Category: Opinion

“Character Autonomy”

“Character Autonomy”

I’ve been gone awhile due to my health, but I’m hopefully back now. I’m going to write once or twice a week until I find my stride again, but I haven’t abandoned the blog. Life has just been distracting me from my work here.

So, this particular subject created a hotbed of contention in a writing group I’m part of today, and it’s one I’ve seen all over the place. When a writer says, “My character did ‘x’, and I had no control over it at all! I had to write his story that way,” most of the rest of us head for the hills because the belief that your characters have a complete life of their own, over which you as the writer have no control whatsoever, is a sign of mental illness. Now, that isn’t to say our stories can’t surprise us, or our characters might go in ways we hadn’t initially planned, but suspend your judgment until I have a chance to explain my assessment of both sides of this coin.

So, on one hand, our characters are creations of our mind. We made them. We chose their parts (even if it was an unconscious decision which I will get to later), and they do not exist outside our heads. At least not in their entirety. On the other hand, our characters are comprised unconsciously out of bits and pieces of people or other characters we have seen or encountered in our lives. We are, after all, repositories of information. People whose characters just sort of appear in their heads fully formed (rather than created deliberately) are accessing their memories in a less structured manner, though they are doing similar things. Even when we choose attributes, we often are creating mirrors of people we’ve encountered in our lives. The reflection is unconscious in either case, and the only thing that differs is the method.

I am, perhaps, somewhat unique in the sense that I experience both methods of character creation. Sometimes, I build a character with each aspect intentionally designed for a purpose or chosen with care. Other times they walk out of my brain and onto my mental “stage” fully formed.  Neither method is more valid than the other, but they both stem from the same places.

Now the big difference in “my character dictated the scene” and “I dictated the scene”—not counting mental illness—is that in the first scenario the writer’s subconscious or unconscious mind is writing the story. They might not know it at the time while they daydream about their characters, world, and plot, but that’s what they’re doing. Their mind is chugging away and utilizing their memories and experiences to create stories based on things they’ve read, seen, or experienced. They are also extrapolating what could happen next. Usually, this takes place while the writer is daydreaming or letting their thoughts wander rather than dictating the exact details of a scene.

The other scenario means the author is constructing the scene like an architect. They plan every aspect of it and write each word with intent and deliberation. While they often have lines or details that come to them while they write, their experience is rather different from those who just have experience of everything appearing in their head as though by magic. The architect is drawing from the same well of inspiration; they are just accessing it through different channels.

When it comes to writing a book, both methods are important. Being able to unchain your thoughts and let your imagination wander and paint pictures you may not have expected is a valuable tool. When we daydream we are at our most creative. We are letting our mind roll over what matters to us, and come up with all kinds of different possibilities. On the other hand, being able to plan and construct our scenes and characters as needed is an important skill as well. In the end, a blending of both of these tools will make you a powerful writer. Both have their time and place.

Returning to the “my character did ‘x’” and “I made my character do ‘x’” conversation, what we are seeing is a lack of realization on both sides of what the other is saying. Not counting the potential mental instability where delusions are a condition, we need to recognize what is being said because in some ways, both are right and have merit. Most of us are very aware that our characters don’t exist outside our sphere of control and outside our minds. And yes, we have control over them. At the same time, many writers (particularly those young in their journey) don’t know how to access their creativity without daydreaming. Being able to do that and willingly create in that way is a skill that is learned rather than daydreaming which is instinct to us–most folks do from the time we are children.

Also, learning to articulate the differences and understand exactly what’s happening with each style of writer requires a little more understanding of both writing and of the way we think and process information. If I know someone to be mentally stable, and they talk about how a scene wrote itself, or a character “made a decision”, I usually chuckle with them. Largely because I know what they’re trying to communicate. I can also bemoan alongside the architects when a scene just will not congeal the way we’re trying to write it. Or rejoice when something comes together exactly as it was planned.

We really are all doing the same thing; we’re just approaching it from different angles and using different language to describe the same process.

