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Sue Archer

Wordsmith | Editor

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Fortune’s Shadow: Seven Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

Last year, I wrote a post about my goal to publish my first novel by May 2020. I am happy to be able to say I have achieved that goal. I’m even slightly ahead of schedule! Fortune’s Shadow, my debut urban/paranormal fantasy novel, is now available for preorder at multiple ebook retailers (including Kobo, Apple, and Amazon) and will be released into the world on April 26th!Fortune's Shadow by Sue Archer

With exactly one week to go until launch day, I thought I’d share seven lessons I’ve learned from going through the process of self-publishing my first novel. (I hope that this will help any of you who may be thinking about doing the same!)

1) Don’t worry if you can’t write every day. You’ll still get there.

One of the things that initially stopped me from fulfilling my dream of publishing my first novel was my stubborn belief that I just didn’t have the time. And when I did have the time, I felt pressured, which made it difficult to have the mental energy to be creative. I was surrounded by all this advice implying that you had to write every day. But by the time I was finished my work day, there was no way I was in the mood to sit down at a computer (again!) and write.

So I made a deal with myself: Every Saturday morning, I would sit down and write a scene. One scene. Sometimes I could finish it that morning. Sometimes it took more time throughout the weekend. But the ability to start and finish a chunk of writing every week made me feel positive about my progress and allowed me to set things aside during my work week without having to feel like I was leaving loose threads lying around. The next week, I’d look over what I’d done the week before, make a few edits, and then write the next scene. It took months to get through it. But every week was progress.

2) Have at least some idea of an outline as you write.

I know some people are pantsers and prefer to just write and write until all of their ideas are down, without worrying too much about where it’s going. That is perfectly fine, but frankly, the thought of having to spend time rewriting my story multiple times based on a messy first draft was overwhelming to me. I barely had enough time to write as it was! So I bought Scrivener, which is a useful tool for mapping out an overall rough plot structure (although you can do the same thing in Word), and created some plot milestones based on the wonderful writing resource Save the Cat.

At first those plot milestones were simply words on a virtual card with no content. When I started, I only had a clear idea of the first four chapters and the midpoint. But as I wrote each scene, I was able to gradually fill out the rest of the details, and being able to write from Point A to Point B made finishing an entire novel achievable.

3) Don’t be afraid of feedback.

Self-published books are sometimes perceived as having lower quality than traditionally published books because they haven’t been through the “official” gatekeepers of publishing. But you don’t need your book to go through a gatekeeper to know if it’s any good. What you need to know is that your book will be enjoyed by the ultimate judges of your work—the people who will buy your book. I was determined to make sure I wrote something that stood up to the level of traditionally published books purchased by my intended audience.

Was I afraid of sending my words out to multiple people for judgment ahead of publication? Of course. But I did it anyway, because I wanted to know the truth before I published it, not after. I sent my draft to several people for beta reading. When I reviewed all the feedback, I found that some people commented on the same big things (plot refinement ahead!), while others found different smaller things to improve based on their individual experiences. In the end, almost all of the feedback I received was useful and positive, and it energized me as I updated my draft to make it an even better story. It is truly thanks to those beta readers that my story shines.

4) Line up your publication team well ahead of your release date.

When you’re self-publishing, you’re not just the writer—you’re the publisher. That involves a lot of steps, and I had many things to keep track of as I pulled together my project plan. I did this while I was still writing my first draft, so I could figure out how I was going to get my book out by my release date. The timing of some of the activities was flexible because I could handle the details myself (getting my ISBNs, drafting my author blurb, formatting my ebook), but there were other things where I would need to bring in experts: my editor, my cover designer, my proofreader, and my interior designer for the print version (which will be out in the summer—stay tuned!).

The average time I had to book people ahead? Four months. Why? Because the people I wanted to work with are excellent professionals who are in demand.

Because I planned ahead, I was able to get a fabulous cover from the amazing Ravven, truly insightful line and copy editing comments from fiction editor Maggie Morris, a thorough final proofread from Jess Shulman and a beautiful interior design from Krista Walsh.

5) Use your opportunity to learn new skills.

Self-publishing your novel can be a test of your confidence. I knew there were things I would be absolutely hopeless at—like designing a professional cover—so I made a deliberate decision to go with someone else. But what about other things? Could I really format my own ebook, when I knew nothing about epub coding?

I decided this would be a great time to find out. I took an excellent seminar series on ebook production by Editors Canada that helped take the anxiety out of understanding ebook coding and publishing. And although I ended up submitting my Word document through Draft2Digital’s epub conversion tool, this was only the first step, and I was able to then use my training to fix formatting issues and make my book look perfectly presentable. (When I do this again, I may even get fancier!)

