Category: Writing Tips

Productivity for Writers

Productivity for Writers

First, before all else, I want to share the announcement that my novel, “Fallen” is up for pre-order on Amazon. I could not be more excited, to be honest. After a decade on the publishing side of the writing world, I am finally entering it as an author. I’ve put out a bunch of short stories over the years, but this is the first novel that’s seeing public release. I still can’t quite believe it’s true. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy then my novel may be of interest to you.

Let me start by saying I am not the most productive individual in the world. I’m just not. Being disabled and having ADHD makes it difficult to get everything done that I want to get finished. That’s just a reality I have to deal with, however, there are some techniques that work for me, and they’re things that I think would for anyone. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this intro because I know you’re here for the tips.

#1: Set Aside Time

I know this sounds like it’s just basic advice, but it’s true. If you want to be a writer as a profession, you have to set aside time for it. Just like any other work. It doesn’t have to be constant or excessive, but making time for this is important. For me, I don’t tend to do much personal writing during the week because I am working on other people’s writing most often. So I give myself weekends. For some people it’s getting up at 5am for a few hours of quiet before they have to wake up the kids for school. Look at your schedule and see when you can give yourself some time to get words on the page. There’s no right or wrong here other than ensuring that you leave space. If it’s fifteen minutes or three hours, you are still creating the space.

 

#2: Set Goals

These goals don’t have to be huge. It could be “write for one Pomodoro” or “write 1,000 words.” It may be “finish one chapter.” Whatever your goals are, create reasonable and achievable goals that you can put down. You can even break them into categories, like with NaNo. The goal with NaNoWriMo is to write 65k words in a month. That means you have to break it down into a certain number of words per day. While you can gain or lose ground each day, you still are sprinting toward that goal.

Now, I’m not saying you need to write 65k words a month every month. Honestly, I think that leads to rushed writing and poor story craft a lot of the time. However, I can  write a first draft in 3-6 months. Whatever your goals are, make sure they’re reasonable and attainable. Also, they must be attainable. Don’t set yourself up for failure. It’s important to recognize that life happens, and sometimes writing just has to take a back seat to whatever is happening.

#3: Accountability

When in doubt find a partner or group. My Discord Community has a channel for folks to put up their plans and goals, and we celebrate when people achieve them. Things like this can be key for folks who need the extra push to get things done. It’s like having a gym buddy. It’s easy to say “I just don’t feel like it” when it’s just you. But when you’ve got a gym partner who is encouraging you, our brains will engage and be less likely to cancel. Writing (and most art) can be the same. If you know people are waiting on you and are looking for your efforts, then it’s easier to tell the lazy parts to STFU.

#4: Boundaries

This is particularly important for authors who have families, but you have to make your writing time sacred. If anyone thinks that your writing time means you’re free to do things, they need to be informed otherwise. It’s incredibly important to create that space and enforce it. This can be difficult when you have children or a partner who need things, but if they know that you’re going to be writing at “x” time every day for “x” time period, they can learn to leave you alone. This also means boundaries for yourself: don’t give in to the temptation to answer that text message, work e-mail, or check Facebook. That doesn’t do you any good and will pull you out of the headspace immediately.

#5: Breaks From Social Media

I know, I know, this sounds extreme, but it works. I do my best writing at my family’s remote cabin in New York where there is no internet, no television, and no cell service. It’s quiet there, and I can really zero in on my writing. The digital world, as much as I love it, is distraction city. Particularly for anyone with focus issues (like me). There are constant notifications on my phone, people messaging me on various apps, and this feeling that I need to reply to things now.

It isn’t true.

Taking a break from social media for weeks at a time has taught me that, absent emergencies, there’s nothing I need to reply to now. If there is an emergency, of course I’m on deck. But if it’s just a meme or a work email that could wait until later to answer? I’ll deal with it then. Much similar, you should structure your writing time as a social media dead zone. Turn off data on your phone, close your web browser (unless you’re using it for music, in which case, hit “play” and then minimize it and leave it there), and let yourself write. I’d also suggest limiting social media when you first wake up or right before bed. It doesn’t really help anything, and you could use that time to read or schedule out your day or do yoga or whatever it is you feel like doing in that space.

#6: Change Your Mentality

If you want to be an author as your day job, that means you need to treat it as that: your job. This includes viewing your writing time as a professional space, not just fun time. Once you make the choice to publish your work, you are no longer a hobbyist writer but a professional one (even if you aren’t yet making money). This means that your work is professional development, and you should take it with the same seriousness you take anything for your day job.

The uncomfortable reality is that if you don’t treat your writing as a business it will never be more than a hobby, no matter how many books you publish. With that in mind, your writing time is work time. That scheduling I mentioned earlier? Those boundaries? This is your job. You wouldn’t just let your family come charging in if you work from home. You wouldn’t get up and wander off to watch TV if you were working from home. (Or at least I’d hope you wouldn’t.)


The theme here you may have noticed is that you need to treat this as work. Writing is a wonderful creative thing. I love writing, and I love writers. There’s nothing I will be more excited about than talking to writers about their writing. Truly. However, the reality is that too few of us view this as a vocation and too many see it as just a thing we do in our spare time that we halfheartedly hope will make us money. To quote the indomitable Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

What It Means To Be An Author

What It Means To Be An Author

Being an author is more complicated than just writing a novel, uploading it to Amazon. Sure, those are a part of the process, but authorship means more than just being somebody who typed a whole lot of words in a more-or-less coherent order. It, in fact, means more than just pitching your book to agents and publishers. All of those things are important and necessary to the process, but they’re pieces of a bigger whole.

Authorship means your brand, your expertise, and your book. It means you are no longer just a private citizen. You are a public figure. You have a brand. You have the weight of authority. This means you’re also an expert, as much as you might not want to be or feel qualified to be. Don’t let that go to your head, though. You’re an expert about your book series and maybe about creative writing.

Authorship means your brand, your expertise, and your book. It means you are no longer just a private citizen. You are a public figure.

E. Prybylski

Being an author also means you need to maintain that public-facing image. Which means marketing, acting appropriately in your public spaces, sharing parts of your life with the world (not all of it, but some), and so on. You are an author, not just a private citizen.

We have all dreamed of being Stephen King or Anne McCaffrey or Neil Gaiman as far as our readership goes. But what does that mean for us as a person? Are we prepared for being, well, famous? I’m not claiming any of us here are going to be those people, of course, but assuming we do get a following and get known, it will mean we live in the limelight to some degree or another. Things we say and actions we take will have weight to them, and people will see us and judge us. Is that something you’re prepared for?

Do you know what your author brand is yet? Have you thought that through and figured it out? Do you know what it means? These are all considerations you need to make and conversations with yourself you need to have. That isn’t to say you should quit now if you don’t like the idea of walking the red carpet because chances of us ending up there are slim. But you need to be honest with yourself: is that something you want?

If it isn’t, it’s okay to write as a hobby. Many people do it and love it. They write because it’s what they’re passionate about, regardless of any desire to publish. I fully and wholeheartedly encourage such endeavors. However, to those who are looking at the journey to the next steps, that means you have to be an author.

When considering what I wanted to do with my life, being an author was always the top of my list. It was: author, veterinarian, and then farmer. In that order. At least when I was a kid. As I grew up, my priorities changed, but being an author was always at the top of my list. However, when I started understanding what publishing really entails, I realized that dream was more complicated than it sounded as kid.

Even after going to business school, I didn’t make the connection between authorship and business. Nor did I until I started working in the industry. I read Dan Poynter’s books and came to realize and internalize that as much as writing is an art, publishing is a business. That reality clicking in my brain triggered a series of changes. For one, I started this blog.

