Author in Training: On High Volume Publishing

I started thinking about self-publishing Red and Black about a year ago. And because I didn’t want to completely fail, I researched the topic by checking out different podcasts, blog posts, and books. If you look into indie publishing for long enough, you’re bound to pick up on certain trends. One big one is the importance of having a mailing list to communicate with your readers. Another common piece of advice, not just in self-publishing, but in publishing in general, is the idea the success requires patience. People who make a big splash with their debut are very much in the minority. For most people, a solid career is something that is built up over many books, over many years.

As the rare sort person who enjoys her day job, I’m fine with keeping the writing a side hustle. But looking towards the future, I must admit that the idea of only juggling one career holds some appeal to me. This means that I am particularly interested in interviews with authors who have found a way to make writing their primary focus, especially those who have managed to make the transition in only 2-3 years, as opposed to say, a decade. But I can’t help but pick up on the fact that pretty much every indie author who has managed to make this transition has done so in a very specific way. Which is, to speak plainly, by writing and publishing a shit ton of books.

I’ve heard a lot of numbers thrown around. That the most ideal schedule is to publish something every thirty to ninety days. Some authors have found success in saving up about five books, then rapidly releasing them over a month or two. Or people who put out a new book every four weeks. Sure, in some cases those “books” are more like novellas (like the four week example I just mentioned). In other cases though, we’re talking about full length novels, ranging anywhere from the just-barely-a-novel size if 50k, to “holy epic fantasy, Batman!” page counts. That’s right, multiple door stoppers a year.

I can totally see how this high volume method of publication could be successful. Of course, to start off with, you need to write something that people actually want to read. Writing and releasing five books a year that no one gives a shit about isn’t going to help you at all. But some of my favorite author do this quite successfully, like Seanan McGuire, and Kelley Armstrong. I may struggle to keep up with their output, but clearly plenty of people are not only buying their books, but are eager for more.

Unfortunately, when it comes to little old me, I know that there is no way in hell that I could write that many books in a year. Red and Black took me YEARS to complete, after all. And yes, part of the reason why it took so long is because I was working on other projects as well (including the next two books in the series!). You could make the argument that, had I been more focused, it would have taken a lot less time, and you’d be right about that. And if we’re speaking purely in hypotheticals, I suppose it could be argued that if I was writing full time, I would be more productive overall.

But we’re not living in a hypothetical world, which means that I need to be realistic. So while the high volume model seems like a way to shorten that path to success, I know that it’s just not for me. Instead, I’ll be taking the path of patience, and focusing on the fundamentals: making Red and Black (and it’s sequels) as high quality as possible (still on track for publication this summer!), and trying to reach as many potential readers as possible. I can’t wait to see where this road takes me.

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Author-in-Training- How I Used Reedsy to Find Editors for my Indie Novel

Last month, I talked about three different kinds of professional editors you may use as an indie author: developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. For Red and Black, I knew I wanted both a copy editor and proofreader, but when I began my self publishing journey, I found myself at a loss. Being new to the process, I felt like I was ripe for being taken advantage of. An editor may have a nice website, but what did that really say about the quality of their work? Hiring a professional editor isn’t cheap after all, and that’s because it’s important. Wasting my money here could result in putting out a sub-par book to the masses, which is the last thing I want to do.

Which brought me to Reedsy, a website I first found out about from The Creative Penn. Reedsy is a marketplace where writers (mainly indie, but traditional as well) can solicit the services of editors, and designers (including cover art and typography), as well as publicity and marketing experts. You can also find ghostwriters and web designers. The site is highly curated, only accepting the top 3% of applicants, so you know that people coming into Reedsy have already been vetted. On top of that, users provide reviews of their experience on a five-star scale. So if anyone’s been a problem in the past, you know about it.

The way the website works is pretty simple. You head over to the Marketplace section and let them know what you’re looking for. For example, when I was searching for a copy editor, I was able to specify that I was looking for someone that had experience with urban fantasy, which is what my superhero book most resembles. I must admit, when I did my first search, I was just a wee bit disappointed. Only eight results? Fortunately, once I actually dug into the recommendations (each editor has a profile that displays a resume of sort, including previous works), I felt much more positive. One of the benefits of being so curated is that all of the results were high quality. I didn’t have to dig through piles of garbage in order to find gold.

