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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ready to be a Wrublisher? A Priter? Some Caveats for Self-Publishers from Bestselling Author Jeff Carlson

Guest Post!
When my post on three questions to ask before you self-publish went viral last week, Thriller and SciFi author Jeff Carlson  asked to join in the discussion. I think you'll find this account of his experiences eye-opening. Thanks, Jeff!

Using Both Sides of the Sword 

by Jeff Carlson

Anne and I go back to the 1990s and my days on California’s Central Coast, where we both belonged to SLO Nightwriters, the San Luis Obispo writers’ organization. These days I follow her blog. Her slogan “KINDLE NO BOOK BEFORE ITS TIME” struck a chord with me. We got to corresponding, and Anne has graciously allowed me to expand on the subject.

These are chaotic and exciting times in the writing game, but it’s important to remember self-publishing means you’re not only the writer, you also need to wear an entirely different set of hats.

My first three novels, a series of apocalyptic thrillers known as the Plague Year trilogy, were published by Ace/Penguin Group USA. They did a nice job not only with the cover art but in packaging all three novels with a “look.”  They edited and typeset the books and handled the conversions to ebooks on all platforms.  Heck, they also bought display space in the major chains, placed ads in genre and trade magazines, ran specials on the Penguin web site and generally did a bang-up job.

Did I come anywhere near the New York Times lists? No, sir. Did I exceed the expectations of everyone involved (except me!) from Penguin itself to some critics to booksellers? Absolutely. 

Plague Year is currently in its seventh printing in North America and, in Spain, became a hardcover bestseller due in part to my Spanish publisher’s enthusiasm not just for the book but for the treatment it received in the U.S. Like it or not, New York still leads the way in the corporate world. Other countries such as Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic have also fallen in line with their own excellent campaigns. Of course I take most of the credit – I wrote the books – but it can’t be argued that a fair level of support from Penguin helped convince some minds overseas.

Why am I bragging?  Because I’ve begun to self-publish on Kindle and elsewhere myself, and: it’s harder than I was promised by the e-revolutionaries!   

Ha ha. There are hurdles I hadn’t anticipated. Identifying and solving those issues has become my own personal revolution.

Anne spoke eloquently on quality writing and professionalism, so all I’ll add to those ideas is the old truth that most of us average 1,000,000 words of garbage before we learn enough craft to write superior characters, dialogue and plotlines. That learning curve hasn’t changed.

In today’s world, especially on the ’Net and with all e-things, we expect instant gratification. Everyone hopes to skyrocket onto the charts. Personally, I want a zillion love slaves to FaceBook me and then gather on Skype to sing pirate shanties about my greatness.

What’s stopping them?

Cover art

People do judge a book by its cover.

One thing I’m not is a graphic designer. When I geared up to republish my short stories in mini-collections on Kindle and Nook, I wanted to spend as little money as possible.

99 cents is the lowest price on which Kindle and Nook will pay royalties. I didn’t see any point in selling my collections at 75 cents if Kindle and Nook pocketed 100% — and below the $2.99 price point, Kindle pays only a 35% royalty, not the vaunted 70% you tend to hear, so I calculated how many copies I’d need to sell to break even. 

The best artists command as much as $400 per cover. 

People like to say ebooks are forever (i.e., you and your descendants will earn royalties until the sentient raccoons take over the world in 6400 A.D. and place humankind in chains), but I really didn’t believe I’d sell 1143 copies before the raccoon apocalypse. The average ebook sells, uh, nothing? More on that in a minute.

I went cheap with the covers. Was that a mistake? Yes and no. Go ahead, take a peek. They're not great. But there are years of evidence to support the idea that short story collections sell poorly compared to novels, so that’s an additional factor.

Are those covers holding potential readers back?  Or is the material not generating word-of-mouth? All of these stories were professionally published, btw, most of them in top anthologies and magazines. I like to think that means they’re good stuff, and yet three of my e-collections have yet to pay for their inexpensive covers.

Here’s where I’m wrestling with conflicting data:

My fourth ebook is a stand-alone novella called “The Frozen Sky.” It’s sold 8500 copies since January. That’s not a staggering number, but it’s enough to meet my wife’s car payment and most of our utilities. What’s interesting is the simple, stark, ominous cover was designed at zero cost by a superfan who gained permission from NASA to use a photo taken by the Cassini probe.

