Tag: writing

Write Track

Some people equate high levels of productivity with high levels of graft. When it comes to writing, they think burning the midnight oil, doubling down – trying really hard to crack that book, blog or script is the only approach to take. We disagree. Our own research tells us that writing productivity is less about blood, sweat and tears and more about being smarter with the limited time you have – in short, it’s about having a system.

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I need an editor … you’ll be rewarded

I need an editor … you’ll get great exposure

I need an editor … fast

I need an editor … I don’t mind paying

I need an editor … willing to pay

I need an editor … for free

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Oh, no … You didn’t just ask your spouse, your mom, or your best friend to read your book and tell you what they think, did you? Every author needs test readers—impartial, unbiased test readers. As much as your squad may want to help, beta reading is one area where friends and family don’t qualify.

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My mum received a Christmas card from an old friend a few years back with a brief update on family news, including this plaintive summary: ‘The kids are both doing jobs I don’t understand.’ And who can blame her.

For centuries how people described what they did in the working day was fairly consistent, but suddenly there’s a whole new crop of jobs that your granny wouldn’t recognize: futurologist, digital prophet, head of analytics, genius (thanks Apple), back-end developer (which always makes me snigger), positioning expert.

Positioning expert is how Mark Levy of Levy Innovations LLC, this week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club, describes himself. And the results are dramatic: he claims the firm’s clients, experts in their fields, typically consultants, increase their fees by up to 2000% through positioning themselves in the right way online and off.

A key part of this involves writing a book that positions the expert as a thought leader, and so Mark has effectively also become a book coach (it was one of his clients, Robbie Kellman Baxter, who recommended I speak to him for the podcast).

Experts who want to be successful authors and publishers share a common focus: pleasing the reader. Many of the people Mark works with spend a significant amount of time and money finding out what people want, just as publishers pore over book sales data and run focus groups to identify what’s working and generate some more of it.

Which is great, of course. But Mark suggests that it’s not the place to start.

When he works with his clients, he asks them first to create what he calls a ‘meaning and fascination pile’: the experiences, stories, ideas, facts, images and so on that have stuck with them, that shape how they view their topic and the world. Only then does he encourage them to look out to the target reader and think about how this might apply to them.

‘I tell [my clients], “You need to write a book. If you want to be a thought leader, just looking to your audience is bad because if you look to your audience first, they’re only going to tell you what’s already been out there.”’

For many authors, this will mean drawing together threads from different areas of their life, and that cross-pollination can sometimes in itself create an enlightening shift in perception or a helpful new metaphor.

He also encourages his authors to see the writing itself as means of discovering the meaning and creating something original:

Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” That’s a real design parameter to me. If you just sit there and… you’re trying to write down exactly what it is you do, you’re going to be so bored and that boredom’s going to come through to the reader. You need to use the writing itself as a discovery process.’

For publishers, I think there are two challenges implied here.

1) How well are we supporting our authors to do that original thinking?

Balancing the clarity of the proposal and the decisions we need to make about the commerciality of a book against the opportunity to create something really original but more uncertain is tough, and requires the publisher to offer both support and challenge to the author. If your author’s thoughts are developing away from the original proposal as he or she writes, how will you know and how can you be involved in that process?

2) How good are we at recognizing the ‘irrelevant’ aspects of our authors’ biographies and how these might inform the book they’re writing?

The unexpected insights and perspectives that they bring from their wider experience of life could be the magic that transforms their book from an also-ran to a runaway success, and the better we get to know our authors, the more likely it is that we can spot and nurture those opportunities.

Until publishers rise to those challenges, authors will continue to look elsewhere – to positioning experts, coaches and publishing services providers – to find that support, and that could bring an even more intractable challenge to the industry in the long term.

membership economyAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

Each month BookMachine offers a community member, with great ideas, the chance to write on the site. February’s winner was Emma Murray, who wrote for us about why it’s worth investing in a good ghostwriter. Emma is a bestselling author and ghostwriter, specialising in business, psychology and higher education. She also ghosts books, blogs, articles, case studies, and book proposals.

Consider this scenario. You are an expert in your field; you have over a decade’s experience and a great reputation. A professional person contacts you and offers you £5,000 for six months’ work on a large and complex project. This works out at less than £7 an hour – lower than the national minimum wage. Do you accept the project or walk away?

For most of you, this would be a no-brainer – why would anyone with your skills and experience accept such a low fee for an enormous amount of work?

Yet, this scenario is more common than you may think. More and more often, professional ghostwriters are being offered astonishingly low fees for book projects. This is because there are ghostwriters who will work for this sort of fee.

