Monday, July 25, 2011

We've moved!

The blog is now attached to our website! You can check us out at and subscribe to our RSS feed, which I know you totally want to do.

From now on, all posts will be posted there.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The layout.

So you have your manuscript written and edited, you're battered and bruised and you've replaced all of the creativity in your head with whiskey. You've got to be almost done with all this, right? As usual the answer is two-fold: Yes, you're done with it if you just want to plop it into Smashwords and fire it off into the internet ephemera where it'll be lost forever. No, you're not done if you'd actually like someone to read it aside from your mom.

Layout and formatting are extremely important. Some might say that they are more important, in terms of initial sales, than the quality of your writing. This is ridiculous, I know, but once you stop screaming at the clouds you'll realize this makes sense. People, in general, size a thing up in a matter of seconds. Not just books, mind you, I'm talking everything: cars, houses, pets, clothes, other people, you name it. You generally know if you want it after a few blinks. Sure, you may talk yourself in another direction, but you know. You know.

How does this pertain to you? Well, it's time to dress up your work. Start with cover art. I don't mean to toot my own horn here (read: I absolutely do) but would you rather purchase a book that looks like this:

Orrrrr would you like to buy a book that looks like this:

Unless you're a minimalist hipster you're gonna choose number 2 (In which case may I direct you to where it can be yours!) *end plug*

The point is, it's hard enough as a new author to sell anything you write at all, but it's even harder if what you're selling looks like crap. I am amazed at how many self-pubbed authors fall flat on their faces this close to the end. Don't be that guy. Don't spend years writing and editing your book just to take a left turn at the finish line.

I wanted to make a business of this, so I bought Adobe CS5 and got a hold of an illustrator and a designer, and learned my way around things, but you don't need to do that. If you're just planning on publishing yourself, there are people out there that will do a great cover for you for cheap. In some cases some very decent stuff for around $50 bucks. You can check out the market for cover artists at places like, or just search around for yourself. A ton of people have done it, and have chatted about it online.

Which brings me to another point. Adding cover art doesn't set you apart, oooooh no. Adding cover art brings you out of the dumpster. Instead of having several hundred thousand books above you, you're now alongside a couple hundred thousand, and above a couple hundred thousand, but if you look up you'll see another couple hundred thousand soaring above you still.

How do you compete with those above you? Well, there are still a few more presentation things you can do. A lot of you aren't gonna like this, but one of the best things you can do is get yourself a physical book. I know that it's the ebook revolution that has gotten everyone into this game, but the bottom line is that most people are (as of now) still more comfortable with physical books than ebooks. If you stop yourself at ebooks, you're limiting your sales unnecessarily.

At the very least, you can use a physical edition to drive more sales of your ebooks, and vice versa. People will be more comfortable with your product if it has both paperback (or hardcover) and ebook editions. You look more legitimate. This is especially good now that spammers are hacking the .99c ebook system and making everyone legitimately offering their work at that price look like hucksters in shabby overcoats trying to entice readers down dark alleys. Thanks a lot spammers. Is there anything that you don't completely ruin?

Also, Amazon likes you more too. As a physical book seller you can get an Amazon advantage account that allows you to spruce up your product pages a bit more, so you can specify an age range for your work and whatnot. All of these things are superficial and skin deep and appearance driven, and they can make or break you.

Next up, getting your ebook and your paperback done right, for cheap (sort of).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The trenches.

In the past post I mentioned the four basic tiers that I think make up publishing. I should have added a caveat: Those are the four things you need to be a publisher. But there is a difference between a publisher and a good publisher. A good publisher needs one more thing: A manic drive to put out the absolute best product that they can.

Nowhere does it become more apparent whether or not you have this last bit than in the formatting and packaging of your product. This is the drudgery. This is where most people quit. This is the literary equivalent of the trenches of war, and you, fair publisher, are the one catching grenades. It's so big that I'll have to tackle it over a couple of posts.

Let's start with editing. Every time you edit a manuscript it gets better. Most people realize this as a sage bit of wisdom, but in reality it is a terrible curse. Think about it: the book you are going to publish could be better. It could always be better. For perfectionists (and a good publisher has at least a bit of perfectionist in them) this is terrible. You might as well give us a gun right now, to end it all. We have to fight the battle of knowing when to stop revising, because at some point you just hit an infinite loop and end up a crazy person editing the same manuscript for ten years, surrounded by twenty or so cats in a tiny apartment, eating Ramen noodles for every meal.