Stories That Matter

Stories That Matter

I’m broaching a controversial and sticky subject in this blog, and I want you to stick with me. This post isn’t going to be political because my opinions aren’t something I want to breach on this blog. However, it will touch the subject, and I know this is a difficult subject for us to discuss in the world.

So why am I writing about this? Well, every few weeks I see someone posting a question about whether or not writers (as a whole) have a responsibility to write about “x” or “y” socio-political subject. These discussions are valid and include a lot of useful and important conversation regarding said subjects. Like I said, the specifics aren’t something I’m here to blog about. But the concept of social responsibility of writers comes up over and over again, and it’s something I think is important to address.

What kind of responsibility do writers have? Well, we all know that writers can change the world. They can bring to light tough issues that are under-represented or change perspectives on other ones. Writers have power, and it’s only right we should consider how we use that power to inform the world of our moral views. But should we be required to do so? I think the resounding answer on that is: no.

If writing about a specific subject, or incorporating specific elements into your story is in your heart then go forward with it and change the world. Fight for your beliefs. Sway hearts. Use the power of your word to speak on issues that are important to you, and make your voice heard. But if you “just want to tell a story”, that’s okay, too. I put that in quotes because there’s no such thing as “just telling a story” to some extent.

Good stories in every genre connect to parts of us and parts of the human condition. I know I sound like a snooty literary teacher, but those connections are what make them so powerful and why we crave them. Romance, adventure, coming of age, fear, excitement, loss… all of these themes can (and many are) present in many different works and genres of writing. My novels so far have largely displayed the theme of coming to terms with something in yourself that you have previously avoided. I make characters go through hell to face their inner demons. It’s an inner journey that I have taken, myself, so it’s natural that would be reflected in my writing.

All that said, I don’t think writers should be “required” or “forced” to incorporate any particular elements in their work. I encourage people to use the power of their words to reach out to others, but the best way to encourage change is to be the change you want to see. If you want to see more (or less) of a certain story element in writing then reflect that in your writing. You can encourage people to confront certain issues and discuss them in their work. Those conversations, as I said previously, can be valuable. But required? That’s going into bad places.

Outside of the fact that it treads on our individual artistic expression, forcing or shaming someone into including certain story elements means those story elements will not be represented in the strongest or best way possible. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” as the old adage goes. They might provide lip service to whatever it is they’re being pressured into, but it won’t spring from a place of authenticity. Without authenticity, writing means nothing. It’s just words on paper.

Authenticity is a vital part of writing. I don’t mean the accuracy that comes with research. I mean the author’s emotional investment. If you aren’t feeling what you’re writing (overall, not that moment where you’re writing because you have to power through the mid-manuscript blues) then it’s not worth writing. It’s not worth publishing. It’s not worth reading. Requiring people to do things without authenticity will result in worthless work that is more of an insult and liability than it is an asset.

In the end, yes—writers are responsible for telling the world stories that matter. Stories that move people. Stories that reach them. However, every writer needs to write for themselves. They need to speak on what makes them lie awake at night. Those are the stories that will shake the world.

Playing Nice With Others

Playing Nice With Others

A dear friend of mine recently had an experience at a bardic circle (a musical event where folks sit around a campfire and perform to each other) where a group of semi-professionals who didn’t care that it was someone else’s turn decided to shout her down and sing over her. Now, my friend is a wonderful singer (you can’t tell me  otherwise—I know you’re going to see this, too), and she is working to overcome dreadful stage fright. These people, on top of being unthinkably rude, could have damaged a less confident person’s sense of worthiness to perform. Luckily, my friend is as stalwart as they come and recognized these folks were just being horrid; it had nothing to do with her.

So how does this relate to writing? Well, I’ve seen authors do this exact thing. We live in an over-saturated market where, despite ourselves, we jockey for positions of dubious merit. We fight for review time, advertising space, interviews, and any other scrap of exposure we can collect. Unfortunately, that kind of pressure often brings out the worst in people. There is also, at times, an inherent egotism that comes with the status of “author” that leads others to think their opinion is somehow more valid just because they’ve been “published”.

