Category Archives: Editing

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Two surveys highlight the “satisfaction divide” between indie and trade-published authors

There’s been a lot written about the so-called divide between trade-published authors and indie, or self-published, authors over the blogosphere, and I’m afraid to say I’m about to add to the reams of virtual paper devoted to it. Two recently published surveys combine to underscore some of the key problems traditional publishing houses, or the Big Six (as these large publishing conglomerates are commonly known) might face when it comes to hanging on to their authors. They also draw stark contrast between the satisfaction levels of self-published and trade-published authors.

The first survey, the Taleist Self-publishing Survey, truthfully titled Not a Gold Rush, collated the results of 1007 self-published authors and asked about practices, attitudes, pricing, sales, and their satisfaction with their publishing efforts (Catherine Ryan Howard does a good break-down over on Catherine, Caffeinated).

The second—conducted by Harry Bingham’s editorial consultancy The Writers’ Workshop (with the help of the Society of Authors, The Crime Writers Association and The Romantic Novelists Association)—was based on the answers of 321 trade-published authors, asking them how they felt about publishers’ editing, cover art, and marketing. It also asked several telling questions about whether those authors would stick with their current publishers, and found that 40% of the respondents said they would move to a new house if “a reputable publisher offered [the] same advance”!

All in all, the Writers’ Workshop survey appeared to suggest that trade-published authors are happy with the editorial and creative input of publishers, but that the marketing and communication aspects seemed to leave a lot to be desired, and the way of the future, for the majority of authors, appears to be self-publishing (although for some, there was only a grudging acceptance of that).

The Wash-up of the Writer’s Workshop Survey

The participants’ biggest complaint seemed to be about marketing (and, unsurprisingly, indies like to moan about marketing, too). It seems from the study, that one of the major drawcards of going with a trade publisher—the marketing and publicity—may have been taken off the table. The marketing may be marginal or less than an author would do themselves as an indie (although given the lack of consultation and communication, it may be true that authors were simply unaware of marketing efforts). Only 19.7% of respondents said they were closely consulted about their publisher’s marketing plans, and 33.0% (the most respondents for that question) said “there was no attempt at consultation.” Worse still, in another marketing question 38.4% of respondents answered the question “Did you feel the eventual marketing campaign made good use of your skills, knowledge, passion, contacts and digital presence?” with “What marketing campaign? I never noticed one!” And a paltry 14% said they were “very happy” with their publisher’s marketing campaign.

Long lead times were problematic (46.6% rating it as the aspect of trade publishing they most disliked) as were “inadequate payments” (45.8%) and “insufficient consultation over the process (“42.4%)—something that self-publishers certainly can’t complain about! Communication was also a point of contention for some, with a combined 47% of respondents saying that communication was either “poor” or “tailed off” following publication of their book. 45.8% of participants were never even asked for feedback about their experience by the publishing house, answering “Nope. No one ever asked me what I thought” and guidance about the process at large was also on the slim side, which disgruntled 36.7% of participants.

And, in case you were wondering: the all-hallowed advance, for 40.1% of respondents, was not a multimillion dollar affair but a meager $5000.

When respondents were asked whether they might consider “cutting out a publisher altogether” to self-publish on Amazon, a whopping 74% appeared to be in favor of it (although, of those, 37.4% would be hesitant and saw it as a serious step to take). That left just 26% committed to having “a publisher to guide [them].” Dark days indeed. I, for one, can see why. If all the big publishers really have to offer is editorial, jacket and design influence, which savvy freelancers are now providing at reasonable rates to self-publishers, and a $5000 advance on royalties with little or limited marketing or input to back up sales, then they’re in trouble, big trouble.

In contrast, 44% of the self-published authors who participated in the Taleist survey said they found their self-publishing venture successful (with a further 51% admitting it was too soon to make that judgment). Only 5% were dissatisfied enough to call their venture “unsuccessful.” More telling, when the Taleist participants were asked, “Knowing what you know now, would you self-publish again?” an overwhelming 90% responded, “Yes, definitely” (no jumping ship here) and 93% of participants also said they would recommend self-publishing to other authors.