From that point, you can select up to five people that you would like to work with (I chose three). You’re required to fill out a quote that includes some pretty basic information, like word count, genre, and what kind of a timeline you’re working on. In addition to that, attach a sample of your writing (the first 3000 words, if I remember correctly). Once the sample edit is complete, the editors will send it back to you, alongside a suggested price and time frame. You pick the one (if any) you think will work the best for you, and then your off! The money is automatically charged to your credit card on the agreed upon dates (the payments are usually broken up over the course of your collaboration), and the rest of your communication happens through the Reedsy messenger function.

So the question remains, what did I think of the experience?

Petty damn good! I’m happy to report that I found both a copy editor and proofreader. Both were friendly yet professional, communicative, and really knew their stuff. The website itself is super easy to navigate, and the payment process was error-free. I really liked how they sent you emails a few days before your credit card is charged. The editing process can take multiple weeks, meaning you might forget when that payment is supposed to come out. The extra heads up was a nice touch and is indicative of how the site wants to create as smooth of a process as possible.

There are a couple of drawbacks, from what I can see. For one, the process of hiring professional editors is expensive in the first place, and Reedsy does charge a ten percent fee on top of that. So if you’re struggling to scrounge together the money, then that additional fee may prove to be a bit much. Also, on the boring adult front, the topic of taxes doesn’t appear to be addressed anywhere on the website, which is really something I should have figured out before hiring anyone. Ah well, plenty of time to straighten that out before tax time.

Ultimately, I was really happy with my experience with Reedsy, and I will be using the marketplace again in the future. If you would like to try out Reedsy, please consider using this link. Reedsy isn’t sponsoring this post or anything, but for everyone I bring on board that hires a professional, I get $25, which is sure to be super helpful!

Reedsy is a great service, that addressed many of my concern as a new writer. I hope you will find it just as useful.

Author in Training- Real Advice from Real Indie Authors- The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast

A couple weeks ago, I talked about my favorite self publishing podcast, The Creative Penn, which was pretty influential in convincing me to go indie. However, it’s far from the only writing/publishing podcast that I would recommend. Today, we’re gonna talk about another one: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast.

Hosted by a trio of indie authors: Lindsey Buroker, Joe Lallo, and Jeff Poole, the aptly titled podcast focuses on the topic of marketing science fiction and fantasy books. The show typically follows an interview format where they speak with indie author who write book in SFF subgenres (including military sci-fi, urban fantasy, and alien romance). Occasionally, they break format and have an entire episode where they talk about their own recent marketing successes/failures and answer questions.

I think the thing I like the most about The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast is the variety that can be found in their interviewees. Often with these types of podcasts, the people that are being interviewed have been successful for a long time. And that makes sense! They have the most experience, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to self publishing, if you’re a new author trying break into indie world, what worked for someone 5-10 years ago, isn’t necessarily going to work now. The landscape just changes too fast. But on the SFF Marketing Podcast, they often interview people who have successfully launched careers just in the last 2-3 years. Admittedly, talking to less experienced authors can mean that they’re also not as experienced with being interviewed, which can result in the occasional bout of awkwardness. Still, getting to hear these new success stories are valuable nevertheless.

If you’d like to try out the podcast here are a few recent episodes that I have found interesting/helpful: Ep 178: Making Good Money with Serial Novellas and YA Fantasy with Sara K.L. Wilson, Ep 173: From Indie to Hybrid, Six Figure Audiobook Advance and an $80,00 Kickstarter for a  Novel, and Ep 162: Finding Success in a Niche, When 99-cents Novels Make Sense, and Bucking Cover Trends with Amanda Milo.

April in Review + Farwell Camp NaNoWriMo!