What I’m learning is that ebook cover art shouldn’t be busy, and, in fact, can be very basic, but it still needs to have a “look.” Finding someone who can deliver that look is the whole battle. If you’re not an artist, don’t kid yourself. Hire the best. My feeling now is that going halfway is wasted time and income.

Upfront Expenses  

“The money flows to the author." This maxim is a venerable standby in writing, but it's changing.

If you’re self-publishing and you don’t know PhotoShop (or want something more spectacular), need editing, and need your work converted into e-formats, it’s easy to burn through several hundred dollars in a hurry.

Referral lists aren’t always reliable, either. It’s also maddening to wait for the hired help to get organized when the whole point of self-publishing is to make your book public now, not next month.

Depending on your free time, it might pay off in the long run to teach yourself all of the above. Me, I’d rather be writing, so I’ve learned to plan ahead. I try to get each ball rolling before I need it. This can be a lot like herding cats.

I’m no longer just a writer, I’m a “wrublisher.” (A “priter”?)

My advice is to ask around for personal recommendations.  Once you find a service provider who’s reliable and affordable, love them.

You want a product that will to wow people, not a book that’s half-baked.

The Race to the Bottom

Right now there are 900,000 ebooks on Kindle.

500 of ’em are selling great; 1,500 more are selling well; the next 10,000 are doing all right; another 20,000 sell a steady trickle;  and the other 868,000 are selling zipperooni, maybe 15 copies total to Aunt Mavis and the author’s buddy Steve.  That’s right.  The vast majority of these writers are exactly where they’d be if they were banging at the gates of the evil elitist gatekeeping gatekeepers — on the outside.

I don’t like being a big fat negative-nancy, but the idea that we’re all going to upload our Great American Novels and sell sell sell is crazy, crazy, crazy.

It’s a swamp. Buyers are bees. They find the flowers and swarm.

What this has done is create enormous pressure on writers to undervalue their work or give it away free. 

Even then, most of the time, nobody’s buying. What can you do? Writers control what they’ve always controlled: their stories. Keep at it. Do the work. Patience and persistence will always be the names of the game.

Most successful first novels are not that writer’s first novel at all. I know nobody wants to hear it, but few of us are gifted enough to write a well-crafted book with our first effort. If you’d told me when I was seventeen that my derivative Stephen King rip-offs weren’t good enough, I would have argued heatedly that you were a nincompoop. But it was true. Plague Year was my third-and-a-half novel, and that’s a very, very normal trajectory. 

Remember why you got into this crazy business in the first place. Presumably it was for the love of language and storytelling.

Good writing is hard. E-publishing has subverted some of the rules, but the difficulty of finding commercial success isn’t something I predict will change. There are no shortcuts. So do the work. You’ll get there, but it may be a long haul. That’s just my pragmatic advice.

E-Revolution Now!

Having said all of that, there are break-out exceptions every week. If you think you’re ready, take your shot. The best part about ebooks is you can fix, expand or completely rewrite ’em at will, then post new versions in a matter of days instead of haggling with the corporate machine for three years to fix one freaking typo.

If there’s a negative reaction to your book (or if there’s no reaction at all), you can remove it and improve it – and if people love it, you’ve already arrived.

Readers can find free fiction, videos, contests and more on Jeff’s web site at http://www.jverse.com Find the ebook of THE FROZEN SKY on Amazon.com and both electronic and print versions of THE PLAGUE YEAR TRILOGY here. 
What about you, fellow scriveners? If you've been thinking about self-publishing, does Jeff's experience give you second thoughts? Are you on the fence about self-epubbing? Totally gung-ho either way? Have you paid for professional services and not earned back the expenses in sales? Jeff is happy to field questions and comments, so fire away!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

12 Signs Your Novel isn't Ready to Publish

Self-publishing is the trending subject in Cyberia. Last week my post on self pubbing got over 2500 hits. And 60 comments. It not only made “Best of the Best” of Jane Friedman’s “Best Tweets for Writers,” but got a shout-out from publishing blog-god Nathan Bransford. (Thanks, Jane and Nathan!)

I’m amazed. Many thanks to all of you—with special nods to everybody who has taken the time to leave a comment. Lots of information and food for thought there. I think one of the reasons this blog is getting popular is the quality of the comments.

To recap what I said in that post: KINDLE NO BOOK BEFORE ITS TIME! Don’t throw your fledgling book out into the Kindleverse without some serious thought. 