6) Consider going wide.

I know some self-publishing folks go exclusively with Amazon and that works for them. I wanted to publish more broadly (especially during this time, when book publishing in general is being challenged), but I wasn’t sure if this would affect my sales. Then I read something interesting from a fellow Canadian author, who mentioned that they consistently get more sales from Kobo than they do from Amazon, because Kobo (through Indigo) is a big component of the Canadian ebook market.

Makes sense, I thought.

In the end, I set myself up with both Kobo and Amazon under their direct royalty structure and then distributed my ebook to other retailers and libraries through the Draft2Digital platform, which takes a 15% cut of my royalties but manages everything for all the other platforms.

My book isn’t out yet, but based on preorders alone, I am getting more sales through Kobo than I am through Amazon. I’m also higher up on the listings of their Contemporary Fantasy category because the market is smaller, and there are more chances that someone browsing will spot my book. I’m getting sales through Apple, too!

Obviously you need to find a strategy that works for you, but so far I’m really happy about how this is turning out.

7) Enjoy your moment in the sun!

This is such a weird time to be publishing a book. I can’t release the print version yet because proofs of physical books are being delayed. Everyone is going through personal (and often financial) challenges. Book retailers are struggling. Publishers are delaying launches. I almost didn’t go ahead.

But when I mentioned this to my friends on Twitter, they told me how much they appreciated seeing my excitement about my book during this time. They felt this was exactly the right time for an entertaining escape read. And since my book is going to be available for library distribution, anyone who wants to read it but can’t buy it can ask for it at their library instead, which I love, since the library is my happy place.

So I decided to go for it, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. My dream is coming true, and nothing can stop it!

I believe it’s more important than ever to enjoy our creative achievements right now. So don’t be afraid to share your good news and market your work.

And if you’re writing that novel, and you’re just not there yet, please know that I’m cheering you on all the way. 🙂

 

Sue

Describing Setting Through Your Character’s Eyes

Think about one of your favourite fictional stories. Why did you like it so much?

I’ll bet a key reason you liked it is that the story had a character you cared about. Someone who felt real to you. Someone who drew you into their adventures and kept you captivated right to the very end of the plot.

It’s not easy to create a character who is consistently three-dimensional throughout a story. That’s why there are so many articles out there on strengthening the main character’s point of view.

woman's eyes
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One item that is sometimes overlooked, though, is the relationship between character and setting. This is particularly important in stories that are intended to have a narrow narrative distance between the reader and the character.

When I edit scenes involving setting descriptions, a common piece of advice I give is to think about the scene from the character’s point of view. I have run across descriptions of living rooms and castle halls and even parking garages that are brilliant on their own, but they don’t work for the story, because the descriptions are coming from the writer’s point of view, rather than the character’s. The painstaking research that the author has done to make the scene feel more “real” has been lovingly added to the page, but the reader ends up feeling more distant from the story instead of closer to it.

Why? Because if the setting was being described by the character, they would be presenting it in a different way. And the reader has now been reminded that there is an author behind the story, one who is adding in details that the character would not perceive or missing ones that the character would care about.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you make your setting descriptions more character-focused:

  1. What would your character notice first? Is this the first thing that is mentioned in the description?
  2. Is there someone or something that your character needs to notice in more detail (such as the new love interest)? Is the appropriate emphasis given to this part of the scene?
  3. How would your character visually look at this particular setting? Would the character notice the wide view and then look at specific details? Or would the character hone in on a particular part of the setting? Would they see things in a certain directional order, such as from left to right, front to back (down a hallway), bottom to top (looking up a castle staircase), or from top to bottom (scanning someone from head to toe)? Is anything in the setting being described out of order?
  4. Would your character know or care about the details you’re including? Maybe they are a car enthusiast, and so they would know the exact model of that sports car in the parking garage. Or maybe they would only notice it’s red and has four wheels. Maybe they’re staring at it because they can’t afford such a fancy car, and they’re envious of the owner. Or maybe they wouldn’t even see it because they’re too busy looking at something else.
  5. What emotional state is your character in? Are they focused, happy, sad, angry, afraid? This could affect how they describe things, how well they are taking in the details, and which pieces of the setting they dwell on.
  6. How busy is your character right now? If your character is in the middle of a fight or running away from the villain, chances are they won’t have the time to describe much without inadvertently slowing down the action.
  7. Is your character visually oriented, or are they more likely to notice details through other senses? If your character is a musician, maybe they notice sound a lot, for example. Or maybe your character focuses a lot on other senses, such as smell (especially if they are a werewolf!).

By taking the time to think about how your character might react to their particular surroundings, you will both strengthen the description and reinforce the integrity of your character’s point of view. And your reader will feel rewarded when they read your character’s story.

