Sunday, January 27, 2013

A tip for writers going the self-pubbed route

From a glance at my Goodreads lists or my book review blog, it is obvious I read. I read A LOT. Over time, I have noted some concerns I've seen committed repeatedly in some of the self-published books (or in some cases, independently published through a personal or small press) I've read or stopped reading for various reasons. So I've compiled a list of what authors need to think about before releasing their baby into the world. This is only for writers thinking about self-publishing their novels.

1) Share, share, share. Join a critique group and make sure you gel with the people you work with. A harmonious group not only puts you in a better frame of mind, it shapes your work. I can't begin to list the number of times my writer's group family has caught my errors or silly little mistakes. They are invaluable.

2) EDIT. Revise. Proofread. Then edit again.  If you can afford it, please have your work professionally edited. Nothing will stop me from reading to make a note on my e-reader than seeing grammatical errors, misspellings, awkward sentence construction, too many adverbs and repetition. We are too close to our own work to see some of these flaws so let someone find them and help tighten up the writing. 

3) Beta reader, stat! One, two, three, whatever number works for you, let someone read your work and offer their commentary. I don't mean your hairdresser or Aunt Josephine, choose someone who reads in your genre and appropriate age group. An outside pair of eyes can help.

4) Cover art is IMPORTANT. Paperback, hardcovers and e-books, especially with e-books, don't skimp on the cover. The cover is the door to the world you've created. Treat it accordingly. In a very crowded market--growing more crowded every day--make your work stand out. Pre-made covers can be purchased online for as low as $40-$50. Shop around. Don't use cheesy photos, ugly colors and horrible fonts. Good and great cover art can be THE deciding factor when someone is about to hit the "purchase" button or take your book off a shelf.

5) Kill the cheese. When writing your book blurb, do not go the route of cheesy phrases. Don't compare your book to a blockbuster title. Don't tell how we're supposed to be feeling while reading. Don't tell us your book has earth-shattering sex, a love to end all loves, or will make you grip your seat. Please, please, please, don't do it. This just sounds tacky and lame and I won't pick up your book. Leave the cheese to bad sales people. Let your WORDS show us your story, not you.

6) "I, I, I..." If you're writing in first person, be careful of the trap of "over-doing" it. Paragraph after paragraph of your main character thinking about something (feelings for a guy, an event, a problem) quickly crosses territory into the land of telling too much. I notice this in YA books and it drives me batty. Show us through dialogue, don't stick us in your MC's head for too long and don't bring in the backstory this way either. Proper placement, time and showing will make reading your story a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

7) Scrutinize the entire page. Take a good look at your pages. See those pages with only two paragraphs on each one of them? Look them over again but this time view them as your reader would. Do you need those blocks upon blocks of exposition or character introspection? Break it up, especially if you're writing YA or MG. 

8) It's called "plot." You may have a good story idea but it's not a book until it's been written properly and has a plot. Study and read about plotting a novel then map yours out. You don't have to follow Freytag but your story should be plotted out. 

The three best books on plotting I've read are:
  • The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson (get the workbook too and check out her YouTube videos); 
  • Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein;
  • and Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) by James Scott Bell. 
The resources are available. Borrow them. Buy them. Use them.

9) Check the list. Is your dialogue age appropriate? Do you have conflict? Does the story flow? How about pacing? Plot? Voice? Rhythm? Sentences vary? Don't forget about the fundamentals of writing.

10) Format properly. Don't give us pages of italics. If it's a dream or past memory, cut it, space it out, don't have three, four or more pages of italics. 

11) The "WTF/WTH?" moment. The door opened and then? He told her what? The car skid? Make your reader say "What the heck?" and KEEP on reading. Vary the endings of your chapters. End on a cliffhanger. End with a teaser. Variety works. 

12) Speak the words. Go to a quiet place and read your novel out loud. Listen to how it sounds. If you trip over something, look it over and re-word. A line not sound right? A conversation goes on too long? Cut. Fix. Do over. It's surprising how different your story sounds when it's read out loud.

13) Make your characters REAL. Sounds like common sense but when I read a contemporary YA and the female MC has flaws and the MC doesn't, what's wrong with that? I don't believe it. Perfect guys or girls do not exist. If your MC does everything well, that's boring. It is okay to suck at something.

14) Change caps. When you're ready to publish, put on your social media cap and start promoting your book. Don't be afraid to use some of the numerous online book tour companies available. Check out a bunch, look at the types of books being promoted, the graphics the company uses and read the content of the touring host blogs. Touring is a great way to get the word out. Begin with a "cover reveal" and then pay for a tour or two. Keep the momentum going. Book bloggers love books and can be so vocal about their passion for books they love. 

What I don't like to see during a tour is when an author imposes a specific rating system. The general rule is to post a review if it's three stars or higher--that's the norm and it's fair. The author is paying for publicity. If a blogger doesn't like the book, they can run their review after the tour ends. But when an author only wants four stars or higher ratings, that raises my eyebrows. Some may view it as being egotistical, I view it as something else I won't share right now. 

Establish relationships. Be available. Converse. And always be aware of what you say. Nothing can be covered up once it's gone viral. Host giveaways, make sure you have a presence on Goodreads, have a Twitter account, join the social media outlets. That's the world we live in and authors have a lot more work to do after they publish.

15) Thick, thicker, thickest. Make sure you have thick skin in place after your book is set free in the world. Reading is subjective. People will love your book. People will hate it. Trolls exist in the virtual world. Avoid them by every necessary means. Do not engage them so they go into full blown attack mode. Defend your work only when necessary, not because you don't agree with a review. Most reviewers post their comments to help an author and to share their opinions with others. Accept criticism and move on. If you can't, then DO NOT read the reviews. Not everyone will like your book and that should be O.K. Nurture the fans who LOVE your book.

So this is my list. I hope it helps. 

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