The Obligatory NaNo Post

In retrospect, maybe I should’ve taken a break from writing this year.

I really don’t want to have to admit this, but there’s simply not enough time in the world to make everything happen the way you want to. I’m swamped with my photography work; I have not yet unburied myself from the cruise photos – still have to go through the 70s Night and comedy show shots, and that’s the second half of the cruise…so maybe, progress? – and I have two more post-cruise shows’ photos to get through as well. Next week I have two shoots. The week after I have another shoot. It’s also concert-planning season, so if I’m going to have gigs, now is the time for me to think about where they will be and send off portfolios and samplers to make it happen.

Where does writing fit?

Oh, and I’m still toying on that translation I’ve started last year. Yes, it takes a year to translate three books by hand from one language in another, and it’s something I love doing.

It’s not something I like admitting, when I can’t do something, but this year’s NaNo may well prove to be a bad idea in the regard of my overall creative workload. I won’t say that I don’t like it – I love every minute of it – but I simply do not have as much time to contribute to it as I have before, and that’s something I’m loath to admit. I love my series. I love my storyline. I don’t love not being able to give it the time and devotion that I want to allocate to developing it and making it grow.

The reason I love NaNo so much is because it motivates me to be industrious when it comes to the series. I do the bulk of my storyline exclusively during NaNo, and the wordcount requirement makes it imperative to get as much of the storyline down as possible. It’s absolutely fantastic for when I’m trying to get a big story out, such as what was with Books 3 and 4 of the series. Most of the plot was put down during NaNo, and it made for an easy edit job and an easier publishing down the line. I chose the two most complex characters to do a background on – Rhyssius and Morrhia – and this is going to take me a lot of time. I have set up the bulk of the story, but I need to put two and two together, and bridge them from two individuals to what they had ended up. The problem is, there is a lot of back story there, and there’s also a side-story to weave in about how the quaint semi-medieval world had ended up becoming connected with the rest of the universe. A lot of continuity that I had hinted at before needs to be brought to fruition.

It’s just…time! All of this takes time! And time is something I have precious little of. Taking on an incredibly complex storyline – hell, continuing it, all considered – is not an easy endeavor when you have a job, a business, and a backlog affiliated with the business.

How I’ve ended up with a word count that’s a full day ahead of schedule, I don’t know, but it’s good insurance because I would need to be ahead. One of my shoot gigs is actually an all-day endeavor, as opposed to me just being a weekend warrior for it and writing on the go with my laptop. So if I’m not writing for an entire day, I’d at least have a good cushion that will keep me on track.

After all, in the eight years I’ve done NaNo so far, I won all eight times. I want to continue the win streak, else I’d think myself extremely remiss. My entire life as I know it had changed ever since I wrote the first book – how much will it change if I keep at it?

K.G.

Do It Again

This is something that many of you may have wondered about, but this time, I’ll actually do it.

I’m going to revamp Books 1 and 2. Outside and in.

Bear in mind this: I am not rewriting the story. This is not a negotiable factor. The storyline, especially of Arc 1, has been set up in such a way that to rewrite it is 1. impossible, 2. impractical, and 3. just outright not worth it. However, I will not deny that the layout needs work, and considering that the second two books are nowhere near in congruence with the first two, both in terms of quality and outward appearance, I think that I need to focus on it in further depth.

In other words, it’s rebranding. I have a certain style that I have developed by this time, both in terms of writing and the appearance of my books, and I think that it would do justice to make them consistent.

If you’re on The Index Series’ Facebook page, then you would’ve seen my new cover for Book 1. Tiffany Chaney is headlining Book 2 art, and Books 3 and 4, starring Marion Meadows as cover artist, will remain as they are, but for minor additional revisions in the interior.

I will apprise you on the progress of each as things unfold, but that is the battle plan as of right now. Book 5 is in the Editing Stages, and considering that I’m rewriting the entire arc simultaneously for consistency – all three books of it – it may be a while before that is released. Plus, I am brushing up on my royal fiction, if only for tips on how to frame the politics of the storyline. Take it as a spoiler or not, that’s up to you. :)

K.G.

Musings on the State of Self-Pub Today

So in light of the latest outtake by Simon & Schuster, I started thinking of how self-publication has evolved, and its general current state of affairs.

What I’m seeing is that, as far as being taken as a viable route for an aspiring author to go from aspiring to published, self-publication has grown into a very viable avenue. With participation in various author forums, mostly as an observer, I saw people go from making enough to cover a meal a month from their books to making enough money to cover a few bills. Word of mouth has become a great, if not the best, marketing avenue for new authors, and I cannot tell you just how effective it is.

What I’m also seeing, most crucially, is that self-pubs do very well while working together.

About at this time last year, I was only finding out about Melissa Foster. If you do not know of her now, you should. Apart from being an author in her own right, she hd done a fantastic thing: she had built up a ton of exposure for self-pubs and trad-pub authors alike by putting together a social exchange. Immediately, the exposure factor within the author community is alleviated for the newcomer. There’s a network of people in a similar boat, all of them with their own writing, all of them doing the same thing as the newcomer: publishing, promoting, speaking out, going into details about writing as both an art form and a business.

So now that the network has been around for a while, self-pubs had gotten exposure in the public eye as well as amongst themselves and in the online communities, what’s happening right now?

You’ll find few changes. Except that now that the novelty of self-publishing had worn off, the authors are now exploring their options and doing research in the cost-benefit analysis style. Not necessarily crunching numbers, but weighing options and making decisions on how to publish based strictly on how the medium will pan out for their particular story.