Ghostwriters who DO work for peanuts

The sad truth is that there are ghostwriters who will work for peanuts. These are ghostwriters who are just starting out and need to build their portfolios, or students who want to make an extra bit of cash on the side. There are also ghostwriters who will work for very little or sometimes nothing at all just for the cachet of working on a celebrity book.

The problem is that ghostwriters who accept low fees set a false industry standard for the rest of the ghostwriting community. Besides, when novice ghostwriters mess up, it also taints the reputation of professional ghostwriters.

Why it pays to invest in a professional ghostwriter

Professional people know that quality comes at a price. If I quoted my clients £5,000 for six months’ work, they’d seriously question my writing abilities (and quite frankly, my sanity). Besides, my clients know that paying for quality reaps rewards.

Here’s why:

  • A book is the new business card: it showcases your expertise and promotes you and your business.
  • It enhances your reputation as a leading authority on a specific topic.
  • It opens the door to more speaking engagements (Think TED/TEDx).
  • It gives you something tangible to give to colleagues and hand out at conferences.
  • There is a certain cachet to being an author. It helps you to stand out from the crowd. Your book makes you memorable.
  • A successful book will earn you royalties which will help to cover your ghostwriting fees, and potentially act as another income stream.

What you are paying for

Professional ghostwriters charge more than novices as they have more knowledge and experience, as well as excellent reputations. Here’s what you get when you invest in a professional ghostwriter:

  • Professional ghostwriters have more than one string to their bows.

Ghostwriters often come from different backgrounds, including journalism, marketing, PR, and publishing. Not only can they write but are well-connected and able to offer you advice and guidance that goes beyond the act of just writing your manuscript.

  • Professional ghostwriters are also authors

Most professional ghostwriters are authors in their own right which puts them in an excellent position to advise you on the publishing process.

  • Professional ghostwriters are full-time writers

Professional ghostwriters do not ghostwrite ‘on the side’. This means that they are totally committed to working with you and your book until it reaches completion.

  • Professional ghostwriters have an excellent work ethic

Professional ghostwriters are reliable, efficient, totally committed to deadlines, very discreet and extremely loyal to their clients.

So this is why professional people pay more for professional ghostwriters. It’s simply not worth your time or money to do otherwise. Besides, as oil-well firefighter Red Adair used to say, ‘If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.’ 

Norah Myers recently interviewed Curtis Brown Creative’s Rufus Purdy about Curtis Brown Creative, the writing school led by the team at Curtis Brown. Here, she follows that by interviewing Curtis Brown’s managing director, Anna Davis, about a new course from Curtis Brown Creative: Write to the End of Your Novel.

1) How does Write To The End Of Your Novel build on Starting To Write Your Novel?

Write to the End of Your Novel is the second in a series of three short online courses which aim to help new writers get all the way from an initial idea for a novel to having a complete, polished novel ready to pitch to agents/publishers. This second course follows on from the first – so we expect that participants will already have their idea and their opening and will be trying to write their way through to the end of the first draft.

In a series of six modules (which we open up week by week) I try to say everything I can think of that could be useful – including my advice on pacing, building suspense, what to do when you’re stuck in the middle, how to write a good ending – and much more. The course makes use of teaching videos (from me), notes and tasks. Students will be able to share their work in a secure forum on our purpose-built learning platform.

We’ll be following on with a third course later in the Autumn called Edit and Pitch Your Novel. Students who come on each of these courses get continued access to all the materials so that they’ll have a set of resources they can make use of long after the course ends.

2) Why do you feel it was important to add this course to your offerings?

What I wanted to do – with the three short courses I’m talking about above, including Write to the End of Your Novel – was to offer great content at a much cheaper price than our ‘main’ 3 and 6-month courses (the selective courses we run for groups of 15 students in London and online). I wanted to provide something for people who can’t afford our main courses but who nonetheless want to study with us and get help with their novels. I also wanted to offer courses which would allow people to just pay-and-enrol (rather than go through the selective process we have for our main courses) so that they could have a go – it’s a chance to try your hand at novel-writing without making the bigger financial commitment that’s needed for our main courses.

These 6-week online courses can act as ‘tasters’ for our high end courses – our hope is that people who get a lot out of the 6-week courses might then feel they want to join a course where they will get intensive individual tuition and workshopping with a small group of students who’ve been selected on the basis of ability, in order to really make their novel as good as it can possibly be. Obviously not everyone who takes the 6-week courses will succeed in getting a place on our main courses (the places are quite heavily competed over) but we already have quite a few students on the longer novel-writing courses who came to us through studying on Starting to Write Your Novel.

