Tag: Publishing Industry

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.

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7 Classic Query Blunders

7 Classic Query Blunders

I started my career as an acquisitions editor and still deal with acquisitions. Through that experience, I can tell you there are a few things that will always make me stomp my feet and scream. In fact, I may even throw my hands up. Queries are a hard part of writing, but there are a few things you absolutely must get correct to avoid being sent the dreaded form rejection letter. While I’m not saying you’ll absolutely be accepted if you avoid these mistakes, your likelihood of acceptance is vastly higher.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

  1. Not following guidelines.
    While a lot of writing has things that are wibbldy and wobldy and wishy-washy, query guidelines are not. We ask for specific things because they’re what we absolutely need to know, and we need that information as efficiently as possible. For example, if someone sent my company, Insomnia Publishing, an erotica novel to publish, I’d reject it without looking at the rest of the query. No offense to erotica (I have erotica writers I’m close to, and the genre’s dandy in my book–hurr, I made a pun), but we aren’t a romance/erotica publisher. We are only speculative fiction.
  2. Writing “fun” queries.
    If you’re writing a query as the main character or trying to do something funky with fonts or images, please don’t. I know you’re desperately trying to stand out in my inbox. But making the background of your email lime green and your text fuchsia will cause me a migraine and net you a rejection out of hand. It does make you stand out, that’s for sure, but standing out doesn’t always mean good things.

    Write me a query that’s honest, to the point, contains the information I need, and is polite and well-formatted. That will make you stand out. If you want to use a font that isn’t Times New Roman, Size 12 (that’s the industry standard), feel free to use other easy-to-read fonts like Garamond, Georgia, Cambria, etc. While I can’t speak for other editors (and if they list a font requirement in their guidelines use it), so long as it’s easy to read and standard, I won’t complain.

    Unless you send me a query in Papyrus. Just. . . just don’t.
  3. Word counts outside of what we ask for.
    This won’t be an immediate failure unless it’s dramatically outside our maximums and minimums. Our listed maximum is 120k words for high fantasy and historical novels. If your novel is 130k words, I won’t burn your query in effigy. If it’s 220k words, I will probably pour myself a glass of Moscato, pop some fruit in that, drink it, and send you a rejection.

    While you can argue until you’re blue in the face that if writers like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin can do it, so can you, it doesn’t mean we can afford to take that risk at this point in time. The overheads are going to be outrageous. The cost to edit, format, and (assuming print) print and ship that is going to be horrendous. Unless you’re Stephen King magically sending me a query (Hi, Mr. King, I’ll accept anything you send me), you’re going to have to abide by what we can see as acceptable risk.
  4. You haven’t explained your genre well.
    This part is hard, and I get that. But if you send me a book and describe it as a fantasy/historical/cyberpunk/paranormal/sci-fi/romance, I am probably going to go right back to the wine. In fact, just writing that makes me twitch a little. While it’s tempting to try and label your book as every genre it might cross over into, I really just need the main details.

    If it’s a cyberpunk/fantasy? Great. I’m a Shadowrun fan. I can grok that. But when the genres don’t make sense together or you don’t explain it well, I’m just going to be confused and turn it down. I need to understand what I’m looking at immediately. If you can’t make that clear, your book is too complex and needs revision, or you don’t have a clear enough view to market it.

    Part of this question about genre comes down to: who is the target market for this book? If I can’t pinpoint a target market of people who will want to buy this, I can’t sell it. If I can’t sell it, I don’t want to publish it.
  5. Your query is poorly-written.
    If your query is full of grammatical errors and questionable word choice or excessively over-written, I am going to expect that of the book. We’re all human, and if you have a typo in there (like for some reason I write “youo” like 98% of the time I type “you”) it’s not going to break you. But if it’s written with heavily passive voice, purple prose, or an obvious and poor understanding of sentence construction, it tells me the book is going to be the same. Perfection isn’t necessary, but being solid and clear? Yeah, that’s a requirement.
  6. Your tone.
    I’ve been in this industry long enough that most of the time I can identify a nightmare client from tone. I have received hundreds of “you’re just a literary hack who doesn’t understand my genius” responses over my decade working in the industry. I can recognize the author who is convinced that they are the embodiment of Tolkien or Heinlein. If you strike me as someone who will be an utter nightmare to edit, you’ll get a rejection.

    I know that sounds harsh, but for every person who is too full of their own genius that they cannot understand why I’d want to change a single comma, there are dozens of brilliant, motivated authors eager to learn and improve and willing to work with an editor.
  7. Your marketing plan is disorganized or non-existent.
    My company has recently started requiring marketing plans from our authors in the query. It doesn’t need to be huge, but it has to show that thought has been put into it and that you’re willing to do the work needed to make your book a success. This is because we have run into situations where authors refuse to market, cannot market, or have no plans whatsoever to market, and as a result they do nothing to help move books. While marketing is a complex subject for another blog, know that coming to the table with a plan with clear, actionable steps (even if it’s something as simple as: weekly blogs, engage on social media to grow readership, blog tours) will make you instantly more appealing.

    While I have no problems helping our authors market and giving them all the tools I know of, I am not a publicist, nor does my company have the money to hire one. They’re expensive. And if we did hire one, it would be to work with us on some of our bigger titles, not every single one. (Much as larger companies only will have 2-3 major titles per quarter/period that their publicists focus on.) Marketing falls to authors a lot of the time, and there’s only so much we can do about it.

    In reality, there’s also only so much I can do for an author. I cannot build an author page for you, make your Facebook author page and populate it with content, create an official author Twitter for you, or write your blog posts and develop your email list for you. Those are things I absolutely cannot do for you even if I wanted to. So go into it with a plan if you can, and do some study ahead of time to learn at least a little about what’s needed.

    IngramSpark has a good checklist of how to handle a book release and what to do when, so I’ll leave the marketing conversation here and let you read that checklist to help you plan things out.

This is by no means a complete list of things that might turn an acquisition editor off, but it covers the big ones that come to mind when I think about queries. I know some of these may sound a little harsh, but try and remember that acquisitions editors often deal with hundreds of emails a day for larger companies. Our process is usually streamlined to be as efficient as possible and allow us to spend as little time as possible reading a query before making a decision on it.

I’ll be frank, too, I often make a decision on whether or not I want to read more of the story based on reading the query, the first paragraph or two, and then glancing at the synopsis. While I may read the whole two chapters we ask for if something grabs me (if it does, go you!), but I am operating purely on: “Does this fit? How much work would this take to publish? If we put in the work, will the author fulfill their end of the bargain?”

