it your primary work.

The three assets are publicity, patience, and practice. Whether you choose to work with a publisher, a coach, or an editor—or strive to become one—those are three essentials. But no matter where you’re at in your career as a writer, using these three tools is crucial to finding the Joy of Writing. Sailing at the center of your journey of joy is help.

As you move into your career as a writer you’ll need publicity. At first that will be earning attention for your own work or the writing of your colleagues. Getting fluent with Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, mapping the landscape of book review websites, plumbing publicity portals like BookBub and Bookbuzz— it’s all essential to publishing yourself. However, in time, you might be inclined to form a publishing venture, at first limited to yourself and few fellow writers.

Publishing can become the province of writers when they collaborate on its business. The flavor of the business day is to corral experienced writers with popular backlists of books, and then get these authors the money they deserve. After all, traditional publishing’s payouts are changing. An author in this kind of boutique press will learn the publicity world to succeed at this venture. Such boutique publishers might even discover more great books, ones that couldn’t find a publisher, and build careers for the undiscovered authors. Very nice work indeed. Getting notice for good work is the heart of publishing.

That leads us to another kind of help: assisting creativity. This is the aid which demands patience. While an author is building skills and polishes their own books, there are opportunities to reach out and help other writers. You might be doing beta reads for your friends’ full drafts, or even catching typos in a late-stage revision of a book. Given enough of this patient work, you may hear a calling to coach writers—that’s where the asset of patience pays off. Coaches guide writers to develop books and edit the text. The level of accountability for a coach can feel greater than one for a classroom teacher. Students pass, they fail, they rate a teacher up or down in surveys: that’s what’s at stake while teaching. Sometimes a teacher only gets three or four hours in front of 30 writers and never sees their writing.

In contrast, during coaching the author will look a coach in the eye (if they use FaceTime, or they meet in a coffee shop) and say things like “Explain why I can’t have three first-person points of view for this cozy mystery.” A coach takes a breath and does their best–and later evaluates the writer’s next set of pages to see if the advice helped the author. That counsel is powered by the talent of the author and that writer’s willingness to put in the hours. You must become the hard-working author who loves to put your early efforts well behind you. Plenty of teaching happens via email and Track Changes.

Of course practice, the third asset, helps everything improve. Practice makes doing the work easier, too. (Okay, at least you don’t need as much effort to finish a section or an assignment.) In the beginning of an editor’s career the books take longer to edit well. After a decade or two of reading the writing of others and then making it better, everyone’s time is better used. The editor returns drafts with development notes sooner. An editor who can coach will have seen more styles, as well as become more practiced at preserving a writer’s tone and voice.

fathers-day-buzzNear the end of the movie Genius, the legendary editor Max Perkins expresses the editor’s worry. “We might not be making these books better,” he says. “We might just be making them different.” Your editor is your collaborator in writing, an art that people believe is solitary work. Lately a few publishers have begun to give an editor a credit on the book. Buzz Bissinger’s memoir Father’s Day is called An Eamon Dolan Book, right out on the back cover. Eamon is Bissinger’s editor, collaborating with him on three books so far. Buzz gives him fulsome praise in the acknowlegements.

With Eamon as fastidious editor and wordsmith (some chapters had more of his comments than they did my own words), what began as an earnest and rudderless first draft became a book.

An Eamon Dolan Book sounds like “A Steven Spielberg Film.” It’s Buzz’s book, yes. The collaboration was powered by publicity, patience, and practice. The first feels like magic when it works. But it’s earned by applying the other two in order to create something worthy of public notice. Buzz admits his fine memoir was rudderless, but at least it was moving. Patience helped him steer the story. Practice, of course, was the wind in his sails.

When to Get Your Developmental Edit Done

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Professional editors advise writers to have their books edited. In fact, just about everybody in the industry will tell you an outside edit is essential, no matter how experienced you are. It’s not news that editing is needed to make a good book, one which sells instead of languishes on Amazon or in the publisher’s warehouse. Or in your hallway, if you’ve ordered your own pre-printed books.