Let me pop that bubble right now: at no point are you ever more valuable than someone else. Your opinion may be better-informed and worth more in that regard if you have experience and study, but that doesn’t mean you deserve to treat others like crap. In fact, it will only harm you to treat others like that. Could I walk up to a newbie author or editor and tapdance on them with my five years of experience and several publications? Sure. It wouldn’t make me any better than them, though. It also wouldn’t endear anyone to me because, frankly, who likes a bully? Instead, I’d rather encourage, mentor, and inspire other people. It’s similar to the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader”.

I also want to note that, while I am technically in competition with other publishers and editors and writers… I’m not really. No matter how much I want to, I can’t publish all the books in the world. I can’t edit all the books in the world. I can’t write all the books in the world. I might be publishing science fiction right alongside other presses, but you know what? Good for them. I’d rather support their sales and develop a good rapport. Particularly in the indie game, that networking can be a huge help. The same goes with author-to-author relationships. There might be another fantasy author whose books are technically in direct competition with mine, but I’d much rather be friends with them than try and sabotage them.

We can all win this race. It’s not as though we’re competing to have someone purchase our car. After all, with cars you only really need one, and it’s a huge investment. Books? Well… if the number of books I own is any indication, I’m probably going to be buying and reading books for a long, long time. That also means that if I see an author I enjoy recommend a book (or a movie, or…) I’ll probably check it out. If I like that author I’ll read what they recommend and so on. You can see where I’m going with this.

Now, in addition to just being jerks, how many of you have seen (or, be honest, done) this: Join a group on social media, drop an advertisement for your book, and leave? That’s kind of like trying to sing over everyone else at the campfire. Particularly since, most of the time, the rules say differently. It’s disrespectful to the people who are there because, in essence, you’re saying: I don’t care what you have to say, just listen to me! You aren’t contributing anything; you’re not even really participating; you’re just throwing out your piece to the detriment of the group as a whole. Don’t be that guy (or gal).

The only way authors, publishers, and editors are going to succeed in this increasingly-hostile landscape where we have to fight for every shred of recognition we receive is to do it together. You can all sing at the campfire. We will all applaud and be happy you joined us. We’ll pass around the marshmallows and moonshine and have fun together. I’d rather eat s’mores with my friends than shout them down because if we’re all yelling no one is heard.

You Can’t Eat Exposure

You Can’t Eat Exposure

Freelancers, artists, and creatives have this nasty situation where the world thinks we aren’t worth paying because we are “just” artists. I could rant about that for thousands of words, but let’s suffice to say that is utterly and completely absurd. Yes. It’s so absurd it warrants two adverbs. Worse yet, many folks seem to think it’s okay to pay us in the ever-elusive “exposure”.

Let me start by saying sometimes doing something just for exposure (like having a giveaway or free weekend or sale) isn’t entirely bad. However, if you are busting your backside for “exposure” then there’s something very wrong with that situation. I think I speak for all artists when I say we deserve to be paid. That isn’t to say I think everyone deserves equal pay or that everyone deserves to be hired, but if we are doing work then it’s not wrong to expect payment. Folks who pull fries out of the oil at McDonald’s get paid, but artists who spend years honing their craft and work for hours, weeks, or months often are told we don’t deserve to be paid.

Increasingly, blogs and e-zines, and other such media tell us they’ll “get our name out there”. But I can’t eat that. While I sometimes will still submit a story that I’m not being paid for (particularly if it’s to a large outlet), I can’t eat that so-called exposure. Now, if that exposure translated into sales of my services, books, artwork (insert-your-own-art-here), then that would be worth something, but so often this so-called exposure translates into precisely nothing.

So how do we deal with this? The first step is to realize your own worth. If you are freelancing (in any capacity) you need to do a cost analysis. That means looking at your costs of living. Sit down and write up how much you need to make per month to survive. Hopefully you have a “day job” to help, at least in the beginning, because you’re going to need it. Once you have that magic number of how much you need to make per month you start looking at how much work you can do per month and start examining other people’s pay rates. Not all workers deserve equal pay, so make sure you are charging what’s proper for your skill level. Are you a beginning editor? Chances are you aren’t going to be charging what I charge. I don’t charge what people who’ve been in the industry a decade charge, either. This process of setting up your pay rates and so on sounds an awful lot like running a business, and (surprise) that’s exactly what it is.