An author’s job doesn’t end when editing is over. In fact, it’s just beginning when you sign the contract because, beyond writing, you have editing and then marketing. It’s not all sunshine and roses to get an acceptance letter; you have to keep pushing if you want to be successful. If you don’t, nobody wins.

Also, as an aside, in case you were wondering, yes, the title of this does resemble a Princess Bride quote. Just know that Princess Bride quotes are always lurking. Waiting. Stalking me. And now you know my dreadful secret: if you think it might be a pun know that it probably is.

An author’s job doesn’t end when editing is over. In fact, it’s just beginning when you sign the contract because, beyond writing, you have editing and then marketing.

E. Prybylski

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 Publishers Won’t Steal Your Book

Why Publishers Won’t Steal Your Book

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or an expert in the law. My understanding comes from contact with people who know more than I do about US copyrights. If you have questions or concerns, please contact a lawyer.

Let me start by saying there is no accounting for jerks in the world, and there are jerks. However, the vast majority of publishers fall into the category I am going to describe in this blog for the reasons I give. There are also authors who plagiarize or steal other authors’ works (and I don’t mean fanfic writers–you folks are fine in my book). However, I have yet to meet a publisher who would steal an author’s book.

The reality is this: the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up when it comes to stealing your book.

Even if you were the next Tolkien, Martin, King, or Hemingway, the reality is that there is so much work and money that goes into investing in a book to be published that stealing your work to publish without you wouldn’t be worth it. On average, one pass of editing for one of my clients is between $800-$2000, depending on the type of editing and length of the novel. When we are publishing a book, there is a minimum of three passes ($2,400) plus typesetting (another $750 minimum), cover design ($250+), an ISBN ($50ish), uploading to Ingram ($25) and so on. By the time it hits the market, we’ve spent around $5,000 in work and assets on this book. And that was calculated with the absolute minimum in editing. It’s usually closer to $1,200 per pass worth of work.

The reality is this: the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up when it comes to stealing your book.

E. Prybylski

And that’s a clean book that doesn’t require extensive work. (Not that we’d take a book that does for exactly the reasons above).

Also, royalties tend to be around 15% net for print books and 35-40% net for ebooks. Most of the time, after Amazon, Ingram, and other parts of the distribution network take their bites, a book that sells for $15.00 as a print book might net a $4.00-$5.00 profit for the publisher. And 15% of that is about $0.75 per book that goes to an author. For ebooks, you’re getting 40% of the 30% the publisher makes off of your $5.99 book. Or about $0.10. Sure, if you sell hundreds and hundreds of books, that will add up over time, but it would require a huge success for that to be worth the fiscal risk of being taken to court.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that, legally, copyright in the US begins the moment you start writing your book. Even before you register it. This means that even if you pitch your book to publishers/agents before you’ve obtained a copyright through the process, you are protected. While defending your copyright in court is easier when you’ve obtained a copyright from the government, it’s certainly possible. And if someone does steal your book, you can sue them into oblivion.

None of these costs have taken marketing into account yet, either. Which is time-consuming and can be expensive depending on the routes you choose.

From a purely dollars-and-cents point of view, the math just doesn’t add up for a publisher to steal your book and try and cut you out of the deal. The amount we have to invest into every book we launch means that, before we could rake in that sweet, sweet, illicit dough, we’d have to invest a lot of money, hope you don’t catch us, and then put the book to market and spend even more money and time on marketing all while Snidely Whiplash twirling our collective mustaches and hoping you don’t notice.

The long and short of it is, it just isn’t worth it. No offense, but your book isn’t worth that risk and that investment if we could get taken to court over it. No matter how good it is, your book just isn’t good enough for me to risk my livelihood, future work, mortgage, and future children’s college funds over on the wild guess of a return.

Besides. I’m an author, myself. I don’t want to steal your books. I have my own I’m publishing.

Now, are there cases where authors will steal each other’s ideas, and stories. There have been a lot of lawsuits over it, and that is something to watch out for (which is why I strongly discourage authors from writing anything on Wattpad unless they’re making it public forever and never intend on trying to make money from it). You should be careful who you share your manuscript with before you copyright it and/or publish it. That’s a thing you should be aware of. I’m not saying not to workshop things with fellow authors (again, the vast majority of them have their own projects and genuinely don’t want to steal yours), but you should be conscious and aware of things and use caution.

Ultimately, you may well want to copyright before querying, but not because the publisher is likely to steal it from you. In fact, they may well expect you to have copyrighted your book in advance. It’s an important part of the process, and you should do it. However, it’s got nothing to do with publishers stealing your writing.

Lessons Learned and Where I Am

Lessons Learned and Where I Am

As we prepare to launch Insomnia Publishing’s newest release, First Favor (the third Sam Archer book), I am kind of reflecting some on the things I’ve learned about editing, publishing, and writing over the last few years. While I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front, I’ve been very busy on the life front. And on my career. This is likely to venture into the personal, so you are going to learn a bit about who I am and what my life is in this blog. It’s not really about writing advice, but maybe you’ll learn something? I don’t know.

Over the last couple years, I’ve been re-thinking my approach to editing, writing, and publishing. I’ve been giving deep thought to what I want, what I need, and what direction I want to take. Both with my company (the aforementioned Insomnia Publishing) and with my editing. I’ve spent a couple years studying editing and really giving deep thought into what services I provide, what my price points ought to be, and whether or not I am over- or under-charging. What kind of editing I do, and how I want to approach things in the future.

I also started writing the first book I’m publishing. I started Fallen in the middle of last year and finished the last draft of it earlier this year. I signed a contract with my own company (I have an in with the acquisitions editor) and have my novel in editing. Seeing the editing process from the other side with another editor has given me some insight into the “user” end of the experience. Though I will say my editor is a delight and very easy to work with. We are old friends, so there’s no sting or distrust there.

I also am switching software for my typesetting. Given the outrageous costs of Adobe, I was still using CS3 to work on my book covers and typesetting. It still works, of course, but I run the perpetual risk of losing the software and my ability to do the work if I lose the key and install disks since it’s no longer supported, and Adobe really doesn’t like the fact that I’m still using it and not paying the astronomical fees to update. Or paying monthly for access to their software. Which, frankly, is just abhorrent to me. I am, maybe, old fashioned in the sense that I prefer to buy my software and not rent it.