This is the thing. The Big Six saw loud and clear that its client base, both the authors and the readers, recognized that self-publication is a very viable medium, and it is costing the Big Six their profit. So they’ve forayed into the world of “self-publishing” by opening up several vanity presses masquerading as legit self-pub options. The old saying goes, “The devil’s in the details.” Read the terms of service. While it may look hunky-dory to put up a book with Book Country, if you read the fine print, you’ll find that it’s anything but. What Book Country gives you for $99, you can do for free with KDP and CreateSpace.

The novelty of self-publication had been great for initial publicity, but now that it’s worn off, the cold, hard analysis begins. Because of the sheer volume of self-published stories, there is now the issue of what constitutes good reading. This is where things get hairy, because the quality of a read is very subjective. I think we can all agree that no two people will have the same taste in writing: we have seen people praise Twilight, while another segment of the reader community wholeheatedly and vociferously decry it as terrible writing. (I’m in the second segment, but bear with me here). We’re seeing the same thing with Fifty Shades of Grey. Point is, quality in reading and writing is subjective. What one person doesn’t like, another can like a whole lot, and no one truly knows what makes a book sell. A marketing plan may be great, but no one truly knows that formula.

The new thing I’ve been seeing was the call for quality control in self-pub. This begs the first question: in what terms? Layout/spelling/grammar is something that’s not exclusive to self-publication as far as foibles are concerned. We’re all prone to them, and since book publication is a very human effort, more people need to acknowledge that, like most human efforts are apt to be, mistakes are bound to come up. And yet, self-published authors get a larger end of the schtick on this, for the usual tropes of misconceptions. Now, if we’re talking content – that’s a different ball game. See above: it’s subjective. Is the author trying to tell a story, or set a story up for something else? Can you tell what the author is doing within the text of the book? If the answer is yes, then I think it’s fair to say that the book, in and of itself, is passable to the person who is able to do so. To others? Maybe not so much.

Moreover, who will be doing the quality control? That’s the question du jour. Because if we wanted our stories to be screened in the quality control aspect, then that’s what publishing houses are supposed to be for, right? Then why, pray tell, did we self-pubs decide to cut the pub houses out of the equation, if quality control by a third party is necessary?

Just musing here, but let’s be realistic about one little thing. If quality control is the goal here, self-published authors will see it in their reviews. This is why, when we send a copy for a review, we should know and be aware that we won’t please everyone. In fact, sometimes, because we’re self-pubs, we may hit and miss. For sure, I’ve missed with a few. But I’ve hit with a whole bunch more, and I’m quite happy about that. But if those reviews are public, that‘s your quality control. Honest reviews, i.e. “Story is good, grammar needs work” – that’s what quality control is in any medium.

The one great thing about the state of self-pub today, though, is the vast plethora of info available. When Book Country came out, people were actually thinking that it was a good deal, when in fact it was a thinly veiled attempt by Penguin to make money off the authors, as opposed to readership revenue. And now, when Simon & Schuster pulled the same thing, the author community came together to call them out. There is a ton of info. Whatever you do not know, you can now look up. This hasn’t been around seven years ago. Hell, this has barely been around four years ago; most of what we know now about e-books, about self-publication, royalty splits, master copyright as it applies to all of that, we have learned as we go.

Yeah, there’s a lot of changes, but there’s a lot of staying the same too. And most of all, right now we know how to market our books. After all, we don’t have a publishing house doing it for us.

K.G.

E-book vs. Print Book

Or, better put, more on the “real book” illusion.

You may have noticed that a lot of self-pub authors are not releasing print versions of their books anymore, but instead are going right to the e-book process. As a result, they are apt to hear, “But it’s not a real book!” for various reasons. I’ve addressed the genre-based prejudice of the “real book” here. But now let’s talk presentation medium.

In 1440 or thereabout, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Prior to this, books have been handwritten, hand-copied, and the more effort put into a copy, the more it cost. As such, they became signifiers of wealth for the longest time, until the printing press enabled mass production of print material, making books more easily accessible. The Industrial Revolution took over and made print reading material available widely.

Until the e-reader was invented, people just could not conceive of a book being presented any other way but printed.

That was in 2007.

Think about that: the e-reader has been around for only five years, and it already changed the way books are presented, and 562 years of precedent is shaken up. Just like that. With a page-sized electronic device.

However, think about this. That’s the e-reader. Not necessarily the e-book. The Internet has, inadvertently, made us all online readers since e-mail became the norm. E-reading is the same thing as what you’re doing now, except it’s on a handheld device.

Think about it. You’re reading this blog right now. I have enough entries in here to publish it as a book in and of itself. If you’ve stayed with it for some years, you’ve effectively read a book online already. If you’ve read a draft of a story online – congratulations, you read an e-book. Just not on an e-reader, but an e-book nonetheless.

No matter how solid a printed book feels – and I will be the last to deny a printed book’s effect; I have paperback versions of every book I’ve published so far – it doesn’t take a print version to call a story real. A story is real by the simple virtue of being written, as I’ve explained in the linked post above. Someone had spent weeks, months, or years of effort into making this story happen. It is completed and released. That alone, in and of itself, makes a story real. What we’re discussing here is a presentation medium, and having the presentation medium be electronic does not – contrary to whoever tells you otherwise – does not take away from the story being real.