This attitude that creatives aren’t worth much isn’t limited to the writing world. Unfortunately, the arts have grown less and less respected over time. Understanding the power and importance of the arts is a dying thought pattern. I have a friend who is a musician. He’s played for decades, and he’s one of the finest guitarists I know. These days, when he books a gig, he’s often told, “Well, I can get a five-piece band for that price!” The price he’s quoting isn’t high. It’s enough to cover gas, his equipment, wear and tear on his car, plus a little extra for him. That’s not asking for more than a business-savvy wage. But a five-piece “band” with no experience, no credentials, and crappy gear can show up and crank out atrocious music for that same price, so he’s been turned down despite his resume, skills, and knowledge. It’s just not right.

So how do you survive in a world that thinks what you do isn’t worth a whole lot? That’s something we’re all working through, let me tell you. I’m still trying to figure that one out, but when I do I’ll write a book and make millions. (Cue evil laughter here.) What I can say is it’s worth it—it’s very worth it. Our world would be nothing without art, and if art is in your spirit, don’t deny it. What I can tell you, is you probably will need a “day job” for at least awhile.

It’s hard to make a living in this world using the arts when people don’t consider them as valuable. That’s a sad, sorry state of affairs I don’t know how to fix, but it’s a reality for most of us. I won’t tell you it’s impossible to make a break because it’s not. It’s not impossible. I have friends who have made a fair amount and support their rent or supplement their income. It is possible. I know folks who write and edit and make a living doing it. Don’t be discouraged. Just recognize the reality and soldier on.

Caveat Emptor

Caveat Emptor

If you punch “writing advice” into Google you’ll come back with about a billion results with almost as many opinions. Heck, this is true for even me. The key here is to research everything and don’t take anything for granted, no matter who it comes from. Writing, like many arts, has many different parts. I won’t tell you there’s “no wrong way”, because there absolutely is, but there’s no singular correct path. Every writer’s journey is a little different, and this is part of what I mean about not taking anything for granted.

There are many paths to success in writing. Self-publishing, traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, different genres and marketing techniques, and so on. Also, it depends on what you define as “success”. While I think all of us would love to see our name in lights, is success writing a book that people enjoy, even if a million people don’t buy it? Does success mean making back your investment? Does success mean supporting yourself through writing? All of those are valid definitions. So I’d start with defining what success is to you. Once you know, you can take steps to head that way. Those steps might be different for each author, too. Do you like blogging? Do you hate it? Do you enjoy social media? Do you intend on visiting conventions to sell your book? Also, different genres require different marketing techniques.

The place I’d use caution the most is whenever someone claims their way is the only way or speaks in absolutes. “Self-published authors are all hacks!” or “Traditional publishing is worthless and dead!” They might be opinions, and even supported ones, but someone speaking in absolutes opens themselves up to question. Some absolutes are universal (like many rules of punctuation, but not even all of those are universal!), but there aren’t many of them. The only absolutes I know of are things like making sure your work is edited and not publishing first drafts.

So what are authors to do when they have so much information and nothing absolute? Read as much as you can and learn everything available. Formulate your own opinions, and learn about the industry you intend to enter. The key is educating yourself, so read all different types of blogs and information. The more information you have, the more accurate your understanding will be. It will also help you uncover the path that best suits your, personal walk through the publishing industry. There are many wonderful blogs, articles, and publications out there you can learn from, and I encourage you to explore as many of them as you can. It’s a fun and interesting way to spend a few hours. Just make sure you don’t get so lost in research that you forget to actually write!

Keep Dreaming

Keep Dreaming

This is almost more a personal blog than a writing one, but let’s dive in anyway. Many people who know me well know I am disabled. I have a somewhat rare condition that causes the connective tissue in my body to be more elastic than most people’s. It’s called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). I’ve spent a long time with people telling me that my pain is all in my head, that I am making it up to get out of work, that I am lying. Those doubts are some of the most damaging things I’ve experienced in my life.