In doing that switch, I am re-visiting how I do my cover art and typesetting (I’m now using Affinity’s suite). While I’ve read reviews that it’s not as good as Adobe is, I can say with certainty that it’s a far cry from using CS3 (a software suite from around 2005), so anything it doesn’t match up to with Adobe certainly outstrips what I had. This has changed my work flow and made me faster and given me more versatility with my covers. It makes things easier to design the way I see in my head, too, which makes all the difference. For example, I had to re-typeset First Favor Sunday night into Monday after realizing that the file had un-typeset itself. A page had been deleted somewhere, and the manuscript was a disaster as a result.

While I was working on it I figured out some ways to make my life faster, make things more efficient. I’m always adding things to my process and learning new things while I work. Which, honestly, is one of the things I like best about this line of work. There’s always a way to refine what I’m doing, smooth things out, discover new details of the programs I use. It’s a never-ending process, and I love learning more in order to be better at my chosen vocation. I could list these little shortcuts, but I expect most of you would have your eyes cross if I discussed it. Typesetting is a highly technical field mixed with wizardry and a love of fonts. I am, in fact, a horrible font nerd at this point in my life, and I could probably spend a solid half-hour babbling about fonts, readability, and qualities you’re looking for in one if prompted. Or, if you’re unlucky enough to meet me at a cocktail party, unprompted.

In addition to that, I’ve been working on better ebook formatting and trying to learn how to embed fonts to let me use chapter headers and dropcaps. For example, in First Favor, I use a dropcap on each chapter in the same font as the chapter headers and the title page (and the cover). It’s “Chapbook” in case you were wondering. (I am sure you weren’t.)

I do like Chapbook.

Lessons in editing are a different kettle of fish than typesetting and cover design, of course.

Over the last few months I’ve done some book coaching for some lovely clients, both of whom need different things. I’m not going to get into their requirements because that’s personal, but it’s given me a different perspective on what I do. Walking someone through the process of writing their book and encouraging (and holding accountable) my authors is very rewarding. I love seeing them blossom and develop and meet goals. I’ve not done writing coaching in a formal way before, but I’ve been working with authors in my Discord group regularly. It’s not as detailed or as intensive as coaching, but I pop in, give lectures almsot every week, encourage folks, and we have a lovely community going.

Beyond that, I’ve been spending a lot of time in several groups for editors, talking amongst each other and discussing everything from comma placement and hyphenation to regional dialect. It’s a fantastic and fascinating thing to see and learn from. Some of these folks are veterans of over fifty years. Yet others are brand new to the profession and are drinking in the opinions and views of others. Also, different disciplines have such different perspectives. These things I’m always adapting into my own editing and learning.

Then we come to my writing.

I’m at a point where I’ve got an editor working on my book. This is my first time working on a novel with an editor, and I am finding the experience instructive and interesting. Also having finished a novel and working on my cover for real, preparing the typesetting, thinking about marketing… I think it’s going to teach me a lot about that part of the business. While I haven’t been on the author side of things before, I have been on the publisher side enough for long enough to make a good go of it, I think. I also have some phenomenal authors I am close with who are brilliant at it, and who I am going to be whining to as I learn to do this myself for the first time.

What this will teach me, beyond the satisfaction of publishing my own books (which has been a lifelong dream), this will make me a better editor and better publisher. And I am all for it. I look forward to this. I mean, also, I’m publishing a book, so the child in me who started writing as soon as they were old enough to hold a pencil is squealing and dancing. No, really. Child me did ballet.

If there’s an actual takeaway from this ramble, it’s that no matter how long you’ve been working in the field, there’s always something to learn, and exploring other angles of the same industry can provide a lot of insight into how to approach things. I’m not saying authors need to be editors. In fact, I think that (unless you have training) it’s a terrible idea. However, studying the thing from multiple angles can give you a whole new appreciation for the industry you’re in. I love learning, and every new milestone just tells me just how much further I have to go.

By the way, to plug the aforementioned novel my company is releasing, I’m really excited to introduce you to the third book in the Sam Archer series. Written by my good friend, Dr. Joseph Weinberg, this is the best book in the series yet. If you haven’t read them, you’re really missing out. The series is like a crossover between The Dresden Files and Constantine, insomuch as Sam is a man with no powers facing down a world of things so much bigger than he is. His voice is fantastic, the stories are wonderful, and I am kind of biased, but he has great cover art. (Spoiler alert: I did his cover art.)

See? It looks pretty awesome.

First Favor comes out June 15th, 2021 and is available for pre-order from Amazon. If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, you can find Pipe and Pestle also on Amazon for $3.99 for the ebook.

If you enjoyed this blog post and want to give me a thumbs up, feel free to visit my ko-fi and leave me a tip! A few tips is a tank of gas, a cup of coffee, or a cheeseburger.

How NOT to Market Your Book

How NOT to Market Your Book

How many times have you been scrolling through Twitter and seen one of those people on your feed who tags a bunch of people individually, replies to tweets, and copy/pastes a poorly-written advertisement that’s more hashtag than text? Well, this week we’re talking about how not to market your book. And that? That’s definitely one way not to market your book.

A tweet repeated three times from the same author in the same minute shilling their book with poor grammar.
Don’t do this.

Marketing is a challenge for authors. We are, at heart, writers and artists, and most of us bristle at the notion of having to talk to people. Introverts unite… separately… at home. However, as per my previous blog, we aren’t able to ignore it and be successful. This, however, doesn’t mean that all marketing is equal. Bad marketing is, in some ways, almost worse than no marketing because bad marketing will let people know your book exists, but it sure as heck won’t engender goodwill toward you or your work!

With no further ado, let’s talk about what not to do.