That said, let’s discuss the print book as a medium. Apart from the solid feeling of having it in your hands, the “new book smell” – yes, it’s a beautiful flavor…come on, you know it! – it’s also not as likely to sell for an independent. Personal experience: I moved more Kindle copies per month, invariably, than my CreateSpace prints. When I run a promo on any of my books, the other books sell right alongside the free one. For a self-pub who’s new on the scene, this would mean that e-books are a more viable way to market and make revenue. And, considering that uploading is usually at no cost, it’s a guaranteed profit. To release a print book, you may pay for a proof (or not, since CreateSpace introduced an excellent digital proofing option). You would have to wait for the proof to land, read it, send it to the editor again, make the corrections, lather, rinse, repeat until it’s perfect – a standard that is extremely subjective – and then release it. And then there are the shipping costs in sending out review copies. And then the rigmarole of getting a bookstore to carry them.

But the print book has also been around for 562 years. The e-reader and the idea of having a library on a portable device is still about five years old. You know how they say that old habits die hard. The e-book and e-reader are still new, and they’re a splash in a very established and very stalwart market. We’ve seen the decisions that B&N and the Big Six had made in the wake of the growth of self-pub. Things are not going to change swiftly, but they are changing, whether the people like it or not.

Again, let’s not discount the main crux of it all: the story itself. You’re getting a book, whether or not it’s in printed form or in a file on a reader. It is real, any way you cut it. Any distinction of “more real” or “less real” based on presentation medium, genre, author’s background, publisher or lack thereof, exists only in the head of the person making the statement.

There was also an address of quality control in self-publication, with the assertion that self-pub books are poorly edited, poorly formatted, etc. I won’t deny that such books exist. However, they exist across the board. Major publishers sometimes do not format their e-books well, and proof to the fact are my copies of Philippa Gregory novels and Gone with the Wind. Great stories to read, but the formatting on the e-version, honestly, sucks. I own Philippa Gregory paperbacks. Why is there nothing wrong with the layout, but the e-version lacks paragraph breaks in several locations and is more expensive than the printed version? Let’s get real: if we’re going to do quality formatting, then let’s do quality formatting across. the. board. Don’t tar self-published books with a brush unless you are willing to put all books under scrutiny.

Self-publishers sometimes do work alone. Thusly, the editing quality may lack until they gather enough to hire a professional editor. I will be the first one to admit that someone’s first book will not be edited anywhere near as well as the subsequent books (um, guilty, and not ashamed to admit it). Understandable conditions, right? Right.

Let’s be real, people. Writing, editing, formatting, printing, publishing – being an author is a human endeavor. Human errors will happen. We are becoming a reading culture because, with our digital immersion, we’re reading a lot more (screens, but still: reading words is reading words). Human errors will happen. If that is a deal-breaker for you, that is fine, but you may want to step back and evaluate what’s more important to you in picking up a new book. Some of my favorite books (self and trad alike) are not perfect, but the story is so good that I couldn’t care less about the editing/formatting job. Conversely, some books I had were edited and formatted to perfection, but I just couldn’t finish them worth a damn. While I will never deny that editing and formatting are crucial, none of us are so perfect ourselves to have imperfection be a deal-breaker.

The bottom line is this: a book is a book. How you prefer to read it is entirely up to you, but there is no contest with which one is more “real”. They both are. Whether you like it printed or downloaded, you’re still reading a book. That is what should be the first thing to note in the e-book versus hard-copy debate.

K.G., who has both paperbacks and a Kindle.

http://www.amazon.com/author/katherinegilraine

YES!

Finally, at last, Book 4 rewrite has been wrapped up.

Whew.

Now what, you might ask? Well, first things first, I want to see if I can get something written for the anthology. These stories have been swirling in my head for a while, and I will at least attempt to put them down. I will hunt for contributors at a later point, too, but right now let’s see what my brain can produce.

Revival has been sent along to Gayle, and now, the line editing begins. Believe me, this is the easy part. Artwork for the cover is In Progress; the front is set, but I need to create the back. That would take a bit of thinking.

The rest of the books are on Amazon.

K.G.

When In The Writing Zone…

…you forget everything else.

Now, you may have had your own experience with it, or you may have had friends who talk about it. But one way or the next, sometimes you get caught up in the phenomenon of being excited about your work, so excited that you forget everything else. Sleep included.

Like right now. You can say I am very much In The Zone.

I got out of work at almost 9pm, pulling through a grueling day; tax season is in very full swing at the moment and it’s taking the wind out of me. But through lunch, and as soon as I got out of work, I had beelined right to Revival, because the part that I have been steadily plugging away at and had lost sleep over is easily the most exciting part of the book. I can’t tell you which one, because it would spoil a good lot. But let me just put it this way: if only there would be a director brave enough to take it to the silver screen. I cannot believe that I wrote this. And I’m saying that in a good way.

I cannot even begin to tell you just how much sleep I had lost so far. The other night, I had been so caught up that I had edited straight into 2am, and I still don’t know just how I was so perky and alert at work. Last night, I went to bed kind of early, but today I was wrecked. My sleep patterns are dead in the water.

But all I can think of is that scene, that book, that story.

Releasing a book is always exciting. Even if it isn’t your first, there’s still that little thrill of satisfaction that says, I wrote this. I did this. But when you’re wrapping up an arc in a series, this excitement takes a whole different connotation. Excited doesn’t come close to covering just how I feel about releasing the 4th book in The Index. It’s just…overwhelming. I’m wrapping up all the open points in Book 1 that had left readers confused. I am touching back on parts of Book 2 that people thought were slowing down, and putting that volume into an entirely new light of relevance. And what Book 3 had started to expose, Book 4 takes and blows into the open. And it is exciting. It’s also feeling as though you have created an entirely new something. This drives it home for me: I wrote a series, and I’m about to wrap up a portion of it.