Thinking about writing, I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard where friends and family of a writer say things like “you should have a real job” or “that’ll never make money”. While this may be somewhat true (writing for money is a difficult business), hearing such things over and over again does a great deal of damage to our spirits. It’s not quite the same as the disability thing, but it’s related. If we spend our lives told our writing is terrible, and we’ll never go anywhere, we absorb that into our psyche. It’s something everyone in the arts faces because so few people in the world consider the arts “real work”.

I’m a musician and music teacher, I draw, I’m a writer, I’ve done dance (ballet and tap), and I know how much work they are. Perfecting one’s art is a never-ending battle that deserves far more respect than it receives from the world. If you’re out there struggling with your art, my hat’s off to you. Art doesn’t just happen. We don’t just wake up one morning and sneeze out a masterpiece. Those pieces of art are our blood, sweat, and tears on display for the world. We spend hundreds of hours revising, rewriting, repairing, editing, and considering our work. We agonize over word placement, sentence structure, plot ideas. We lie awake at night convinced no one will like what we’ve written (or painted or performed…).

I’m here to tell you that it is worth it. I’m not making millions on my writing and editing. I’m not even making thousands. But you know what? It’s worth it. Every time I lie awake poking holes in my plot I’m learning something. Every time I deconstruct a scene to decide if it is necessary I’m discovering new things about story structure. Every time I spend an hour staring at a comma, trying to decide if it’s necessary, I am learning something about punctuation. All those times I’m staring off into nothing, daydreaming about my plot, I’m exploring new aspects of storytelling.

The only way writing (and art in general) is a waste of time is if you get into it expecting to make a lot of money off the bat. You aren’t going to, so let me burst that bubble right now. The cliché of “starving artist” exists for a reason. What we do is hard, and in this world where there are a billion people trying to get readers’ attention in the worst way… it’s not going to be as simple as just writing your book and hoping someone likes it. But if you’re writing because you have a story to tell, one that keeps you up at night, one that drives you crazy, one you can’t get out of your head… You aren’t wasting time. No matter what anyone else says.

People like to assume artists are freeloaders. That we are only artists because we aren’t good at the STEM subjects or we’re too lazy to go into business. The idea that artists are lazy is an insidious one. We aren’t lazy. Most real artists are some of the most hardworking people I know. By “real artist” I mean people whose soul lives and breathes their art. Sure, many of us have day jobs (I don’t, but I can’t, so there’s that), but our hearts are in those hours of writing time we have between coming home from work and feeding the kids. We are most alive when we’re doing what we love, no matter what art it is.

Never let anyone get into your head and tell you that your love of writing, art, dance, music, or whatever it is you’re doing is a waste of time. Never let those voices that call you a hack and keep you up at night win at the end of the day. Never stop learning and trying. If you have the soul of an artist, that art will come through, and squashing it will only do harm to you in deep, lasting ways. It’s okay to be an artist. It’s okay to dream.

Keep dreaming.

Asking “Stupid” Questions

Asking “Stupid” Questions

I’m not going to lie and say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. There are definitely stupid questions. “Where are my sunglasses?” when I’m wearing them is a stupid question I ask with more frequency than I’d like to admit. However, when it comes to writing there are fewer “stupid questions” than we’d think.

I’m in an awesome editors’ group on Facebook, and as of about half an hour ago someone asked the question of whether or not it’d be a good idea to have newbie editors create their own group (in addition to the main group) to support each other and not have to be afraid of asking silly questions. Just about all the editors in the group balked at the idea of relegating new editors to a corner, though it sparked an interesting discussion about the merit of “stupid questions” or “noob questions”.

What came out of the discussion didn’t surprise me, but it reinforced why I’m a member of the group: just ask the question. There’s this stigma around asking questions because we’re afraid of being viewed as less qualified or less intelligent because we have to ask other people for information. That’s an inaccurate belief structure and a damaging one.