However I also wanted the 6-week courses to cover the complete journey of writing and pitching a novel: Not everyone needs a longer course and individual tuition – for many people writing a novel, it’s useful just to have good, constructive advice, a group of other writers to share work with and a metaphorical shot in the arm. That’s what we’re offering.

3) Tell us about an applicant you recently turned down. What could aspiring applicants learn from an unsuccessful submission?

So – yes – for our ‘main’ 3 and 6 month novel-writing courses, in London or online, we do operate a selection process. We ask people to fill in a form on our website and to send us the one-page synopsis and opening 3000 words of the novel they want to work on with us. Rather than talk about one individual applicant (because I think it wouldn’t be fair to do so), I’ll tell you about some of the features we frequently see in unsuccessful applications. Here goes:

  • Don’t open your book with someone waking up in the morning and looking out of the window at the sun/rain etc. This is THE most common way to start a novel and so we’re very bored of seeing it. We’re also not keen on openings which feature characters staggering around with a hangover, treading in pizza boxes etc – or visceral scenes of vomiting and other bodily fluids (I don’t want to be fighting revulsion when I start to read a novel!) – or indeed long descriptions of the weather.
  • Get your story going from the off. We want to see STUFF HAPPENING long before the end of that first 3000 words – it doesn’t need to be explosive or shouty – but we do want story to be happening. Writers often think they need to spend a long time ‘setting up’ characters before they get them into action – that’s really not necessary.
  • Give us scenes which are dramatized – ie enter right into the moment of your story, showing us your characters in action and making use of dialogue. If I flick through an application and don’t see any dialogue, I know I’m unlikely to end up offering the writer a place. Invariably these novel-openings will be endless ‘telling’ (explanatory material) which leave the reader feeling like they’re skating across the surface of a story without getting properly into it.

4) What do you teach students about foreign rights?

Our team of literary agents at Curtis Brown and C&W contribute very generously to our 3-and-6 month courses. On the London courses, the agents come in as guest speakers, partnering with publishers and/or with authors they represent. On the 3-and-month online courses the agents take part in special ‘Q&A days’ where they answer all the students’ questions online. Our agents will talk about foreign rights – and indeed other rights such as film and TV rights – when they speak to the students about how they work with their clients to make the work available in all possible forms and formats and to maximise all avenues of income for the client.

Foreign rights are a very big part of what we do at Curtis Brown and C&W, and many of our authors have their work available many languages across the world. Having said all that, the most important way we work with our students is in helping them to write their novels as well as they possibly can. Foreign rights won’t feature in their lives at all unless they write a really great novel – and it’s our mission to help them to do that.

5) What do literary agents look for in a client, especially ones writing their first books?

Agents want to find great novels – it’s as simple as that. We have a big team of agents here, all of whom have different interests and tastes – but I think they’d all agree that they want to find great stories and writing that really leaps off the page. Obviously it’s great if a writer also has a professional attitude, is open to working editorially on their novel to get it as good as it can possibly be, and is intending to go on to write more compelling novels (not just one). And yes, the agent/author relationship is a close and potentially long-lived one so it’s important that each likes and respects the other. But really the most important thing is the book.

6) What do you look forward to most as the course progresses?

I love getting to know the students (and their work) individually and collectively, and seeing how the groups of 15 shape up and bond with each other. Even as I’m typing this, now, I can hear laughter coming from the board room – it’s our current 6-Month London-based course, with tutor Louise Wener. They’re getting toward the end of their course now so they all know each other and each other’s writing really well. I’m certain that all or most of them will go on meeting up and giving each other support with their novels long after the course has finished. This camaraderie happens in our 3 and 6 month online courses too – and even on the 6-week Starting to Write Your Novel courses we’re seeing writers bonding and forming little groups and keeping in touch. Yes, I do think that’s what I like best. Writing is something you do alone, but it doesn’t need to be lonely.

Check out Curtis Brown Creative’s site for more information on all of their courses.

Anna is the founder and Director of the Curtis Brown Creative writing school. She is the author of five novels, published around the world in 20 languages: The Dinner, Melting, Cheet, The Shoe Queen and, most recently, The Jewel Box. She is currently working on her sixth. Anna has worked for Curtis Brown for more than a decade as a literary agent and has served on the management committee of the Association of Authors’ Agents. Previously she was a lecturer on Manchester University’s MA in Novel-Writing, and has also led many other writing workshops for organisations such as the Cheltenham Literary Festival and Ty Newydd. A former Guardian columnist, Anna has been the recipient of the Arts Council of England’s Clarissa Luard Award (2001) and an h.Club 100 award – presented to the most influential, innovative and interesting people in the creative and media industries.