I realize you feel pressure to join the e-book revolution. Stories of Kindle millionaires are everywhere. The e-book provides a magnificent way for established writers to monetize their backlist—or even their frontlist, if they decide to go indie all the way like Barry Eisler. It’s also worked magic for new novelists like Karen McQuestion and Amanda Hocking, and I’m reading more success stories every day. (There’s one from author Mark Williams at the bottom of the comment thread of the self-pub post that’s a must-read.) I LOVE stories like this.

But it’s important to keep in mind these were all seasoned writers before they self-published. They had inventory. They knew how to build platform and make sales.

So don't expect their results until you're a seasoned writer, too. Even if you don’t get pounded with bad reviews, you could be sabotaging your future career. If a reader finds bad grammar, misused words, and no plot—even in a 99-cent e-book—they’re not going to want to read that author again. Maybe only a handful of people will buy it, but if you become a literary darling some day, that bad book will always be lurking somewhere on somebody’s Kindle, waiting to destroy your reputation.

Writing has a learning curve like any other skill. You don’t get to play Carnegie Hall after a few piano lessons. You don’t join the PGA tour after a couple of afternoons on the golf course. Learning to write takes time. Way more time than you think.

It sure did for me. I cringe when I read some of my early work. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the rejections that kept the worst of it from seeing print.

But at the time, I thought that stuff was perfect. Jody Hedlund discussed this phenomenon in a great post last week. She pointed out: “Writers are blind to their own mistakes.”

All beginners make mistakes. Falling down and making a mess is part of any learning process. But you don’t have to display the mess to the world.

Here are some tell-tale signs that a writer is still in the learning phase of his/her career.

1)     Lots of writerly prose. Those long, gorgeous descriptions that got so much praise from your high school English teacher and your college girlfriend are a huge turn-off for the paying customer who’s searching for some kind of story in there.

2)     English-major showing off. It may feel incredibly clever to start every chapter with an epigraph from Finnegan’s Wake. But unless it’s really important to the plot, this will probably annoy rather than impress readers. Ditto oblique references to the Cavalier poets or anything by Thomas Mann. People want to be entertained, not worship at your self-erected literary altar.

3)     Episodic storytelling. I admit my own guilt on this one. I could never end my first novel, because it didn’t actually have a plot. It was a series of related episodes—like a TV series. (Many thanks to former agent Colleen Lindsay for reading the whole ms. and telling me this in a kind way. Because of her thoughtful comments, I could finally drop the book and move on.) Critique groups often don’t catch this problem, if each episode has a dramatic arc of its own.

4)     Hackneyed openings. I wrote a post on these a while back.The worst is the “alarm clock” opening—your protagonist waking up—the favorite cliché of all beginning storytellers. There’s a hilarious video on this from the comedians at Script Cops They say, “78 % of all student films start with an alarm clock going off.”

5)     Thinly disguised oh-poor-me memoirs and revenge fantasies. Having a terrible childhood does not make a great story. Neither does surviving a life-threatening disease. That kind of experience needs a lot of processing before it can be worked into entertaining fiction.

Also, readers probably won’t be enthralled by a 200,000 word description of a guy just like your toxic ex, even if he gets hacked up by his ax-murdering second wife in the final scene. (Yes, I know that was fun to write.)

6)     Semi-fictionalized religious/political screeds. You have to be really, really good (or Ayn Rand) to get away with political fiction. Carl Hiaasen manages to throw quite a bit of his politics into his comic mysteries, and Chris Moore gets in some digs in his hilarious horror tales. But if you aren’t as funny as those guys, save it for a letter to the editor.

And if you’ve written a novel just so you can send everybody who isn’t exactly like you to Hell, your reader will want to send you there, too.

7)     Dialogue info-dumps and desultory conversation. Another of my personal pitfalls. After 25 years in the theater, my brain’s natural habitat was the script. It took me years to learn characters don’t have to say all that stuff out loud. And “hello how are you fine and you nice weather” dialogue may be realistic, but it’s snoozifying. Readers don’t care about “authenticity” if it doesn’t further the plot.

8)     Tom Swifties. The writer who strains to avoid the word “said” can rapidly slip into bad pun territory, as in the archetypal example: “‘We must hurry,’ exclaimed Tom Swiftly.” Bad dialogue tags may have crept into your consciousness at an early age from Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. They're great fun, but they were written by a stable of underpaid hacks and although the stories are classic, the prose is not.