  1. Spam links with no explanations.
    Sharing links to where your book is sold is part and parcel to marketing yourself, however, if you are flooding your various social media outlets with links to your book without further content, it’s just going to irritate people. Make sure if you’re sharing the link to your book, you at least say a little something about it. Also, I’d only share to certain hashtags or outlets once or twice a day. While I’m not a Twitter algorithem expert, I can tell you that as a Twitter user, scrolling through the same advertisement thirty times in an hour makes me want to scream. I always mute that person, and I am not alone in that.
  2. Try and hard-sell people your book.
    If you’re approaching strangers on social media (or other places) and trying to force your book on them, it’s not going to get you anywhere good. Cold sales aren’t really an effective sales strategy, and it won’t do much to get people interested in you or in your work. Nobody likes the social media equivilent of a telemarketer.
  3. Spam groups or hashtags.
    In writing groups, it’s an extremely common occurance to have somoene join, drop links to their book with some marketing pitch either once or repeatedly, and leave. They don’t engage in the community, they don’t talk to people, they don’t offer any value. They just drop and jet because they have fifty other writing groups on their list to do the same thing to. This isn’t the venue, they’re not your audience, and if you aren’t engaging with people, all you’re doing is looking like a jerk.
  4. Start petty fights on your author social media accounts.
    This is a delicate line to walk. I’m not talking about politics or big issues here where speaking out can get you in trouble, I’m talking about being mean or childish and being unkind to people who don’t deserve it.
  5. Develop a massive ego.
    Publishing a book is a huge success, and you have every right to be proud of yourself. Truly. A healthy amount of the “good feels” is necessary when selling your book because you have to fend off trolls and jerks and lettheir nonsense slide. However, this healthy amount of self-esteem sometimes turns into authors thinking they are, in fact, the next Tolkein. You aren’t probably. Does that mean you can’t be darn good? Absolutely not. But remember that you aren’t going to get more book sales by stepping on others.

How to market your book is a huge discussion for which I always feel under-qualified despite reading a lot of marketing books over the years and watching countless videos and so on. I never feel like I know what I’m doing, but from my understanding most folks feel like they have no idea what they’re doing behind closed doors. So I’m not that far behind the curve, I guess.

Regardless of that, ultimately, the things to avoid when marketing are things that add no value to the person encountering the post or marketing method. Give people value. give them something more, something to enjoy. If you’re just screaming into the void without targeting it appropriately or acting like that MLM friend who invites you to dinner but then tries to hard-sell you into joining their scheme, it’s not going to earn you favors.

Editing Rates and Updates

Editing Rates and Updates

I recently made a post up on my editing website regarding editing rates and talking about why editors charge what we do. That version’s extremely clinical since that blog is meant to be seriously nuts and bolts. This one’s more conversational, so rather than re-hash all the details of the other blog, I’m going to talk a little more personally here.

Editing rates has been a hard topic for me since I am constantly fraught with imposter syndrome. If you didn’t know that about me, now you do. While I am an expert, and I know it if I lay all my accolades out in front of me like a deck of cards, I a lot of the time live in the constant fear of “what if someone finds out I’m just a nerd!” and end up under my desk after sending out a big quote. A lot of editors do that.

I’m also part of a number of editors-only groups on various platforms (shout out to Editors Lair), which gives me a chance to let my guard down and talk shop with other editors. It turns out that this issue I have with imposter syndrome is endemic amongst editors. We are always wrestling with ourselves over whether we charged enough, too much, too little, or just right. Or railing against being gaslit by people who think our rates aren’t worth it, which then triggers the imposter syndrome spiral.

At least once or twice a week I see posts from editors of various skill levels expressing stress and fear over how much we charge. And I won’t lie, a good editor charges a pretty significant chunk of change for an edit. That said, when I zoom back and look at the value a good editor can bring to a manuscript, I can’t bring myself to say other editors don’t deserve what they charge. I am no different.

“At least once or twice a week I see posts from editors of various skill levels expressing stress and fear over how much we charge.”

Knowing that about us, recognize that our editing rates are created out of a careful mix of factors that include things like how much overhead we have in running our business (website, utilities, subscriptions to software or things like the CMOS, professional memberships, etc), paying for our health insurance, covering our take-home, and more. We are, after all, small business owners, so we have to make ends meet. Some editors do editing on the side for fun or to supplement other enterprises. Others edit as a hobby. There are so many reasons we do what we do, but it’s usually with an undercurrent of being really, deeply passionate about working with authors and loving books.

I love books.

I have always loved books and loved reading. I can still remember my mother reading me The Hobbit and Dragonsong and Uncle Wiggly as a child. She read me The Lupine Lady and Love You Forever. And all the Berenstain Bears books. I could list my favorite books until you chucked me face-first at a Barnes and Noble and told me to shut up. I spent most of my high school years huddled in the library at every opportunity.

I’ve also been a writer as long as I can remember. My first full novel is due out this year, though I’ve had a number of short stories published in various collections over the years. I wrote my first “novel” in high school (all forty pages of it in Word) and have savored writing ever since I first learned how.

Beyond my love for reading and writing, I’ve been in the industry a decade. Ten years of learning, studying, discussion with other editors (we’re a chatty bunch), learning from expert writers, devouring books on the craft. I have read multiple style guides, discussed the merits and drawbacks of them with my peers. I say discussed, but if you’ve ever been to a debate forum at a nerd convention, you’ll know the kind of discussion I mean. (I say that tongue in cheek.)

Furthermore, I bring more than a love of just the written word to the table. I am an ecclectic mix of experiences and knowledge. Everything from European fencing to modern firearms, from police procedure to a solid understanding of Medieval history. There are plenty of things I don’t know, of course, but I joke that while I got my BA in history, I should probably just tell people I have a degree in research. I’ve spared clients from embarassing mistakes more than once (I had a client who tried to rack the slide of a revolver in a manuscript at one point) and have given medieval fantasy writers insight into the fact that their characters wouldn’t probably be drinking from glass tankards.

“I am an ecclectic mix of experiences and knowledge. Everything from European fencing to modern firearms, from police procedure to a solid understanding of Medieval history.”

Spreading all these things out in front of me, I don’t feel bad about my rates. Or at least I don’t while I’m writing this. There’s a good chance I’ll lie awake all night, staring at the ceiling worrying about them, despite that they’re on the low end of the EFA’s rate scale and, in some places, under it.

Recently, I have made the jump to charging by the word rather than by the hour. While people I have worked with in the past may worry at seeing the change, know that I’m willing to work with you on the rate change, so don’t throw up your hands. We will make it work. The reason I went to a per-word rate was multiple-fold. First, I was undercutting myself because I work faster than the average per-word listed in the EFA’s rate scale by a significant margin if the work is on the cleaner side. And even if it isn’t, I still tend to edit quickly. (I read–not edit, just read–at the rate of about 11-12k words per hour). As a result, I’ve been hurting myself and not charging what I’m worth.

Those of you who have been here awhile and are friends may know I’ve been agonizing over this for awhile, and after a decade in the business and being capable of delivering the kind of feedback I do, I really needed to start bringing myself more into line with the EFA’s guidance since I am EFA-quality at what I do, even if I haven’t managed to scrape my pennies together for a membership just yet.

