My Newbie Editing Faux Pas

You’d think that, as a professional copywriter and blogger, I’d have adequate skills to proofread and edit my own novel. Wrong.  The past few days I’ve been hermited away correcting an embarrassing amount of errors in Inside Evil. Luckily, due to my lack of promoting and poor first two week sales, few people have purchased the book. But, this is a rookie mistake that I won’t make again.

Matters first came to light when my sister bought the book and found a mistake on the FIRST PAGE.  Talk about trying to get that first 10% sample correct, I’d failed miserably at the outset. As she read further, I became increasingly concerned over the number of problems she was finding. She’s a medical secretary and very anally retentive about her work lest something strewn with errors be placed in front of a consultant. She was very happy to correct my work, and I was glad to have her input, but it highlighted the vital need to EDIT, PROOFREAD and EDIT again.

Part of the problem with Inside Evil is that it’s been in my head for so many years that I know it off by heart. However, this makes editing and proofreading that bit harder as you’re far more likely to not notice mistakes because, though you think you’re carefully tinkering with each line, you’re actually scanning it.

Hiring an editor

There are various people in self publishing who say that using an editor is an essential requirement for any self publisher. Along with using freelance artists to create stunning and eye capturing covers, proofreaders and editors are essential if you’re to rid as many errors as possible and ensure an enjoyable read not stymied by poor writing skills.

Going it alone

However, editors cost money, and there are other self published authors who attest to editing yourself and not having to fork out hundreds of pounds on a novel which you have no idea how well it will do. Money made off the back of sold novels can be used for hiring professionals down the line for later works, but large expense shouldn’t be made at the outset.

I’d love to have the money to hire an editor, but that option is simply not open to me. However, with my sister’s eagle eye, it has proved that using someone else to look over your manuscript is vital. So too, is taking a break between finishing your novel and the final proofread. I wrote, edited, proofed and finished in one straight line; a probable reason for some mistakes. Taking some time out allows your mind to forget a little, and come back with fresh eyes.

If there’s one thing that you want to get right, it’s the editing. Who can enjoy a story when it’s riddled with mistakes? It’s an embarrassment for the author and it could result in a 1/2 star review which could throw your novel into the pit of never being bought again.

I’ll never make this rookie mistake again, and even if you can’t afford an editor, take a few days break before trying to proof yourself. Read your work aloud, tracing your finger along each line to give you even more of a chance to spot problems. As a minimum, also get someone else unafraid of highlighting every error, to take a look; you’ll be thankful to them in the long run.

A New Page

Self-publishing is hard work and it’s very easy to get immediately disheartened when your novel is not a breakout success and you don’t sell 1,000 copies every day. The more I read on forums, the more I realise that many authors trying to break into the market have long periods without sales. This is especially true if you only have a single novel and no ready-made user base to sell to. Combine that with no reviews or ratings, and your novel is floating, adrift from it’s readers. Some selling on Amazon call it the ‘beige wall of shame’, and you’ll know exactly what I mean if you’ve become a sales junkie and keep hitting that refresh button in your Amazon bookshelf tab.

In attempt to try and dispel some of the myths surrounding self publishing sales, I’ve created a new sales tab which will show you exactly how many sales I’m making on various platforms. OK, this may be seriously embarrassing for me, especially if my sales continue at their current level – NIL. But, it’ll be a nice guide for myself and hopefully other newbies to look at. It is with hope that one day I can look back upon this and see that the whole self publishing business was worthwhile. There’s a fun and refreshing thread over at Kindle Boards where many authors not selling 10,000 a month can celebrate their two sales a week. Always makes nice reading when the paranoid gremlins start taking hold.

On a side note, whilst sales just haven’t really occurred, I’m not yet too bothered. From what I’m reading, March can be a quiet month and many newer writers on Amazon are seeing lagging sales too. Combine that with the fact that Inside Evil is still ‘pending review’ on Smashwords, and I truly haven’t got enough exposure to be selling books yet. Onwards and upwards, and lets hope that my sales data doesn’t continue to be horrendously low.

Writing Goals

It seems that wherever I look, people are saying that to sell more books you need to write more books. Well, that’s no surprise. However, it is a little daunting for a newly self published author who’s written and released their first book to suddenly be faced with having to plunge back into the writing process.