The last decade has been a slow gathering of steam toward becoming the author I have dreamed of being since I was a child. That also means growing comfortable in front of people. Even if I only share a portion of myself with my fans (thinking about having fans gives me all sorts of feelings I can’t quantify), I do have to share. Which meant deciding what to share and how vulnerable to be.

These are decisions all of us authors have to make. How much to share, when, and with whom is an important part of deciding what our plans for the future are going to be. That, and leaning into the fact that when we are acting as our authorly selves (as opposed to the us that we are in private) we need to be “on.”

This may feel like it’s disingenuous, but I’m not suggesting you lie. However, I can tell you with certainty that, as a musician, the me on stage performing is a different me than the one who is curled up in their cozy PJ pants writing this blog. (My PJ pants have pictures of sheep on them and say, “I love shleep.”) Any performer will have an on-stage and off-stage difference, and we as authors must do the same with our public-facing media. Sure, still be you, but be a more focused, polished, professional you.

[Authors] treat their social media and blog as an extension of their personal space and don’t censor themselves or think how their target audience might receive what they say.

E. Prybylski

It’s a mistake I see many authors make—particularly indie ones. They treat their author social media and blog as an extension of their personal space and don’t censor themselves or think about how their target audience might receive what they say. I’m not saying you can’t have opinions and use your author platform to speak about them, but doing so mindfully will help you avoid a lot of misery in the future. Once your name becomes associated with something, you will likely never get out of it again. (wild gesticulation to JK Rowling’s behavior).

I’m working on a course that will be available through my website to help you, as a writer, explore what authorship means to you and help you craft your author identity, though it may be a bit since I’ve never made a course before. PowerPoint is, by far, not my area of expertise, that’s for sure! But do keep an eye out for that and several other courses that I am going to be launching in the upcoming months as I gear up for my book launch in January.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Guest Post: Chrystele Myriam

Guest Post: Chrystele Myriam

Hi, it’s E! This week I have a guest post by the lovely Chrystele. We are doing a blog exchange, so you can find my post over on her blog: https://www.chrystelemyriamuni.com/bleedingink.

Hi! Hello everyone! My name is Chrystele, and I am so happy to be here with you guys for this blog swap! I wanted to thank E. for choosing me to do this! I think it’s great to be able to read about people’s side of experiences or stories, so this idea of a blog swap or collaboration is very interesting.

I’m French, but I write in English. As weird as it may sound, words come easier in English than in French, but trust me, in the beginning it was not the case! I wrote an article about why I write in English and not in French, but this time I wanted to dive in more about how I manage to keep my work (whether it’s my blogs or my books) as structured as good as I can. I’m a perfectionist, so I really look at details (sometimes too much, to be fair with you). But as I look back on my work, what I thought was perfection is far from it. It lacked a lot of things. For instance, my stories only had dialogue and not enough narrative. There was no explanation, no way to know who was speaking, and of course a lot of typos.

It took time, of course. Like everything that you are learning, you need time to master it. Writing is an art, and art is something that you get better at the more you do it. It’s something that you put your heart and soul in it, but sometimes you let your head get in the way and think that you are not enough. Most of the time, you just need either help or more practice, or both.

Writing is an art, and art is something that you get better at the more you do it.

Chrystele Miriam

What really helped me with my writing was reading. I used to only read in French, so my vocabulary in English wasn’t wide enough for me to write something that wasn’t full of repetition and errors. So, I started to read in English, and now (long story short) I am losing my French, and I have to force myself to read in French… Ah, irony, my sweet friend.

What I would suggest would be to have a beta reader. Having someone with fresh eyes and different ideas and reading experience than you can help you see mistakes that you didn’t in the first place. No matter how many times you read your work, there is one typo that will just get through the cracks…I can’t tell you how many traditionally books I have read that had typos! Writing takes time. It’s something you need to be patient with. I’m not much of a patient person. When I finish a project that I am proud of, I just want to share it with the whole world! That was my main mistake with my debut works: I posted it as I wrote it. I am doing it today again, for one of my short stories on Wattpad, but this time it’s on purpose. It’s a way for me to have fun. Maybe one day I’ll really work on this story and publish it, but for now it’s not in the projects.

If it’s something you want to publish and promote and talk about, it has to be something clean, clear, and proper. And by that, I mean it has to make sense. Not just to you, but to your audience. Avoid typos as much as possible. As I said, there is always going to be one that goes through, but the lesser, the better. Target your audience. If you want a general audience, I suggest to not over complicate it. If you have a specific audience, you can go into more technical terms and such. You have to consider who you’re going to write for. Otherwise, your work will indeed be out there, but it won’t be seen.

Re-reading your work is the key. I cannot tell you how many times I have read one of my works in progress to the point where I could no longer stand it…That is why I took a break from writing it. Which takes me to another point: do not be afraid to stop for a while. Sometimes when you’ve been at it for too long and too much, you might lose interest or you will block or you just might feel like you don’t want to write the story anymore. There is not a right amount of time for how long it takes to write a book (or any piece for that matter). It is totally okay to stop for a while, and you might even have a great result by coming back to it after. You will be able to see some typos or some details missing or not making sense. You might even have an idea for something that you would just crash on.

Do not be afraid to have many versions of one book. The work in progress I talked about earlier has had five different versions. The first draft will never be perfect. It’s where you discover your world, your characters. It’s where you dump your ideas. I use the first draft as a way to put every idea that I have for the story in, build the universe, the main events and such. I do not focus on the details on the first draft. I use the second draft to work on the timeline now that the main events are worked out. I have to make them make sense, avoid any plot holes, or events having different dates. I work on the details in between — the body of the story. I write a bit more about the characters. My second draft is really where I dive into the story. The third draft is where I care about the typos. I change some things such as chapters or how and when characters are introduced. Most of the time the third draft for me is the final one, but it can be more.

The bottom point of all this is: writing takes time, and it’s not easy. Asking for help is not making you a lousy writer. Imposter syndrome is hard and cruel, but trust me when I say that we’ve all been there. A second opinion or even a third won’t hurt you. It might do you good. All I can tell you is: No matter how easy it is to get lost in this process and terrifying side of being a writer, never forget why you write and why you love to.

The Realities of Author Life

The Realities of Author Life

In case you don’t know, I’ve been in the publishing industry over a decade and worked for two small indie publishers and done editing work for many self-published authors as well as several larger writing websites (now defunct). Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a decade, but when I look back and realize how much time has gone by, my brain hurts, and I my joints ache. I don’t like to feel old. So I try to ignore it. However, this week’s blog is germane to that experience, so I get to own up to my age for once and lean into it.

On average, publishers invest about $10,000 in your book and in you when they pick up your book. That is almost as much as an in-state four-year college degree in some states. (At least according to Business Insider’s metrics based on 2020’s numbers). If you are self-publishing, you may end up paying a similar amount in editing, cover design, formatting, ISBNs, distribution, and marketing. That number comes both from personal experience as well as Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual (a book I recommend to all authors).

You don’t necessarily have to spend that much money on a book to publish it well if you have some skills, access to well-priced editors and cover designers, and so on. But that isn’t an unrealistic number as far as investment goes. That said, some of that investment may be in billable hours you put in rather than just in money out of your bank account, and it doesn’t count the time you spent writing your story or revising it.

While I cannot speak for every publisher (some out there just slap books out without much attention and likely do not invest that kind of time or money into their authors), I can certainly speak to myself when I say that this kind of relationship is an investment. I am putting my money where my mouth is and betting that you can earn back what I’ve put into your book.

There is this insidious mythology out there in the writerverse that once your book is picked up by a publisher (or you self-publish), you no longer need to do anything except sit back, bask in your own genius, and rake in the profits. Unfortunately, that cannot be further from the truth. In fact, being picked up by a publisher is just step two in your author journey. What it means is someone thinks your book is good enough to invest in.