For me, it represents a real shift in author thinking. Where once the benchmark for author happiness was getting a trade publishing deal and holding a print book in your hand, it now appears that doing it yourself, and selling books online or in print, may be more likely to keep the smile on your face.

I have also been conducting a survey of my own on indie publishing promotional practices, and you can participate here. So far, more than 117 people have responded, but I would love more. The results will be published free in future on a new promotional website that is currently in production, and will help guide relevant content on that site. With just ten quick multiple choice questions, it takes minimal time to complete, and I’d welcome your feedback. Who knows maybe we can add more data that will help other authors decide which route they think will benefit them the most?


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Promotion and other evils


Cage Life has had a facelift

Promotion is a funny thing, isn’t it? So time consuming. So draining. And yet, so very necessary for indie authors. I tallied up my total sales last night from the time I first put Cage Life out there on display as a kind of e-publishing experiment. With three books for sale, less than a year after my “experiment,” I have managed to place more than 29,000 books in the hands of readers. To be fair, the vast majority of those (easily 90%) were giveaways, with Growth having always been free and both Cage Life and Hey, Little Sister enjoying good free runs (either as part of Select or pre-select in the FREE boom days).

While that may look like a lot of books, my earnings have been less spectacular, hovering at just over $120. Part of that is because of the freebies, part is that I priced at $0.99 for a long time before I decided to trial a higher price, and part of it is that I’m far from selling the number I would like to be shifting each month. Had I released a novel by now, I might see more of an upswing in sales. It is difficult, I think, to sustain interest in short stories, poetry and children’s books, and the only solution is to ensure I take more time out for me to write. But … I have been countering that with consoling myself that if even one percent of those readers return when I next publish a book, that will be 290 readers I might not have attracted before. I’ve also changed Cage Life’s cover a little in an effort to boost sales, and have been busily sending off more review requests. As a result, I’ve received some wonderful reviews this week (which couldn’t have come at a better time, as health issues have made it a tiring, long and emotional week for me). The lovely mother and daughter team over at Parent’s Little Black Book of Books have reviewed both Cage Life and Hey, Little Sister for me and have given both five-stars, which was a fabulous surprise. You can see the review for my children’s book here, and if you write for kids, young adults or adults, I highly advise you to contact Loretta or Karen, who are both extremely quick and professional.


It’s been a tough week, but 5-star reviews for Hey, Little Sister have helped put a smile on my face.

To counter my own little promotional dilemmas, I’ve also been hard at work compiling information for the free review sites ebook (which keeps getting pushed back but should now be a goer for June) and also the Indie Review Tracker Website, which is under production with a web guru at present. It should make it much easier for everyone to find reviewers, relevant forums and facebook pages, advertisement space, indie service providers and a whole lot more … yes, it just keeps getting bigger and better, and I just keep getting tireder and tireder. No matter, it will be well worth it when it comes out and I really hope others see it as a valuable tool that reduces their promotional time and “takes the puzzle out of promoting.” I’m currently looking for authors willing to guest post about their promotional experiences, so if you’re a strong blogger and you have great advice for authors, email me on with “Indie Review Tracker Guest Blog” in the title.

The question is: would I have it any other way? The past ten months have been among my busiest ever (not least due to motherhood), and I’ve written more work for me and been more proactive at promoting my books than ever before. I’ve given a lot of thought this past month to what I aim to achieve with self-publishing. It started out as an experiment, and to be honest it still feels like one some days. Sometimes it feels incredible. Sometimes it feels like the goalposts are constantly shifting. Sometimes it feels like a crapshoot. A recent survey I wrote for indies discussing promotion, which you can go and complete here if you like, currently shows that of the more than 100 respondents 86% were either Extremely Satisfied or Moderately Satisfied that they self-published. (Note: All results of the survey will be published on the Indie Review Tracker site as soon as it goes live.) At present, I fall within the Moderately Satisfied crew. I know there is more I can to do to push my level up to Extremely Satisfied (more guest blogging, for instance, paid advertising, and more blogging in general, forging stronger connections, being involved in more indie community initiatives, and writing more books!) and that my promotional efforts will win out in the end, and if they don’t, I also know that books that ten months ago were available only on my computer hard-drive, now grace the libraries of 29,000 ebook readers … and surely that is worth something. 🙂