Track Changes

Lisa Poisso is a fiction editor and book writing coach working with independent authors and new authors seeking representation. Lisa helps emerging authors tune their manuscripts to publishing industry standards and craft commercial fiction that resonates with readers. Find her at Lisa Poisso, follow her on Twitter at @LisaPoisso, or like her on Facebook. This guest post originally appeared on Lisa’s site.

You just clicked Save on your manuscript file in preparation for sending it off for a sample edit. The thing is, the prospective editor has asked you to send the entire manuscript. All you need is a tiny sample edit. Why would an editor ask to see your whole manuscript? Could this unknown editor be planning to steal your idea?

Some authors try to circumvent these anxieties by stamping copyright notices all over their manuscripts or demanding NDA clauses and confidentiality agreements for even opening the files. There are plenty of things to stress over in relation to getting your work published, but this isn’t one of them. There’s no need to be hypervigilant. Here’s why this sort of zealousness is unnecessary:

  1. Your creative work is automatically copyrighted the moment you commit it to print. That’s the way the law works. Putting the little © symbol on an unpublished manuscript contributes nothing to the security of your legal rights; it just makes you seem a bit paranoid.
  2. While your particular interpretation and execution of your book is legally yours and yours alone, the idea itself cannot be copyrighted. It’s your interpretation of the idea that’s copyright—and as point #1 notes, you’re already covered.

They’ve seen it all

Padlock_248Publishers and acquiring editors as well as independent content and copy editors see a constant influx of ideas and stories every single day of their working lives. It’s safe to say they’ve probably seen multiples of stories very similar to yours. Reputable professionals have few reasons to steal your work and many reasons to remain honest.

Meanwhile, your reluctance to let others see your work may be sabotaging your own progress. If you refuse to workshop or critique your book in case other authors are tempted to steal your ideas, you’ll be missing out on valuable feedback—and of course the ideas themselves aren’t copyright anyway. If you seem reluctant to allow an agent or acquiring editor to look over your work, with so many other authors clamoring for attention, why wouldn’t they simply toss your manuscript aside and move to the next submission?

I know it can be hard to come to grips with the idea that someone wouldn’t be tempted to steal your work. But editors and other book professionals are just that—professionals. If they wanted to do something illegal with your manuscript, they would risk collapsing their reputations and facing legal consequences. Still worried? Read more about idea theft.

A time for trust

Holding your manuscript too close to the vest will handicap your efforts to hire an editor to edit your book. In order to evaluate what sort of editing your book might need, an editor needs to be able to look for its strengths and weaknesses from beginning to end. What good is seeing that hilarious passage of dialogue between the protagonist and her romantic interest if your editor can’t see that the rest of the book has no narrative spine to speak of? If you’re only willing to part with a thousand treasured words, your editor has no chance to see what kind of attention the rest of your book might need—and you’re left with no sense of how your prospective editor might handle those needs.

When an editor asks you to send your entire manuscript for review, understand that they plan to comb through the entire thing. They’re looking for energetic beginnings and rousing conclusions. They’re searching for energetic middles that don’t collapse in a mushy mess. They’re staking out persistent problems like clunky dialogue, head-hopping that latches onto the accelerating pace toward the climax, and narrative arcs that amble past key turning points with nary a conflict in sight. If you ask an editor to evaluate what sort of work your manuscript needs but prevent them from seeing the full scope of your work, you’re putting both sides at a significant disadvantage.

When your book is ready for editing, it’s time to relinquish your hold on your creative effort and take the first steps toward sending it out into the world. That first step can and most certainly should start with your editor. We’re here to help.

len_eppLen Epp is a Co-Founder of Leanpub. He wrote a doctorate in English Literature before working as an investment banker in London, so enjoys wearing the seemingly contradictory hats of resident corporate finance and literary type person at Leanpub. We interviewed him about Leanpub here. 

1) What exactly is Leanpub?

Leanpub is a book writing platform combined with a bookstore that pays a royalty of 90% minus 50 cents per sale. Leanpub is primarily used by self-published authors, and also some small publishers. To suit the preferences of different types of authors, we’ve built Leanpub so that you can write books in Word, in the browser, or in plain text; or, if an author wants to upload an ebook they have made themselves, they can also upload their book in PDF, EPUB and/or MOBI format.