9)     Mary Sues. A Mary Sue is a character who’s a stand-in for the writer’s idealized self. She’s beautiful. Everybody loves her. She always saves the day. She has no faults. Except she’s boring and completely unbelievable.

10) Imprecise word usage. This is what snagged the infamous unhappily-reviewed indie author of a couple of weeks back. If you don’t know the difference between lie and lay, aesthetic and ascetic, or why a woman can’t “carry her stocky build” down the stairs, you’ll get two-star reviews, too.

11) Incorrect spelling and grammar. The buying public isn’t your third grade teacher; they won’t give you a gold star just to boost your self-esteem. Spelling and grammar count. Words are your tools. Would you try out for professional baseball if you didn’t know how to hold a bat? Electronic grammar checks can only do so much. And they’re often wrong. Buy a grammar book. Take a course. Go to a writers conference. Seriously. Even a good editor can’t do everything.

12) Wordiness. There’s a reason agents are wary of long books. New writers tend to take 100 words to say what seasoned writers can say in 10. If your prose is weighty with adjectives and adverbs, or clogged with details and repetitive scenes, you’ll scare off readers as well. 

If you’re still doing any of these things, RELAX! Enjoy writing for its own sake a while longer. Read more books on craft.. Build inventory. You really do need at least two polished manuscripts in the hopper before you launch your career.

And hey, you don’t have to become a marketer just yet. Isn’t that good news?

How about you, scriveners? What mistakes did you make when you were starting out? As a reader, what amateurish red flags make you wish you hadn’t wasted your 99 cents?

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

What if Somebody Steals Your Plot?

I often hear from new writers who are afraid their plots will be stolen if they talk about their books online or in critique groups.

But I tell them to rest easy. Writers have a lot to be wary of these days—faux agents, bogus publishers, e-book pirates, content mills, James Frey—but plot-purloiners should not be high on the list.

Consider the old saying: “There are no new stories, just new ways of telling them.”

Experts don’t agree on the exact number of narrative plots, but there aren’t many. In the 19th century, Georges Polti listed 36 “Dramatic Situations.” In 1993, Roland Tobias counted 20 “Master Plots,” and in 2005, Christopher Booker compressed the list to 7 “Basic Plots.” Miss Snark said there were 6, and I found a recent article in Author Magazine that listed only 5. The number seems to be shrinking.

But everybody agrees it is finite. So—no matter how original your story feels to you, somebody has probably told it before. Maybe last week. And they didn’t steal it. They thought it up just the way you did.

It’s amazing how often an idea that sprouts in your brain from the seeds of your own imagination can take root in other people’s brains at the same time. This is because human minds often respond in similar ways to prevailing news stories, music, weather patterns or whatever—and end up generating similar thoughts.

Evolutionary biologists call this phenomenon a “meme.” The term—from the Greek mimema—meaning something imitated—was coined by biologist  Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He observed that certain stories, melodies, catch phrases and fashions can flash through a whole culture in a short amount of time.

This explains why we can’t copyright ideas. Everybody has them. Very often the same ones.

Unfortunately, new writers don’t always realize this, and they can embarrass themselves with plot-theft paranoia. That’s why you never want to mention copyright in a query letter. It red-flags you as an amateur.

Of course, if you’re having severe anxiety about it, and you’re sure nobody ever thought of mixing classic fiction with B-movie paranormal creatures, you can copyright your logline for “Pride and Prejudice meets Poltergeist.” Just don't mention it when you pitch your book.

This is because delusions about the uniqueness of story ideas can get pretty off-the-wall.

Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware wrote last month about a guy who was trying to sell his plot idea on ebay for ten million dollars. Really. I’m not making this up. You can read his amazing offer right here: He said, “It can be compared to stories like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Indiana Jones…and will bring in endless fame and money to anyone who takes it.”  

And he’s not the only starry-eyed doofus who’s combined delusions of grandeur with total cluelessness about the effort required to actually write a novel or screenplay.

In the thread of the same post, children’s author Kathleen Duey said,

“I have been approached SO many times by people who want me to buy a story, or who are willing to share half the proceeds if I will just do the writing. I never know what to say. I am not rude, but...really? Try that split on any other kind of business person. ‘I think that a colony on Mars would be awesome and I am willing to give a 50% share of all eventual proceeds to anyone who can make it happen.’ I am always careful to walk away, if that's what it takes, to keep anyone from telling me the idea…just in case I ever write something similar by accident.”

I’ll bet a lot of you have been approached in a similar way. I sure have.