As creatives, we (editors included) are prone to crippling self-doubt and impostor syndrome where we think we aren’t as good as we say we are and feel like we’re full of crap. While it’s good to have an ego check and consider that we aren’t all mega-geniuses who know everything, we aren’t complete morons, either. Asking questions pokes that little voice that says “you aren’t all that great” and sometimes turns it into a full-blown choir. However, the people reading those questions aren’t the ones singing that line. They’re usually thinking, “Oh, I’ve been there. Here’s how I dealt with it.”

As an editor, I act as a teacher for many of my clients. I’ve worked with many first-time authors who don’t quite know what the three-act structure is or exactly how to identify and slaughter passive voice. I’ve heard many questions, and I’ve asked even more. I have someone I consider my mentor, and I have guides who answer questions when I have them. That’s the secret: there’s always someone better than you to ask questions of. Your questions will change as you go along, but you’ll always have them, and it’s okay to ask.

To be honest, I think the only “wrong” question is the one unasked. There are definitely times when the answer is going to be “you’re not ready for that yet”, but asking the question isn’t a mark against you in some ethereal ledger where we keep our opinions of others. Even if the question is something we already know (or should know). I can’t count the number of times where I’ve been editing at 3am and just can’t decide where to put the damn comma. I’ve had to ask other writers or editors. Of course, that’s about the time I realize I need to put down the pen and go to bed (or have another cup of tea…).

In addition to you not crippling yourself by not asking questions, sometimes answering the question is a learning experience for another person. I’ve developed new understanding and ways of explaining things when I’ve taught people because I’ve had to. The act of teaching someone else does a great deal for one’s own learning, and that’s something you can take to the bank with you. When you begin teaching you immediately realize how little you know and start learning because, by gum, you aren’t going to leave your students in the lurch. By asking me tough questions (or even simple ones) my students are doing me a huge favor.

So, the real bones of the matter is, you aren’t an impostor for asking questions. You aren’t an idiot. You aren’t a moron. Anyone who treats you as lesser because you asked a question has an ego problem and isn’t probably a great teacher anyway. Just keep asking and learning. It’ll do you more good than it doesn’t. And ignore that chorus in the back of your head–you’ve got this. Keep at it.


Making Your Own Luck

Making Your Own Luck

So many times in writing groups I see people asking how others make money in the writing industry. There are all these people talking about luck and, while luck does play a certain role in publishing, it’s not the primary determiner of success. The primary determiner of success in modern publishing is the author.

This is good news, even if it is scary news. The good part is that we have more complete control of our fortune and fame than ever before. The bad part is most of us don’t know what the heck to do with that control. I can’t tell you the number of self-made author websites that make 1990’s Geocities websites look professional grade or marketing campaigns that make me cringe a little harder every time I see them.

Making your own luck, in part, means you need to realize that you aren’t supposed to go this alone. Whether you’re self-publishing or traditionally publishing, you’ll have a team of people to back you. If you’re self-publishing, you pick the team whereas with a traditional publisher the team picks you. Either way, you have a group of experts backing you to support your work and help you make your own luck.

Part of making your own luck also means spending a lot of time educating yourself. You need to learn what publishers are looking for, how they select manuscripts, what agents and readers want… The fact that someone picks up your book isn’t a function of the astrology of the day; most of the time it’s because they saw something in it they wanted or liked.

If you want to be picked up by a big publisher there’s a function of luck in that decision, absolutely. However, that luck is partially self-generated by creating a professional, polished manuscript with a solid query to go with it. Yes, it’s sometimes a roll of the dice to some extent whether your query will be read by the people you’re sending it to, but as someone who has worked in acquisitions, luck didn’t determine acceptance. If the query followed guidelines, was interesting, and showed professionalism it got them in the door.

Heck, my company just picked up a short story collection (something I typically don’t do) because the person sending the query impressed my acquisitions editor enough to take a look at the content. I have no regrets about picking up the author, either. The writing is polished, the stories thrilling, and I look forward to sharing them with the world. That wasn’t luck–that was the author doing things right. Yes, they rolled the dice about whether or not we’d pick up a short story collection despite our guidelines, but everything else was them creating their own “luck”.