If you are writing a book with the intent to publish, you are embarking on a business journey.

E. Prybylski

If you are writing a book with the intent to publish, you are embarking on a business journey. You are, in some ways, an entrepreneur. Moreso if you are self-publishing. While, yes, you can write for fun and invest nothing and hurl your book at Amazon for friends and family, if you want to really live those dreams of being famous and having anyone care about your writing outside of your nearest and dearest, it is hard work. Worse, it is hard work that has nothing to do with writing.

Publishing a book is, to a lot of authors, this mythical unicorn in a forest they imagine they can catch just by writing the next world’s greatest novel. Writing your book is good, but it’s just the beginning.

If you are going to go into the business of authorship, you need to be prepared to do a lot of miserable leg work. For example, I spent twelve hours yesterday sniffing out bloggers who read books in my genre and adding nearly two-hundred of them to an Excel spreadsheet so I can track my pre-release review requests. This list is available if anybody wants it; I don’t mind sharing. But these reviewers are mostly geared toward Urban Fantasy, so you’ll want to make sure your book fits into what they read.

That kind of work doesn’t fit with how many people view their life as an author. It was exhausting and tedious, but it was also necessary. My book doesn’t come out until January 13th, 2022 (which is Make Your Dream Come True day, for those curious about why I chose that day), but I am going to be starting to send out review copies in November and have already approached a few reviewers who have said they are booked six months out and require in-advance registrations. (That was a nail-biter for sure.)

In addition to that, I’m in talks with a fellow author and friend of mine, Dr. Joe Weinberg, to get my podcast back up and running as the two of us having chats about writing-related subjects a few times a month. I also write these blogs which are, make no mistake, a form of marketing. That said, I like to think I give enough value in what I have to say that I’m not hammering anyone over the head with “PAY ME FOR STUFF.” Which is kind of the point.

My life–outside of my editing and publishing work for other people–is full of scheduling blog posts, making graphics for said scheduled blog posts, networking on social media, reaching out to blogs/podcasts/vloggers/bookstagram to see who might want to collaborate, interview me, have me write a guest post, or review my book, and studying my social media metrics.

All of that, and I don’t even have a book out yet.

Which isn’t to say this is an all day every day sort of thing; I typically write and edit my blog posts in about an hour each. Sometimes I really get into the groove and write an entire month’s worth in an afternoon and get all of that out of the way so I don’t have to think about it for awhile. Or, if I am going to be traveling (like I am in early September for my wedding anniversary), I plan things in advance so content gets created while I’m gone. I also spend about 20 minutes of targeted networking time on social media a day. I don’t limit myself to one platform and am still feeling out where my target audience is. I think it’s probably Twitter, but I will be honest that I haven’t really started to hit Instagram yet and need to start working on my branding there.

Most of my marketing efforts I set aside to do in small chunks every day, but an ambitious or busy individual may take one day a week and put them all in there (scheduling social media posts for when they aren’t around, for example). I know several authors who operate that way, including my dear friend Jayce Carter who writes delicious erotic romance, if that’s something you’re into reading. I cannot recommend her highly enough. Also, she’s just a delightful human being.

All in all, if this sounds like an awful lot of work, you’re getting the idea. It is. What you’re doing is launching a business like any other. You have a product to sell, and you have something you want the world to see. Even if you did manage to write the next world’s greatest novel, if nobody knows you exist, they can’t read it.

Even if you did manage to write the next world’s greatest novel, if nobody knows you exist, they can’t read it.

E. Prybylski

Even Raymond E. Feist, author of the Riftwar Cycle and man who has sold more than fifteen million books, told me that when he started out as an author, he was beating feet around his downtown in the 1980s, approaching local bookstores and trying to sell his wares. His publisher didn’t do that work for him, and he didn’t gain his fame overnight. He was very frank about the fact that marketing is necessary for authors, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work. (Also, he’s a super nice guy and tries to reply to everyone on his social media.)

Author life is more than book signings, events, speaking engagements, and sitting alone with your whiskey at 3am while you wrestle with your words. Any lingering idea that you can just “make it” without marketing yourself or putting in the un-glamorous backend work is a lie authors are telling themselves and each other. While, sure, lighting could strike, you also could win Powerball. The odds are about the same.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Bad Writing Advice

Bad Writing Advice

I keep having to make grumpy TikTok videos and Twitter posts because I keep running into bad writing advice. So much of it. Everything from, “word count doesn’t matter!” to “editing is a waste of money” to “all critique is equal!” There’s just so much of it, and it never fails to make my hair stand on end.

To be clear here, to me, there are two categories of writing: pleasure and business. If you are writing just for the pure pleasure of creation, most of my writing advice is of only marginal use to you unless you’re trying to hone your craft for yourself. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with writing for pleasure. I draw for pleasure. I do a lot of arts for fun and am not trying to master any of them. They’re creative outlets for me. While I may be quite good at some of them, I’m still just doing it for me. My advice for people writing for pleasure is very different than for those who are trying to get published.

My advice isn’t always popular. I mean, whose is? Nobody’s anything is always popular. Except maybe pet pictures. I have yet to see a pet picture I didn’t like (absent issues with care and well-being of the animal in question). I try to be kind and considerate and understand that there are people from all walks of life and from all different experiences, but there are times where I just have to step in and say, “No, this isn’t true.”

I try to be kind and considerate and understand that there are people from all walks of life and from all different experiences, but there are times where I just have to step in and say, ‘No, this isn’t true.’

I’m not alone in my opinions most of the time, either. I am friendly with a number of editors who will back me up if I say something because I’m not just talking out my backside. I can back my opinions (on writing) up. Now if you ask me my opinion on sports, I have nothing to back that up with. Sportsball and I? Different universes. But my opinions often are the ones people don’t want to hear because it makes writing seem too much like work.

The unfortunate reality I have had to confront, and all of us have to confront sooner or later, is that if we are writing with the intent to publish our books and sell them, it’s a business. Yes, we are artists. Of course we are. I’m not saying we should all be identical to one another or any such nonsense. But if you are writing for publication and intend to make a go at the career and business of writing, there are a lot of harsh truths you have to come to terms with.

Writing has rules, as do genres. Editing is extremely important. Critique is valuable, and where it comes from is important. Someone on Twitter growled at me when I said you should weight critique from vetted or professional sources higher than you do rando comments. And I’m sorry, you should. They came back at me claiming they don’t need to be a professional chef to be able to say they don’t like the food. That’s true. However, that critique isn’t helpful to a writer. The critique we should listen to is by the people who (continuing the chef analogy) can say, “Your cumin balance is off with the rest of this and is making it bitter. Here, let’s change up the recipe a touch so we can stave off that edge. Try adding a little molasses.”

Because in my mind we’re making chili. And that’s how you fix a chili that has too much cumin and is bitter. Also, you can add a little water and add more guts to the chili. Toss in a few more peppers and beans if you can.

That isn’t to say the world at large’s comments don’t have merit–you don’t need to be an expert in writing to notice something is terribly written or otherwise lacking. Hardly so. But where the lack of expertise falls flat is, most of the time, the people making the critique of a writer’s work don’t really know how to fix it. They might be able to identify a problem, but fixing it requires more than just deleting it.

Writing advice that also follows the vein of “the corporate shills don’t know anything, just write what YOU want to write!” is equally poor. The reality is, if you’re going to write for publishing, you have to care what the market wants to some extent. If you want to completely ignore the rules for your genre, you run the risk of not selling and being review bombed OR never being picked up by a publisher or agent. If you are okay with those eventualities, then be honest with yourself: you’re writing because you love it, not because it’s a career. Which is fine–I encourage it, even. But stop dispensing advice like that to people who are trying to be published and want to make a go of turning it into a career.