Ultimately, just remember that editors are working hard. There’s usually sticker shock involved with our quotes, but a good editor works extremely hard for their clients and are doing far more than spell check.

On a more personal level, COVID has thrown me for a loop. I didn’t get it, thank God, but rearranging my life to deal with the situation of the world has been a challenge. I am, as I write this, recovering from my second dose of the vaccine and looking forward to being able to do things like go to the grocery store without fear. I also have some time scheduled with a therapist to help me work through the anxiety I’ve developed about being around crowds again.

Yes, indeed, I have a therapist. It’s worth it, and I am not ashamed to discuss that fact. I may, in fact, talk a little more about mental health in another blog since it’s a subject writers often wrestle with both in prose and in life.

I’ve been trying to use the time in 2021 to try and rebuild myself some and re-evaluate what I want in life and out of my work. I also took some personal time to write, which I hadn’t really made for myself in years. As a result, I’ve got that novel I mentioned earlier in the blog coming out toward the end of this year. We don’t have a release date yet (it’s still in editing), but as soon as I have one, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops.

The last year has, for me, been a time of deep reflection, consideration of what I want out of my life and my future, and setting up steps and plans to try and get me there. While, being disabled, there are things I cannot and will never do, I am more than I have been. And I am looking forward to sharing that with the world.

I have been bad about being active on this medium of late, but if you are looking to reach me and have a chat, I am over on Twitter at @EHPrybylski, running a writing server on Discord, uploading pictures of my cats on Instagram as @EHPrybylski and on Facebook under the same name.

If you’re still here after this long ramble, thank you for reading.

What Publishers Do and Don’t Do

What Publishers Do and Don’t Do

I had a run-in recently with someone on a writing group on Facebook. The individual was stomped by the admins of the group, but the discussion is something that sits ill with me and a subject that needs to be addressed. I may have talked about it years ago in this space, but it’s something that bears repeating.

The row was over the fact that authors must market their books, and publishers don’t market your book for you beyond a few specific avenues. This author was utterly aghast that I was saying publishers don’t do that, and got quite haughty over it, claiming to be some kind of bigwig with an agent and a traditional publisher and how dare I, a peon, question them. (Insert gagging noises here.)

Too many authors in the world fail to understand what a book publisher does and does not do for its authors, and it’s something that leads to major issues with authors and publishers, and everyone walks away frustrated from the experience and feeling as though their expectations were not met. This lack of understanding is also one of the major reasons new authors’ early books may flop, even with a publisher’s help.

To start with, to be a publisher of any repute, regardless of the model, publishers (whether traditional, hybrid, or otherwise) must have the following:

  • Acquisitions based on merit.
    This means an acquisitions editor who reads pitches, determines if something is the right fit for the company, and then decides whether or not to pick up the manuscript. Every company has slightly different criteria they look for in a book, and they’ll have differences in genre, preference, and so on. But either way, someone is actually looking at the manuscripts and deciding whether or not it’s a good fit.
  • An editorial process with at least one editor.
    The editorial process at Insomnia has several rounds of editing with a project’s lead editor. This will look at things like word choice, structure, sentence composition, removing excess words, clarifying confusing passages, fact checking as needed, punctuation, and so on. Then the book moves to a secondary editor who looks over it for any spelling/punctuation errors that may have been missed the first time. This happens again after the book has been typeset to ensure the maximum possible cleanliness of the manuscript.
  • Professional-grade typesetting.
    Whether for print or e-book, typesetting is extremely important, and doing it properly really can make or break a book. It’s a skill in and of itself, and while the skills for typsetting an ebook and typesetting a print book are quite different, either one or both are absolutely necessary. If you want to know how good their typesetting is, do a glance inside on their books listed on Amazon.
  • Good cover design.
    Sure, the old saying says not to judge a book by its cover, but a terrible cover won’t sell books. If all their book covers look like an eighth-grade Photoshop job, run the other direction. While not every company has the money for expensive cover design, any decent publisher will put out covers that at least look like they belong on a bookshelf and not at a garage sale.
  • A solid method of distribution.
    Distribution for most of us publishers means a combination of Ingram (or many other such book distributors) and Amazon. If your publisher is distributing only through Amazon’s KDP (formerly Createspace) services, that doesn’t mean they might not be a good seller, but it does show that they’re on the small side. Bookstores will not order through Amazon, so that’s something to be aware of. Ingram is one of the biggest distributers in the world, so any bookstore can order from them. While there’s no guarantee your book will end up in a brick-and-mortar store, having the option is important.
  • Provides an ISBN
    This is pretty self-explanatory. Your publisher should provide your book an ISBN (or multiple in the case of multiple versions of the book).

Now, you see this list of things publishers ought to provide if they’re to be considered legitimate, and you see what’s not on it?

Marketing.

This may come as an unpleasant surprise to folks, and for that I’m sorry, but publishers don’t typically do much in the way of marketing for authors. Those who do will do things like taking out occasional ads on Amazon or Facebook, and they’ll try and get your book into things like BookBub, which is a long shot by all accounts. This means that the marketing will fall to you, the author.

You will have to get out there (metaphorically during the pandemic, please) and sell your book. Your publisher will support this as best they can, but they cannot and will not do it for you. Even if you’re lucky enough to be picked up by an agent and a major publisher (one of the Big Five), they’re not going to do all your marketing for you. Sadly for all of us, writing books is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. You can’t just get a book deal, publish it, and then do nothing and wait for money to roll in. Lightning may strike, and you may make sales, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

Sadly for all of us, writing books is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation.

E. Prybylski

The reasons for this are multi-fold, but it boils down to two key points: your publisher won’t want to spend the money on it (or maybe can’t) and readers don’t want to hear from publishers. While your publisher may well spring to have your book put into Ingram’s mail-out catalogue or will do some targeted Amazon marketing, this cannot replace the benefits of having the author talking about their book. Your publisher will not book blog tours for you and while they may work to help get your foot in the door at things like radio stations, the station is more likely to respond to an author rather than the publisher. No joke.

Hiring a publicist is extremely expensive, and small to mid-sized publishers cannot foot that bill. And the staff who’s on is often busy with other projects, so they cannot devote their time to marketing your book for you because they have other books to edit, design, and publish. At my company, for example, I am the head editor, typesetter, cover designer, and webmaster (insomuch as I poke at it every so often and hope I don’t break things).