April Posts
1. March in Review + Camp NaNoWriMo Begins!
2. Game On: Ready Player One Review
3. Nice Dragons, Collapsing Empires, and Musical Holograms: My Favorite Books of Winter 2018
4. Thoughts on Camp NaNoWriMo
5. Rodent-Based Crime Fighters and Super Administrators: Our Favorite Superheroes
6. Author-in-Training- Alpha Readers v. Beta Readers v. Writing Groups
7. Author-in-Training: Self Publishing Advice for Your Earbuds- The Creative Penn Podcast
8. Author-in-Training: Three Types of Professional Editors for Indie Authors
9. Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly Reviewed
10. Marvel Movies Ranked (Includes Infinity War)

April Reflections
Hello everyone and happy spring! That’s right, the last scrap of snow has melted from my backyard, I’ve put away all of my sweaters, and have washed my ski parka for the year. All telltale signs that we managed to survive yet another Maine winter. April also brought us Easter and this, combined with a mini road trip I made mid month, meant that I got to spend more time with my family, which I don’t do as much as I should. It’s one of the perils of adulthood. You spend your teens trying to get away from your parents, and then once you’re old enough to appreciate them, life gets in the way. On the more negative side, there have been some medical issues involving a couple of my in-laws which remain unresolved. I’m not sure how next month will go, but I’m praying that things calm down a little bit.

On the writing front, April was a real education for me, as it was my first time participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, and my first time writing a novella- a retelling of the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. As mentioned in my Thoughts from Camp NaNoWriMo post, although the writing itself went nice and steady, I kind of struggled with it. Due to being a n00b with the novella format, I really didn’t plan things out as well as I should have, and knew that I either needed to majorly cut things down, or expanded them to tell a bigger story. Ultimately, I decided on the later, which is why my 20k novella ended up being just shy of 40k, and took until April 25th, when I wanted to have it done in the first two weeks of the month.

I ended up going back into the manuscript and adding/rewriting a couple of chapters (a big no-no for NaNoWriMo!), and discovered another major issue. Being a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, I was writing it like it was a romance, but found that the relationship aspect wasn’t progressing along at a swift enough pace. Part of this could be due to the fact that prefer slow burn relationships, but main issue was that my “Beauty and the Beast” retelling wasn’t really a romance at all. Instead, it was more of a gothic/haunted house story, which also pulls from the original tale. Once I realized this, I figured out how to fix a lot of the issues that were nagging me, but then other problems ended up emerging. My rough drafts tend to be pretty rough, but this one is extra rugged.

Which leads me to an important question. Is it worth bringing this novella through the revisions process? Turning it into a finished product would take a lot of work that I could be spending on my Red and Black series. Sure, I have a lot of affection for the characters and the world I created for the novella, but I don’t know if anyone else would. When most people think of “Beauty and the Beast,” they expect a story about the transformative power of love, and the benefits of looking past the physical to see true worth. And well, my (not-so) little novella isn’t really about that. So is my “Beauty and the Beast” story worth revising, or should I just consider it a learning experience? I guess we’ll see.

Camp NaNoWriMo ended up leaving me feeling a little drained, both emotionally and creatively, which is kind of par for course for me when it comes to drafting a new project (albeit usually longer ones). As result, I haven’t been as focused on blogging/writing as I normally am over the past few days, and to be honest, I think that might be okay. I’ve been relaxing by playing an old favorite video game (Banjo-Kazooie!) as a bit of a mental break before I really dig into the final edits for Red and Black.

Speaking of which, in April, I received my final edits from my proofreader! This means that Red and Black is one step closer to finally being published. But I can’t celebrate quite yet. There’s plenty of work left to do, after all.

Monthly Goals
In March, I set multiple goals for myself here on Picking up the Pen. On the writing front, I wanted to complete Camp NaNoWriMo-which I did. On the blogging front, I had responsibilities for Speculative Chic AND for this blog, resulting in a total of nine posts. I actually surpassed this goal with ten posts, which is pretty great. And on the publishing front, I wanted to select potential cover artists for Red and Black. And while I’ve started that process, it’s far from done. So I’m not comfortable calling that one a win yet.

Here are my goals for May:

  1. Writing– Complete final edits for Red and Black
  2. Publishing– Select a cover artist for Red and Black and begin process of acquiring artwork
  3. Publishing- Research ebook formatting (I will likely be hiring someone for this but would like to be more educated about the process)
  4. Blogging– post 9 entries on Picking up the Pen. This includes what looks like five Speculative Chic entries.