Part of the reason I take this bad advice so dang personally is because I have seen so many writers be given horrible suggestions that damage their chances. And I get sick to my bones when people are being given bad career advice because I know what it’s like to be them and know nothing of the writing world and be starry-eyed and excited. I got taken advantage of during that time by several people who I thought had my best interests at heart. They did not.

I get sick to my bones when people are given bad career advice because I know what it’s like to be them and know nothing of the world and be starry-eyed and excited. I got taken advantage of during that time by several people who I thought had my best interests at heart. They did not.

E. Prybylski

I get wanting to buck the system and wanting to stick it to “the man.” I do. The Big Five have issues with all sorts of things, and they certainly aren’t always right. I’m all for the indie authors breaking the mold and stepping outside the expected boundaries of writing to do new things. Yes, do it. Rock it. Just recognize that it isn’t right for everyone. There’s a reason a lot of the more conventional writing advice exists. And I don’t mean things about gender, race, or what have you. I mean things like: avoid using too many adverbs; semicolons should be used judiciously; writing what you know…those various pieces of advice exist for a reason. And it’s not just to “keep writers down.”

Then there are the writers who say, “Well ‘x’ big star can get away with it. Why can’t I?” Because you’re not them. They can get away with breaking rules because they did their time following them. Tolkein was able to break rules regarding word counts because he started with several smaller books and proved he could sell them (Also, The Two Towers was just barely over 150k, so not outrageous for that genre). Sir Terry Pratchett didn’t need chapters because he was Sir Terry Pratchett, and his writing flowed like that. He also used footnotes in a unique way that I wouldn’t reccommend for most writers, despite him having pulled it off with panache. There are hundreds of exceptions to the rules out there. But you aren’t them yet. Start by coloring inside the lines (within reason).

I promise you. My advice isn’t designed to crush your soul as a writer. I want the opposite for you. I want you thriving, healthy, and making money (if that’s what you want). I’m not a corporate shill. My publishing company is teeny tiny, and I don’t make enough to be a “corporate” anything. I’m also not suggesting you make cookie-cutter books that are just like everyone else’s. However, what you need to do is stay within reasonable margins as far as writing is concerned. Learn the craft well and intimately first before you decide what rules to break and what rules to follow. If you never learn, understand, and internalize the rules, you won’t know when and how to break them.

In addition to my writing, I have been a professional violinist. I have played for thirty years, everything from darkwave synth to Vivaldi. There are rules in music, too. Things like time signatures and keys. I had to learn those rules before I could break them. Breaking rules is great; musicians do it all the time, but if you never learn them to start with, you just sound like a disaster. This is the same for any art.

Ultimately, this whole post is just a big caveat emptor for writing advice on social media. Be careful what you listen to and who. Not everyone is right, not everyone has your best interests at heart, and you are better off focusing your energy on learning the rules first.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Why Your Epic Isn’t Being Published

Why Your Epic Isn’t Being Published

Let me start by saying I don’t hate long books. I read most of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series (stopped at Dragon in Winter) as well as Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series. I’m here for epic fantasy. Truly. However, when it comes to the book publishing industry, there are a lot of reasons why your epic fantasy isn’t being published. And, contrary to popular opinion, it has absolutely nothing to do with dwindling attention spans or readers not wanting it.

Also, fair warning, this article has a lot of math. If the math is off somewhere, please tell me. I am, in fact, dyscalculic, so sometimes I reverse things when looking at them or typing them into a calculator.

The cold, hard truth is that your epic novel isn’t being picked up for two intertwined reasons. The first is that nobody knows you. If they don’t know you, they don’t know how well you’re going to market and how well your book will sell. Most first books don’t do very well, and very few of the well-known writers of epic wordcount fiction started their careers with huge works. The second is the cost of production. The second point is going to dominate the bulk of this article.

The cold, hard truth is that your epic novel isn’t being picked up for two intertwined reasons. The first is that nobody knows you. (…) The second is the cost of production.

E. Prybylski

Many editors, like myself, charge by the word. I’m not marketing here, just giving you data. Whether it’s a publishing house or a personal edit, an “average” length novel (65,000 words) doing average difficulty line edit will cost about $2,600 using the minimum EFA rates. I charge a little less, personally, but for the purpose of this illustration, I’m using the EFA’s metrics. That’s for your average 65k book. A decent metric of the going rate for line editing (which focuses on sentence composition, passive voice, etc.) is about $0.04 – $0.049 per word (per EFA rates). Most publishers do 3+ rounds of editing with an editor (I know mine does). Typically a book at a publishing house will receive developmental, line, and copy editing, however. All of which have different price points.

If you pitch a novel to a publisher that’s, say, 200k words long, you’re looking at the publisher having to invest a minimum of $8000 for line editing. With three passes of the three different types of editing, that’s $8,000 for line, $4,000 for copy editing, and $6,000 for developmental using the low end EFA’s rates.

Then there’s typesetting. Assuming both print and e-book, you’re looking at around $4,000, then for the ebook it’s going to be a little less, you hope, but still around $1,000 (I did NOT use the EFA’s metric for this one; they charge more for ebook than print which makes no sense to me at all). Then there’s cover design which is several hundred more dollars (minimum for a composite image is around $250ish). Then there’s the ISBN, marketing materials, printing fees (some printers charge to upload; Ingramspark is $25/upload, $35 with print and ebook) and so on.

With these fees all added up together, a publisher would have to invest the following:

  • $6,000 Dev. Edit
  • $8,000 Line Edit
  • $4,000 Copy Edit
  • $4,000 Print Typesetting
  • $1,000 eBook Typesetting
  • $250 Cover
  • $50 ISBN
  • $25 IngramSpark upload

The total adds up to: $23,325

Printing costs for something that size from Ingram Spark, which does POD printing, is $11.51 per book. Since the market will only support your book being priced at around $14.99 to make the math easy. You MIGHT get away with $15.99, but not much higher. Offset print runs will let you drop printing prices by a lot, but then you have to print 1,000 or more books at a time, and good luck storing those. Let alone selling them.

This image shows a screenshot from Ingram's price calculator. It displays that unit selling price per book of this size is $11.51. Handling fee is $1.99. Shipping for one book is $4.05. The total to print and ship a single book of this size is $17.55.
Screenshot from Ingram’s price calculator.

Bookstores, assuming you want to work with them, require a 40% discount off the cover price. That means in order to sell to bookstores, you have to make less than your printing costs to sell there if you want to sell at a market value. So bookstores? Right out. You’d have to sell copies to them for $5.99, and since it costs $11.51 just to print that monstrosity, you’re going nowhere with bookstores.

Since the average author sells (being optimistic) 200-300 books their first year, we are looking at over six-hundred years before we break even.

E. Prybylski

The shipping costs on a book like that are easily going to be about $6/book, which is expensive to say the least. Boxes will be cheaper, but since they’re so big, fewer books will fit per box, increasing shipping charges by a lot. Also, Amazon takes a 15% bite out of any book sales off its site plus a flat $1.85 from each sale.

You will likely be getting 15% royalties (net, not list) on your book for print copies. 40% – 50% on ebooks is average. But right now I’m focused on print copies.

So, all this math in mind. Assuming the book is selling for $15.99 on Amazon, the numbers look like this:

  • List Price: $15.99
  • Printing Cost: $11.51
  • Amazon Charge: $4.29
  • Total Profit Per Book: $0.19
  • Author profit: $0.02
  • Publisher Profit: $0.17

At that rate, it is going to take 140,000-ish sales for the publisher to make back what they’ve invested in you. Since the average author sells (being optimistic) 200-300 their first year, we are looking at about over six hundred years before we break even. So you can see why we aren’t interested.