I’d always imagined writing more books and sequels, but I had envisioned publishing Inside Evil, promoting and advertising it, and then noting the feedback. This would have helped enormously with future works and indeed the publishing process itself. However, wading my way through blogs and forums, there are many top authors indicating that there is actually little point going into promotion overdrive when you only have one title available. Instead, you should concentrate of your next piece and allow sales to slowly drift up on already published works.

So, with that said, Monday 26th March, 2012, I will start Part II of Inside Evil. My challenge: write 1,000 words a day as a minimum. I envisage that this will allow me to complete the first draft in the next two to three months, and hopefully have the sequel up and running within six months.

I’m actually quite excited. To get away from the editing process and indulge in sheer, pure and unadulterated creativity for a couple of months will be bliss. Sure, I’ll edit as I go along, but not to any huge extent. I want the story to write itself and my mind is already burning with ideas and tales to spin into Roberta’s newest adventure within the strange world of Gathin.

Free ISBN’s back at Smashwords

Let’s face it, I came into self publishing with a blindfold on. I really didn’t know what to expect, and the question of getting an ISBN hadn’t even crossed my mind. Then, questions emerged…did I need an ISBN for an ebook? Were they even available? Wasn’t it only printed books that required ISBN’s? What was even the point of having one?

I looked on Amazon – no ISBN needed there, just your unique ASIN code which can be used on Goodreads in place of an ISBN. Result. I looked on Smashwords – ISBN needed for Sony, Apple and Kobo. Oh dear.

However, getting an ISBN is not as scary as it sounds, at all. There’s no lengthy paperwork to fill out and, even better, there’s no cost at all. That’s if you use Smashwords. Whilst you may opt to buy an ISBN, Smashwords regularly gets in a new batch of ISBN’s for you to utilise. Simply head to your ISBN Manager, click the ‘Actions’ tab to go to the purchase page and choose the ‘Free ISBN’ option. Click accept and hey presto, ISBN assigned. There’s no legal bearing over assigning a free ISBN from Smashwords and you’ll retain the rights to you work.

They’ve just got in a fresh batch of 50,000, so head there and assign your ISBN now so that you can start shipping ebooks to Apple, Kobo and Sony pronto.

The Free Ebook

When it comes to self publishing, the price point can be key. It seems to be generally regarded that $2.99 is a good price for a novel, offering value to readers whilst providing authors with a reasonable royalty. After you’ve written several novels in a series, you might like to drop the first book to just .99cents or even make it free, providing huge incentive for readers to explore your characters and get hooked on a series which ultimately leads them to buy later books. However, as a first time publisher, when you only have a single sole novel for sale, this is not possible.

Over at the fantastic blog by Lindsay Buroker, I was reading about advertising strategies, and the possibility of offering a free ebook. It’s a great plan if, as I’ve mentioned, you already have several books out. If you’re making your first forays into self publishing like me, it’s a bit of a non-starter. However, something has to be done to get that trickle of initial sales, and having a freebie is definitely attractive.

Momentarily touched upon in Lindsay’s blog was the prospect of writing a short story or novella as a way of leading readers to your main title. This could then be offered for free and would, hopefully, encourage fans of this short work to check out your debut book. It got me thinking…how could this be done?

I have many areas within Inside Evil that I could explore in a short story. Could I write and offer them for free? Yes. Would I want to? No, and here’s why. To write a short story on an aspect of a debut novel means that you effectively give spoilers to readers. I want people to discover and learn about my characters through their read of Inside Evil, not already know who they are at the outset. Writing about peripheral characters could be a possibility, but this means that when they appear in your main novel, their character is of no surprise. In fact, readers may be waiting for their appearance and thus many elements of storytelling are removed. For example, your lead character may be about to discover someone they’ve never met  who has surprising or hidden secrets. But, if a reader has already downloaded the free ebook, none of the emerging details are a surprise in the slightest.

It results in a circumstance where you either have to give so much away in a short story that reader enjoyment is spoiled, or you create a dull read with little excitement which will definitely not engage anyone enough so as to make your main work an attractive purchase. As a result, I truly feel that free ebooks should be left for first titles in an extensive series. But then, you’re brought back to the initial question, how do I attract readers when I have just one novel?