2) What problem does it solve?

One big problem that Leanpub solves is: How can you build an audience while you are writing your book?

Our answer is to publish your book before it is finished, and then add new chapters and publish new versions until you are done. Leanpub is built around this idea, which has many benefits both for authors and for readers; for example, it lets the author get feedback early, and build a loyal following of readers who can help her improve her book (and it’s also great for publishing serial fiction, of course).

3) Who is your target market?

Leanpub is currently most popular with authors of technical books, partly because our “Publish Early, Publish Often” model is especially valuable for people who are writing or reading about cutting-edge technologies that are subject to rapid change. However, our target market is actually all self-published or indie authors, and we are doing more to try to attract new types of authors, especially fiction authors. Personally, I would love to see people start publishing in-progress books that follow political events, like election campaigns.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

We hope to see our model of in-progress publishing catch on for both fiction and non-fiction books. It is very rewarding to build an early audience and it can help improve the quality of the final version of the book, which can of course be taken up by a conventional publisher when it is finished. Many of our authors also find this model inspires increased motivation to write, as you have readers out there waiting for the next chapter.

We expect that the next few years will bring a lot of growth in the market for self-published ebooks. In some quarters this is considered to be a controversial view; for my own views on the matter, please see my article ‘On The Dark Matter Of The Publishing Industry‘.

5) What will be next for Leanpub?

The next big thing for Leanpub is to work more on building community within the Leanpub platform. We want to encourage communication between authors and readers, and readers and readers. This will include lots of development work on our reading app (currently the app is available for iOS users, and we will be adding an Android app as well).

Track Changes

It’s 10:00 p.m. Do you know where your manuscript is?

It’s like being trapped in a replay loop of the old TV public service announcement reminding parents the kids should be home for the evening, safe and sound—only this time, it’s your manuscript you’re worried about. You sent your baby to the editor a week ago, and you haven’t heard a word since then.

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Writing has a huge potential audience now as we have many ways to access the written word. If not done well, though, writing for a global audience will not reach some readers.

Who is the audience?

When writers are writing, they may not automatically have their worldwide audience at the front of their mind, or that their words may be used in translation.

For example, it is natural for a writer to focus on an English-speaking audience if that is the language they speak, read and write in. While native English speakers often read in phrases, international readers often tackle a sentence word by word.  The potential for confusion increases with longer sentences. If writers take this into account as they write, their text will be accessible to more readers.

How do writers do this?

Plain Language and Global English can help meet the needs of the target audience.

Plain Language and Global English have a lot of key areas in common. Recommended points include:

  • Use short and complete sentences
  • Use active voice or passive voice appropriately
  • Be consistent in spelling, capitalization and formatting
  • Use a common list of approved words
  • Prefer strong direct statements
  • Cut out unnecessary words and repetition
  • Be aware that humour does not always travel well
  • Proofread before sending out for translation, to avoid costly mistakes.

The idea is not to ‘dumb down’ but to be clear and concise and to explain any phrases or words that could be new to the reader. This can occur in surprising places, and we also need to watch for regionalisms and cultural references which may have different meanings, or nothing comparable once translated. For example, these show that a writer is being considerate of a larger audience:

  • Looking out for seasonal references, particularly when working for Northern to Southern hemisphere projects.
  • Being aware of nouns that are vague e.g. ‘local’ or ‘in our area’ unless the location is clear.

Reading through content on screen, on paper and even reading content out loud can highlight areas that are not clear.

Things to be aware of

Many international style guides use American English as the default option. British audiences do not usually take issue with this, but it does not always work the other way around. A quick visit to some internet writing or editing forums, or Amazon reviews, will reveal British English speakers being told by American English speakers that they have made spelling or grammatical errors in their books! Also, some cultures consider the active voice to be rude or condescending, and others find the passive voice to be impersonal and awkward. A favourite read on language and culture is The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod, who used to be a researcher on the quiz show, QI.  (www.themeaingoftingo.com).

What about translation?

Giving your translators the tools and permission to adapt to the target audience can help better reach that audience. Good feedback with the author can speed the translation process up and lead to better terms (and it can lead to smoother work on future projects).

A text can expand in translation, sometimes by up to 30%. Keep this in mind because it can significantly alter costings of a project and it can make formatting for webpages a bit of a headache.

Consider giving the translators a credit. This helps develop a good relationship with your translators. And, just as important, it makes it clear to readers that the content has been adapted and sets the expectations of the international reader.

Why bother?