I can assume, my reading friends, that you have seen the pattern by now! A lot of people like to rely on “luck” because it absolves them of the responsibility of making sure what they’re doing is what they should be. They can send out a hundred queries, sigh, wring their hands, and blame Lady Luck for their lack of response. Or they can read their query and realize that sending neon green-on-pink was probably not a good font choice and the flagrant typos made it impossible to read.

The other part of this good news is since you don’t have to rely on wearing your lucky underwear backwards while chanting hymns to Fortuna, you can take control of most of the elements of your piece’s success through hard work, dedication, and study. I realize this might not be the shortcut a lot of people are looking for, but there just isn’t one. Write well, query well, be professional. Those are your keys.

You can do this. Get to it.

(Note: Yes, that is a tabletop RPG character sheet at the top of this post. But no, that one’s not mine. 😉 I’m not actually sure what system that is, to be honest. Gold star to whoever tells me!)

How to “Fire” a Freelancer

I had a friend post a very frustrated and sad status on Facebook yesterday about an editing client who refused to pay her for services rendered despite being contractually obligated to. They claimed they “weren’t happy” with the edits, without explaining why they found them unsatisfactory. I have had nightmare clients like that in the past, and I wanted to bring that behavior to the foreground.

This isn’t just about writing, either, it’s about business in general, a subject many people struggle with. I took business courses in college (a lot of them), but I often forget that many folks don’t have the benefit of growing up in that environment or receiving a good education on business practices themselves.

As a publisher and editor, good business is something I need to keep my focus on. I need to make sure my authors, clients, and customers are all receiving the best possible behavior from me. I need to make sure I treat them fairly and well, even if that means muzzling myself when I want to bark at them. This also means, when I am purchasing professional services (editing, cover design, whatever it is) I must also behave professionally.

So what do you do if the work you’ve hired someone to do is unsatisfactory? What do you do when you are done working with someone because of whatever reason? Maybe they haven’t paid, maybe the two of you just don’t work well together as a team. Regardless of why, you need to tell the person why. In polite, but complete detail. In addition to that, there are a few more things you should remember when “firing” someone.

  1. The person you’re trying to part ways with might surprise you and fix the problem or apologize and revisit their behavior. This is rare, but it does happen.
  2. You do not receive a reputation of hopping between professionals for what they will probably perceive as no good reason.
  3. Unless there has been a gross breach, don’t share their name around. There are times when I have shared the name of a particularly dangerous client with other editors to warn them of the person’s unhealthy nature. Don’t complain about people by name, though. And particularly not in public.
  4. Be honest. If the reason is that you just don’t get along with them as a person that’s actually okay. You don’t need to invent reasons.
  5. Pay what you owe. Work like editing, ghostwriting, etc. is not a product you can return to the store; it’s time rather than physical product. Unless the editor has dropped the ball so egregiously that they should be hit with a catfish, don’t try and get out of paying what you owe them. This is also why many editors insist on payment before product delivery. Many of us have clients who squawk and squeal about our work (even if it is on point and correct) and try to weasel out of paying us. “I just don’t like it” is not a valid reason to avoid payment.
  6. Be respectful. Even if your freelancer (or, conversely, client) is driving you up a tree, be unfailingly respectful to them. This will go a lot further for you than slinging mud and becoming rude. That kind of behavior will reflect poorly on you for a very long time while polite but firm language isn’t going to come back to bite you as hard or as certainly.

Having to part ways with someone is tough. There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to be upsetting someone because that’s just how life goes. However, the more polite, honest, and up front you are about it, the easier the whole process becomes.


Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part II

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part II

Continuing yesterday’s discussion of what the real differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing are, let’s step into the nitty-gritty and lay out the pros and cons (I was tempted to write “prose and cons”) so we can compare the two side by side.

Now that we have looked at the steps required in putting together a book, let’s consider the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I am, through this list, going to assume the publisher the author works with is a legitimate publisher who will do right by the author. There are, as I so often say, sharks in our waters. Those sharks can take many forms, so I’m not going to address all of them here.

Who Pays

Traditional Publishing: The publisher pays for the full costs of the publication process.
Self-Publishing: The author is on the hook for approximately $10,000 worth of services, assuming they do it properly.