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On editing and praise-singing…

Listening to the author and understanding his or her vision is vital. Photo courtesy of

Here I am enjoying a lovely sleep-in, courtesy of my wonderful partner (who has put up with Selena’s sooking for several hours this morning) and meanwhile David Gaughran is singing my praises over on his very popular blog! Thanks Dave. I couldn’t ask for a lovelier author to work with, and such a go-getter too.

I wanted to weigh in to say that I believe several factors, above all others, make an edit effective, but this got way to long to post over there, so here it is instead. The first—and I think the most important element of successful editing—is that the editor respects the author’s work so that the “essence” of the work remains intact (how very existentialist of me). That doesn’t mean a sentence can’t be completely flipped on its end and made better for it, that a paragraph or even a subplot can’t be deleted, or that a scene shouldn’t be rewritten from scratch, but that the “point” of the sentence, the paragraph or scene remains the same, although enhanced by the change.

I notice someone mentioned in the comments on Dave’s post that their editor amended colloquial language crucial to the story, and that is a case where the editor has failed to understand the essence of the work. As an editor, part of the process is understanding that this is the author’s work, not your own, and that there may be parts that irk you but may not necessarily bother the “average” reader, or aspects that are critical to the character portrayal and “feel” of the work, even if they bend the “rules” somewhat. (And let me tell you, when it comes to fiction most rules can bend and several should be entirely snapped in half and thrown in the trash).

Authors should ensure they seek a sample edit, but they also need to instruct the editor if there are elements they specifically do not want changed. The editor may still make suggestions if something really bothers them, but will then know not to spend a lot of time on those sections of the text. Another must-have element is an author who maintains an open mind and doesn’t let his or her ego determine what gets changed, but instead employs logic, critical reasoning, or even intuition to the process of amending work. Some authors instinctively know what is right for their work and their characters, and that is a wonderful thing. Ego, however, makes a very poor proofreader.

I don’t think any freelance editor expects that an author will accept 100% of their changes, but when an author is able to critically assess those recommendations and cherry pick the ones that work for a story that is a wonderful thing too. Apparently, I have about a 90% to 95% “acceptance” rate for my suggested changes with my clients. Would I like it to be higher?—sure. I’d love it to be 99%. “Ninety-nine percent?” you ask. “Why not 100%?” Well, you see, I don’t want my authors to be automatons. I don’t want them to just blindly take my word for it; I want them to learn how to make editorial decisions for themselves. The author is the master of their own words and they must also be judge, jury, and executioner. I need to grant them the right to be that.

Much of an editor’s job is persuasion and negotiation. In order for them to see the value in my changes, I must explain those amendments to them in such a way that they feel compelled to adopt them. If I don’t—if I fail to do that—then of course they will reject that change; their ego will reject it and their critical mind will reject it because it hasn’t been convinced that it is necessary or beneficial. Only explanations I make coherently, honestly and convincingly will make that author a more formidable writer.

Perversely, that may also mean there will come a day when they no longer need lil’ ole freelance me, because they’ve landed a lucrative trade deal and an inhouse editor (who may well edit their work entirely differently, but that’s okay, there is more than one way to edit a novel effectively). Dave Gaughran, I’m watching you!


Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Editing, How the pros do it, Indie Publishing


Bite on, little fishies: the importance of opening “hooks”

Hook into your reader as often as you can. Photo courtesy of

I started reading a wonderful novel called Blindsight by NZ author Maurice Gee the other day. It is … gasp … one of those old-fashioned things printed on … gulp … paper, but I’m reading it concurrently with several ebooks on my iPhone and, to be fair, I bought it secondhand. (I am probably one of the reasons Borders and Angus and Robertsons have gone under, as I like nothing better than spending the occasional Saturday morning kneeling uncomfortably on the cold linoleum floor of my local charity shop and picking up a preloved bargain. I do that because I am cheap love that someone else has read the book before me and passed it on, although whenever I come to a particularly suspect-looking stain I do wonder about my choices. Another good reason not to read erotica, I suppose. Anyhoo…) I’ve been a big fan of Mr Gee since I read The Halfmen of O as a child, and have continued to dip into his proliferation of novels ever since. Blindsight grabbed me as soon as I turned to the first page, and it did so because of the “hook”.

Never underestimate the power of a great opening line, or indeed a great opening paragraph. I am going to give you a few examples here of some great openers. I believe including these counts as “fair use for the purpose of study or review” under the Copyright Act, and that this might be seen to be fair and free promotion for these authors’ works. If anyone else believes otherwise, then feel free to set the hounds of the law on me and I will remove them and run like the blazes, but I reckon I can get away with adding just a sentence/paragraph or two here on a non-commercial blog that links to Amazon.

So, Mr Maurice Gee’s powerful first paragraph of Blindsight:

Father taught us how not to love.

The thought came fully formed as my brother walked by. As usual he did not see me, for I never stand in his way, but he slowed his step and changed his line for others on the footpath: college girls in summer uniforms, office workers with swipe cards on their belts. The girls look away with that affronted expression the young, especially the female young, take on at the sight of dereliction and decay. They cannot believe in a fall of such magnitude and set their faces in hostility. Some of the office workers believe. A man, well dressed, said: ‘Gidday, mate.’ That was kind of him — or perhaps it expressed foreknowledge in some way. Gordon did not hear; but must, I believe, have heard the whispering in my head, the message, the reminder, from the sister he had loved.

I dare not include more without seeking the author’s permission (in which case this blog post could be months away), but the next paragraph takes those mysterious elements (Why is she walking past her brother? What does she mean by I never stand in his way? What happened to Gordon and why is he a derelict? Why did she use ‘he had loved’? And, most enticingly, what does she mean by the somewhat ambiguous statement: ‘Father taught us how not to love’? ) and expands upon them even further, adding some even more provocative statements that completely reel the reader in.

The hook here, is that the paragraph above has the reader asking some enigmatic mental questions. However, this opening paragraphs also sets the scene. The ‘Gidday, mate’ places the story quite firmly in New Zealand, the reference to “foreknowledge” foreshadows some kind of conflict, and the reaction of the people on the footpath gives us an idea of how Gordon must be looking and behaving. I was hooked from page one, and if I didn’t have a freelance job on I would read this book straight through without putting it down. (In a weird synchronicity, I am working on a manuscript appraisal of a work also called Blindsight, a job I hadn’t yet booked in when I picked up Maurice Gee’s book! Life has a funny way of handing out those coincidences.)

Many great opening hooks catch the reader by creating more questions than answers. Here are just a few , from a range of favourites on my bookshelf, to prove it:

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. — First sentence of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

What is a daemon? And why is this girl sneaking down the hallway and avoiding the kitchen?

The people who remained in this place have often asked themselves why it was that Ibrahim went mad. I am the only one who knows, but I have always been committed to silence, because he begged me to respect his grief, or, as he also put it, to take pity upon his guilt. — First two sentences of Birds Without Wings by Louis de Berniere

Why has the author used “people who remained” (a nice bit of foreshadowing)? Why did Ibrahim go mad? Who is the protagonist, the keeper of this secret? And what guilt does Ibrahim have?

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. — First sentence of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

Why so matter-of-fact, then, protagonist? And why after the war ended? And just plain ol’ why?

All of these are very powerful openers that force the reader to question. Some opening hooks (most often those written in first person point of view) also help set the scene and introduce the genre of the novel and its protagonist, somewhat like Mr Gee’s does above. Take the first paragraph from fantastic author and all-round nice guy John Marsden’s first book in the Tomorrow series, Tomorrow, When the War Began:

It’s only half an hour since someone—Robyn I think—said we should write everything down, and it’s only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I’ve had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice. Rack off guys! I’ll never get this done. I haven’t got a clue where to start and I can’t concentrate with all this noise. — First paragraph of Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden.