Also, most well-marketed indie books sell, on average, about 2,000 copies in their lifetimes, so you’re never going to get to that 140,000 mark because chances of you breaking 1,000 are entirely dependent on your success at marketing. And most authors I’ve worked with have no idea how to do that.

Unless you’re Stephen King, G.R.R.M., J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, or Tolstoy, there’s no way we can afford to do an offset print run of 1,000 or more books (which would take the printing price down to around $7.50/book based on calculators I’ve seen). For one, there’s no guarantee they’d sell. For another, that would be another $7,500 we’re investing in you before we see a penny. And furthermore, while I do have a barn, I don’t have room for 1,000 books in it. My goats would eat them.

If you’re self-publishing, you should consider the costs I mentioned above. (…) Consider how long it will take you to recoup your investment.

E. Prybylski

If you’re self-publishing, you should also consider the costs I mentioned above. While you are going to be getting around $.19 per book, consider how long it will take you to recoup your investment. Even if you only do a single round of editing, cross your fingers, and pray. Also, while you can charge more for your book, it’ll start severely limiting the number of people who will purchase it. You can play with your pricing, but on average, readers won’t want to pay much more than $17.95, and even that is pushing it for an unknown author whose book they may not enjoy.

Even if we’re just talking an ebook version, and we cut out all the printing costs and some of the typesetting costs, you’re looking at $19,325. Ebooks often sell for about $5.99ish for a book like this. So let’s do the math for that:

  • Book List Price $5.99
  • Amazon Fees: $1.80
  • Total Profit Per Book: $4.19
  • Author Profit: $1.68
  • Publisher Profit: $2.51

If we’re doing just ebooks, it would take 7,699 copies for the publisher to break even. Assuming, again, that you manage a consistent 200 copies a year, it would take them nearly forty years to break even on the costs of picking up your book. Most indie authors or new authors cannot guarantee 200 books a year. They’re lucky to sell 200 books in the lifetime of their book because so many of them don’t market because they don’t know how. Also, again, I remind you that most books don’t break 2,000 in lifetime sales for indie authors. In order for them to break with that number, even with ebooks, they’d need a profit of $9.67 per book. Which is more than you can sell most ebooks for per book. Amazon allows you to get 70% of the royalties on prices between $2.99 and $9.99. Outside of that, you get a royalty of 35%.

The long and short of this is: the math just don’t add up. New, untested author with a HUGE book to sell, no certainty of returns, and with profit margins thinner than one-ply toilet paper? Nobody’s going to touch you with a ten-foot pole. Not because marketing or readers don’t want it or dwindling attention spans–it’s because we can’t wait over six hundred years to be profitable. Heck, we can’t wait forty years to turn a profit.

Publishing books is, I’m sorry to say it, a business. And businesses must be profitable in order to stay afloat. I don’t say this to discourage or harm you in any way, but it’s a fundemental reality of publishing books. And there’s no way around it if you want to make a living as an author. While you MIGHT be that one-in-a-million author who makes it big, recognize that most publishers don’t have the capital to take that risk.

What so many authors don’t realize is that when we agree to publish your book, we are instantly investing that kind of money in you. As such, your book has to be worth a minimum of the costs it would take to produce. On average, it costs about $10,000 for an average-sized novel to go through the editing, cover design, typesetting, and so on. If you want me to invest twice that in you for no profits, you’d better run the math again. I can’t do it. No matter how good it is. At the very least, the book is getting split in half, if not thirds. And that’s if I really feel strongly that I want to invest in it.

While writing in and of itself is an art form, publishing is a business, and if the math doesn’t add up to profit, we cannot risk investing in you. It’s no different than any other industry. Dollars and cents matter, and if you want to have someone invest in you, you need a product that will sell reliably in order to get someone to throw in behind you. While indie publishers may be willing to take risks on new authors and try new things, some things we cannot afford to do. And it isn’t personal. It’s numbers.

And this subject upset me enough that I had to do math. Look what y’all did to me! I hate math!

Also, as a side note, miss me with the whole “then I’ll just do it all myself and not pay anybody!” argument. I get it. Publishing on your own is expensive, and the siren call of Amazon telling you, you can do it all yourself is strong. It isn’t worth it. At the very least, if you aren’t an expert graphic designer, you will need a minimum of one pass of editing and a good cover design. Even if you ignore all the other costs, your profit margins on a book this size will take you a very long time to break even. Otherwise, listen to the experts, cut your book into smaller works (trilogies sell really well!), and market, market, market. You will stand a far better chance of getting noticed, of getting sales, and of being financially successful.

If you don’t care about the money and just want to get your work out there in front of people because you want to share it, all the more power to you. Try using sites like Wattpad or AO3 and enjoy the communities and have fun together. I’m not going to tell you never to write them. Just recognize that they are a really hard sell as a business investment.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Writing With Disability

Writing With Disability

A lot of writers I meet talk about how they aren’t sure they can write because they have ADHD, dyslexia, or various other learning disorders, neurological conditions, or other such difficulties that impact their ability to write. With that in mind, I thought I’d write about how I do it because I am neurodivergent and have multiple physical difficulties that heavily impact my ability to write. I am also dyslexic and dyscalculic.

Let me say that again: I am dyslexic, dyscalculic, have ADHD, and various physical disabilities that seriously impact my ability to write and function, but I have managed to find ways to write. I’m not saying this to shame you but to encourage you. There are ways. You don’t have to give up your dreams. As such, this blog is going to be broken down into a few different segments. While I cannot address all forms of disabilities or impairment here, I’m going to give you the strategies I’ve used that help.

Coping with ADHD

ADHD is a constant in my life. I have medication for days when I really need to zero in, but for the most part I’m unmedicated. This means my attention bounces around like a ping pong ball having a sugar rush at times. It is a challenge to manage when it comes to zeroing in to write. While my coping methods won’t work for everyone, I can tell you what I do that helps, which may make a difference for you.

  1. Focus Mode
    Focus mode in my writing software is a lifesaver. It makes my writing application (QuollWriter or Word) take up the entire screen, hides the taskbar, and blocks out notifications. I can block out all the distractions of my PC and write.
  2. Music
    I listen to music a lot when I write. It helps occupy the part of my brain that needs extra stimulation. It’s the same reason I played Solitaire or Mahjong in class in college during lectures. I was listening and taking notes, but I needed something else to do to help me focus. My professors didn’t understand, and I got a lot of crap for it, but it worked.

    I choose music with no lyrics or music with lyrics in languages I don’t speak so I don’t get distracted. Bonus points, I usually match the feel of the scenes I’m working on to my music choices. It helps with immersion.
  3. Routines
    Creating a routine around your writing can be really important. It doesn’t have to be a set time of day if you can’t make that happen (I can’t), but you can have a specific drink, open your software and notes in a specific order, listen to a specific playlist, do a few stretches…whatever your routine looks like, build one. It helps your brain click over into writing mode because it knows that’s what’s coming. Routines are really important for ADHD folks anyway, so developing one for writing can be very helpful.
  4. OUTLINES
    While I am likely to get screaming from the pantsers out there, I have found that there is nothing more valuable to my writing than an outline. It means that when (not if, but when) I get distracted by a new shiny scene or character I don’t forget the plot I was working on. I can refer to it and ensure I am still hitting the beats I need to. I use the Beat Sheet to outline my books, so it’s not a play by play, but I still have a general idea of where I’m going when.
  5. Boundaries
    Since it’s so much easier for us to get distracted, set boundaries. Tell people you’re busy, shut off notifications on your phone, and drown out the world with noise-canceling headphones if you have to. If you have distractions every three seconds, you’ll never get any words down, and trying to reclaim your headspace once it’s been broken is a disaster.
  6. Be Careful With Hyperfocus
    Hyperfocus can be your friend when you want to deep dive, but make sure you don’t just give in and forget to eat/drink/use the bathroom, and if you don’t moderate it, you’ll end up with burnout faster than your brain switches topics when you’re trying to go to sleep. Use timers and remind yourself to take breaks. I like the Pomodoro Timer method, which does chunks of 15-30 minutes. But you can use whatever time works for you.