In fact, I have a feeling this delusion is as old as writing itself. I imagine Virgil probably met a guy at the Emperor Augustus’s orgy who said—

“You’re a writer? Hey, I’ve got this idea for a book about a guy who sails around the Mediterranean. Meets up with big storms. Monsters. Some hot nookie. You can write it down and we’ll split the proceeds 50-50.”

I hope Virgil had a good lawyer. Kathleen Duey’s instinct to run is excellent. These people can get scary.

When somebody approaches me with this “proposition,” I say, “The going rate for ghostwriters is $50-$100 an hour. I don’t provide that service, but I can get you a referral.”

I don’t want to be mean, but they need to understand that most writers have plenty of story ideas of our own. Our biggest fear is not living long enough to write them all.

But what do you do when somebody does publish a book that’s similar to yours? Even if they didn’t literally “steal” it, you can feel kind of ripped off.

Don’t despair. Memes can work in your favor. If you’re writing the final draft of  your Pride and Prejudice/Poltergeist mash-up, and somebody else sells a Pride and Prejudice/Gremlins mash-up, you’re now part of a trend. Publishers tend to be sheep. If the first book is popular, they’ll want another.

And if yours is better, you’re way ahead. As the above quote says, you can’t tell a new story; but you can tell it in a new way. It’s not about being first. You can be pretty sure you’re not.

In fact, I’ll bet some guy told Virgil when he first pitched the Aeneid, “A lost dude sails around the Mediterranean after the Trojan War having adventures? Sorry, that’s been done. Haven’t you heard of that Homer guy’s story, the Odyssey?”

Did Virgil steal Homer’s plot? I suppose you could say he did. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt sales for either of them for the last couple of millennia. It’s the telling that makes each story unique. And that’s going to be true of your story, too. It’s not about the plot. It’s about the writing. Nobody can steal that. 

Well, except e-book pirates, but that's another blogpost.

So what about you, scriveners? Are you afraid somebody will steal your idea? Would you ever pay for somebody else’s? Have you ever been approached by one of these “here’s my idea; you write it and let’s go 50/50” people? How did you handle it?

I want to give a special welcome all the new followers and commenters here! I’m feeling awfully lucky to have been quoted and retweeted by so many industry professionals this week. Special thanks to KindleNation , Jane Friedman , CNN’s Porter Anderson , and Quotes4Writers .

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

3 Questions to Ask Before You Jump on the Indie Publishing Bandwagon

We’re in the midst of seismic changes in the publishing world, with new quakes altering the landscape on a daily basis. The pulp paperback is in its death throes, as mass market houses like Dorchester slink into ignominious bankruptcy. Kindle and the Amazon $2.99 e-book/70% royalty paradigm have changed an entire industry in less than eighteen months.

Amanda Hocking self-published her YA paranormals, made a mint, and landed a two million dollar deal with St. Martin’s a week ago. Then thriller writer Barry Eisler  turned down a half a million from the same house in order to go indie. Mystery writer Joe Konrath and his disciples provide daily proof that midlist fiction writers can make more self-publishing cheap e-books than by going the traditional route.

You can read enlightening conversation between Eisler and Hocking here, and Eisler and Konrath here.

Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, are now singing its praises. Insiders Nathan Bransford and Jane Friedman see it as the most lucrative road for many authors. Agent Laurie McLean now has an e-book publishing and marketing service. Meredith Barnes at FinePrint Literary now does e-book coding.

This means we can all start our careers right now. Not three or four or ten years down the road after the excruciating query/submission/editing process, but now. TODAY. And there’s a possibility we’ll make real money. Konrath regularly posts hot financial statistics that are pure writer porn. We all want to join in the orgy.

But something happened this week that should give some of us pause.

It was a brouhaha that went viral when an indie author came to cyberblows with an indie book blogger.

It was a sad moment for me. The social media bullying I talked about in my last post came to blogging and it wasn’t pretty. Yes, the author had a very childish meltdown. But I wish the entire blogosphere hadn’t followed suit. We all have inner children who are prone to temper tantrums on occasion.

Isaac Asimov once observed that writers fall into two groups: “those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”

But in these days of social media we have very little “secretly” any more. Everything is visible—on a global scale.

I hear the author’s sales actually spiked after the debacle, and I’m glad for that. She’s a nice person and a friend of this blog. Perhaps Bret Easton Ellis might laud it as one of the first "post-Empire" moments in publishing.