Marsden very cleverly introduces not only his refreshingly down-to-earth, “farm-girl” teenage protagonist Ellie in this paragraph, he also introduces another main character (Robyn), drops hints that this group of kids is in an unusual situation, or at least unusual enough that it warrants writing down,  and leaves the reader wondering what has happened. It also very effectively and firmly places this novel within the young adult genre.

Not all opening hooks have to ask questions, some can just paint a beautiful scene. Take the opening sentences of my favorite book of all time, Mary Renault’s The Bull from the Sea:

It was dolphin weather, when I sailed into Piraeus with my comrades of the Cretan bull-ring. Knossos had fallen, which time out of mind had ruled the seas. The smoke of the burning Labyrinth still clung to our clothes and hair.

The Bull from the Sea is actually the sequel to Renault’s earlier The King Must Die, but I discovered it first, as an eleven-year-old, and I loved it. I have read it hundreds of times. Renault’s opening paragraph tells the reader so much in just a few sentences. The term “dolphin weather” coupled with the verb “sailed” brings to mind an idyllic sun-drenched day with dolphins leaping before the ship’s prow. “Piraeus” establishes she is talking about Athens, and the mention of Knossos and the bull-ring gives a sense of time, while “time out of mind” also reminds the reader of a long and ancient past. Ahhh, this is a historical novel. Thanks for the heads up, Mary. The evocative “smoke of the burning Labyrinth” clinging to our, as yet unidentified, protagonist and his “comrades”, adds a sensory touch that draws the reader into this world, right where Renault wants them.

Another opener that gives a sense of time passing, as well as an excellent insight into the protagonist, comes from a man who is probably my favorite Australian author, award-winning writer Tim Winton. In Dirt Music, he opens with:

One night in November, another that had somehow become morning while she sat there, Georgie Jutland looked up to see her pale and furious face reflected in the window. Only a moment before she’d been perusing the blueprints for a thirty-two-foot Pain Clark from 1913, which a sailing enthusiast from Manila had posted on his website, but she was bumped by the server and was overtaken by such a silly rush of anger that she had to wonder what was happening to her. Neither the boat nor the bloke in Manila meant a damn thing to her; they were of as little consequence as every other site she’d visited in the last six hours. First paragraph of Dirt Music by Tim Winton.

If you haven’t read all of these books yet, get thee to a bookstore, to an ebook store (or a secondhand bookstore or a library).

For me, the best hooks include intrigue, scene-setting, and a glimpse of at least one aspect of character, along with (in some cases) foreshadowing of what might be to come. Of course, a great novel has more than one hook and works more like a set of “jag hooks,” snaring the reader at least at each chapter opening and ending, if not at each scene change, preventing them from escaping the story even if they did want to. Does your first paragraph do enough of those things to reel in your little fishes and ensure they don’t swim off to someone else’s creative pond?


Win a manuscript appraisal or partial edit (worth $480)

Get on board and show me some love! Image courtesy of

Those of you who drop by regularly will know that I recently released my first ever self-published e-books Growth (a poetry collection) and Cage Life (a book of two short stories). As part of promoting those little babies, so they don’t just vanish into the ether, I’m running a competition here on the blog to promote Cage Life.

Trade-published author I may be, but I’m also a professional editor who has worked in publishing for more than 14 years. I have edited books in a number of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, and I offer a freelance editorial and manuscript appraisal service. Most recently I edited David Gaughran’s short stories and indispensable self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital, and you can check out what he has to say about me here.

As such, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a win-win situation for me to get my work out there and you to get a professional critique on your manuscript of 100,000 words or fewer. I normally charge $480 for this service, but the winner will get it for FREE! (Alternatively, if the winner doesn’t want an appraisal of the entire manuscript, they will get 11 hours of actual copy-editing on their manuscript, which is about 11,000 words worth).

