Tag: self-publishing

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.

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.

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.

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.

Head Hopping and Why It’s A Problem

Head Hopping and Why It’s A Problem

Hey, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood editor resurrected from the dead. My hope is to make this blog a monthly thing. We’ll see if I can make that happen how I intend, but let’s give it a shot at least. I know I’ve said that about a million times, but maybe this time it’ll stick.

We can only hope. 

So, to dig into this, let’s start with discussing the important parts of POV.

First, the POV character is the one who informs the reader. Everything filters through them, their biases, their experiences, and their knowledge. That means we only know what they do. Now, you can have multiple POV characters in a book separated by scene breaks or chapters, but you should only have one POV at a time (if you change on the fly in the middle of a scene, that’s called “head hopping” which we’ll get into later).

Choosing your POV character is important–it informs your whole story. Can you imaginee reading the Dresden Files books from the perspective of Michael? Actually, some of you can, if you’ve read Jim Butcher’s numerous short stories from the other POVs. It’s a very different feel than from Harry’s experience.

The POV character is, typically, the main character of your book. If your book is about multiple main characters, it may end up with multiple POVs at different times, but don’t get crazy with this. Readers who jump from character to character to character don’t form a relationship with most any of them, so getting them to care about your character and their journey will be more difficult.

While there’s no hard and fast rule, you should probably not have more than three or four primary POV characters. If you throw in a chapter or scene written by an incedental NPC here and there, that’s all right, but don’t overdo it. Think of it like salt. If you add some salt, it can really enhance a dish. Some people like more or less of it, but if you just dump all of it in, it will become inedible in its entirety.

Whether you’re writing from first person or third person, you shouldn’t write about things your POV character doesn’t know. For example, if she doesn’t know the person across from her plans to kill her, you shouldn’t tell the reader that. What you can do is have your character put pieces together, notice things like body language, tone, things like that. Neurotypical (people who are not, for example, on the autism spectrum) people are capable of reading facial expressions and body language to put together someone’s emotional state most of the time. If your POV character isn’t neurotypical, then you, as a writer, need to account for that in your handling of such things.

Let’s write a sample scene to show you what I mean:

Mary slouched in the diner booth, staring at Bobby. He’d been quiet today, and he was thinking of breaking up with her. He frowned at his pancakes and sighed. “I think we should see other people.”

The words hit Mary like a fist, and her jaw dropped. “What? It was going so well!”

“Yeah, well. I just think I’d be better off with Joan.” Bobby really liked Joan, and whenever he thought of her, he smiled. Like he was now.

Mary felt like someone had kicked her in the belly. “Oh.”

You can see, immediately, that I’ve jumped between POVs here (Mary’s and Bobby’s). The first paragraph starts implying it’s in Mary’s POV, but we have the revelation that Bobby was thinking of breaking up with her. Which also has the effect of robbing the last line of the paragraph of any power, since we know it’s coming.

The second paragraph is squarely in Mary’s POV, describing how she feels the impact of the breakup.

In paragraph three, it goes back into Bobby’s POV, since Mary (we can assume) is not in Bobby’s head and doesn’t know exactly what he’s thinking or feeling.

Then, paragraph four returns to Mary’s point of view.

This small scene is indicative of head hopping. There are authors who get away with this. A dear friend of mine recently mentioned she was reading an Ann Coulter book where this happens, and it’s somewhat common in the Romance genre. This head hopping robs the reader of any mystery of what’s happening right here, and you don’t really know which character you’re in deep POV with.

In this case, it’s not particularly confusing, but if you added more characters, it could end up a catastrophe. Fast.

So, how do we fix this poor scene? Well, first, we choose a character to write from. I’m going to go with Mary. Then, let’s rewrite it focusing on what Mary can see, feel, taste, touch, and so on. What she knows.

Mary slouched in the diner booth, staring at Bobby. He’d been quiet today, and she wasn’t sure why. He frowned at his pancakes and sighed. “I think we should see other people.”

The words hit Mary like a fist, and her jaw dropped. “What? It was going so well!”

“Yeah, well. I just think I’d be better off with Joan.” A small smile curled the corner of his mouth when he said Joan’s name.

Mary felt like someone had kicked her in the belly. “Oh.”