It’s something that I have wanted to do since I was a kid, and this is the most excited I’ve been since the first proof had arrived onto my desk in 2009. I still remember that proof, and had kept it: 600+ pages of something that desperately needed a layout change, a red pen taken to it, but it was my book, and the sense of accomplishment knew no comparison. It’s kind of similar with this book, but the accomplishment is on a grander scale. Instead of just one book, I have four. Instead of the start to a series, I have a complete arc, a package of books.

Someone asked me if I plan on being the next JK Rowling. The answer is no, for the simple reason that there’s only one JK Rowling. But I plan on continuing my series, and continuing it well into the next decade or two. Even if it doesn’t do as well as I would like it to do, I would love for it to achieve a level of success similar to Rowling, but above all, I want to keep writing it.

It’s moments like these, when I’m at home, after a grueling day of work, and happy as a clam only because I have my book in front of me, and editing it is no longer a chore but instead one of the best delights of my day, I cannot even tell you how glad I am that I had never listened to anyone who had ever told me not to bother writing.

Moments like these remind me that I was born to write.

And release is soon…in two months!

In the meanwhile, show some love – grab a copy on Amazon! Kindle or paperback. Book 1 is free if you’re a Prime member.

K.G.

 

On Editors

There was a discussion on the NaNoWriMo boards about whether or not editors put “their stamp” on your work.

In thinking about it, if an editor is, in fact, doing that, then you need a new editor.

I’ve had an editor for a while. Her name is Gayle, and she’s awesome. Why is she awesome? Because while she is ripping my work to shreds, she keeps in mind the key fact that it is my story, written in my style. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Gayle will do everything that requires doing to the story. She will ask, “Is this what you wanted to achieve, because it sounds like something else.” She will order me to rephrase something. She will have me add a little something to the dialogue.

But at no point does she reshape the course of the story, or alter my writing style.

I will admit, I have an odd style of writing. If I’m writing a paragraph of any sort, I want it to have a lot of info, and I have gotten really good lately at keeping it concise. I tend to get verbose otherwise, and as a consequence, I am prone to run-ons. It’s something that the constant and patient nudging of my editor had cured me of, and as a result, I became a stronger writer.

But, all aside, let me list a couple of things.

1. You should have an editor. Even if you think your work is brilliant, even if you think that it can get published right away, before you take it to a publisher, take it to an editor. There is no work out there that should go on the market without going through at least one edit, and one of those edits needs to be done by someone other than yourself. Your work may be brilliant, but there’s no question: another set of eyes is necessary to ensure that your plot doesn’t have more holes than Swiss cheese, and that your commas and apostrophes are where they ought to be.

I cannot even tell you; if I had a dollar for every person who confused “lose” (verb) and “loose” (adjective), or for people who mistake “its” (possessive pronoun) and “it’s” (contraction of “it is”), or anyone who confuses “their” (possessive pronoun), “they’re” (contraction of “they are”), and “there” (pronoun/noun/adverb), then I wouldn’t have to work. Yes, there are differences. No, these words are not interchangeable. And yes, even on the Internet, it’s important to watch your grammar.

For everyone who thinks that they won’t be judged by bad grammar, you cannot possibly be more mistaken, and if you think that slips of grammar on the Internet are no big deal, you’re delusional. You’re judged by your grammar everywhere: job applications, professional correspondence, etc. Your employers do a Facebook check too, and believe you me, they get a far different impression from misspellings and horrible punctuation online than your own. And if you’re a writer, then it’s twice as important to make sure that yours is polished up. This is why you hire an editor: to make sure that the things that you may think to be minor are actually correct.

2. Your editor should help you refine your story, not make it their own. My editor is a writer in her own right. Her style, though, is vastly different from mine. She may not be into the sort of books that I like. However, she does nothing whatsoever that would steer the direction of the story into her style and vein of writing. She makes sure that, no matter what changes take place, the story retains my style and, most importantly, my plot.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trad-pub or self-pub, but if you had a Bad Editor story, you may be likely to hear that the editor had asked the writer to re-do the story so that the plot runs in an entirely different direction than what you have intended. NO. This is the point where that writer should, in all seriousness, go to the editor’s boss and say, “I need a new editor, post-haste.”  Your story needs to remain yours. It may see a scene insertion, a scene deletion, discussion of a different scene altogether, but at the end of it, it should remain as your own piece of work. You may also see a bunch of different dialogue, but again – none of this should change the plot in a way where your story is no longer yours.

3. Your editor should be willing to flex. Again, Gayle is awesome in that regard. She and I had locked horns on multiple issues in Books 2 and 3, and if I were to come across a portion of it that she wants me to change and I do not, we discuss it. She’s open to the fact that in some instances (explanatory/expository paragraph vs. dialogue) I will leave it as-is, but she may feel that the dialogue is better.

There is no “correct” way to write a book, but there are many ways to express the same point. A good editor should be able to recognize those bits and pieces in your style, and if he/she may feel that something needs to change, but you do not, then it is okay to actually walk through the changes and discuss whether or not to make the changes.

4. Your editor knows who wrote the book. Not to be all “I’m the writer, hear me roar”, but in truth, no matter what changes your editor makes, your editor has to know that you, as the writer and owner of the story (debatable under trad-pub) have the final word. This is especially true if you own the rights to your work, and especially true if you’re self-pub. Your editor may have revisions, you may make the changes, but at the end, the control is your own. Unless you’re in a situation with a trad-pub that designates someone else as Copyright Owner, you call the shots on your work, and a good editor knows and acknowledges that.