There will also be other prizes awarded for creativity.

Here’s how it will work:

1. Grab a copy of my work, just .99c from Smashwords or Amazon (or, for the first 20 who request a FREE copy in the comments below, I’ll email with a code for a FREE copy from smashwords). Once you’ve got a copy, please “like” it on Amazon  (if indeed you do like it—let’s be ethical here!).

2. You then set about promoting/publicising it in whichever way you like. Promote it somewhere, anywhere — your blog, your magazine, your twitter profile, facebook, your billboard, in christmas lights on your house. The bigger the better. If you feel the urge to spend a week in a cage in Times Square screaming it to the masses don’t let me stop you. (Disclaimer: I probably won’t bail you out of jail, though).
If you tweet it please include the hashtag #CageLife (or use @Authorandeditor) so I can see that you have. You can use this tweet if you like:

Did you guess the twist in @Authorandeditor Karin Cox’s e-book “Cage Life”? #CageLife

3. If you post it on a blog, review it on Amazon or otherwise promote it, please pop back here and, in the comments, let me know where and how you promoted, providing a link to your “promo” or to a photo of your promo. (No need to do this for tweets, as long as you hashtag it #CageLife)

4. All verified promoters (those who have reviewed, blogged, posted a link in comments or tweeted or otherwise) will then go into a random draw. Every instance counts as an entry, e.g. if you tweet, blog, facebook and review it on Amazon you have 4 entries. Be sure to let me know every time you promote, either in the comments or on twitter using @Authorandeditor and #CageLife.

5. There will also be a few spot prizes (a free giveaway of my other ebook, or a free Amazon blurb edit, or a 1000-word edit) for those I think have done an exceptional job of spreading the word, or for creativity and originality.

The competition will run for 6 weeks. Entries close on 31 August 2011. Remember, EVERY promotional effort counts as an entry, so for instance, if you tweet, post a review on Amazon, post a review on Smashwords and promote on your blog that will be 4 entries of yours that go into my crazy cowboy hat I bought in Phuket.

The winner will be drawn on 1 September and will be contacted by email and announced here on the blog. I’ll then email them to arrange to do the appraisal/partial edit. (Assuming I like the book, I’ll even give them a little plug here on the blog and on my twitter and facebook).

Please feel free to also promote the competition by directing people back here (which will also count as an extra entry if you let me know about it).

Good luck!  And get promoting.

P.S if I don’t respond to FREE requests in comments straight away I’m probably asleep. Don’t worry, the first 20 commenters who want a freebie will get one.


Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Editing, giveaways


Writer self-doubt — we all get it!

A few days ago I promised a blog post a day — a promise that, if I’m truthful, I’m already regretting. I’m one of those writers notorious for not finishing what they started. And not just as a writer, as gym-goer or dieter I face the same problem. My initial burst of enthusiasm gradually dwindles. I’ll start again tomorrow, I tell myself. It’s just a temporary hiatus. But five works in progress (or 10 weeks and 10 kilos) later, I’m still on the bandwagon. So, at the risk of lapsing back into bad habits, I am posting today.

It might not be the most informative post in the world. It may even make you think: “Oh she’s one of those people — those big idea types who never finish anything.” But the thing is, I’m not always like this. As well as trying to find the time to write, I’ve been working as an editor for more than twelve years, working for traditional publishing houses as my day job (as a Senior Editor for the most part but as an inhouse author for the past three years) and spending my weekends and spare time working as a freelance editor, simply because I love it.  As a result, editing the work of others has often taken precedence over finishing my own writing.

When editing, I am extremely deadline driven and relish the excitement of working my way through a manuscript and the thrill that comes with finishing an edit on time and to the best of my ability. I regularly lose myself in a manuscript for hours on end, and I dislike interruptions and actively seek to minimise them. So where is the disconnect? Why am I so appalling at putting in the hard yards to finish my own work? Why am I so easily distracted by every tweet or post that pops up on my iPhone? Why do I sit staring into space cursing myself while my novel limps along? The answer is: I’m too close to my own work to be able to evaluate it successfully and I’m terrified of finishing it, which would mean I have to then subject it to a process that I know, from experience, is nerve-wracking: submitting.