I don’t know the answer yet, and though offering free ebooks should be seriously considered at some point, it’s not for the first time self publisher. If you’ve had any luck with offering free ebooks let me know. Did you write several books before making the first in the series free? Or was it a side story to attract readers to your debut title? The hunt for answers continues…..

Finding Inspiration

If you read Inside Evil, you’ll often discover that there are some instances of what I like to call ‘nature-love’. Whilst the book may be, at it’s foundation, the story of a woman trying to save her life whilst another copes with the death of her daughter, from time to time my love of nature rears it’s head. Take Elrick, the tiny spider that helps Roberta enter the mysterious world of Gathin. Or the moths that help to offer hope in the darkest of situations . Or even the changing season as the first snow descends on Ridgewood. When I write, I can’t help but to put these touches in.

Many of these elements, whether predetermined or not, are led by my love of the natural world. Away from writing, I’m a landscape gardener and horticultural copywriter. My days are spent either amongst plants and creatures or at my desk writing about plants and creatures. One of the things I’ve discovered is that inspiration often comes to me when I’m away from my desk and ensconced in my latest gardening project, whether I’m digging down on my allotment or visiting a clients garden for some maintenance work. These quiet hours, surrounded by plants and wildlife allow my mind to drift. Sentences form in my mind, and paragraphs of text develop that are put into my WIPs. They are not generally major story changes or milestones, but can often subtlety change the direction of a chapter without me really knowing.

Whilst we’ve all probably encountered writers block, where we sit down to write and nothing flows or sounds right, I find inspiration is everywhere. It’s the actual lumping oneself down in front of a monitor to type that can be the problem. It’s certainly meant that Inside Evil was published years after it was first conceived.

So my question is this…how do you find inspiration? Do you actively look for it, or does it come naturally? Does inspiration come to you as you write, or as a moment of clarity in regular life which suddenly starts your mind whirring, and your fingers desperate to get home and start tapping away?

The First Book Sale

I’ve just done a small leap of excited joy. I got it. That elusive first book sale. I’m over the moon!

I’d never thought about self publishing before. That was, until I read the article with Amanda Hocking on The Guardian website which outlined her supreme success at making it as an e-author. Suddenly, an entire new world came into focus and I realised that the novels which had been languishing in my computer files could actually become something. Yes, they’d need some work, some hard hours and many edits to get them to a stage where I’d be happy to publish them. But, I could publish them, me, myself. I could put them online for everyone to see and reap the rewards and disappointments as they came.

So, in earnest, I set out to complete Inside Evil. A couple of months later and several extreme edits and rewrites, I uploaded to Amazon in less than a huge fanfare. In fact, I’ve been so secretive about my works that I haven’t shared it on Twitter or Facebook…surely a HUGE marketing faux pas. It’s not my fear of being rejected as such, but the fear of friends and family having to go through the motions of pretending to love my work whilst secretly hiding their true feelings. That’s what I truly fear. Releasing works which those who I love actually think are not worth the paper that they’re written on yet cannot say such things to my face. I can cope with strangers hating my work and criticising. From loved ones; that’s a whole other ballgame.

Having done NOTHING in the way of research into self publishing and marketing, I’m brand new at this whole venture. My sister bought the first copy of the book, but, to my delight, I’ve just signed into my account and almost a week to the hour after first uploading, I’ve my first sale. I’ve really done nothing in the way of marketing, other than setting up this blog and though one tiny, little, insignificant sale may seem like nothing, I’m overjoyed.

I’m now an author. I’ve published, I’ve sold. What an incredible feeling. And now I have to strive to continue this feeling for the upwards struggle!

How do authors write book series?

I’m often intrigued by the various ways in which people write their book series. Do they write a well received title which they then see has an opportunity to further and make more money? Do they put words to print with sequels always in mind IF a book does well? Or, is a series of books always predefined, with individual novels simply being milestones between a predestined beginning and ending?

Such distinguishing isn’t always needed for all novel series. For example, many crime books are open and shut titles but have one continuing character who solves case after case as the series goes on. However, many series complete an overall story-arc, and it is this that intrigues me.  J.K Rowling always had seven books in mind, whilst the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley-Robinson were also predetermined. But do others have a set out quota of books before they sit down?