Now it’s written from exclusively Mary’s point of view. It describes a little of what she can see regarding Billy’s feelings (paragraph three), but it doesn’t give the reader any knowledge they wouldn’t have already. This means the reader doesn’t have warning that he’s going to break up with her immediately, so when it happens, the reader experiences it along with Mary, rather than trying to do it splitscreen.

Let’s try it from Bobby’s POV:

Bobby felt the weight of Mary’s eyes on him from across the diner table. He’d spent the day trying to figure out how to say what came out next, but it was best that he just say it. He sighed. “I think we should see other people.”

Mary’s jaw dropped, and she let out a huff of air. “What? It was going so well!”

“Yeah, well. I just think I’d be better off with Joan.” Bobby really liked Joan, and whenever he thought of her, he smiled a little.

Her lower lip quivered a little, and Mary looked at the table. “Oh.”

Now we can see what’s going on in Bobby’s head, and Mary’s reaction is described through what he can see (her quivering lip, her sigh). This is still written solidly from Bobby’s POV, but it doesn’t mean the reader ignores the impact on Mary.

Finally, a note on Omniscient POV:

Omniscient POV isn’t accounted for in this article because it is both pretty uncommon these days and it is quite different than the limited POV varieties (first, third). Omniscient writing requires different things, but it, too, does not head hop. It is written with less intimacy to the individual characters, but what it sacrifices in depth, it makes up for in perspective.

Omniscient POV is very much its own thing. If you have read books like “Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkein or “Rocket’s Red Glare” by my dear friend Cy Stein, you’ll notice that you aren’t deep into any individual character’s head but instead see everything more or less all the time.

This blog has run pretty long already, and I’ve covered POV before on this blog, so I think I’ll just summarize by saying: head hopping bad. Don’t do it.

Being Patient

Being Patient

Being passionate people, writers are impatient. We want the manuscript written. We want the editing done. We want the book on shelves around the world. We want the movie made. We want, we want, we want! And all this wanting is a good thing. It’s important, and it’s healthy. I’m not going to say otherwise, but I will say this: step back and take a breath.

The process of writing and publishing takes time. As excited as we are for publishing, we need to make sure every step is right. Much like any work of art, books take awhile to put together properly. Our instincts want us to rush ahead and get it all done sooner rather than later. Our hopes and dreams for big sales and, maybe, fame drive us to think unrealistically about our publishing timeline.

Writing your first draft can, as NaNoWriMo has proven, take a month or less, depending on how many words you write per day and how long your manuscript is. However, editing takes a bit longer. It’ll be several rounds of self-editing and maybe at least one run-through with a professional editor. And that takes time. As much as our hearts don’t like to take the slow road, in this case it really is slow and steady who wins the race.

Our first draft is a caffeine-induced roller-coaster ride of adrenaline and inspiration. Most of the time. We sometimes get stuck or have times where we throw up our hands, but it is (at least to me) the easiest part of the process. After we hit the end, the wind leaves us. We ride the high—the thrill—of completion for awhile, but editing is a long, arduous, painful process by nature. Much crying and screaming and gnashing of teeth. That does not mean, however, we can shirk it. It must be done because the first draft of anything is complete crap—to paraphrase Hemmingway.

After your own work it’s another hurry-up-and-wait experience for authors. Keep in mind most publishers usually take at least a year of lead time before publishing a book. That means they have time to edit the manuscript to their satisfaction (a rush job means mistakes), typeset it well, have a solid cover-design and do pre-release marketing. All of that takes time, and even if you’re self-publishing you should be taking those steps at a similar pace. It may even take you longer because you’re going to have to find and select your team rather than work with a team of in-house folks the publisher has already vetted.

Either way you go about it, don’t despair that things will take awhile. Take a breath and enjoy the ride if you can. Don’t be in such a rush that you lose sight of the end goal: the best work you can create.

How To Write Without Inspiration

How To Write Without Inspiration

We’ve all felt it. That dreaded, slow, sticky sensation when our inspiration and excitement for a project drains away like the tide, leaving us beached on the unforgiving shores of reality. Yeah, I know, I’m waxing poetic, but we all really do know that feeling. As Jack London infamously said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” So many writers spend their lives and time waiting for their muse to whisper to them, but that’s just now how it works.