But in the self-pub world, knowing when to stop editing is not nearly as big of a problem as it should be. For most people it's getting them to start editing. I'm just going to throw this out there: You must have a professional, impartial second party edit your manuscript. Self-editing isn't going to cut it. You'd be amazed at how many times, in my own work, I miss the most ridiculous things. Things like capitalization and the correct use of their, there, or they're. These aren't tough things; this is JV squad stuff that I totally blow by multiple times. And I was a copy-editor. There is an inverse equation well known amongst copy-editors that says the more times you edit a thing, the blinder you become to glaring mistakes. It's called the "you're fired" equation and we try to avoid it at all costs by recruiting a fresh set of eyes.

I am a big fan of professional freelance editing services. There are a few out there that are really good. Places like that employ only doctors of English or MFAs in writing who do this stuff for a living. I will warn you, though, that it ain't cheap. A professional edit of a full length manuscript can run in the thousands of dollars, and I know the vast majority of indie-publishers and writers can't afford that.

At the very least you should have someone you don't know edit your work before you self-pub or submit to a publisher. I may be in the minority here, but I am of the opinion that it's extremely unlikely, and maybe even impossible, to get an honest review from a friend. This is because friends like you. They've probably seen how long you've worked on your manuscript and no matter how many times you tell them to give it to you straight, some part of them will hold back. Unless your friends are jerks. In which case you’re in luck on the editing front, but may have other problems.

The bottom line is if your friends are normal, nice people, you're either going to have to pay a pro or find someone who hates you to edit your work, otherwise it won't reach its full potential. This goes for both line editing and content editing, although with content editing you need to be your toughest critic, because ultimately you have the final say.

Everybody has their own tips and tricks when it comes to editing for content, in which the editor looks for flow and checks the plot line and character development. I've only ever found one tip that consistently works for me: In every paragraph you write you should be asking yourself: "How does this move the story forward?"

If the answer is "It doesn't" then axe it.

I can't tell you how many thousands of words I've cut because I adhered to this rule, and in every case it worked out for the better. Paragraphs that don't move the story forward in some way, either through relevant character development, or by progressing action towards a major plot point, are nothing but fat. I say relevant character development because this is where I've found most people trip up. If you're writing a crime caper, we probably do need to know the root of your character's fear of guns. We most likely don't need to know how your character came to name their cat Bumbleshanks. Unless Bumbleshanks is the killer. But I digress.

One final thought: Hemingway once wrote, “Write drunk; edit sober.” But that’s because Hemingway didn’t have Microsoft Word. I’m no expert on Hemingway, but knowing what I know of him, if he had the capability to save an early version of his work on a hard drive, he’d have said, “Write drunk; edit drunk.”

One of the best editing sessions I ever had, I sat down with a bottle of bourbon and my delete key. When I woke up in the morning I’d ripped 250 pages from an extremely overweight novel. It was a great move.

I’m just sayin’.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Four things

So what do you need to become a publisher? Keep in mind that, as of this writing, my company has not yet made me filthy rich, and I'm not out buying exotic pet tigers and Ferraris and training my tigers to drive my Ferraris. So I could be wrong about all this. But I have put a lot of thought and work into it and I think I've got it boiled down to the basics.

You need a thing to publish.
You need a means of preparing that thing for publishing.
You need a forum in which to put that thing on offer.
You need a means of letting people know about that thing.

In other words you need to satisfy the following conditions:


There are a lot of other ins and outs and other marginalia but that is basically it. And it all starts at the product. I believe it is Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, one of the great movies of our time, that says, "Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed... I will. I got spare time." Which is to say, a lot of people can offer you a publishing platform with all the bells and whistles, but it's ultimately what's inside that counts.

So you start by securing a good story. In my case, a dear friend of mine had what I thought was a great idea for a coming-of-age fairy tale series. The story was great, had a positive message and a lot of action, a dose of magic and characters that I thought would appeal to older women as well as young girls. Women of all ages read a good deal more than men, which I still find surprising as a man who reads a lot. Maybe most dudes are too busy at car shows and all-you-can-eat wing nights. I dunno. Anyway, when trying to sell books, or really most anything in life, it's best to appeal to the ladies.

I know it's tempting just to publish things you are personally in to, like erotic elf westerns or books about sexy turtle people, and I'm not trying to say that there aren't people out there that might be into that stuff, but it's a tough sell to the majority of people out there not romantically interested in turtles. On the other hand, it's also tough to sell the millionth YA vampire love story; you have to fight to get noticed because it's been done every which way before. The point is, there is a medium that you need to find, a fresh story that might appeal to a bunch of people other than you and your wierdo friends. 

So you've passed on the manuscript about a Conan the Barbarian type that lives in kickassville and drives around a souped up Camaro, knocking heads and seducing strippers. Good. That's a good first step. What's more, you've found a great story that you think has a lot of potential. Now what?

Well, now you get it formatted. And let me tell you, friend: You're in for a world of pain.