I’ve always found that my own writing process has been rather organic. Both of my WIPs are lengthy, and my start and end goals have always been pre-written into a number of books. I don’t know exactly, to the full-stop, how they will end, but I know the overall tone, setting and character developments which the  books will close with. Other than that, I write each book with milestones to reach and specific moments to include, but a lot is left down to the characters themselves. In Inside Evil, for example, there are several instances where I was shocked at the route which a character took.

However, this organic process does allow for books to lose their way and become rather rambling, so a certain degree of structure needs to be taken; the reigns need to be held. In terms of developing a book sequence, it can soon become apparent in the book writing process, that the drama unfolding will never fit into one epic novel, and that the story needs to be broken down into smaller chunks.

I’m interested to see if other writers find that their book series evolve this way, or whether they write a sole title, note it doing extremely well and decide to pick up their characters where they left off. What works for you? Do your series create themselves, do you sit down with a clear number of novels to write, or have you simply attempted to maximise sales by taking favourite characters and giving them a new situation to play in?

Shelfari; A Worthwhile Resource?

If you publish with Amazon, which is highly advisable if you’re trying to reach the Kindle market, then they take great pains to mention Shelfari as an extra resource. Like Goodreads, this book group community offers a place to create libraries of your favourite books, rate and add details about novels, and meet with other readers. But I’m wondering, is it any good?

I’m not well versed in Goodreads and as Inside Evil doesn’t yet have an ISBN, I haven’t had the chance to discover whether this community can help build a book’s profile. Amazon’s Shelfari offers to be a promising tool, particularly because Amazon state that the extras which are tagged onto digital books in Shelfari can be made available to readers. This ultimately means that readers can access a custom built library of characters, book themes, places etc to either supplement a book that they’ve read or offer an added attraction to buy. But, does it actually work??

Like Goodreads, you need to build up followers and friends, so launching a book into Shelfari offers little initial help because your work falls in front of no one. If you’ve been using the site for a while, then it could promise a few sales as you’ll already have friends and followers. I’m also unsure as to whether this is actually a thriving community of readers, or a place which offers a few days of novelty before users drift away. Could the same be said for Goodreads? I’m not sure.

I’m determined to continue with Shelfari for a while, adding some character biographies and book extras to see whether any sales can be created. Once I get my ISBN I’ll also give Goodreads a shot and compare the two.

Do you use either website? Have you found it helpful as either a reader or a writer, or both? Let me know and we’ll see whether we can determine if each resource is worth the time and effort.

When to Write Again

Finishing a book is a funny thing. First, there’s utter relief, a sense of pride, the feeling that you’ve finally made it – you’re an author. Then, you look to publish, and whether you go down traditional routes or start off as a self published e-novel author, there’s that desperate hope of hitting the jackpot and making sales. And then, a few days after your book has gone on sale, regardless of how many copies have been bought, there’s that instant need to write again.

Many say that being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. Whilst you may procrastinate and find it hard to actually sit down and write, once you’ve finished a story, you’re eager to start another. You can be walking down the street and a certain scene, smell or sound sparks something in your imagination and off you go. I’ve never found that I’ve had to actually sit and think, ‘I want to write, what shall it be about?’. There’s always some idea, some unfinished work, or the possibility of a novel sequel in the offing.

The best time to write again is immediately after you’ve finished your current WIP (Work in Progress). If you’ve been published by an agent, then you may be busy doing readings, looking at artwork or going to constant edit meetings. If you’re self published, then a vast amount of time will be taken up with your own marketing and advertising. But, amongst all of these extras, don’t forget to stop writing. Especially if you’re releasing your first book, then taking the plunge and working on the next novel will help you no end as you’ll be able to offer a catalogue of titles to readers throughout the years. You only need a reader to love one novel, to gain many more sales from your other titles.

So, though Inside Evil may only just be published, I’m already preparing to sit down and start writing again. Will it be to finish my other science fiction novel, or work on a sequel to my début book? Of that, I’m not quite sure yet. But, whilst the marketing process beings, one thing that will help keen me sane is beginning the writing process all over again.