Writing With Dyslexia/Dyscalculia

Dyslexia can be a real beast, but there are ways you can get around having your words scramble like you dumped out a box of Scrabble pieces. I won’t pretend it solves the problem entirely, but you can make your work more readable for yourself while you work, and you don’t need to give up.

  1. Fonts
    While your mileage may vary, I find that certain fonts are dramatically more readable than others. I particularly like Georgia and Cambria. I find the serif fonts are easier on my dyslexia, and you want the space between the letters to be a little bigger. It will help with character recognition for you.
  2. Double Space
    Double-spacing a manuscript may offer you a little more of that extra room on the page and help you stave off the feeling of drowning in letters. It makes your life a little easier when you’re working with things. Again, at least for me.
  3. Shorter Paragraphs
    One of the biggest issues I have with my dyslexia is long paragraphs with no breaks. If there’s a paragraph that’s longer than 3-5 lines, I’m doomed. I need to use a ruler to separate it out from other paragraphs, and doing that on my Fire tablet or my computer screen is hard. As such, I tend to write shorter paragraphs because it’s how I read best.
  4. Read Aloud Software
    Many people don’t know this, but Word has a built in function to read the contents of a document to a listener. It’s hardly the most exciting audiobook you’ve ever heard, but it will allow you to review your writing if you’re having a day where your eyes cross and everything’s a mess.
  5. Have Someone Else Check Your Chapter Numbering
    While this is more true for dyscalulic folks than just dyslexic folks, I cannot parse a chapter structure, and if I get off somewhere, I’m doomed. My editor knows this, so she handles the chapter numbering for me if I make a mistake somewhere.

    It’s a huge problem for me because I just cannot manage numbers. As such, when typesetting, I rely on my typesetting software to add page numbers for me and other people to make sure the chapter numbering is correct.

Writing With Physical Disability

While there are a million physical disabilities out there, I struggle with two specific ones: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and chronic migraines. I have a dear friend with nerve damage to one of his hands, so he can’t type. I know people who have carpal tunnel and can’t type either. There are a lot of physical disabilities out there, but there are also a huge number of accessibility options in the world.

If you cannot type for whatever reason, you can try using software like Dragon Naturally Speaking or, again, Word has a diction function. There are also apps on the phone that will let you dictate your stories, papers, and ideas. It takes some getting used to and sometimes results in irksome errors, but once you learn how to use dictation software, you can do a lot with it. Also, some software allows you to control your entire computer by voice, so you don’t need to use a mouse or keyboard much if at all.

With disorders that come with severe pain, you may need to lower your word count goals. The average suggested daily wordcount is around 1,000/day if you can manage it (that’s about two non-double-spaced pages in Word). However, if you deal with chronic pain and brain fog, maybe you can only manage a hundred. Heck, maybe you can only do a sentence on a bad day.

That is enough.

I’ve needed to take breaks for weeks because of pain flares, and sometimes that’s just reality. However, it doesn’t mean we cannot write professionally. It just means we won’t bang out a book every few months. You can learn what your body will let you do and work within that structure. It’s okay to be slow at it. It’s okay to not be prolific. You can still write. Dictate your stories to your phone if you have to, but you don’t have to suffer alone with those stories stuck in your brain.

Dealing With Ableist Nonsense

There are a lot of memes out there and “inspirational quotes” and people saying things on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram etc. who have good intentions. There is so much out there that talks about how if you don’t write every day or don’t conform to “x, y, z” criteria, you can’t be a writer. Or you just don’t “want it enough.”

Listen, we already have enough crap as folks with disabilities. We face social stigmas, issues with doctors, marriage inequality (because if you marry, you lose your benefits a lot of the time) and with places and activities being inaccessible to us. Don’t let them try to take writing from you too.

Whether you’re dealing with well-intentioned but ignorant advice or memes that, if you really considered the content, are damaging to disabled folks, we’ve all seen it. Heck, I’ve had people give me looks when I use mobility aids because nobody believes that I, at thirty-five, need a cane. I’ve also had people be incredibly kind to me, too, but there are always the jerks.

As a disabled person and a writer, I can tell you that writing is something you can do if it’s in your heart. You might need accessibility software, need to write at a different pace, or need other accommodations, but you can still do it. Imagination is one thing that the world can’t take from us. Even as my body falls apart, and my other hobbies and passions become inaccessible to me, nothing can ever take my imagination. So that’s what I use.

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t be a writer because of your disability. If your writing is awful? You can learn. But your disability doesn’t have to be the thing keep you from writing.

I believe in you.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

When Are You Ready For An Editor?

When Are You Ready For An Editor?

I see this a lot. Authors regularly come to me with books that just aren’t ready for me to look at the way they’re hoping. That isn’t to say I can’t help, but they’re trying to put the final polish on a book that hasn’t yet been cut, so to speak. While I’ll do the job they ask of me if they’re sure that’s what they want, it isn’t usually the best option.

So, in order to answer this question to its fullest, let’s start with discussing the types of editing available as well as other services that are related to this whole mess. I’m going to do this in order of where they come in the writing process, earliest to latest, so that way you can gauge where you are and see what you might need.

Book Coaching

A book coach helps you find your way through the process of writing a book. I provide this service to clients who are looking for organization, guidance, and structure. While coaching is unique for each client, it often looks like us meeting every week or so and discussing where an author is, what challenges they faced that week, how much they’ve written so far, and tackling things that are keeping them from making the progress they want. I also typically give lessons on structure, critique scenes or chapters, and help them stay on track with regular check-ins, even if we aren’t meeting every week.

Developmental Editing

This phase helps you put together the bones of your story. Hiring a developmental editor is for a manuscript that is pretty early in the process. A developmental edit addresses structural changes to a story–things like pacing, characterization, character development, and other such broad stroke items. That isn’t to say a developmental editor will make chop suey of your manuscript. Recently I worked with a client who was struggling with structural problems between acts one and two, and I advised that they add some scenes. The issue for them was they weren’t super clear on where the exact break between the acts was supposed to be. I didn’t advise the client delete anything wholesale.

I had another who needed a lot of structural work for pacing because partway through the story they didn’t know exactly where they were going. They figured out the thread toward the end of act two, but there was a lot in the middle we had to work out. We cut out the chaff and zeroed in on the things that needed doing.

If this sounds like a big, scary process, I promise it doesn’t have to be. A good developmental editor is there to help you tell your story the best they can in your voice. We aren’t trying to tell it in ours. If a developmental editor feels like they don’t get your book or aren’t giving you feedback you need, it’s totally okay to cease work (though it’s best practices to pay people for their time) and find another editor who you mesh better with.

To go back to the analogy of gems, this is where we start examining the quality of a raw gem to see what we can help you create out of it. We see the promise; we just need to get out of the surrounding rock.

If this sounds like a big, scary process, I promise it doesn’t have to be. A good editor is there to help you tell your story the best they can in your voice.

E. Prybylski

Line Editing

Line editing is going through the manuscript line by line (hence the name) and looking at things like word choice, sentence structure, and clarity. This is the phase where we iron out how many adverbs you really need (yes, you’re allowed to use them), help you use stronger verbs, give you insight into how to use your voice to its fullest advantage. This is the kind of editing people usually think of when they think of editing. It typically costs more than developmental editing and copy editing because it is the most labor-intensive for the editor in terms of hours spent because we need to evaluate every single word of the manuscript.