Clear writing with well chosen words is a delight, and can aid communication and understanding.

Writing for an international audience is not vastly different from any other editorial task, and becomes natural after a while, if you consider it to be a normal part of quality control.

Mara Livingstone-McPhail was a bookseller, reviewed books on BBC radio and organized a book events in inner-city schools before being lured to London by the team who now run Chicken House Books.  A freelance editor, proofreader and writer, she reads every day for as long as she can keep her eyes open.

Norah Myers interviews Garth Greenwell about his debut novel, shortlisted for a Nibbies (or The British Book Award), What Belongs to You.

1) Huge congratulations on your nomination for Debut Fiction Book of the Year at the Nibbies. What does it mean to you?

It’s thrilling, of course, and it feels especially meaningful because of the special nature of the award, which is to recognize not just the writing of a book but the whole process of bringing it into the world. Publishing a first novel was an education in collaboration, and I feel much richer for it, as a writer and as a person.

2) What has it been like working with the Picador team?

A dream. Everyone at Picador has shown an extraordinary commitment to this first novel by an unknown writer–it’s been the kind of experience young writers are told again and again doesn’t exist anymore. My editor, Kris Doyle, has been a tireless champion of the book, and tireless, too, in tending to the anxieties of its author. Justine Anweiler made such a brilliant design for the hardcover, and then a different and equally brilliant design for the paperback. And Camilla Elworthy, my publicist, is utterly unique: in her dedication, her brilliance, her patience, her deep culture. We’ve spent many days over the last year traveling together, which has been the greatest pleasure and privilege of the whole process.

I feel immensely grateful to Picador. The experience of publishing a first novel couldn’t have been better.

3) Whose writing do you look to for inspiration?

There are so many writers whose work challenges and inspires me. My background is in poetry, and I still turn to poets first of all, contemporary (Frank Bidart, Geoffrey Hill, Carolyn Forché, Jorie Graham) and canonical (Ovid, Herbert, Donne, Dickinson, Hopkins). Among prose writers: James, Proust, Baldwin, Woolf.

4) Do you have any writing rituals you’d like to share?

I started writing prose while I was living in Bulgaria, and I can’t imagine writing without the very cheap disposable pens I used in my first notebooks. They’re made in Turkey, and I’ve never been able to find them in the United States. Whenever I go to Bulgaria I buy them in bulk. I’m a little more flexible when it comes to notebooks, but they have to be spiral-bound, half-size, and cheap.

5) As a writer, what keeps you motivated when you feel discouraged?

For me, the saving grace is routine. I always feel discouraged, and if I let myself think about writing as a choice I’ll almost always choose against it. The remedy is to always sit at my desk at the same time to work, to make it automatic.

One of the many ways in which publishing a book is the exact opposite of writing one is that it destroys access to this kind of routine. I feel a little desperate to find my way back to it again.

Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and is currently a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and a British Book Award for Debut Fiction. He lives in Iowa City.

Track ChangesLisa Poisso is a fiction editor and book writing coach working with independent authors and new authors seeking representation. Lisa helps emerging authors tune their manuscripts to publishing industry standards and craft commercial fiction that resonates with readers. Find her at Lisa Poisso, follow her on Twitter at @LisaPoisso, or like her on Facebook. This guest post originally appeared on Lisa’s site.

There’s an assumption among many writers that writing rules and outlines are pinched, mean things that constrain creativity and the flow of literary ideas. Writing blogs advise authors to flout conventional grammar and aim for a free, contemporary style. Authors fling pantsed manuscripts at their editors only to discover there’s a dropped plot line and all the action is stuffed into the second half of Act II—and what is Act II, anyway?

Words and grammar are like traffic signs; they work because we agree what they mean. When you string them together without caring whether they say something different to readers than whatever you meant when you wrote them, you’re setting yourself up for a crash. And if you don’t know what other people accept them to mean in the first place—well, don’t be surprised if readers step off your ride long before it’s reached its destination.

Understand writing rules before you break them

“You need to know the rules because that’s how writing works,” writes Chuck Wendig. “You only break the rules once you know them—breaking the rules willfully is an act of artistic independence.” If you don’t know the rules to begin with, you’re not being artistic; you’re demonstrating your ignorance. Readers are smart. They’ll know the difference.

Sometimes writers send me manuscripts in which all the dialogue uses comma-spliced sentences. In their book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King advocate stringing together short sentences with commas to lend a “modern, sophisticated touch to your fiction.” Whether you agree that comma splices lend a “modern, sophisticated touch” is beside the point; if you apply this technique to all of your dialogue, you’ll end up with a book full of one-note, voiceless characters who all sound the same.