But what I saw was a writer who hadn’t yet developed the soul-calluses that are required of a professional author. I suspect she jumped into the business too soon.

There are some unspoken benefits to the old query-fail-query-fail-submission-fail-editorial meeting-fail, fail, fail system. It not only gives us numerous readers to help hone that book to perfection—it also teaches us to deal with rejection, failure and bad reviews.

If you choose to self-publish because you can’t handle the rejection of the query process, you’re setting yourself up for worse pain later on. If those form rejections in your email sting, think of how you’ll feel when very personal rejection is broadcast all over the blogosphere.

So there’s a lesson here: don’t publish until you’re psychologically prepared to take the heat. Always keep in mind this is a business, and business can be nasty.

And there’s another lesson, too. In all the thousands of comments and tweets, I haven’t seen anybody remark on the actual source of the argument: the formatting of the reviewed e-book. The author had apparently put out a badly coded book, then replaced it with a cleaner version. The whole sorry battle was sparked by the question of whether the reviewer had read the old or new download.

It looks as if he did diligently acquire the new copy, and I’m glad to hear he’s become an instant superstar. He deserves that. In reviewing indie books, he’s providing a service indie authors desperately need, and he wrote an honest review.

But I suspect none of this would have happened if the author had used a better coder the first time.

Those of us who were thinking of simply uploading a Word.doc into Amazon’s form to convert to Kindle might need to think again.

I sure will. I’d heard it was pretty easy. Now I know better than to try. Apparently the formatting can get garbled. Apostrophes become incomprehensible lines of code; bullet points turn into weird characters; and page and line breaks appear in nonsensical places. Plus you need different coding for each platform: B&N, iStore, Smashwords. Just being on Amazon is no longer enough.

So, lesson #2: Get your book professionally coded.

This is of particular interest to me because I’m planning to re-release my novel Food of Love as an e-book soon. Luckily I haven’t done it yet because I finally re-read the original and had one of those “OMG who wrote this crap?” moments. I’ve become a much better writer in the last decade. I still think it’s a damn good story, and I’m still in love with my characters, but the opening was stuffed with clunky reader-feeder and too many dialogue tags. Plus I seem to have been addicted to the words “suddenly” and “just.” I’m editing it now, feeling almost grateful my sales weren’t that high. Even though I had a good editor, the book really wasn’t ready to be released.

Which leads to lesson #3 to take away from last week’s brouhaha: don’t publish your book too soon.

Trouble is—you don’t know it’s too soon. But reviewers will. And if you’re like me, so will your older, wiser self.

How soon is too soon? Consider that Amanda Hocking had eight books in the hopper before she self-pubbed last year. Eight. She was also professional enough to hire an editor and a book designer. She was ready to treat her books as a full time job.

So here are three questions to ask yourself before you take the self-pub plunge:

1) Are you able to present a professional book in a professional way? This means hiring an editor, book coder and cover designer, plus putting together a marketing plan and making the time to implement it. Just throwing it up on Amazon to see what happens could backfire. Big time.

2) Are you emotionally ready for your close-up? Every successful author gets nasty reviews. Every. Single. One. If you want proof, go read the one-star reviews of literary classics on Amazon.

Learning how to deal with crushing, unfair criticism needs to be part of your skill set. Make sure you keep in touch with the part of you that has nothing to do with your books—the one that goes outside to hear real birds twitter and gets face to face with actual friends. Understand that after a nasty review, you need to STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Hide all electronic communication devices and bring in chocolate, wine, DVDs, and/or your BFF, and hibernate. Author Catherine Ryan Hyde suggests you allow yourself to mourn for at least three days after a bad review. I think that sounds about right.

3) Is your book really, truly ready? Not just for friendly readers, but unfriendly ones. I advise finding some not-so-tame beta readers and asking them to do their worst. Then imagine seeing their harshest words in a review. Can you see how a reader might accept them as valid? If so, hold off and do some more editing. Better yet, write another book. Then edit the first one again.

You owe it to your characters to present them in the best possible way—and you owe it to yourself to start your career with your very best work.

So what about you, scriveners? Have you been swayed by recent news to try the indie route? Have you hired an editor or book coder? Got any recommendations?
For more on this, Catherine Ryan Hyde has posted "An Open Letter to Authors" on this subject on her blog. She points out how important book bloggers are to all authors. Reviewers need to be free to be honest, or they can't do their job.

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