Phew! Looks like I have another busy month ahead of me. Wish me luck!

Author-in-Training: Three Types of Professional Editors for Indie Authors

Last week, I talked about three different types of first readers-alpha readers, beta readers, and writing groups. These are great (and free!) resources that I used to help get my novel, Red and Black, to a higher level of quality than I could achieve on my own. But even after seeking advice out from friends and colleagues, Red and Black still wasn’t in a publishable state. For that, I needed professionals.

You may find yourself wondering why. I mean, my first readers were all kick ass. Why did I need to pay professional editors to mark up my book even further? This has a lot to do with the nature of self publishing. As indie authors, we are expected to perform all of the steps that would normally fall to a traditional publisher. And traditionally published works go through multiple layers of editing, both with the writer’s agent, and the publisher itself. And just like how most of us non-artsy folk wouldn’t consider opening up Photoshop to make our own covers, unless you know the Chicago Manual of Style front to back, you really should hire a professional to do your editing. And even if you do have a pretty good grip on the rules and regulations, you still should consider hiring some sort of professional. Once you’ve read over a manuscript dozens of times, little things like misplaced commas and repeated words just don’t stick out like they should.

There are a lot of different types of editors out there, but for the purpose of this column, I’m just going to go into the big ones: developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. What you chose is going to depend on your experience as an author, and the needs of the manuscript in hand.

Here’s the breakdown.

Developmental Editors– If you’re new to writing in general, then you’ll probably want to consider a developmental editor, who can help you with large concept issues such as plot structure, characterization, pacing and flow, and how your book fits into the expectations of your genre. The software of your book rather than the nuts and bolts. Developmental editors typically jump in after you’ve done drafting and some editing on your own, but I’ve also heard of editors that provide assistance even earlier in the writing process. As far as the cost goes, like with all professional editors, it can really vary. One numbers I’ve seen thrown around in multiple locations is 1-3 cents per word, but given that I did not use a developmental editor for Red and Black, I cannot confirm this. So don’t be surprised if I’m a little off on this one, money-wise.

Copy Editors– Copy editors bring things to a more technical level, being concerned with grammar, punctuation, and word choice. All the small things that are likely to trip up your reader. My copy editor was also really good at pointing out repeated words, capitalization errors, and the fact that my word processing software had inserted the wrong type of apostrophes. She also commented on POV slips, and a few pacing issues. Even after having multiple people go through my book (including myself!) I was shocked at the amount of errors she was able to catch. Most resources I’ve checked report that copy editors typically charge between 1-3 cents a word, and this lined up with my experience.

Proofreaders- This is the stage that I’m on right now! Proofreaders take care of the really nitty-gritty stuff, such as misplaced commas, capitalization errors, and any spelling/grammatical problem that have managed to slip through. Just because your copy editor didn’t notice them, doesn’t mean a random reader won’t. I’ll never forger reading one of the early Harry Potter books and discovering a case were Professor Snape had been shortened to “Snap.” I’ve heard it say that proofreaders typically charge up one cent a word or so. This has lined up with my personal experience as well.

If it’s your first time thinking about professional editors you’ve probably taken a look at the costs provided above, done some mental math based on the word count of your novel, and are now quietly (or not so quietly?) weeping into your hands. Yes. Hiring professionals to edit your novel is awfully expensive, and is one of main reason why it took me so long to come around to self publishing. After all, I don’t usually write in the nice, compact 50-60k range you’ll see a lot of self published novels settle into. 90-100k all the way!

But despite the shock of seeing my savings account dramatically decrease, I have yet to regret the money I’ve spent on my professional editors. After all, I want people to take me seriously as a writer, and the best way I can communicate that is with a book with a high level of polish. And while the numbers may seem high for something similar to what your beta readers do for free, you need to keep in mind what you’re really paying for. Not just the hours they spend combing through your manuscript, but for all of the experience they’ve accrued over the years to get to this level of expertise. And that’s worth something.