Like any art, writing requires dedication and practice. I can’t count the number of times that I, as a child, whined about having to practice violin. I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want to. I just wanted to go play video games. I still want to go play video games. Some things don’t change. But I practiced and dedicated my time to it even if I didn’t “feel like it”. Twenty (mumble) years later, I still play. I know creating something new is a little different than practicing someone else’s piece, but art is art in some ways.

So when that “I dun wanna” feeling slinks in, you confront it. Waiting around for inspiration or for feeling ready means you won’t finish anything. If you lose energy on a project or lose passion you’re probably at the middle. Or you’re editing. But if you want to finish something and have it stick? You need to ride that out. Keep working on it. Dedicate your time and make yourself write, make yourself work.

The shelves and streets are littered with half-finished manuscripts waiting on “inspiration to strike”. If we’re honest with ourselves, we probably have more of them on our hard drives than we want to admit. I have ‘em too. I think every writer has projects they’ve hit walls in and abandoned to deal with “later”. The problem with that is, so often, “later” never comes when you wait around on something as ephemeral as inspiration. Instead, you need to put in the long, hard hours pushing through it.

The good news is that if you push through that “UGH” feeling, one of two things will happen: you will finish the manuscript and have that sense of accomplishment or inspiration will return before you finish. Either way, you’ll hit your end point. Don’t worry about what you write being terrible; every first draft is crap. Every. Single. One. That’s from every author everywhere of all experience levels. The first draft is crap. That’s what editing is for. But you’ll never write a book if you don’t trudge on through the feelings of, “I hate this and wanna play video games.”

But this all sounds like work! Well duh. I wish I could give you an easy answer—a placebo you could take or apply and have it work. There isn’t an easy answer or a sneaky way out. All we have is the reality that we need to keep moving forward. Either you have it in you to do that or… well there you go. Like so many things in life, you have to plant your feet, duck your head, and keep on keepin’ on.

Five Big mistakes self-published authors make

Five Big mistakes self-published authors make

I’ve spent a lot of time with self-published authors—the good and the bad—and I’ve noticed a lot of trends over the last five years. Some of these trends are good and are marks of successful authors, others… not so good. Today I want to address those “not so good” trends I’ve seen in self-published authors.

1) Not paying for professional services.
You have no idea how many authors make this mistake. They think they can do everything on their own without paying for services and that their books won’t suffer for it because as self-publishers they can do everything alone. As I’ve said in other blogs, the real difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is, primarily, who foots the bill to have the book produced.

Writers, on the whole, aren’t rich folks. Most of us are “starving artists” who write because we need to but have a job we hate in order to survive. Why? Because that’s just how the world works. Paying for a professional service is often measured in the thousands of dollars. A single run through on a novel by a substantive editor can easily hit $1,200 or more. Paying for that when we aren’t confident our book will break even? It requires a significant amount of faith in your writing as well as faith in your bank account.

In Dan Poynter’s book, “Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual”, he quoted that publishing a book costs something in the vicinity of $6,000 to $10,000 to produce.

For a book like the one described here, you should budget about $10,000 to get started (cover and page production, printing, and initial marketing and promotion). If you print 500 according to the New Book Model, you should budget $6,000 for production, printing, and initial marketing.

Page 106. Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Sixteenth Edition

2) Publishing their first draft.
Yes, this is something that happens more often than I’d like to say. Many newbie writers make the mistake of thinking that the writing process ends after the first time you write—literally or metaphorically—“The End”. Finishing the first draft is just the beginning of the process that takes you from manuscript to book. Chances are you’ll rewrite your book two to three times before you start having beta readers and critique. Then editing!

Your first draft isn’t something anyone but you should see. First drafts always suck for everyone. That includes masters like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Don’t feel bad that I’m saying your first draft of your baby is terrible; all of us go through that. The good news is everyone has this experience. Don’t be in such a rush to share your work with the world that you neglect to make sure it’s properly treated before release.

3) Spamming their social media with their offers.
How many authors do you know who do drive-through spamming to every writing groups to drop an advertisement for their book or flood all their social media with their cover image and hashtagged posts about how you should purchase their book. That kind of so-called “marketing” doesn’t work. Don’t do it.

Marketing your book is a difficult, complicated process. We all struggle to be seen, but spamming people isn’t the way you get attention. People will roll their eyes and move on with their life. It also damages your credibility and capacity to reach people who want to buy your book. Marketing is a big mess that I’m not qualified to give you huge detail on, but I suggest following Kristin Lamb’s blog—she’s fantastic at what she does.