Creative Control

Traditional Publishing: It varies from publisher-to-publisher, though the publisher retains final say over creative decisions as well as over editing.
Self-Publishing: For better or for worse, the author has full control over every aspect of their work. This means they will, in theory, be able to get the exact cover they want and not have to adjust any of their work they do not want to.


Traditional Publishing: The publisher handles distribution of the book to bookstores and through online outlets. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are more likely to work with a corporate entity.
Self-Publishing: Authors will have to woo bookstores and find their way through distribution on their own. This means they will be able to choose where their book is sold, but brick-and-mortar bookstores are often hesitant to work with unrepresented authors.


Traditional Publishing: Authors may expect to receive 7-15% royalties on print book and 40-55% royalties on print book. This may be off list (the price it’s listed at through booksellers) or net (the amount the publisher receives after the distribution channels take their bite).
Self-Publishing: Authors receive 100% of their profits. This is one of the driving forces in why many authors choose self-publishing. I may write a blog post on this later because it’s not as pretty a number as you might expect a lot of the time.


Traditional Publishing: The publisher takes full advantage of all industry marketing channels it has access to and often coaches the author through things like building an author website and how to handle social media to their best advantage. They also approach and pay for services like BookBub (which is expensive). They may also design and provide marketing materials like bookmarks, postcards, fliers, mailers, and other pieces of promotional material.
Self-Publishing: Authors must learn how to market their book on their own and pay for all services associated with it. Some outlets will be skeptical of self-represented authors because of the amount of contact they receive from authors on a daily basis.
NOTE: Authors MUST be an active part of their promotional team. No one will promote their book with more passion and excitement, and readers these days are hungry to interact with their favorite authors. A publisher can provide tools for authors to promote their book, but authors still must do legwork. 

Access To Experts

Traditional Publishing: The people helping you along the way with your manuscript have been vetted by the publisher and are experts in their field. They can be trusted to do what is best for your book and know the industry in and out.
Self-Publishing: The author must use their own judgment to decide whether or not the person they are looking to hire is going to best represent their book or do the desired task.


Traditional Publishing: The author must give up certain rights to the publisher to enable them to put those rights to best use as well as make a profit for the publisher.
Self-Publishing: The author retains all rights to the book.

Perceived Validity

Traditional Publishing: The author is seen as an author and someone who is an authority in their field or at least someone worthy of paying attention to. This can help an author stand out a little from the crowd.
Self-Publishing: Self-representing authors often struggle against the idea that they self-published because they were unable to gain the interest of a publisher. Many channels of marketing and distribution channels will be closed to them as a result.
Note: This stigma will linger as long as poor-quality books are churned out by the thousands every day by self-published “authors”. Amazon is working to establish quality control on their books, but with the sheer volume it is almost impossible. Yes, there are poor-quality books produced by publishers, and indie publishers struggle to throw off the stigma as well. As much as we might not like it, however, the stigma that indie authors are less valid than traditional authors is a very real part of the industry.

As you can see, there are a number of factors authors should weigh before jumping into the publishing process, and all of these are valid factors. I know the rights and royalty part of the equation leaves a lot of writers feeling like they’re on the short end of the stick, and I addressed that in a previous post. However, the benefits of traditionally publishing are considerable.

However, in my opinion there is a distinct line between who should self-publish and who should traditionally publish.

If the author has good business savvy and has researched the industry enough to understand what they need to do, and they have the money to do it properly, then I would suggest that person self-publish. At that point they are able to provide for themselves almost everything a publisher can, and they can make good decisions on the direction of their book.

Conversely, if the author does not have a strong head for business, marketing, or other aspects of the book together, or they don’t have the money to invest in the book to make it the best it can possibly be, I recommend considering traditional publishing. Having a publisher guide them through the steps, adopt the financial burden, and help them ensure their book’s success in the broad market.

There are probably more areas that I have not mentioned or discussed, and if you feel I missed something please let me know in the comments! I would be happy to amend and add to this to explain things folks are struggling with.