“Okay, okay, Nancy,” you may be saying. “I’ll consider it, but where do I find these people?” As with much in this digital era the answer is, “the internet!” A lot of freelance editors have websites where they list their clients, costs, and availability. Which I, as a newbie indie author, found completely overwhelming. This is why I ended up using Reedsy, a curated website of professional editors, cover artist, formatters, etc, as a resource. If you’d like to check them out, their website can be found right here. If you’d like to learn more about my experience with Reedsy specifically, I am planning on writing up a post with more details in the upcoming month. Please considering subscribing to my blog to learn about this in your email. There’s a handy dandy link on the left hand side of my home page for that.

But until then, I need to dive back into these edits. It’s back to the world of misplaced commas and stray grammatical issues for me!

Author-in-Training: Self Publishing Advice for Your Earbuds- The Creative Penn Podcast

A little while back, I talked about why I decided to self published Red and Black. One of the reasons I didn’t mention is the influence of the The Creative Penn. The Creative Penn is a weekly podcast created by indie author and entrepreneur Joanna Penn (who also writes under JF Penn). Each week, she covers information related to self publishing, the craft of writing, and life as a writer.

Most epiosdes have a pretty standard format. After a brief introduction, Joanna gives a personal update where she talks about her books, conferences or travel she may have undertaken, as well as any other relevant information to the podcast or her writing. Next, the podcast goes into self publishing news, which I oftentimes feel is the most important part of the podcast. The world around self publishing is constantly changing and updating, and Joanna does a really good job on staying on top of things. The episode then segues into an interview where Joanna speaks with either an author who can disperse device, or an entrepreneur with a product that has proven to be useful to indie authors.

Admittedly, interview based podcasts don’t always work for me, because so much hinges on the quality of the guests. Fortunately, Joanna has a knack for picking really good ones. It was during one of these interviews where I found out about Reedsy, which has helped me find multiple professional editors for Red and Black. In addition, Joanna herself has a really warm and inviting personality that really draws you in, and I think results in some really high quality interviews.

If you’d like to check out The Creative Penn, then I’d recommend subscribing to the show on your podcatcher (here’s the iTunes link!). Some recent episodes that I have found interesting include: “Creative Lessons from Screenwriting with JF Penn” (posted on 3.26.18), “How to Write High Volume Fiction in a Sustainable Way with Toby Neal” (posted on 3.12.18), and “How to Write Emotion And Depth of Character with Becca Puglisi” (posted 2.12.18).

The Creative Penn is a great resource for anyone looking for a high quality, free resource on self publishing, and the fact that it’s in podcast form makes it extra convenient. I love listening to it while I’m on my daily walks. Knowing that Joanna is a big fan of walking always makes it feel extra appropriate!

Author-in-Training- Alpha Readers v. Beta Readers v. Writing Groups

I’ve been working with a editor to bring Red and Black up to snuff for publication this summer. But before I even considered hiring a professional, I hit up my friends and colleagues for feedback. The reasons behind this were simple. For one thing, it was free. Secondly, I didn’t want my editor to spend her time fixing problems that I could have either done on my own, or with a little help from my friends.

If you’re looking to publish, I’d highly recommend seeking outside feedback first. The key is finding out which type of readers are right for you and your project. For Red and Black, I utilized three types of first readers: alpha readers, beta readers, and a writing group.

Alpha Readers
Alpha readers are the first people that you allow to see your book, as it’s being written. So as you might expect, for me, this took place waaay back during the early drafting of Red and Black. My reader, in this case, was my husband (thanks, Love!), and he didn’t do much “reading” at all, as I read the first several chapters aloud to him. Fortunately for him, it wasn’t rough draft quality. I had gone through each chapter and cleaned things up a bit, but it was certainly a long ways away from being done.

Because of the rough quality of my work during this phase, I wasn’t looking for an in depth critique. Instead, I was looking for a sympathetic ear to let me know whether or not things were working, and if there were any red flags. And sure, maybe that “sympathetic” part makes me thin skinned, but I was still in the process of writing the book, and therefore in a more vulnerable state than usual.

Other writers do alpha readers a little differently. Sci-fi/Fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal actually distributes her works in progress to readers, via patreon, which feels incredibly brave for me.