4) Responding to critique or criticism with hostility.
So someone writes a review or comment about your book that points out errors. Or maybe they just plain didn’t like it. What do you do? Do you jump on your account and write a scathing response to them to tell them just how wrong they are about your masterpiece? Or do you grit your teeth, pour yourself a glass of wine, and have some chocolate?

Reviews, good or bad, are important to authors because they’re exposure. Also, these critiques or comments sometimes contain valuable information. If one person says you have an issue with something it’s probably opinion. If five say it? Well, you might have an issue. The best way to respond to criticism is… don’t. At all. If you have to reply, just thank them for their thoughts and opinions. That’s all you’re going to say.

5) Developing an ego and assuming they know everything about publishing.
You’ve published your first book! I’ll be the first to congratulate you. You’ve published your second or third? Awesome! If you did it right you probably know something by then. If you did it right. If you didn’t you probably know about the same amount you knew when you uploaded your first book to Amazon.

The best way you can learn about writing and about publishing is accepting that you don’t know everything. There are a lot of moving pieces to the publishing industry. One of the first things we learn when we enter this world is we can’t go it alone, and we don’t know everything. We learn from those who are better than us, and we move forward in concert with other authors who are also learning. We all work together.

These five mistakes aren’t the end of the world. You can fix all of them with time, energy, and effort. So they aren’t a death knell to your writing career. Just make sure you learn from these errors. Move forward. Get better. That’s all we can do.

Defining "Professional"

We hear this word thrown around a lot, but many people seem to miss the mark on what it means. While the literal definition of a professional is just someone who gets paid, being “professional” encompasses more than that. In that case, let’s dig into what the publishing world considers to be a professional:

  • Dressing properly when required.
    I’ll edit in my fuzzy bunny slippers and PJ pants because there’s no one around to judge me, but I wouldn’t wear jeans to a black tie affair. Also, when meeting clients or engaging in business deals I dress up, shower, do my hair, etc. It’s important.
  • Punctuality.
    If you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something in a specific time frame, then you should probably do it. It marks you as someone trustworthy and dependable. If, for some reason, you can’t do it, communicate as soon as possible.
  • Politeness
    This is a tough one sometimes. We’re conditioned to bleed on the page, but we need to know when to keep our mouths shut and smile. It’s never easy to do that when you’re dealing with a situation you can’t stand, but it’s important. Being polite also carries over into any public interactions, including social media. People really DO judge you on that.
  • Business Acumen
    While you may not have a degree in it, understanding when business is business and personal is personal is big. I’ll talk more on this later.
  • Having quality marketing materials, covers, websites, etc.
    This isn’t unique to writers, either. Having good-looking business cards, websites, fliers, and other such communication materials is a defining mark of a professional in the world beyond just writing. This means that just because you “can” design your own website you maybe should rely on someone with professional credentials. These things are your face to the world.
  • Literacy
    No joke, the fewer typos, the fewer mistakes, and the more attention you pay to your writing and communication, the better you look.
  • Email Etiquette
    Do you know how to write a proper email? What’s your email signature like? Are you using frilly colors in order to “get attention”? Is your font easy to read and clean? All of these are important.

Knowing these qualities and seeing what is expected can be a sobering experience for some of us when we realize we don’t quite measure up. The thing is, behaving professionally (even if you aren’t making money yet) is important. This also includes how we treat our professional colleagues (editors, publishers, etc.) as well as our readers. If you see a poor review of your book, do you jump on the thread and make a bunch of unfriendly comments? Or do you thank the person for their critique and move on with your life? There are many ways to address things, but if we want to be taken seriously and regarded with positive esteem, we need to realize that epitomizing (or at least aspiring to) the qualities I listed above is a major part of it.

Professionalism is one of the defining factors in whether or not you’ll get anywhere as a writer. I know we all wish it were just about whether or not we can put together a good story, but that’s just not the case, unfortunately. We have a lot of things to consider when we are looking at our success, and many of those factors have nothing to do with what we put on the page.

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part II

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part II

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

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

Who Pays

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

Creative Control

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


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


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


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

Access To Experts

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


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

Perceived Validity

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

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

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

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

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

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