Remember this: you may have learned several things in your creative writing class, or learned creative writing on your own, or it’s always been in you. But an editor is trained to spot certain things that you, the writer, may have missed. Technical writing is very, very different from creative writing, and tech writing trains a person to look at writing in general very differently from someone who had graduated with a creative writing degree.

It goes without saying: if you’re a writer, get an editor. Even before you finish your first draft, make sure you have an editor lined up. Even if you think you may not need an editor, you need an editor. And you also need time to ensure you have a good one.

K.G.

When You Just Have To (Re)Write

My editor and I have a very cool arrangement for how we overhaul my books. She gets a PDF of a chapter, opens it up, rips it into shreds via the markup and highlight tools, then tosses it back to me. Then I pull that PDF side-by-side with its Word-document twin and work it over per her instructions. Some instructions I follow, others I discuss with her. Sometimes, I overhaul it so completely that I have to re-send the entire chapter back to her.

It’s incredibly effective. It’s also the style of editing that I had adopted for my own business clients as well.

The thing is, though, is that I fillet my work before it ever goes to Gayle, and thus, am several chapters ahead. As it so happens, this way I get to see where my book had gone into, and what I have to do to make it an effective story. Gayle gets the refined draft, hardly ever the rough one. This way, I can also correct storyline inconsistencies before the story ever gets to the editor’s desk.

Usually, it’s a pretty smooth process, albeit time-consuming and eye-crossing, like most editing tends to be.

And then you have moments like I had recently, wherein you continue to edit, and then come to the realization that pretty much the entire second half of the book needs a full-scale consistency overhaul, a.k.a. a massive content edit. Or, better put, a rewrite.

…egad.

Rewrites are a funny thing. They’re definitely a step above a conventional copyedit, and are a very necessary thing in most cases. I have said it before and I will reiterate myself: a first draft is a first draft only. Few times, if ever at all, does an author get the novel right on the first go. Chances are, the first go is not the best book in the world, and it is often full of plot holes, bad grammar, and underdeveloped storylines.

Surprise rewrites of the breed that mine had happened to be are a completely different animal, though. They just happen after you had edited through a good portion of your first draft, and are feeling that you can clock through the rest of the manuscript without a major overhaul. It kind of creeps up and bops you over the head, and then you’re surprised and wondering how you can possibly overhaul this much.

You know what the answer to that is? Slowly, and without discarding what you have already.

Granted, I’ve done it before when, upon the initial re-read, the first half of Book 1 had struck me as so cliche that I couldn’t keep it in the book. I’m talking a full-scale I cannot believe I wrote that sort of moment. Thus, I spent the better part of three years rewriting it. It was an interesting deal; I had to work mostly from scratch on that first half, but the scenes that were already there had given root to what it had ended up becoming. For the most part, though, I was writing the entire beginning half all over again.

With Book 4, though, the content is all there, and even in the current state, the action ramps up and cools off at just the right pace. The thing is…it’s a series. And considering that, 1) this would wrap up the first arc, and 2) the second arc is already mostly written, the main purpose of this overhaul is to make it all cohesive. My task is to both wrap up all the loose ends from Books 1-3, and springboard the plot properly into the next arc. Book 5 is its own little set of adventures, and the beautiful thing about Book 5 is, when laid out in Scrivener, all those plot holes hidden in the wall of text that’s usually the end result of novel-writing in Word are suddenly as obvious as spotlights.

This is the approach that I would recommend for attempting the Surprise Rewrite:

– Read the remainder of your story. By this time, it had already sat around for a while, and after you’ve already started the edit, you have a pretty clear idea of where this story is going to go. If you have a look at the rest of your story with your editing framework in mind, you suddenly end up viewing your writing in a much more critical frame of mind.

– Take notes, and lots of ’em. Whether Post-Its are your poison, the Notes feature on Scrivener had struck your fancy, or you like OneNote from MS Office, you have to take notes. Make them as detailed as you like, but make sure that you will be able to understand them two months after you take them.

– Go slowly. Scene-by-scene, paragraph-by-paragraph, it matters little how you do it, but make sure that you take as much time as possible. As I’ve said before, editing a mass amount of text at the same time can and will make your eyes cross. You can and will get lost in your own story. If you have to rewrite or insert a scene, make sure that that’s all you do for a given block of time.  It will, without fail, take you a lot of time to get done this way, but your story quality will be glad for it.

– If you’re straight-out rewriting chunks of your story from scratch, don’t discard the original portions. Don’t. They won’t come in useful just for nostalgia moments, but for future inspiration as well. As I learned the old-fashioned way, you literally have no idea where your next story idea will be coming from. Copy-paste your discarded segments into a separate file, and store it somewhere in your archives. When you have writer’s block some months – if not years – from today, have a read. You never know.

As it is, I have inadvertently started the overhaul earlier today. I touched back onto a couple of points in Book 3 and realized that if I wanted to have a turning point for one of my characters, then that was the perfect way to engineer it. It may cost me half of a dialogue to do it, but it’ll be pretty great.

As far as deadlines, I’ve had a small chat with Ragan Whiteside, a hell of a talent on the flute and a great fan of my books, and realized that, realistically, there was no way to get this done early. So, with that said, the deadline for the release of Book 4 is…my 27th birthday, May 13th, 2012. 

I think it’ll be a hell of a way to celebrate.

K.G.

Say it loud…and it’ll work.

This came up in a conversation with a fellow author, and a discussion in WriMore International on Facebook.

A writer had posted a simple statement: please tell me I’m not the only one arguing with fictional characters. And I answer, “By no means whatsoever.” What I also say is that sometimes, saying something aloud, or reading something aloud, would help you see exactly where the errors are.