Regardless of how you do it, alpha readers are people who see your story during the early phases, and are good if you want to get a general idea on whether you missed the mark or not. Feedback received by alpha readers can be very helpful when planning out the rest of your book.

Beta Readers
Beta readers are people who read your finished manuscript, and provide more detailed feedback. By the time Red and Black got to my beta readers, it had already been through some serious editing and yours should too. Yes, your mileage may vary as far as how much work you want to put into the book before your beta readers see it, but let me tell you as someone who’s been on the other side of the fence. Reading through a draft that’s clearly had little to no editing is fucking tedious. Your beta readers are doing you a favor by reading your work, so at the very least, clean up the shit you already know how to take care of.

As for the level of feedback provided by Beta Readers, it’s going to depend the individual. Some of my Beta readers provide detailed suggestions in the text itself. Some of my Beta readers don’t write down any feedback at all, but read the entire book, and then patiently sit there while I pepper them with questions. Some Beta readers focus on things like spelling/grammar/style, while others are drawn towards larger issues such as character arcs, and the overall plot of the novel. If you are only looking for a certain type of feedback, do yourself a favor and communicate this in advance. After all, there’s no point in asking a colleague to check your grammar, if they almost flunked out of high school English.

Personally, I like getting a wide variety of feedback, so I chose to send out my books to as wide a range as beta readers as I can. If that sounds scary to you, then you might have a bigger problem then just finding a beta reader. After all, if you’re lucky, eventually your book will be devoured by a wide variety of people. Why not get practice now? If you’re still nervous about the idea, sending your work out to readers in phases, might prove to be helpful. Start with a couple people that you trust the most, and move on from there.

When it comes to choosing your beta readers, I’d recommend looking beyond other writers. Sure, having writers as beta readers is great, as they’re likely to give you more in depth responses, but seeking out people who tend to read books in, or close to, your genre, is also a good idea. After all, those are the people you’re going to want to be attracting as readers. Isn’t it a good idea to get their feedback? A lot of professional writers (Brandon Sanderson, for example) actually use some of their readers like this, which has always struck me as a great idea.

Writing Groups
Now, I know what you’re thinking. First alpha and beta readers, and now you expect me to join a whole group? What’s next, going outside!? Fear not my fellow introverts, joining a writing group doesn’t have to be intimidating, nor does it need to involve leaving the house.

While I was working on Red and Black, I was fortunate enough to be part of a writing group. Writing groups come with a great feeling of reciprocity and community. Beta and alpha readers, for all their benefits, can feel as little one sided, as their main task is helping your book get better. With writing groups, on the other hand, you’re not only having your work reviewed, but commenting on other people’s work, so everyone benefits.

All writing groups are different. Some are online, while others met in person. My group met every two or three months, and used googlehangouts. At each session, we’d discussed a section from two writers’ work. There were four people total, meaning you didn’t have to wait to long too have your work discussed. Red and Black, due to it’s length, ended up being discussed over the course of three different sessions.

The feedback I got from my Writing Group was invaluable.They sort of served as a step in between an alpha and beta reader, as they read a draft as it was going through in depth revisions. The comments they made greatly shaped the developing draft and I’m convinced that Red and Black would have been a very different book had I not had the benefit of their feedback.

Of course, I’ve also heard my fair share of horror stories when it comes to writing groups. Stories of people who weren’t critical as much as cruel, and writers that lacked the maturity to take honest feedback. So perhaps one good thing to check for before choosing a writing group is to make sure the other people aren’t dicks. Also, your writing group is more likely to be successful if all members have similar goals, or are writing in similar genres. In my writing group, for example, we were all writing speculative fiction. I wouldn’t have been comfortable critiquing a picture book, or a memoir.

So those are the three types of first readers I encountered while writing Red and Black. I know I’m getting repetitive here, but I highly recommend seeking out feedback from others, if you’re looking to have your work published. I’m a firm believer that as writers, sometimes we’re too close to a book to notice its flaws. Sometimes we even miss out on hidden strengths. Looking outside of ourselves can help us find these hidden facets in our writing. So don’t be shy! Share your work.

This post is part of the new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts.