No matter how many grammar books you read and how often you reread your manuscript, you will want to hire a professional editor for your manuscript before self-publishing it.
For those on a tight budget, I suggest checking out the website Upwork. It has thousands of freelancers and you can search by skills, rates, test scores, and regions. Upwork is very user friendly, and it takes less than half an hour to set up your profile and post your project.
Upwork will ask you how much you are willing to spend, and potential candidates can filter you project by this category and other factors. If you see a particular freelancer you wish to work with, you can invite him to your project. If not, sit tight. In less than a day, you should expect to receive at least 15 to 20 responses.
Besides a cover letter, you can see how many jobs each interested freelancers has performed, how satisfied their clients were, whether they have worked on projects similar to yours previously, and what their scores were on grammar and punctuation tests.
In addition to this, Upwork has a wonderful customer service that will assist you with any queries.
The downside of using Upwork is that a lot of times you will get people who are trying to make quick money and are doing this job on the side. Many freelancers will do the minimum of work required to satisfy you.
Unlike agencies, who put a lot of effort into maintaining clients, freelancers might think more short-term and try to take on as many projects as possible within a week or a month. This in turn means that they will earn more money, but that your project will receive less time and attention.
When thinking about cost vs. value, you want to check how many rounds of edits are included. You might think that the agency is charging way more than a freelancer, but you are actually receiving more value if the agency reads your work twice and offers advice on the edits you’ve made. Freelancers don’t have to look over your work a second time. And if you want two sets of eyes, you will have to hire two freelancers.
At an agency you won’t just see an anonymous portfolio, saying that a freelancer completed project XYZ. Most agencies will tell you what type of books they have edited, and you can check out those books on Amazon or other online stores to get a feeling for the quality of the performed work.
Whether you decide to go with an agency or a freelancer, make sure you ask for references and a sample edit. In a sample edit you will submit the first few pages of your manuscript and it will be edited for a set fee. I suggest sending the first three chapters to 3-5 people. This will give you a good idea for how well, in-depth the agency/freelancer is, allow you to properly compare you hires, and determine which is the best fit for you. You should also be able to gauge a general turnaround time and how much of a priority you are for them.
Below I’ve created a list of questions you should ask somebody before hiring them for an editing project.
- What type of books have you edited in the past?
- Do you have experience in my genre? How vast is that experience? It makes a difference whether someone edited 1 vs. 50 fantasy books.
- What is the price of your services? Do you charge per hour or per word?
- How quick is your turnaround time?
- If you write a series, you might prefer to work with the same editor on all the books. Ask whether they would be available to do so. An editor who is familiar with your work will be able to point out inconsistencies in a series.
- How many rounds of edits will you perform? Do you provide a second set of eyes? This normally applies only to agencies. If you hire a freelancer from Upwork or a similar site, you will have to hire a second freelance editor to perform a second check.
Whatever route you decide to take, make sure you leave enough time between the editing process and the submission process. If you’re using Amazon’s pre-order option, set a deadline for yourself that is realistic and includes buffer time for emergencies, sick days, etc.
The Secret Circle meets Sookie Stackhouse in this pulse-pounding, fast-paced paranormal series.
Torn away from her high school graduation, Sierra Reeves discovers that everything she thought she knew is a lie.
In a flash, she’s no longer a normal girl preparing for college, but a Fluidus—a rare supernatural with telekinetic powers. Her new abilities attract the attention of both the Ardere regency and the Culpatus, a group that wants to overthrow the supernatural government. Fearful for Sierra’s future, her grandmother decides to leave their home state Vermont and hide out in Savannah, Georgia.
In Savannah, Sierra forms an alliance with the overprotective and handsome Ardere marshal Gavin McLoughlin. With his help, she slowly accepts her new powers and that she’s a part of the supernatural community.
Just when Sierra begins to settle into her new life, her world is rocked again. In addition to the Culpatus discovering her location, a serial killer is on the loose in Savannah.
Fighting to control her developing power, and facing danger on multiple fronts, Sierra will have to use all her resources to stay alive.
Fluidus Rising is the first book in The Ardere Series.
Available on Amazon
Those of us that type a lot will most likely encounter wrist pain or strain at one point or another. When writing a detailed outline for one of my books, I found myself typing over 7k for several days. I was proud of the amount of work I had completed but the progress came at a price. My right wrist and finger joints began to ache. Below I’m going to share what has helped me to recover from the pain.
First of all, let me say that I was typing away at an 11 inch MacBook Air. I’ve chosen this particular laptop since it’s small size and light weight made it very portable. Unfortunately its small and thin keyboard forced my wrists into an unnatural position and didn’t provide much support for my joins.
After much research on ergonomic keyboards I’ve decided to purchase Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboard. It is slightly elevated and the keys are split in the middle. Both allows for a more natural wrist position, thus relieving some of the pain. The adjustment time was fairly quick and one month later I’m very happy with my purchase.
However, the first few days after straining my wrist, I needed something to alleviate the pain. Futuro does great wrist supports that doesn’t constrict your movements and still allows you to type comfortably. Futuro products can be purchased at drugstores and supermarkets and can be washed if needed.
While I have tried a few pain alleviating crèmes, I wasn’t too happy with the results. Personally, they didn’t do much for me and I didn’t enjoy the tingle. I also didn’t feel comfortable relying on them long-term.
What made a big difference however was purchasing a hand therapy exercise kit. It came with three balls of different firmness and instructions on how to perform eight simple exercises. I found it easy to integrate those exercises into my daily routine and strengthen my wrists and arm muscles.
If you suffer from wrist pain, don’t ignore your symptoms. Listen to your body and find ways to alleviate the pain. Consider an ergonomic keyboard, wear a temporary wrist brace and strengthen your forearm muscles.
Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend the Tallahassee Writers Conference (TWC). In this post I will highlight my main takeaways and whom I think the conference is best suited for.
TWC started at 8:30am and ended at 8pm on Saturday the 22nd of April. Lunch and dinner included a keynote, where authors shared their inspirational success stories.
The presented workshops were equally divided between writing advice and marketing advice.
Perhaps most useful for beginning writers were the introductory workshops on the YA and Mystery genre, as well as a workshop on how to improve writing style.
For those interested in technical aspects the conference covered how to format a self-published book and use Scrivener.
TWC also provided a lot of information on marketing, highlighting that marketing is no longer only relevant for self-published authors but also critical for indie-published and even traditionally published authors. Topics discussed included how to manage time and goals, how to get reviews, and how to make your book stand out.
Thus a wide range of topics was covered making the conference a great event for both beginning and advanced writers.
I attended mostly the marketing workshops and would like to share my top 3 key takeaways.
The importance of reviews:
The best book, blurb, cover and title won’t make up for lack of reviews. Even if your book is free potential customers want to see that it is worth their time. Always ask for reviews and give incentives if possible for readers to leave reviews (e.g. send them a free short story or enter them in a prize draw)
The importance of category:
First, determine what genre your book fits into, and then try to find a niche. It is much harder to be a bestseller in a competitive, general genre, rather than a niche genre.
Think outside the box:
Physical and online bookstores aren’t the only place where you can sell your book. Consider public libraries, cafes and other places, especially if they have something to do with the setting of your book. For example, if your novel takes place in a state park, why not ask the welcome center of said park to carry your book? The worst that can happen is they say no.
Overall, I enjoyed TWC. Due to the wide variety of topics covered, I would recommend this conference to both beginning and advanced writers of all genres.
Most writers do a good job keeping track of the protagonist, the love interest and the villain. Secondary characters—not so much. As a novel unfolds, it is not uncommon to find that secondary characters disappear to only reappear when it is convenient for the writer. These sporadic appearances not only feel unnatural and forced, they can potentially destroy the plausibility of the story.
It might be tempting to save time and energy on developing the plot lines of secondary characters, particularly if you have an impending deadline. However, secondary characters can make or break a book, they contribute to the believability of your story and most importantly they provide your hero with interpersonal conflict.
In order to have strong secondary characters, start by creating character sheets. Your secondary characters should have goals, fears, and unique characteristics, even if they won’t be fleshed out quite as much as with the protagonist and the reader won’t get to see all the reasoning behind their actions.
After you’ve done this, create an excel spreadsheet to track what chapters each of your secondary characters shows up in. You want to avoid introducing secondary characters in the beginning that mysteriously disappear in the middle or end of your novel, making your reader wonder why he bothered investing time into the character. You also want to avoid introducing a critical player in the last quarter of the book. If you must, you should at least heavily foreshadow the newcomer in the first three quarters (e.g.: through letter exchanges or flashbacks, if no direct interaction with the protagonist is possible).
The spreadsheet should also help you to cut down on unnecessary characters or merge them (e.g.: the sister could also be the employer of your protagonist). Too many characters might confuse your reader as well as divide empathy too much.
Additionally, the spreadsheet will help you identify whether your subplots revolving around other characters are well developed. Each subplot should reach a conclusion at the end of your novel to provide closure for your reader.
Finally, the spreadsheet will help you notice whether the goals of secondary characters are clear. Just like in real life, each person has their own motivations and goals. In novels, these goals often either coincide with the ones of the protagonist (making the two allies) or are the opposite (making them enemies).
To summarize, secondary characters can contribute or detract from a novel, they provide the protagonist with conflict and help to move the plot forward. Character sheets for every secondary character are essential to ensure they are well developed and their actions justified. To ensure that the characters don’t appear “convenient”, it is a good idea to create a chapter-by-chapter spreadsheet and keep track of how often and when each character shows up. This way it will be easier for the writer to gauge whether the subplots are well-rounded and not lose track of the goals of each character.
In today’s post I’m going to argue in favor of a shorter word count for both chapters and overall novel length.
First of all, I would encourage writers to familiarize themselves with the average word count for novels in their genre. If you’re thinking about submitting your novel to a particular publisher, you might even be able to find specific guidelines for that particular publisher online (e.g. Harlequin’s website is very explicit on what the word count should be depending on the genre of your novel).
At this point, you might argue that many successful series feature novels much longer than the average length (e.g. Harry Potter or Glass of Throne). While a longer novel doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t sell, you should be aware that longer books tend to be sequels. The first Harry Potter and Glass of Thrones books are on the upper spectrum, yet stayed under the 100k mark, which is considered acceptable as the upper limit in YA Fantasy.
Publishing houses are inclined to give preference to shorter novels, which take up less shelf space and thus allow for more novels to be displayed and subsequently sold.
But even if you plan to self-publish, you should strive to keep your novel tight and at the expected length of your genre. Why? Because of your reader. It is safe to assume that your reader is a busy individual, who has other hobbies and interests besides books. Given a choice between a 300 page, concise book that jumps straight into the story, or a 500 page book with lengthy descriptions and subplots that distract from the main story, which one do you think most readers will choose?
Personally, I would choose the former one. Most books that go over the suggested word count do so, for the following reasons.
You want to jump straight into the main story/adventure. For backstory, always ask yourself whether it’s necessary for the reader to know to understand the novel. If the answer is yes, work it in smoothly via internal monologue and dialogue.
Yes, you’ll need some to give the reader a sense of time and place, but the reader doesn’t need to know every last detail, especially if the location is generic and only used for one brief scene.
Lengthy and/or circular internal monologues
While it is important to provide a glimpse into the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts, don’t beat the reader to death with it. Also internal monologues should only be used when something important happens that moves the protagonist, not constantly.
Dialogue in novels should never be idle chitchat. Each word and each gesture in dialogue should have a reason behind it and justification for its existence. Dialogue is action-reaction, like a good game of tennis. It should convey motivation, personality of the characters, background information and move the story forward.
Ending chapters too late
Most books don’t end too late, since authors are aware that after the climax the resolution and thus the ending follow. However, it is not uncommon to find books where instead of ending the chapter on a new revelation/question/cliffhanger, the author goes on and on, with pointless dialogue or internal monologue.
Dragging endings do not only add to your overall word count, they might even cost you your reader. Think about it, have you ever put a novel aside, because the chapter dragged on, without anything significant happening? I have. Novels on the other hand with quick chapters that have snappy endings, make me always turn the page and I end up reading more than I planned to.
To summarize, whether you plan on the traditional route or self-publish, keep your novel within the expected genre length. If you struggle with a hefty word-count, ensure that your novel starts by jumping straight into the story, your chapter endings are snappy and your dialogue, internal monologue and descriptions are justified.
Ever started out with an idea of telling a story that spans several years, perhaps even decades? Or a story that is set all over the world? As brilliant as you think your idea is, books without time and/or place boundaries are problematic. They either confuse readers due to their many time and scenery jumps or bore readers with mundane travel experiences and day-to-day activities.
While there are exceptions to every rule, most successful novels operate in one place and have a tight time frame.
To the new writer this might appear as a creative restriction, yet that is not the case. Paradoxically, boundaries can help creativity flourish as they allow the writer to focus on one major concept instead of getting lost in time and space.
I will illustrate my point by first discussing time. Whether you’re writing a family drama or a novel concerning an immortal supernatural it might be tempting to have it play out over decades to show the full sphere of events. In theory this is a good idea. In reality however, allowing a story to play out over decades often leads to a lagging middle saturated with banal events and/or several confusing time jumps.
Thus, most successful novels span a few days to a few months. That doesn’t mean that they neglect prior events. Quite the contrary, the past often shapes the behavior and reactions of the characters and drives a significant chunk of the plot. Important bits of the past are incorporated through internal monologue, dialogue and vivid yet brief flashbacks.
For example in Downtown Ghosts series by Stacia Kane the main protagonist Chess is dealing with her addiction, navigating between two rival gangs and trying to have a functioning romantic relationship. Chess’s actions and reactions, thoughts and feelings are largely influenced by her brutal childhood, which she spent bouncing from one foster family to the next, who often treated her with cruelty. Instead of starting with Chess’s childhood or her training as a church witch, Stacia Kane begins book 1 ‘Unholy Ghosts’ with Chess’s drug dealer blackmailing her into doing a job for him. The job leads to Chess meeting Terrible, the first man she connects with emotionally and who makes her question her behavior in relationships and her drug use.