Now, let’s extrapolate why, for a moment.

How many of you, my fellow writers, have tried to edit a heap of text on your own? If it’s past a certain amount, your eyes begin to cross. That is where you overlook certain things, and that is when a test reader would later come to you and say, “This reads awkwardly” or “This dialogue could be better.”

Whether or not you will have such feedback, or have received it already, there is much to be said for actually speaking in order to work through a scene. For one, you’re paying attention, and two, your involvement with your own characters is a little bit deeper if you’re actually listening, rather than just reading.

Come on, if you’ve ever yelled at the TV or movie screen, you know what I mean. You don’t yell at the TV out of nowhere; you do it because you’re in it, and you’re in it up to your neck.

Writing is something that carries a certain peculiar sort of actor-observer bias. Think about the yelling at the TV or movie screen. You get so absorbed into the story that you want to somehow reach the characters, because you know that there’s something that they’re not noticing. You feel what they feel, you feel as though you are caught in the situation right along with them, but there is still a fourth wall, so to speak, which separates the viewer from the character.

With authors, take the same sort of emotional involvement in the story, and remove the fourth wall, and add in the actor-observer bias.

While I technically shouldn’t use that term, I can find no better words to describe it. The author is in a very unique position: he or she is watching the characters interact, is writing out their interaction, and at the same time, is wanting to write or do something that comes from the knee-jerk reflex to tell the character, “NO! Do NOT do this! Not a good idea!” – even though the character must do this for the sake of the story turning out to plan.

I would often say this about my own books, and I’m sure that many people will tell you the same thing: the character tell the story for me. Character-driven stories involve quite a lot of frequent yelling at the computer screen, especially in the editing phase, wherein the author finds that the characters did a phenomenal stupid…or ten. But most importantly, it involves reading aloud.

Yes, your roommate, husband,wife, kid, dog, or cat may think you’re a little off your rocker, but know this: your eyes may not be able to tell what’s off in the scene, but your ears don’t generally hear a story being read. You’re cued in, and paying more attention. As such, whatever sounds off to you, whether you’re acting out your own character dialogue or are trying to get your scenery and phrasing together, then I can promise you, it will be better if you actually speak your story than just read and try to make sense of it. Because, as Book 1 had taught me the hard way, it is fully possible to burn out via your own story.

K.G.

Stigmas in Self-Publishing

This is another of those posts that we all knew was coming.

I’ve already addressed the differences between the two methods of publication. They both have their drawbacks and benefits. They’re pretty similar in terms of the steps that a manuscript needs to go through before it hits the market, but vastly different insofar as who does the work.

I’ve waxed analytical on this in this post right here. In short, big difference between trad and self is that in self, the author does the work. Sometimes it costs, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s no secret that I’ve gone self-pub. I’ve tried the traditional route. A year of querying got me nowhere fast, and the free proof copy code from CreateSpace was sitting there, beckoning me to make a book happen on my own. And I promised myself that, if by my 24th birthday I wasn’t going to land an agent, I would use that code. Being a woman of my word, that’s what ended up happening. What also ended up happening was a whole lot of learning,and one of the lessons I had to learn the hard way was that self-publication carried certain stigmas that, while they are being slowly overridden, are as pervasive as ever.

Let’s start debunking them one by one, shall we?

1. A self-published book isn’t a “real book”. 

Well, you guys know me, I had to dive right in there.

First of all, what makes a book a “real book”? Having the publisher’s logo on the jacket? Or, if you have to go for the fact that a bulk of self-pubs are e-book only, would a “real” book qualify as being on paper as opposed to an e-reader?

Let’s start with a dictionary definition of a novel, per the gods of Merriam-Webster: an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events. If you have to get slightly technical, we’re talking about a work of fiction that is anywhere from 50,000 to 125,000 words in length, per most literary guidelines. Word count differences are, occasionally, determined by the genre of the book.

Note that nowhere in this explanation did I note method of publication, book jacket, or reading medium.

And also, let’s state the keen and obvious: most of the so-called “qualifications” for a real book are bunk. That’s right, bunk. Crap. A load of hokum. A real book only requires being written. The publication medium, especially in today’s world, had never mattered less.

Think about it in terms of logic, and logic alone. Would you consider an audiobook real? Yes? Then why not an e-book? And if you don’t consider an audiobook real, tell me please: is it any less a real text if someone reads it aloud or if it’s not presented as a stack of dead tree? Not to get environmentalist on you, but with all the going green hoopla out there, have you considered the trees that can be saved if someone would just get an e-reader?

And as far as publishing houses, let me get into…

2. Self-published books can’t possibly be good enough if they couldn’t get to a major publisher.

Let’s consider that some of the best fiction out there had been thrown out of publishing houses for not being X enough or Y enough. Harry Potter had been rejected by multiple agents, and again by multiple publishers before it finally got picked up and made into a global franchise. And right now, some of the best fantasy and science fiction is all but guaranteed to be self-published – why? Because publishers don’t take risks. They get books going less for the reasons of quality, finding an audience, etc. and much more for sales. This makes for a double whammy: writers with a great plot concept and a pitch for multiple books in a series get nowhere, while writers who stick to the same formulas that have brought success to their predecessors would get picked up, regardless of their quality.

If I really have to go there, think about Twilight. Yes, I’m going there. It is a franchise by now, a brand name, if you will. It got picked up because there was a market – teenage girls – and it was presented to the market in such a proficient way that it got snatched up like hotcakes. But the writing itself is not good. It’s 80% purple prose, the main character is a complete Mary Sue who doesn’t grow or progress with the series, and if you analyze the messages presented to teenage girls in this book, it is just downright unhealthy.