My editorial training has taught me how to assess and appraise the work of others, how to pedantically mark up botched grammar and punctuation, and how to detect issues with plot, pacing and characterisation. Editing is a critical process that requires a certain kind of cynicism and circumspection, but when it comes to my own work, my critical faculties go into overdrive. Great ideas and interesting premises soon start to appear trite and unoriginal. Every word I write is wrong. And not just wrong, but WRONG! My work, I convince myself, is terrible. As a result I let trivial issues prevent me from writing and I turn instead to something I know I am good at: editing. That I am paid to edit (both as a freelancer and, in the past, for several traditional publishers) validates what I do. My own non-paid fiction writing comes with no such validation. It is subject to the whims of agents and commissioning editors just like any other author’s.

The annoying thing is that, despite my “inner critic,” deep down I know I can write. When not on maternity leave, I work as a non-fiction inhouse author and I’ve been paid good money to write more than 28 books — a luxury I am very grateful for. I’ve created funny, engaging storybooks for children, creative non-fiction, travel guides, natural history books and coffee table books for adults. I’ve sold lots of books. I’ve won awards. I’ve been well reviewed. I can write. What I can’t do is give myself a break.

I am my own worst critic. My worst enemy. The attention to detail and commitment to “getting it right” that make me a good editor distract me as an author. They prevent me from simply sitting and writing and worrying about the technicalities later. They make me go off on tangents and research a minor historical event for hours to ensure I have my facts straight. They send me scurrying off to compare points of style between the Chicago Manual of Style, AP and Snooks & Co. They force me to go back and reread my entire manuscript again every time I have let it go untended for weeks, which invariably leads to more line edits and fewer words added to the manuscript that day.

I need larger blocks of time, I tell myself (and that is partly true). I need the money that freelancing brings in, I tell myself (again, partly true). But the real truth is: I need to stop procrastinating and making excuses — whether valid ones or those based on the low self-esteem that plagues many writers.  Above all else, I just need to just shut the hell up and do it, even if I have only 10 minutes, even if what I write tonight is less than perfect. I’m sure this blog even operates as a procrastination at times! And with that, I’m off to write.


Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Editing, Procrastination, Writer's Block


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Are you ready to self-publish? DIY red flags

Debate, some quite vitriolic, has been raging for years on public writing boards over whether self-published authors can call themselves “authors” in the true sense of the word and whether or not self-publishing is a death sentence for a writer’s career or a stepping stone.

As an editor who has spent most of her working life as a lackey for traditional book publishers  — and therefore, I suppose, part of the so-called “gatekeeper” set, although I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper but a reader’s advocate — I still feel that, in most cases, traditional publishing has a better track record of producing a quality, marketable product, largely because publishers follow stringent procedures and have a chain of trained staff available to polish, sell and distribute a book. However, the recent upswing in professional authors turning away from contracts with bigger publishers to go it alone in the self-published eBook wilderness is gradually increasing the profile of the self-published eBook, which can only be a good thing for authors wanting to e-publish themselves.

As Joe Konrath’s, Cory Doctorow’s, John Locke’s and Amanda Hocking’s success will convince you, there are now many talented self-published authors who have a commitment to quality and are producing and promoting their own work to great success. I say good on them. Some of the most dedicated self-published authors have  amassed millions of fans. They put in the hard yards, they promote tirelessly, they believe in themselves without being inflated with self-importance, and they wholeheartedly deserve their success. I admire them for being entrepreneurial. But there are many more who rush a badly written book through Lulu or Bookpal, or put out an unedited, poorly formatted or just plain rubbish eBook without any of the vetting procedures used by traditional publishing companies. These books are full of errors, often have insanely implausible plots or very dull characters who go nowhere and do little, and contain gaping plot holes. The authors of such titles, puffed up with hubris and the belief they’re going to make a million, buy into the lie that they don’t need an editor, cover designer or anyone else because their work is that good and it’s that easy. Unfortunately, they spoil things for new self-published authors still seeking an audience because they lower the standard of self-published books and, therefore, the price people are willing to pay for them. Thankfully, the cream will still float to the top and the crap to the bottom, but it’s still a long wade through the mediocre milk to find the sweet spot.