As before, of course, the intent of this is not to sanitize the author’s voice. Your voice. I’ve done blogs on author voice in the past, though I can’t find any more recent than 2011, so it’s probably due for an update. However, the long and short of it is: your voice is the way you write that makes you unique from any other. It’s not about whether or not you use adverbs or semicolons or what have you. It’s bigger than a sentence or word.

In order to really change or alter an author’s voice, I would either have to rewrite the entire thing myself or make such substantial changes to every single sentence that it is unreadable. These changes are bigger than punctuation or correcting inaccurate grammar. They’re also bigger than helping an author avoid passive voice, flying POV changes, and other such things. Don’t fret.

In the gemstone analogy, this is where the gem is cut.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is the highest level of editing. At this point, the editor doesn’t care if you used too many adverbs, if you wrote the entire thing in passive voice, and so on. Well, that’s mostly true. It’ll still make our hair stand on end, and we might leave you a comment, but we aren’t going to fix it for you because we’re not being paid to.

While in some parts of the editing community, line editing and copy editing are smooshed into a single service (I often do both at the same time), if someone just pays for copy editing, that’s what they are going to receive. If you are hiring an editor for copy editing, a few things are expected: you have either self-edited to the point where you are confident your book says what you intend or you have had another editor(s) review the book already to your satisfaction.

As you can see, this is also pretty far down the list in order of what happens when. Hiring someone to copy edit your book too early (if you plan on adding/changing scenes or doing a line edit) will just mean having to pay for one again later. While, yes, copy editing is less expensive than line editing, I wouldn’t skip that phase unless you really know what you’re doing. I have clients who come to me just for copy editing on their fiction, and they are extremely good at what they do. They’re experienced authors who don’t really need me to go word by word to make sure everything’s where it ought to be.

If you aren’t an experienced author who really has a good handle on all the bits and bobs of writing, I wouldn’t skip around. However, you might be able to find editors willing to work with you in your price range, so if money is an issue, shop around and see who’s available and at what price. That said, editing is one of the industries where you tend to get what you pay for. If you see someone charging a fair chunk of change, there’s likely a good reason for that.

In our gem cutting metaphor, this is the polish phase.

If you aren’t an experienced author who has a really good handle on all the bits and bobs of writing, I wouldn’t skip around. However, you might be able to find editors willing to work with you in your price range.

E. Prybylski

Proofreading

Finally, we get to proofreading. This is done when the book is formatted to make sure everything is caught and clean. If you are doing an ebook only, it may well be done in Word, but traditionally it’s done either in print or in the software the book is being formatted in. This can include things like making sure leading and kerning are correct, catching widows and orphans, and fixing up any last-minute typos. It is the very last look before something goes to print.

Proofreading is the absolute final step in review before your book is published. This is the final pass, and the last pair of eyes. Ideally it should be different from whoever did the other rounds of editing. I always advise two editors look at a project before it goes out. Even if one has done the rest of the editing process, having a fresh set of eyes to catch typos and find last-minute errors is invaluable.

When publishing novels through Insomnia, we always pass them back and forth to another editor in the company for this final run before the book is published for realsies. While this step may not be doable for all authors, I cannot overestimate the value of it.

SO!

All of that explanation out of the way, when should you hire an editor? The real answer, at the end of the day, is: It depends.

E. Prybylski

All of that explanation out of the way, when should you hire an editor? The real answer, at the end of the day, is: It depends. Where you are in the writing process tells you what kind of editing you want and who to look for. Absent you hiring a book coach to help you get your work on track, however, you should wait until you’ve finished your first draft and done at least one round of self-editing.

That means you finish it, have a celebratory glass of your favorite beverage, wait a few days, or a week or more for some folks, and then re-read what you wrote. Take notes. Outline your book again based on what you wrote (that’s a blog for another day that I’ll do) and really evaluate your novel. Then maybe send it to a beta reader or twelve. Once you’ve done that, then see where you’re at. If your story structure is solid, and you don’t think you have any pacing problems? Start looking for a line editor.

When in doubt, too, you can contact an editor to tell them where you’re at, what’s going on, and ask them what you need. Many editors perform manuscript evaluations for a reasonable fee in order to give you specific feedback about what you need, where, and why. They may pitch specific services to you, also.

I’ve had authors come to me for a line edit and I’ve told them what they really need is developmental or copy editing. It can go either way. While a manuscript evaluation may feel like an extra expense, the reality is it can save you a lot of money in the long run, and it’s worth considering if you’re feeling wibbldy about where you are in the process.

For what it’s worth, and to plug my services down here at the bottom, if you are interested in any of these types of editing, want a manuscript evaluation, or just in general are looking for help figuring out what you next step is, you can contact me through my editing website, and we can talk through what you need. If I’m not the right editor for you, I know many in multiple genres who may be able to help. I have resources to help you find what you’re looking for. That service is free. I’m here to help, not wring every penny out of you.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Advice In Context and Style Guides

Advice In Context and Style Guides

I come across writers all the time who are bucking “the system” and posting rebellious tweets or Facebook messages about how they’ll keep their adverbs in (thank you very much) and how much they hate editors and how much they’re keeping very single dang comma. While I don’t always agree, I understand the frustration and backlash against what they see as prescriptivist, pedantic nonsense.

As you may have come to expect from me, I’m going to be straight with you here: they’re not all wrong.

The problem with a lot of the writing advice I’ve read, seen, and had given to me even by well-meaning and experienced authors has been that it lacks context. Let’s look at, for example, the injunction against using adverbs in prose. The reality is, adverbs have an important and valuable function. They’re a part of language for a reason, and I won’t tell you otherwise. The sticking point that isn’t usually explained along with the “avoid adverbs” advice is that you should avoid them when a stronger verb is available. The example I always give is: “he ran quickly” vs. “he sprinted.” In this example, “ran quickly” is redundant due to the presence of good, descriptive, solid verbs that could be used in place of it, so it weakens the writing.

As in all things here, adverbs (and pretty much everything else, if I’m honest) should be used like you use salt in cooking: The correct amount of salt enhances a dish, too much destroys it, and everyone’s taste differs. Also, certain genres are more forgiving of some types of tropes and language uses than others. YA would likely be more accepting of adverbs than, say, epic fantasy. The readership has different expectations.

Note: I am NOT in ANY WAY implying that epic fantasy is superior to YA. It’s not. They’re just different. I love both genres.

And this is just one example!

As someone who hangs out in writing circles and dispenses advice, the key for most things authors wrestle with is context. An “info dump” (aka. expositionary passage) is utterly necessary in some genres and places. There are right and wrong ways to go about it, but in SF/F you just have to get the world building out there sometimes, which means dropping it on your readers. In some subgenres of fantasy (like epic fantasy) readers live for the Tolkien-esque descriptions of kings and queens of old and historical events and so on. I think space opera sci-fi has a similar bent.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside. That’s how you end up with the idea that all adverbs are forbidden and any setting information is info-dumping and all the other misguided advice.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside.

E. Prybylski

Unfortunately, as a byproduct of that misguided advice, you end up with authors ready to heave all convention out the window and end up hateful and suspicious of editors. I’ll admit to being kinda sus, but so long as we’re not playing Among Us you’re probably okay. Probably. All joking aside, though, editors aren’t all pedants. In fact, the vast majority of the ones I know see variations in language as healthy and something to be celebrated. Also, we want to support you, not tear you down. That wouldn’t help anybody.