Then there are the writers who avoid semi-colons because someone told them semi-colons are too formal for fiction. I agree that semi-colons often feel too formal for dialogue. But punctuation provides a potent way of signaling complex relationships between ideas. If you eliminate certain tools wholesale, you’ll cheat yourself out of tools for creating the rich connections that make good writing worth reading.

Storycrafting that keeps readers turning pages

Whether you carefully outline your plots beforehand or pants your way through and loop back to check that you’ve covered the basics, your writing will only be richer for understanding how stories work. My clients hear again and again how plot isn’t what happens to the characters but why and how. To make sure readers keep turning pages, you need to know a few things about how stories are put together and what keeps them driving forward.

Many authors worry that outlining their writing will somehow strip away the creative element. “Listen, if you ruin your story by outlining it, then your story wasn’t that f***king exciting to begin with—and oh ha ha ha oh sh*t it’s a good thing you never got to the editing phase, because boy howdy, editing feels less like wizardry and more like plumbing,” Wendig writes.

Writing rules, outlining, plot structure—these tools can only enhance your ability to create a compelling book. Never be afraid that studying and honing your craft will somehow hobble your creativity. The more you know about how stories and writing work, the more creatively you will be able to spot opportunities to bend those rules and take your readers off-road to places they’ve never been.

Read more about why authors need to understand their own work:

  • 7 Reasons You Need Story Theory “Ultimately, almost all the problems pantsers struggle with come down to a lack of organization and therefore a lack of understanding about the nature of story in general and their own stories in particular,” writes K.M. Weiland.
  • There Is No Safe Place “What I’m proposing is nothing short of this: that you change how you approach writing, beginning with what, at this moment, you may think of as your innate ‘writing process,’” writes Lisa Cron. “That’s a bold statement, I know. But given what a story really is, and what the brain is wired to crave, hunt for and respond to in every story we hear, there’s a good chance your writing process is kind of like the devil you know. Familiar, yes, but ultimately unproductive and given to questionable priorities.”
  • Looking for writing and storycrafting advice that doesn’t mow you over with rules, rules, and more rules? Try The Magic of Fiction: Crafting Words into Story by Beth Hill.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copy-editor who specializes in helping independent authors of fiction and non-fiction bring clarity and consistency to their books. To get in touch, visit her website: Louise Harnby | Proofreader.

I’m a specialist author’s proofreader and copy-editor. I work primarily with independent fiction writers in a variety of genres including, but not limited to, crime, thriller, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural and romance.

I reckon I have the best job in the world – a client base that never ceases to inspire me, enough projects to fill my schedule, the ability to work when and where I wish, and project fees that meet my needs and expectations.

I’ve worked with authors who’ve truly mastered the art of writing. I’ve also worked with others who, as technicians of the craft, are still emerging. They all have one thing in common, though – they’ve used words to build a world and populate it with characters who have their own personalities, voices and experiences. Then they’ve come to me for help.

The order of things

Not all those authors commission my services before they publish. To those of us who are au fait with mainstream publishing best practice, the idea of hiring an editor or proofreader after publication seems illogical. ‘That’s the wrong way round!’ we cry in dismay. It can go further – some editors’ conversations about self-publishers who’ve made non-traditional choices can extend well into to realms of snobbery and condescension. Instead, all editors should be thinking in terms of opportunity. After all, we’re the very people who can assist the author.

So why do some self-publishers take a non-traditional approach to the publication process? The reasons are numerous and include:

  1. Lack of publishing knowledge
  2. Budget
  3. Fear of being judged, or of the book being damaged
  4. Lack of knowledge regarding standard spelling, grammar and punctuation
  5. Different expectations
  6. Impatience
  7. Poor experiences with prior editors

Considering these reasons can help us to communicate effectively and respectfully so that self-publishers feel confident in hiring us and able to shift the order of things in any future publishing venture.

Showing understanding; offering solutions

If an author is seeking my services post-publication, they’ve already decided there’s a problem. Perhaps they’ve received critical reviews that praise the plot but damn the punctuation. My job’s not to tell them that something needs fixing – someone’s already done that. My job’s to demonstrate that I understand the problem and know how to fix it.

I frame my initial conversation in terms of zones – the green and the red. When an author’s in the green zone, their readers have enjoyed the book, have left positive reviews, and are ready to come back for more. When an author’s in the red zone, their readers have been frustrated with aspects of the book, have left negative reviews, and will reject further opportunities to engage with the author’s writing.