When we examine space it becomes clear that most novels take largely place in one location. Even in the classical fantasy tale the ‘hero’s quest’ is restricted. The protagonist progresses in a natural way through space, without jumping from one place to another.
The reason for having a ‘main base’ in your novel and not beginning each chapter in a new location is to avoid reader confusion and endless, boring travel passages. Scenes of travel are not necessarily bad, but they need to be infused with drama. Whether it’s time pressure, an escalating fight or two passengers wanting to kill one another.
You might think one location constricts your novel to an overall theme, but if you dig deeper, I’m sure you’ll find this is not the case. For example, a suburb is just as much the perfect setting for thrillers and mysteries as it is for romance and paranormal stories.
Changing the time of the day and/or the season can immediately transform your setting. For example, mountains on a warm spring day are an inviting and safe place, a perfect way to start a romance. But what if someone gets stuck on a mountain in the middle of a snowstorm with a stranger that might be a potential killer? Romance would shift to Suspense as is the case in ‘Chill Factor’ by Sandra Brown. The story largely takes place in a village at the base of a mountain and in a mountain cabin. Sandra Brown manages to convey in this scenery every emotion, including fear, hope, tension and love.
To summarize, I would encourage writers to view time and space boundaries as a positive constraint. They don’t hinder creativity. Instead they make your story stronger by forcing you as the writer to be more creative within the boundaries and dig deeper.
A sense of relief fills writers after they finished polishing their first draft and hand it over to beta readers. Both excited and fearful of feedback, most writers hope that the reader will make minor yet genius suggestions that are easy for us to fix and will make our manuscript that much better.
But what do you do if that is not the case. What if the feedback is pertinent to a deeper issue? Perhaps your main character’s goals are not clear or meaningful enough? Or your first five chapters have nothing to do with the main story and are a boring set-up? What if your middle is dragging?
Sure, you could perform a quick fix, inserting a line here and there, changing a few scenes. This approach might work for certain manuscripts, but in many cases it won’t. It is not an appropriate response when multiple beta readers agree that there’s a significant problem with a chunk of your manuscript or all of it. If this happens, you as the writer will most likely enter the dreadful re-write territory.
Re-writing the whole novel or large chunks of it is daunting. It will require lots of energy, time, and patience. But fear not, you can come out the other side with your sanity intact, increased confidence in your writing’s skill and most importantly with a stronger manuscript.
In order to do so, I would like to propose a few do’s and don’ts.
Let’s start with the don’ts:
- Do NOT delete your original manuscript. You might think it’s useless today, but will you be of the same opinion a month from now?
- Do NOT make changes in the only copy you have. Save your previous manuscript, renaming it something like ‘first draft’ to psychologically commit yourself to a re-write.
- Do NOT jump straight into writing. This applies even if you outlined the original manuscript. Before you write create a new chapter-by-chapter outline.
- Do NOT discard everything about your novel. Re-read your feedback. Your beta readers might’ve disliked the middle of the novel, but that doesn’t mean you have to scrap all characters and create new ones or invent a different resolution.
Now that we’ve covered the don’ts, it’s time to cover the do’s:
- Do ask your critique partners why they didn’t like certain aspect. You might assume they disliked the middle because it dragged, while they actually disliked it because it was too action packed, not allowing them to connect with your protagonist. Or they could’ve disliked it because it was confusing; the main plot became a subplot, etc.
- Ask your critique partners for suggestions. What do you think should I do instead of XYZ and why? You don’t have to follow their advise to a T, but this will give you a good understanding of what direction you could take your novel to make it stronger.
- Do create a new chapter-by-chapter outline. Compare it with the old one, to ensure you kept the good bits and got rid of all the problem areas. When you’re done, send your outline to your critique partners and get their feedback on it. Keep this as brief and clear as possible. Always be respectful of other people’s time.
- Start writing. Keep your outline close. This way you’ll remember all the points you need to include for new scenes and what old scenes you can recycle.
- Don’t give up when things get though. The first draft wasn’t a piece a cake, right? So why should this one be? Frustration is good; it makes us want to do better, it spurns our creativity and influences the end results in a positive manner.
- Don’t set unrealistic deadlines. It might be tempting to assume that your re-write will be that much quicker than a first draft. After all you already know your characters and some of the plot stays the same, right? Wrong. Not only will you be writing new scenes, you will also have to locate old scenes and recycle them appropriately. In addition, incorporating feedback and being more conscious of your audience will demand time. Finally, while a first draft is all about telling a story, a re-write is about taking this story to the next level and making it better—meaning your expectations toward yourself as a writer will be that much higher.
- Keep a positive attitude. I have found that the saying ‘it’s always the darkest before dawn’ is especially true when it comes to writing.
I hope you’ll find my do’s and don’ts helpful in your re-write process and wish you all the best with creating a stronger manuscript.