But it was marketed well, and it sold. Which is why Little, Brown and Company is very happy.

Also to note: about 85% of currently self-published authors have, at some point or another, queried agents and publishers, and had gotten rejected each and every time, for the above reason. This is part of the publishing routine in trad-pub: you keep asking until someone doesn’t slam the door in your face.

As you can imagine, this gets exhausting fast. And if you’re going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s what you have to do!”, then I’ll scoff in your face. Self-publishing is a legitimate, and even lucrative, alternative to traditional publishing.

Let me elaborate for a minute.

We all know the saying: money talks. So let me clarify the point a little by saying that royalties talk. Or, rather, royalty rates.

Royalty rates for self-published authors are, hands down, much better than the ones offered by traditional publishing houses. If a self-pub author goes through specific (mostly free-to-use channels), then the author enjoys a nice 70% on e-sales, and 45% on print sales. The traditional publishing alternative would be somewhere up to 16% on e-sales, and about half of that for print.

To make it clear, self-publishing is a more profitable alternative for the author if you crunch the numbers. And yes, that does make it very much a preferable alternative to going through the well-known gamut of trying to land an agent and spending months, if not years, waiting for a response other than a form rejection.

That’s right: people actually choose to self-publish because it’s more profitable.

Does that make their books less “real”? I personally don’t think so, if only on the account that those things on my shelf are hardly zombies, and same goes for the e-books that are populating my Kindle. They seem to be taking up space, they contain text that’s broken into chapters, and in a huge majority of the cases, I paid for them.

3. If it hadn’t sold millions, it’s not a book worth reading.

See above about Twilight.

Now, repeat after me, with feeling: a best-seller only sells well; it doesn’t make a good book.

Really. Little, Brown and Company made a killing on Twilight as a franchise, as well as a book. That doesn’t mean that the books are good. I lost a bet and had to read those books, and believe you me, I wish I had never made that bet. But it sold in the millions of copies, in multiple languages. Does that mean that it has to be great fiction if it had done so well in the market?

Absolutely not. And there are eggs like that every genre under the sun: they sell spectacularly, but the writing and storyline are very, very lousy.

Some of the best stories are mid-listed or dropped by publishers altogether because they hadn’t met sales-quota expectations. Why? Because of this very mentality, which people are very keen on buying into. If it must have sold well, then it must be great, right? Wrong. Again, Twilight. Also, half of what was written by Judith McNaught…seriously, if you want historical romance, read Philippa Gregory. I’m no romantic, but Gregory has a very rich, flowing style to her writing.

4. Self-published authors are lazy and not willing to put in the work that it takes to get published traditionally.

See #2, especially the part where I talk about money.

Now, let me give you a this-or-that scenario. Suppose you’re an author, looking to get your work published. You spent a year on rewrites, and another year of letting it sit and then rewriting it again. You have a choice. Do you:

a. send hundreds, if not thousands, on query letters and hope you hit jackpot somewhere, spending months of hopes and prayers for a five-figure advance sum but trade it off on low royalty percentages,

or

b. do a little bit of extra legwork, get your book on the market fast, not get an advance, but collect your royalties right away at a higher rate than most trad-pubs?

If you’re willing to wait and think that you would see a payoff in terms of volume sales at the lower royalty rate – okay, then you can go trad-pub. But also consider the tradeoff of publication rights. The publishing house isn’t just printing, marketing, and releasing your book: it’s also acquiring first publication rights, copyright, and distribution rights to your work, and depending on your contract, this can go into a ten-year stretch. So if your book is mid-listed, doesn’t sell well, and is otherwise not meeting the publisher’s expectations, then you will have a fun time wrestling your rights back under your purview. You will not be able to re-publish as a self if it doesn’t do as well.

With legitimate self-publishers, you do not give away your rights. Which, in turn, brings me to rehash something.

5. Self-publishing is paying to publish, and it can’t possibly be good enough if the author had to pay for printing/releasing it.

Call to your memory: first post about Book Country, second, and third. And fourth, about an Aussie vanity press.

If you’re not willing to click to read back through my last repeated ramblings on the difference between a self-publisher and a vanity press, I will reiterate: self-publishers never ask you for money up front for use of services. They may offer certain services for a fee, but none of them are required.

As a bonus, they let you keep the rights to your work. So you’re free to shop your work around after release, if you so feel like.

Vanity presses do charge you money up front, and their contracts and terms of use are sometimes so vague that you don’t notice that you’re signing away your distribution rights, copyright, and first-publication rights. Moreover, there are precious few vanity presses that actually deliver on their promises. iUniverse is probably one of the best ones, because it focuses on developing the author’s brand and business name.

If you don’t know what PublishAmerica is, then this subforum in AbsoluteWrite will give you a nice picture of what authors go through to get away from them. They pose as a legitimate publishing house, then proceed to fleece authors at every turn, even for their own book copies. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a vanity press and a scam.

Also, to clarify, a scam doesn’t necessarily have to be against the law. It’s just making money by dishonest means. And fleecing authors is dishonest.

However, back to my point. You don’t pay to self-publish. In fact, you keep more of your royalties because you’re covering only distribution and raw materials (if you choose to print). However, does CreateSpace charge a “set-up fee”? Not once in my three and a half years of use have I encountered it. It comes with default Amazon distribution, at no charge, and offers a one-time fee for expanded distribution. Is it required? No. But if $40 is all it takes for CreateSpace to list my books on the site of its parent company’s (Amazon) biggest competitor, that being Barnes & Noble, then you know what, it’s a good deal, as opposed to forking over $99 to upload and do everything myself (see Book Country posts). Is it required? No. But I like having expanded channels.