I wouldn’t discourage any author from self-publishing if that is the option they feel will best meet their needs and they are prepared to critically assess their work first, hire an editor and a cover designer, and publicize and promote their work themselves, which can be time consuming. However, here are a few red flags I believe indicate an author is not really ready to be published (traditionally or otherwise).

You are not ready to self-publish if you only want to self-publish because:

(a) Stupid evil agents, editors and publishers, what do they know? Who died and made them gatekeepers? Most of them are failed writers. They wouldn’t know a good book if they see it! They published Stephanie Meyer, HA! What a crock of sh*t. Readers are stupid too. I know more than they do, all of them, so I’m going to self-publish. RED FLAG.

(b) I don’t want anyone touching my prefect work. I’ve been ofer it an thousand times. My work is 100% cleen. I am an ecellent self-editor and my grammar is wonderfully. I donut need anyone changing a singal word. Whenever I’ve let any one look at it they’ve changed things and MADE it WORST. I had my mother read it and she loved it and said it was 100% perfekt. RED FLAG.

(c) Why should I give part of my hard-earned to greedy publishers when I can make a FORTUNE, a FORTUNE I tell you out of self-publishing!!!! [Emphasis added] I tell you there is NO other book out there in the world like this book! This book has it all— vampires, good cops, bad cops, romance, psychopaths, sex scenes, unicorns, wizards, kung fu artists, dragons and a plot based on major world themes of war, corruption, redemption and transcendence. It’s timeless. Readers who like Tolkien, Meyers, Rowling, Harris, Patterson, Connelly, Doctorow, Banks, Courtenay, Ben Elton and Dame Barbara Cartland will LOVE this book. I reckon I can sell 500,000 of this book in the first few days. Just you sit back and watch me become a billionaire, b*tches. RED FLAG. Major RED FLAG.

(d) I need money fast. Real fast. They’re going to break my kneecaps if I can’t come up with three grand by next Wednesday and my luck on the geegees is well down. Damn! But I know detective mysteries. How long do you reckon it takes to write a book about a famous racehorse that gets assassinated by a ruthless bookie and a PI on the case — a week or two while I’m laid up with broken knees? Easy. If I can just sell 30,00 of these babies for 99c each I’m back in the black. Hit “Publish”! RED FLAG.

If you genuinely feel that you have a polished manuscript and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to gain representation — and by that I mean not that you’ve waited around for years, but that you’ve sent it out to a few agents or publishers and taken on board feedback from beta readers or writing groups at least— and you know you are prepared to put in the hard yards and spend some of your own money to make your book the best it can be by hiring a cover designer and editor and self-promoting your work, then by all means go for it. I’d highly recommend self-publishing and eBook publishing for publishing poetry, short stories and some popular non-fiction (for example, books on how to care for a baby, running a successful home-based business, herbal beauty products or whatever).

Ultimately, whether traditional publishing or self-publishing is best for you depends on your publishing dreams. If you just want to see your book in print or for sale and pitch it to family and friends before you die, by all means, do it. Don’t sit around getting disgruntled and becoming one of those authors mentioned in (a). But if you know that writing is hard work but you do it because you love it and you know you’re good at it, and one day you’re hopeful you will have success (however limited, but you hope for big things), then keep on submitting to publishers and good luck to you. I wouldn’t rule out using self-publishing or traditional publishing. It all depends on your aims.

As I am already a traditionally published author, perhaps my view is a little different, but I would publish poetry, shorts and some non-fiction myself as eBooks, and plan to do so as an exercise in having “options” if nothing else. However, at this point I would still prefer to send my novels to a traditional publisher and cross my fingers.


Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Editing, Future of the book