What might come as news is when editing is needed, and what kind of editing comes first. Copy editing (sometimes called line editing) is not the first step to a better book. Developmental editing leads the parade to publication. Sometimes it’s called structural editing because the focus of developmental editing is the order of story in the book, as well as what it contains.

Characters are often developed as a book is written, but thinking about who’s in the story and why is a serious advantage to an author. It might seem like time better spent creating a draft. But character selection and development is crucial to keeping your creation time to a draft as short as is needed. Nobody wants to labor over and over to polish up and flesh out characters who will drop out, or end up being bit players in your story.

Developmental editing is as essential as developing photo film for pictures. Yes, taking pictures now requires no film. But photography has changed. Storytelling has not, and your development work builds your story. First you develop, and it’s almost impossible to do this on your own. If you have a professional beta reader, you can rely upon them. By pro I mean someone who’s seen a book to publication, and received editing along the way.) A friend who loves your writing may not provide enough help — even if you can get them to read every word.

An author came to me with a draft that brimmed with more than 80,000 words, a book in progress that already had been through a copy edit. While that work made the draft better, the book needed more work on structure and character. That copy editing was performed on thousands of words that were going to be cut, changed, or moved. Copy editing: essential, yes. But later. One high-flying story guru advises that the beginning of writing a book is the best time to develop it.

Lisa Cron’s written Wired for Story and other story structure books. She shared a tale about a writer who arrived in Cron’s inbox with 60,000 words completed. “I wish I could have been of help,” she told the author. It seemed too late in the game, especially if a writer thinks clean prose = finished book.

Self Publishing: Even with a network, you must invest in your process

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Third in a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

A book is an effort of mighty collaboration. It probably doesn’t seem that way while you’re alone in your chair with the door closed on your writing space, revising what’s written or facing the blank page with your visions. But it takes a village of helpers to make a book. As a self-publisher, you will learn to rely on many people.

Viral-Times-gasmask-cover blogIn my acknowledgements for Viral Times, I listed 17 people who had a direct contribution to my debut novel. From early reading groups, where the content editing was free, down to the creative coaching, editing and proofreading, and finally to my most trusted reader Abby — my wife and the inspiration for the book — there were many people to rely upon.

Finally at the last, just before my proofreader Leslie Nail and my printer’s account manager Terry Sherrell helped make these words ready for press and ebook, my beloved bride Abby read through these people, the places and all the dreams that she has inspired and nurtured. Making a book can feel like making a movie once you write down all the names who have midwifed it. It’s been my joy to deliver this story at last—and also as the first book in my life as a novelist.

The first book in that life required an investment in paid editing, in due course. For me it was content editing and  proofreading, but for some writers you might get content editing for free — if you have experienced writers or language arts teachers in your network. But nearly everyone needs to pay for copyediting. Altogether the editing is probably going to look like $3,000 in budget. It did for me, and I applied my 30 years of copyediting to my final draft before Leslie Nail took after it with “light copyediting” alongside her proofing. The book contains about eight errors anyway, but that’s out of 98,000 words. No typos — but I can live with that percentage.

Guy Kawasaki, one of the founding Apple Computer gurus and now an expert on SelfPub, wrote a superior book with Shawn Welch on the creative magic of making your own book. In APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; How to Publish a Book, there’s good advice on editing: It’s a stupid mistake to skip paying for the work, done by a pro.

The third challenge is figuring out how much to pay a content editor. The going rate for content editors is $50 per hour. Figure that content editing will take 20-30 hours, so you’ll be spending $ 1,000-$1,500 for these services. The going rate for copyediting is $35 per hour, and copyeditors can work their magic at the rate of roughly 10 pages per hour (although this can vary depending on the complexity of the material), so you’ll pay approximately $ 1,000-$1,500 for a 300-page manuscript. This is one of the dumbest places to try to save money, because poor copy editing destroys the quality of your book.