Every book we produce comes through me, and once the book is out, I’m onto the next project. While I may take time to help an author with pre-release marketing and will make an effort to put them on my newly-minted podcast and let them give a lecture to my weekly writing group, I can’t do much more than that except maybe send a couple emails and do some cover mock-ups. I just don’t have the time because the next book is coming down the pipe and I have multiple clients hiring me for editing and coaching.

I’m not trying to complain to you about my workload, but you can see that I have no room to put another hat on the towering number I am already wearing. Most small publishers are in the same boat. In the bigtime (Big Five) they will assign you publicists, but that doesn’t mean you get to sit on your hands. In fact, you are expected to do most of the same things you’d be doing without a publicist. The real difference is that you will have access to expert advice, but you’re expected to run your own Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website and maintain an email list. While the publicists at a Big Five publisher may create a press kit for a new author and use their ties to get them articles in larger news outlets and maybe land them a spot on an NPR show, authors are still expected to use their own networks to market their book.

One of the unexpected surprises of being a new author is how much goes into promoting your books. I was lucky to be published by Penguin’s Putnam imprint for my debut novel, The Golden Hour. Yet even with the backing of a hefty Big Five publisher, I discovered that delivering the manuscript is just the beginning.

Todd Moss

Don’t believe me? Todd Moss, author of the Washington Post bestseller, “The Golden Hour” has a blog post on the subject (and she’s where I got the information on what the Big Five do for publicity.

In short, like any business venture you undertake, authors are expected to market it. While writing is romanticized (and rightly so), the less fun part of being a success is doing things like marketing, and learning how is very much available to us these days. While we might not all have publicists with the connections of Penguin, we can learn how to leverage what we do have and create a larger network for ourselves in order to boost sales.

While writing is romanticized (and rightly so), the less fun part of being a success is doing things like marketing.

E. Prybylski

It’s very possible to write an incredible book and not be lucky enough to have it sell if you aren’t willing to market the heck out of it and work hard to that end. As with many things in life, it’s not enough to be good at what you do–even great at what you do–you have to make sure everyone else knows you exist. After all, if they don’t know you exist or know that you’ve written a book (or books), then how can they possibly buy it?

Act Three

Act Three

Act three of your novel is your thrilling conclusion, the place where the action hits its peak and the final push toward the conclusion. In a lot of works, act three is where everything is at fever pitch, and you’re hitting the point of no return. So what do you need to include in order for this to have its punch?

Back to the Beat Sheet, the third act is three “beats” (unlike the last two acts which are five and seven, respectively), which should say something about its length. At the end of act two, your character should be at the lowest point of their journey. The beat just before act three is aptly titled “Dark Night of the Soul” and has the main character(s) facing off against the fact that everything they thought they knew, everything they thought they’d reached for, and the goal they had set their sights on at the midpoint has come apart. It’s all a mess, and they should be at the end of their fraying rope over a pit of metaphorical (or maybe even literal) tigers.

If act one is all about setting things up, and act two is about demolishing them, then act three is about picking up the pieces and setting them upright again. Or at least some of them. Some of the pieces might need to stay down for future books or they may be parts that don’t get rebuilt as the characters drive into the future. It’s also about the realization of your theme.

If act one is all about setting things up, and act two is about demolishing them, then act three is about picking up the pieces and setting them upright again.

E. Prybylski

I know a lot of us don’t like literary theory much. I find a lot of it pretty pompous and self-important, but the theme of your work should be something you include. This theme doesn’t need to be something about humanity or something earthshattering. In fact, it might just be about your character’s development. If the theme of your book is your main character coming to grips with a certain thing in their world, that’s totally all right.

The reason I say this is because in the third act, we need that theme to be fully realized in order to contrast it to the beginning of the book. The world should look different to the main character now than it did at the outset. Or at least I should hope so. While cozy mystery series like Nancy Drew and Murder She Wrote have neither the main character nor the setting change much, they’re the exception rather than the rule. In terms of nonfiction, the conclusion of your story should reinforce the thesis, which is your theme. Fiction is the same in that way. Your conclusion should reinforce your theme.

Now, the job of act three is to give readers a satisfying climax to the questions you’ve been asking all through the book. It’s where the threads you’ve been picking at are put back together, and you solve whatever riddle the main character has been beating their head against for the rest of the story. In a murder mystery novel, it’s where the main character puts the pieces together and comes to understand the case in a new way.

According to the Beat Sheet, the break into act three is caused by some kind of revelation. Whether it’s a new (or lost) ally arriving, new information, a new idea, some fresh perspective on the problem, the main characters put their heads together and come up with something they missed during the collapse at the end of act two. Or perhaps they just decide to dust themselves off and get back up and try again. Either way, they pull themselves out of the dark space of the “Dark Night of the Soul” and come at the antagonist or problem with renewed vigor. This is the moment where hope comes back after having been strangled just following the midpoint.

With hope having returned and this fresh idea in their heads, the main characters charge into confronting whtatever the primary conflict is. In a romance, maybe they deal with the ex they’ve been being haunted by and fully decide to invest in their new relationship. In a fantasy novel, maybe they find a different way into the BBEG’s (Big Bad Evil Guy) castle with some unexpected allies. There are many ways to frame this, but you get the jist. Which leads us to the Finale. During this finale, the main characters will use all the things they’ve gained over the course of the story to fuel their success. I go into this assuming success because I, for one, prefer happy endings. They absolutely can fail during the finale, but their journey should still be about using the tools they’ve collected through the course of the rest of the story. Otherwise, why did they do it?

During this finale, the main characters will use all the things they’ve gained over the course of the story to fuel their success.

E. Prybylski

Whether this end run succeeds or not, it should kind of give nods to the rest of the book. Think of it like in Avengers: Endgame when all their friends come back to defeat Thanos. You see all the characters and nods to various moments throughout the series all sort of channelled into that one moment. And viewers experience the feels of seeing all those moments come up into a single space. I’ll admit, I cried. That’s what your finale should do. Pull together all the pieces into a final push and let the reader see back through it.

To give you a great example of a finale moment that sticks out in my mind, in V for Vendetta when the dominos fall and Finch is talking about how he recognized the pattern and people start donning the Guy Fawkes masks. It’s a perfect example of pulling in all the threads that have been laid out through the rest of the movie. That scene still gives me chills when I watch it (I re-watched it in preparation for this blog). That’s the feel you want to go for.

Then, at the very end, the last moments, the final scene should stand in contrast to the opening image. Show how the world has changed. Show the difference in the characters and world. Now, in a book series, this change may not be as drastic as it might be in a stand alone. You might be changing things in the world a little slower than you might in a stand-alone novel, but there still should be differences in the world and the characters, even if they’re not as stark. Or, maybe you want your starting novel to take the world and turn it upside down and inside out. That’s all right, too. Series writing is a different blog, though.