Another thing most people don’t tell writers is that grammar and punctuation has multiple styles. Most folks wouldn’t know AP from Chicago, and that’s why we editors have a job. Beyond that, many publishers (like mine for example) have in-house style guides that cherry-pick the punctuation norms we prefer. Oxford Comma? Style. Spaces around em-dashes or ellipses? Style. Using UK or US spelling? Style. Commas as breaks in ways other than strictly defined? Depending on their use, it could be pulling on older styles of comma usage. Also a style.

The key thing, however, is that whatever you do, do it on purpose. If you are messing up and trying to cover your butt by claiming you, uh, meant to do that, it’ll be obvious. I always advise to my clients to learn the rules first. Learn the irritating, pedantic, prescriptivist rules. Then once you know them, have internalized them, and understand them, at that point you can start breaking them. If you are doing things out of ignorance, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to back things up and will just be wrong and inconsistent. And that won’t be a good look for you.

However you choose to go about it, consider making your style guide something you codify. Do you spell it “gray” or “grey?” I infinitely prefer “grey.” I don’t have a good reason why except for the fact that I grew up reading UK authors, and some of their spellings and conventions leaked into my internal lexicon (thanks, Anne McCaffrey and Tolkein). This style guide serves two very specific purposes. The first is to make sure your work is internally consistent. If you are consistent in how you do or do not use specific linguistic tools, it shows you are doing it on purpose. Now, there’s a chance that you’ll be wrong (I have an author who struggles with terminal punctuation in dialogue, for example), but if you’re consistent it’s also easier to fix with find/replace. Second, this style guide will be something you can provide to your editor so they know what you want when they’re editing your book. While they may have feedback to give on your style guide, if they know your intent, it will require less of an attempt at mind reading.

One thing to note, however, is if you are traditionally publishing, the publisher will have a house style guide that will supersede your own. You may not get a say in it at all, and at that point you’re rubbing up against the realities of traditional publishing. While it provides you with the benefits of not having to do and source everything yourself, you lose certain elements of creative control and are bound by the regulations of the publisher. The good news is, though, publishers have reasons why they want things the way they want them, so it’s not just arbitrary, and they aren’t going to ruin your book. Well, any good publisher won’t, anyway. I can’t account for jerks.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Characterization and its Value

Characterization and its Value

After years of writing this blog on and off, I came to the startling realization yesterday that I hadn’t written an entry regarding characterization and what that means for authors and books. In light of this horrible mistake, I am writing this entry now!

Characterization is telling the reader about characters (or even places). It’s the meat and potatoes of the “getting to know you” part of the story, and it can be extremely powerful. This blog ties directly into last week’s topic: description, so if you haven’t read that yet, I’d catch up!

Over and over again in groups and with individuals, I see folks struggling with how in the world do you help readers understand things without beating them over the head with it. We are told often to show, not tell, and while this advice has value, it’s missing a lot of the “how” of the statement. Part of the how is characterization.

I’m going to start with indirect characterization here rather than begin with direct because, frankly, I like indirect more. In some ways, you can think of it like the way Sherlock Holmes deduces facts about a person based on things like their shoes, watch, colors, clothing style, and all other details. While what he does is an exaggeration, it reflects something we as humans do every day when we meet people. It’s the reason why “long-haired freaky people need not apply” became a thing. We form understandings of people based on details about them. Whether these opinions are accurate or not is an entirely separate discussion, but it is a real thing that occurs in the world, and we can capitalize on it in our storytelling.

Characterization can happen beyond just describing a person, too. Describing their space or things around them can add a lot to the understanding of an individual. Let’s take a look at what I mean through two descriptions:

Morgan’s office was so clean it looked as though nobody could really work there. Every paper sat in a precise spot on the glass top of his desk (which was so clean it gleamed and didn’t so much as bear a single fingerprint), and his pens were organized into several containers by color. The wide windows behind him looked out onto the university campus grounds from the height of several floors, affording him the view of an eagle in its nest.

Office One

Richard’s office perpetually smelled like Indian food. Piles of books covered every surface, many with extra papers stuffed into them–notes often tangentially related to the book he’d filed them in. The dark wood paneling and many bookshelves gave the space an almost cave-like feel, and the incandescent bulbs he used in his many lamps only heightened the sense of dark and warmth. He refused to use the overhead lighting, finding the buzz of the fluorescents unendurable.

Office Two

Now, we know nothing about Morgan or Richard or what they look like or even what they teach. But these two offices tell stories about two radically different people, and we can gather bits of their personality through their spaces. This is characterization. While it doesn’t always require a large description to get a point across, you are giving readers an insight into a character’s head when you talk about their clothing, their choices in music, their cars, the way they arrange their bedrooms, and the way they use language in dialogue.

The way you use language, too, can indicate to a reader how they should feel about a character. If you use warmer, more caring language to describe them, readers will pick up on that. Even subconsciously. While most readers don’t enjoy a book with an exceptionally analytical eye, they are more perceptive than you might expect. You can rely on this and know that readers do typically pick up on subtext pretty well so long as you don’t bury it.

This use of indirect characterization is half the puzzle. Using a character’s spaces, clothing, and other such things is considered “indirect” characterization. As you may imagine, it’s the less overt way telling the reader who these characters are as you can probably glean from the name.

Direct characterization are things you tell the reader outright. These are things you tell the reader such as describing someone as “a tall, thin woman with confidence that hung on her like a mantle.” Too much of this will breach into “telling” territory, but it is the most efficient means of giving readers information. If a character is only going to be on scene for a short period of time, or you need a reader to know some very specific details about them for story purposes, this is a good bet.

Also, direct characterization includes things like a character telling someone something about themselves or thinking it if you’re using internal dialogue as a method in your story. It isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, and if you only use indirect characterization in a novel there’s a good chance you’ll hurt your pacing by having to tell readers an overwhelming amount of detail about the character to get your point across.

My definitions of direct and indirect characterization here differ from some other examples I’ve read where they say direct characterization is only the author telling the reader specific things (like me mentioning the confident woman) rather than any sort of reveal about a character through direct thoughts or dialogue, but I’m going to posit that anything that is equally obvious to the reader would fall under direct. While indirect is more environmental storytelling or telling the reader things about the character through the use of their clothes and other such markers.

Regardless of how you choose to discern direct and indirect characterization, we can all agree both types are vital to a story and provide a backbone to how your characters are viewed by the reader. The same actions taken by one character might be viewed very differently when taken by another based on the way you as a writer choose to display them.

Beyond this, characterization also happens with every action a character takes in a story. The reader gains more insight into them with every word devoted to that character. While, obviously, some methods are more effective and useful than others, recognize that readers absolutely will pick up on things.

This leads us to discussing issues where, for example, people hate your main character or don’t understand their motives. While some of this might come down to having a main character who relies on tropes or behaves in ways abhorrent to a reader’s sensibilities, some of it could well be lack of characterization on the part of the author. After all, to us, our character’s motives and intentions are crystal clear. If a reader just cannot connect with a character at all, there’s a good chance you’re missing some of the pieces that give a reader insight into them.

This is not to say characters cannot have secrets or big reveals, but remember, readers are gathering information on every single action a character takes. If they don’t have enough information for them to understand why a character is taking the action they are, you’ve missed a beat somewhere. Fortunately, adding that in may be as simple as providing a few lines of dialogue or a paragraph where a character ruminates on their intended purpose.

However, there are some characters where no amount of characterization will make them not sketchy down at their core. I’m sorry, Twilight fans, at no point does Edward Cullen being over a hundred years old and perpetually in high school and stalking a seventeen year old girl become less creepy. No matter how you frame it. Nor does Jacob deciding that Bella’s unborn child is his mate and that he’s going to groom the kid to be his perfect lady. The facts of the matter are still horrible.