I encourage you to try taking a setting and describing it from the perspective of multiple characters in the scene. You might be surprised by the differences that come out.

***

Do you like writing about settings, or do you find it challenging? Do you have any tips for describing setting that you’d like to share? Please share your thoughts below!

What Qualifications Do You Look For in an Editor?

I recently wrote an article for the Editors’ Weekly where I posed the following question:

Writers are often told to “write what they know.” But what about editors? Should we only take on projects that are squarely in our comfort zones?

I discussed this question with a number of my editing colleagues, who came back with varying opinions on the matter. I decided to post the article here because I felt it would be an interesting discussion point for those of you who work with editors.

ChecklistHow do you determine whether an editor is qualified to take on your project?

I believe it’s critical that the writer and the editor are a good fit for each other, but I also believe “a good fit” can mean different things to different people. Writers who are looking for knowledgeable advice relevant to their genre should definitely hire someone who has experience in that genre. But writers who are looking for an “outside eye” may specifically want an editor who is unfamiliar with the topic at hand.

Regardless of the specific types of experience they are looking for, I feel writers should confirm that a prospective editor has both editing training and good references. And writers should always ask for a sample edit, so they can see if the style of editing suits their needs.

Speaking from an editor’s perspective, I have posted the genres I typically edit on my site because I want prospective clients to know my background before they hire me. Does that mean I would never edit anything outside of those genres? No. I love a great many types of stories, and I have editing experience in other areas, such as business and technical topics. It just happens to be that my current focus is on the types of fiction that I enjoy reading the most. And I feel that having enthusiasm about projects (in addition to having the required expertise) makes me a much better editor.

 

What do you look for when hiring an editor? Would you consider hiring an editor who wasn’t familiar with your genre if you liked their editing style? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image source

DBW Review: Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

Today on my Doorway Between Worlds blog, I have posted a review of writing resource Description and Setting by Ron Rozelle. If you’re looking for help with description in your writing, you may want to come on by!

Doorway Between Worlds

Description and SettingI have a confession to make: I’m one of those readers who has been known to skip over passages full of description to get to the “good stuff.” I love the story of The Lord of the Rings, for example, but my attention wanes during those meandering sections sandwiched between poignant character moments and violent epic battles. With my avoidance of excessive elaboration (and my admittedly poor visual observation skills), I sometimes find it challenging to imbue my own writing with the right level of descriptive pizzazz.

And I know I’m not the only one. So I thought it was time to read through the book Description & Setting by author and creative writing teacher Ron Rozelle. His book is part of the Write Great Fiction series by Writer’s Digest, which features some helpful books on a variety of writing topics. I hadn’t read this one yet, and I…

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How Can I Afford Professional Editing?

Today I have a guest post on Andrew Knighton’s wonderful writing blog. I am sharing some tips on how to minimize the costs of professional editing. If you’re thinking about publishing a book but have been daunted by the thought of overwhelming editing expenses, I encourage you to take a look!

Editing
Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons

DBW Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

On my blog Doorway Between Worlds I regularly review writing resources that I believe would be helpful for my readers. I’m sharing this one here since it’s focused on the art of self-editing.

Doorway Between Worlds

I picked up Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by editors Renni Browne and Dave King because several of my editing colleagues recommended it as a solid resource for authors. There are many books on how to write and comparatively few on how to edit your own writing. Yet this is such a critical task for writers if they want to submit a solid manuscript for further editing or publishing. I was really looking forward to reading through this book, and I’m glad to say it was a winner.

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers is focused on the details of stylistic editing. The authors assume that you have already dealt with the larger structural concerns of plot, character arc, and theme. The book covers a broad range of topics relating to the mechanics of editing: showing vs. telling, characterization and exposition, point of view, proportion, dialogue, interior monologue, sound and voice, repetition, and…

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The Many Ps of Book Marketing

The following is a post about book marketing from my Doorway Between Worlds blog that I thought I should share here. I hope you find it useful!

Doorway Between Worlds

I love learning, and the Editing Goes Global conference was a great opportunity to pick up all sorts of useful knowledge. Last week, I shared some tips from editor Arlene Prunkl on how to write good comments. Today, I want to pass along some nuggets of wisdom I learned from Beth Kallman Werner in her session “The Many Ps of Book Marketing.”

Ms. Werner has worked as the Director of Sales and Marketing at Kirkus and is the founder of Author Connections. She has over twenty years of experience in editing and marketing, and it definitely showed in her presentation. I was scribbling notes like mad. I couldn’t possibly include all of her thoughts here, but I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

Her session focused on the four Ps of marketing (product, position, price, and promotion) and how they relate specifically to book marketing.

Product

Werner…

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