And for the love of all that’s holy, unholy, and covered in dill pickle relish please do not use a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are wretched things unless you have a very specific date it’s going to be alleviated, and there’s a guarantee of the next book. (E.g. Changes by Jim Butcher). While we had to wait awhile for the next book, we knew there would be one because it was in the midst of a very well-established series.

And for the love of all that’s holy, unholy, and covered in dill pickle relish please do not use a cliffhanger.

E. Prybylski

Cliffhangers are best reserved for television when you know the show will be on next week. But using them at the end of a season (when there may not be a next one) or early on in your book series is a bad idea. Ultimately, I strongly advise against their use at all, but that’s just me. That said, not every thread has to be tied up neat as a pin. In fact, you might not want to tie some of them up at all. But at least the story should be finished here. The part you’ve been writing should come to some sort of conclusion, even if that conclusion isn’t the end. If you offer no satisfaction whatsoever, your reader will have wasted their time. And they will be furious. (Game of Thrones fans, this is a nod to you.)

In the end, the function of the third act is just that: the end. Even if you are writing a series, you should be able to put the story down here and never have another book and leave the reader feeling as though they haven’t been shooed away from the table without dessert.

The Second Act

The Second Act

The dreaded, the terrible, the unthinkable second act. Oh, how writers of all kinds everywhere loathe it. It’s the place your pacing, story, and steam tends to wither, and you’re left staring down the barrel of “well now what?” There is, however good news. As much as it feels insurmountable sometimes, the second act is where the meat of your story is going to happen, and it comprises about half the book (or screenplay or. . .), so it’s best you get comfortable with it and embrace the suck because no matter what you thik, it’s not going away.

While the three act strucure does, in fact, break the book into three segments, there is a tendency to imagine that it is three equally-sized segments, and that’s one of the places people fall down. The second act is, in fact, the meat and potatoes of your story with the first act being a light soup and the closer being dessert. Yeah, I went there. I’m hungry, and it’s lunchtime, so you get food metaphors. Live with it. All joking aside, the second act is the densest part of your story and it’s also the most important. The reason the second act gets no love is also because it’s the hardest to write.

The first act is your love letter to your story. You have just fallen for it and are all twitterpated and excited and in love. Think the whole spring scene in Bambi. It’s extremely exciting to write because chances are your creative juices are flowing, and it just feels wonderful because it’s all shiny and new. It’s the new puppy, the shiny new car, that moment where you realize you and this other person have a connection.

By contrast, the third act is where you’ve been married sixty years and are comfortable sitting on the porch holding hands. You have that sense of finality in a good way, and everything makes sense. It’s the dessert that’s exactly the right size and finishes out your dinner. Your favorite pair of jeans that you’ve been wearing long enough that they feel soft as butter and are stretched out juuuuust right.

Then there’s act two. It’s when you realize that the relationship you’re in is actually going to take work. The shine has worn off a little, and you realize you’re dating an actual human being with flaws. And you have to work on those flaws together before you can get anywhere. So how do you do it? Well, you could get the literary equivilant to couples’ counseling (a book coach) or you can sit down and have a frank conversation with it. Metaphorically, I mean. It won’t actually talk back, I hope.

As I said in the beginning, the second act should comprise about half your book as far as ratios. It may be a little more or a little less depending on the story and what you need, but it will be bigger than acts one and three. Without question. It’s where the majority of the conflicts surface and where it reaches its peak.

When working on your second act, your first goal is to reach the Midpoint of your story. It’s not to get to act three, but instead you’re writing for that central point in your outline or plot. The Midpoint is the moment in the plot at which the conflict between protagonist and antagonist is at its peak whether the protagonist knows it or not. So, if you’re using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet (about which I have written before), it’s the point in the story where everything is great or everything is terrible. However, even if everything is great, the antagonist is moving in the background, and the conflict is at its climax at this point.

To use Star Wars as an example, the Midpoint of the first movie is the destruction of Alderaan. We have learned the Death Star is capable of incredible acts of destruction, an entire people has been erased, and Princess Leia is about to get executed. And, to top it off, the Milennium Falcon is caught by the Death Star’s tractor beam. Everything is terrible! The conflict here between the protagonists and antagonists is at fever pitch at this point in the story.

This is your goal with the second act. Get to the Midpoint. Keep ramping up that conflict (even if it’s somewhat in the background, and the main characters don’t necessarily know it) until you reach that space where it’s at the peak. From there, you can sprint toward act three. But your first goal will be to set things up to reach the midpoint. Which means your pre-Midpoint beats (as per the Beat Sheet) are Breaking Into Two, B-Story, and Promise of the Premise (also known as “Fun and Games).

During these parts of the story, the lead-up to the Midpoint, you can either heap troubles onto your main character or have them blossom. The B-Story often refers to romance, so falling in love here is a great lead-in (and can get you a lot of mileage in the word count), and the “fun and games” part of the story is when your main character is doing the things you set up during the beginning. They’re learning to use the Force, they’re hunting down the Macguffin (that they’ll collect or finish or acquire at the midpoint!) or they’re gathering their forces. You can use this segment to set up threads for yourself to pull on in the post-Midpoint part of act two, also. Open up new characters, have some new revelations appear, and change the game a little here and there as the character pushes on toward that big climactic moment.

The world of the post-Midpoint second act is far less happy. It’s typically much darker in tone and comprises the Bad Guys Close In, All Is Lost, and Dark Night of the Soul beats. The tone changes after the midpoint because the conflict has reached its peak point, and the antagonist is onto them. From the midpoint, it rolls downhill in terms of tone, growing darker and more desperate through this space. If you’ve set up threads in the pre-midpoint phase, now is the time to pull them and unravel the tapestry that is the main character’s life. Tear it all apart. Break up the team and send them to different places, kill somebody off (again, even, if you did it to launch into act two), and make your main character confront the shortcomings that made them balk at entering act two.

This part of the book usually feels desperate and painful, and if you’re stressed during it, that means you’re doing it right. This is where you slaughter your darlings and, moreover, you make it hurt. It can be extremely difficult to write, but it sets them up for triumph in act three. Going back to Star Wars, this is where Ben Kenobi faces Darth Vader, the main characters get stuck in the trash compacter, Ben Kenobi sacrifices himself for Luke’s escape, Luke processes the death of his mentor, Han leaves the group because his part’s done—he’s getting paid and going home, and Luke and Leia know the empire is tracking them. Time is running out on the rebellion, and everyone knows it.