6. Self-published authors don’t work as hard as traditionally published authors.

Bull. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s just plain old-fashioned bull.

I’ve yet to meet a single self-published author who didn’t put in years – yes, years – of blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights into their work. Because a self-published author is, quite essentially, going through the publication process on his/her own, then the workload quadruples. There’s no in-house editing team to fillet the manuscript and make sure that the plot flows, the spelling’s proper, the grammar is cohesive. There’s no graphic design team to draw or photograph and create the perfect cover for your book. There’s no layout and printing expert to ensure that the PDF file that goes to the printers will meet their expectations precisely. There is no help. So the author is doing everything.

Daunting? Yes. But that’s what self-pubs do. They may hire outside help, or they may take a couple of months to learn all of that on their own. There has been many a self-pub author who had gone to class to learn Photoshop just for the sake of that perfect cover, and there will be plenty more, at that.

So, really, don’t give me the line about self-pubs not working as hard. Traditional publishers hold the author’s hand when it comes to the pre-release gamut. Self-publishers have no one but themselves and whoever is willing to lend a helping hand.

7. The self-published books aren’t worth their price, therefore a reader shouldn’t have to pay for them.

Now this right here, which is something I’ve encountered more and more in recent time, is utterly infuriating.

A writer is not just writing for the sake of telling a story. This is an intrinsic enough part of the process for a writer that it shouldn’t even need to be said, or spoken of. However, a written work – just like a painting, a meal in a restaurant, a cup of coffee – is a product. And last time I checked, in the world of commerce and retail, customers are required to pay for the product they are receiving.

I will repeat the prior point: self-publishers work very hard to produce their product. They work harder than most trad-pubs. The money that you’re paying for the book is what enables them to pay for the web access bills, for the electric bills, and the roof over their heads so that they can continue to produce their product. Same as where the money goes for a traditional publisher.

At risk of being blunt, I will ask you point blank: what makes you think that you are entitled to someone’s work for free?

Seriously. What, pray tell, makes you or anyone else so special that you think you don’t have to pay for your books? You don’t expect a coffee shop to give you a free cappuccino. Don’t expect an author, regardless of publishing avenue, to give you a freebie either.

I give away free copies from time to time, but there is always a tradeoff involved. It may be a review, or it may be traffic, it may be recommendation, but there is a tradeoff. But to give away a free copy just because someone thinks that being self-published means that I just have to give it away? No way in hell.

8. Self-published authors are greedy and don’t want to share their wealth with others.

At risk of, again, being blunt, why should they share? I call it fair trade. If a traditional publisher is going to help the author at every turn with turning a manuscript into a book, then the 85% of royalties that they withhold from the book price are fair for keeping the production team paid. The editor, the cover artist, the marketing specialist, the book signing coordinator – all of them need a paycheck at the end of the day. Where does that come from? The royalties.

So why, exactly, should a self-pub share any more than they share already? Every time they publish a book and price it below cost to stimulate sales, they’re paying for it by taking a financial loss. Every time they give away a copy, they take a loss. The distributor takes a small cut of the royalty too. And considering that they didn’t have the editor, the cover artist, the marketing specialist, etc., why exactly should they share?

9. People self-publish because there’s no traditional option for their brand of writing.

Now that one actually holds some truth to it. That or, again, the big publisher will not take a risk with that particular genre because it doesn’t think that the book would sell well, even if there is a genre for it enough to, at the very least, mid-list the book.

Niche genres, and niche subgenres at that, are notoriously difficult to make a success, because the audience is limited. Most people reading mainstream books do not know what steampunk is. A lot wouldn’t understand the term urban fantasy.  However, both of those subgenres have a very dedicated and surprisingly large following. Do the publishing houses consider that? Rarely. Which, again, is why an author in a genre like urban-fantasy, steampunk, or even poetry – which is notoriously difficult to publish traditionally – would consider self-publication.

Self-publishing doesn’t differentiate by genre; it’s simply there. It does, however, put the onus on the author as a businessperson and marketer, and necessitates the correct outreach and brand-building, both for the book and the author alike. Building a brand from the books and the author alike is that ends up selling the self-pub. Yes, it’s infinitely more work, but it’s more work with a solid, long-lasting fan base. Which, in turn, produces sales.

—-

The unfortunate truth to the above is, while I can refute and dissect the preconceptions, until the public at large will get with the program and acknowledge self-published authors as individuals who have made an informed decision about their writing future, these stigmas will continue.

I won’t lie: it takes a long time for a self-published author to generate some steam. This is why cross-marketing, as so very well put in this post here (by Candace Mountain, awesomely), is crucial. Authors supporting authors goes a long way, and it pays off in the long run by generating readership.

While at times overcoming these stigmas may seem like a Sisyphean battle, with potential readers and reviewers turning up their nose with a sneering response that your work, which you have sweated leaden ingots over, is somehow now good enough because it’s lacking a Big 6 copyright clause, it is worth it to keep going. Whether or not it seems like it when you’re surrounded by the people who believe that your self-pub book is somehow less real, you do have an audience and you do have a following to reach. It just requires a lot more elbow grease than what people may give credit for.

Special thanks to the members of the FB groups WriMore International and SelfPubEBooks for the feedback on the stigmas.

Onward and upward, my fellow self-pubs.

K.G.

Notabene: My books are still 99c for ebook. After mid-January, back up they go to $2.99 each. Yep, I have paperback too. Click here.