Readers have different expectations and levels of knowledge – some won’t realize that there are problems with the text, or they will realize but won’t care. Others will care very much and be frustrated by the lack of polish.

Let’s assume for simplicity that the readership is split evenly between those who don’t know or care that there are mistakes or inconsistencies in the book and those who do know and care. Who’d want to alienate 50% of their readership? I tell my authors that by commissioning me they have a much higher chance of staying out of the red zone – simple as that.

Just as valuable is explaining the different levels of editing and how the mainstream publishing process works. Copy-editors and proofreaders (should) have this knowledge, but why should the senior nurse practitioner and the IT consultant who are writing in their spare time?

Bear in mind that the ways in which people can make their writing visible to a large audience have expanded. Take Wattpad – there, writers of all ages, budgets and abilities have equal opportunity to submit their stories. My 13-year-old uses the site to both access and produce content. The culture of Wattpad is about inspiring and supporting, and being inspired and supported. The focus (so she tells me) is on having a go, not having a gripe. For some of our authors, platforms like Wattpad might be their only indicators of what the order of things might be.

By creating content that summarizes traditional editorial routes to publication, we can educate our authors and help them to consider alternative ways of working when publishing via other distribution channels.

Building trust; showing respect for the right to write

I’m not an editor who thinks that some books have no business being published because they don’t meet some prescriptive standard of excellence or literariness. I love the fact that anyone can pour their soul into a piece of writing and make it available to others, whether via Wattpad, a blog, an online bookshop, or a website. I’m glad I live in a time when even if the genre isn’t fashionable, the author’s not a celebrity, or the writing isn’t crafted as well as Dickens’, a writer can still put their stories out there.

By telling our authors that we support their right to write, we can start the journey of building trust. We can reinforce this conversation with content that outlines our commitments. Why? Because in some cases we may be the first editor they’ve spoken to; they may feel vulnerable and out of their comfort zone. Or they may have had poor prior experiences with editors and, consequently, may fear the process.

My preference is to provide potential clients with a professional promise: to do the very best I can, within the agreed budget, to bring clarity and consistency to their books; to be sensitive to and respectful of their words, their voice, and the journey they’re taking; to be mindful of their readers’ expectations; and, above all, to do no harm.

Talking money

So what about the cost? How do we convince the author that the fee we’re offering is worth their investment?

Like most editorial freelancers, I’ve encountered the client who thought they were talking to Wile E. Coyote and that an 80,000-word novel could be proofread in eight hours. And I’ve encountered another who believed it would me take three times as long but that I’d be more than a little thrilled to do the job for less than the national minimum wage.

However, if we’ve succeeded in instilling trust in the author by explaining our ability to deliver the required solutions, half the battle is won. If the author wants to work with us, the issue will come down to whether they have the budget.

It’s important not to take money issues personally. Everyone has a budget – even the client with deep pockets. It’s our client’s right to accept or decline our fee offer, just as it’s our right to stick with or negotiate our proposed fee. Either the two of us will be a financial fit or we won’t. If the author can’t afford us, it doesn’t mean they don’t respect us or our services. It’s just business. Talking to self-publishers means being prepared to wave goodbye and wish them luck.

The nub of it … talking without criticism

Talking about and to self-publishers who search for editorial assistance post-publication requires a tone that focuses on solutions, not criticism. We must respect the reasons why they chose to publish before being edited, and acknowledge that twenty-first-century publishing, in its myriad forms, is a very different animal to that which we might have grown up with. If an author contacts me prior to publication, all well and good. If they get in touch after the event, I’m just as ready to help. That is, after all, my job.

Thank you to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post.

Dead Ink, an independent press based in Liverpool has just received confirmation of a significant grant of £65,359 from Arts Council England.

The grant will enable Dead Ink to ambitiously expand their Publishing the Underground project. Publishing the Underground seeks to bring new writers to publication by connecting them with readers who act as literary patrons.

Dead Ink will now undergo a complete branding overhaul accompanied by a new website with a bespoke crowdfunding platform. As part of the activity the press will be hosting a special authors’ boot camp aimed at providing new authors with invaluable training, guidance and practical skills to assist them in establishing their emerging careers.

As well as debut authors, the project will publish SJ Bradley’s second novel, Guest, after her debut, Brick Mother, was published by Dead Ink in 2014. Dead Ink will also be publishing Harry Gallon’s second novel, Every Fox is a Rabid Fox, after his debut, The Shapes of Dogs’ Eyes, was published during the first Publishing the Underground pilot.

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