Now, you can certainly have light moments through this intense and difficult act (and you should, if you can manage it, to break up tension). But collectively, this is the part where the story should feel like everything is falling apart at the seams to set you up for recovery and (hopefully) triumph in the third act.

If all of this feels like a lot that’s because it is. This act is half your book, so it contains a lot of the meat and important points of growth and change for your character. It is only because of act two that your character completes the journey that will take them into being who they need to be in order to charge through into act three. This crucible that is act two—and make no mistake, the second half of act two is a crucible—is what shapes your character into the person who can do what needs to be done in act three.

Act two gets a bad rap because it’s really the hard part of your story to get down on the page. If you go into it without a clear picture of where you’re going and how you’re getting there, you’re going to get waylaid somewhere before the Midpoint and never enter into the action-pact second half of the act. If I had to stick a pin in the place people tend to grind their gears on (myself included), it’s in the “Promise of the Premise” section just before the midpoint because our sights aren’t set on the Midpoint. They’re set on the beginning of act three which causes us to kind of gloss over a lot of this part of the book.

Recognizing that act two is, in fact, half the damn book was a bucket of cold water over me in a way. Coming to that understanding made me realize I’d been looking at this whole thing all wrong for years, and I hope that you come to that same conclusion. Act two can be just as exciting as acts one and three. Like any good entree (welcome back, food analogies), act two offers you some deep satisfaction and meets the cravings you set up in act one. It’s not act three you should be looking toward as the exciting part of the meal. Sure, it’s dessert, and everyone loves dessert, but if you just have the salad course and then a slice of pie, you’re probably going home hungry.

Give act two some love. Roast it low and slow and smother it in garlic and herbs. You’ll end up glad you did because when you finally do get to your dessert, you won’t go at it like a raccooon on a dumpster. You’ll have set up your pieces and can then watch the story unfold for you as all the hard work you put in wraps up. And act two isn’t so awful as we all like to claim it is. Sure, it takes more work, but like any good relationship, it’s worth it.

Using Social Media As A Professional

Using Social Media As A Professional

Social media is a seductress that sucks away tons of time we could be using for writing. However, it is also a useful tool for marketing. I’m not going to talk about limiting your time on social media or any of that. I’m also not here to talk to you about how to market using social media. That’s the realm of social media marketing guru, Kristen Lamb. No, indeed, my focus is a little different.

I have many authors, publishers, editors, and other professionals in the writing industry as friends on Facebook. They are also people whose news feeds are full of all kinds of things. Now, many of them use separate accounts (or pages) to distinguish their writing profession from their personal Facebook where they connect with friends and family. However more just use one social media account to serve both purposes. Most of this post will be focused on Facebook rather than the other social media outlets because Facebook is the one I am most active on. I find Twitter hard to follow and keep up with, and LinkedIn requires you to pay to play for a lot of their good services. Neither are bad platforms, but they just aren’t the one I’ve cultivated the most. However, this list of thoughts on social media use should be universal for all platforms.

1) Use your privacy settings.

I know a few people on Facebook who have their accounts set as public. That means everything they write goes to everyone in the world. While that can be useful and beneficial for some things, if you’re melding personal and professional that means you need to take an extra degree of care regarding what you post because everyone with an internet connection can view what you say. That means you absolutely should not  post very personal things on Facebook with that setting. If you had a fight with your partner, if you had a bad day you want to vent about, if you plan on using a lot of profanity (and that’s not part of your author platform)… you need to think about all those things and who is going to see them.

2) Think Before You Post

Before you put anything on your account, consider how it might impact your brand. For example, I do not post anything with profanity to my Facebook wall whatsoever (though if there’s some in an article, I’ll put a warning and maybe share the article anyway). I also explicitly avoid the topic of politics and do not permit political discussions on any of my Facebook posts. Why? Because they turn into arguments faster than you can say “this was a bad idea.” Now, some authors view their political activities as part of their world and don’t care if they are divisive enough to turn off readers whose opinions differ. That is a perfectly valid standpoint, but make absolutely certain that whatever you post, you do so with attention and care.

3) Know your posts will be scrutinized by potential clients/buyers

Yep. You can think, “Oh, this is my personal space to mouth off,” but you’d be wrong. The minute you start selling your book, you must begin selling yourself. That means everything you post in a public medium will immediately become a factor in whether or not someone will purchase your book or your service. If you’re a publisher or editor, authors will immediately start thinking about whether or not you are someone they want representing your book. This also includes whether or not you write in coherent English. If, as an editor or publisher, you are consistently writing posts that have major errors (which couldn’t be explained by autocorrect or typos), folks will throw red flags all over the place and not work with you.

4) Double-check all sources for articles

Due to the increased amount of scrutiny your page will receive by your audience, you need to make sure your sources and content are quality. If you are consistently posting fake news stories (the Onion doesn’t count), it will hurt your image as someone who can be trusted. This also includes industry stories and information. If you’re sharing information, make sure it’s vetted or at least overtly labeled as opinion. There’s nothing wrong with sharing opinion pieces, just make sure you aren’t sharing opinion as dyed-in-the-wool fact.

5) Know that everything you post reflects on your platform

Everything. When you are on social media, every single thing you post (and everything that could show in your news feed to others, like comments you make on friends’ posts) reflects on your platform and can either help or hurt. There’s a reason I exclusively post silly, positive, friendly things on my Facebook. That’s my choice, though, not something I’m mandating for everyone. Just make sure you’re aware that every single thing you post or share will impact the opinion of your readers. That choice is yours alone to make, however.

In the end, social media is what you make of it. You must make your own decisions about what you share or do not share, what you say, and what you do. If you rant and rave and curse and scream… well, that’ll impact the sorts of people who want to work with you or read your books. If you are sharing vulgarity, nudity, sexually charged material, or deeply political posts, that’ll affect them too. As an author, you need to view things differently because you are, essentially, a small business owner. The product you are selling is yourself and your work. If you want people to invest in you, work with you, or purchase your products, you need to be appealing. Your social media account (unless you separate one out that’s just friends/family) is no longer a private space for you to express yourself. Put that idea right out of your head. If you need a place where no one will judge, comment, or have the right to use that information to determine if they want to work with you then lock down your social media and/or get a diary. We all need to unload sometimes, but as authors we need to be careful how we go about it!