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Is your book ready to be self-published?

Before making 13268584_10153434645320216_131378243764456732_ocoffee in the morning, you’ve got to have grounds to put in the pot. Before grilling a steak for dinner, you need to have a thawed T-bone. Before self-publishing, you’ve got to have a completed manuscript.

If you haven’t yet finished writing your novel, anthology or nonfiction book, stop reading now. Bookmark this page and come back once you’ve completed writing it. We’ll see in a few days!

If you’ve finished writing your manuscript, congratulations (and welcome back all of you who stopped reading this book a few days ago and have just finished writing your book)! Now the bad news: A completed manuscript doesn’t just mean that you’ve got a book ready to be self-published. There’s a lot more to it than that.

First, the manuscript ought to be professionally proofread and edited. Even the best writers need someone looking over their work to find stray typos and to ensure that the sentences and the book’s organization makes sense (Full disclosure here: I run such an editing service.). Writers often get so close to their work that they don’t realize they’ve made some oversight or that they’re rambling in a section. A good editor will advise you of this and help you determine a solution to many other problems, from plotting to logically organizing your ideas.

Secondly, you must have ready all of the sections of the book that you need before uploading it to a self-publishing site. Among those often overlooked sections are:
• Cover page – Also known in the industry as the half title page, this is the page that readers first open to and see the book’s title in large letters as well as the author’s name and publisher.
• Title page – Turn a page and you’ll find in small print the book’s copyright, information about the publisher, the book’s ISBN and probably a notice saying parts of the book can’t be reproduced without permission or that the characters in it are wholly fictional.
• Acknowledgements and dedication – The next couple of pages probably give a list of people who the author is appreciative to for help in writing this book (aka “acknowledgements”) and a person or two who the book is written in honor of (aka “dedication”).
• Table of contents – A few more pages list all of the section and chapter titles in the book and on what pages they appear (or in the case of ebooks, links to those sections and chapters). A novel probably doesn’t need a table of contents, but a nonfiction book absolutely does.
• Index – After the book’s main text comes a few pages listing key words and concepts and what pages they appeared on in the book. As with the table of contents, an index isn’t needed in a novel, but a nonfiction book demands it.
• Author’s bio – While not necessary, many readers like to know a little about who wrote the book: what makes them an expert on the subject, if they’ve published other books, where they live, etc.

Finally, your manuscript needs to be formatted. That means it appears on your computer screen exactly as it will be printed. That involves fitting the text within the margins of the book’s trim size (the book’s dimensions), that the text is in the correct typeface and point size, and that the page numbers are included, and more. We’ll also discuss formatting the book in upcoming entries.

Completing all of this is essential before starting to upload your manuscript to a self-publishing house. If it’s not done, your book either will look unprofessional or you run the risk of spending money to resubmit your manuscript because you must go back and complete all of this work.

As novelist Steven S. Sharp, author of “Life’s Hurdles & The True Winner,” advises, “Get your story written, and have fun with it before you delve too far into the business side of things. It can be distracting.”

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Springfield, Massachusetts, or a small town like Burnt Corn, Alabama, I can provide that second eye.



Don't trust spellcheck, a junior high-aged editor

So you’ve Spelling-998350_960_720got your story typed in manuscript form and are about to send it out. You decide to do one more spell check before printing the final copy. Good idea, right?

Wrong.

If you don’t feel confident that your manuscript is as perfect as can be, you should print it and make one more read of it. Don’t leave your manuscript’s quality up to the computer spell check.

Instead, learn to distrust the spell check.

Spell checks certainly are improving, and the dynamic spell check on current word processing programs are excellent tools. A spell check, however, should not be the sole method you use to edit your manuscript.

Here are some common problems with spell check:
• Homonyms - These are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, such as there, their and they’re. The different spellings have different meanings, and spell checks often can’t tell the difference.
• Machine gun checking - Because spell checks have limited dictionaries, they tend to flag words that are spelled correctly. Writers often fire rapidly through these words. The result is that some misspelled words are missed.
• Misspelled words can pass - If you misspell a word in such a way that it becomes two correctly spelled words, such as “miss steaks” when you meant “mistakes”, or simply mistype one letter so that it becomes a new word, such as “advise” when you meant “advice”, the spell check won’t catch it.

This is not to say you shouldn’t use your spell check. It is like having a second pair of eyes on your story. But the brain behind those eyes isn’t particularly smart. You wouldn’t be satisfied with letting a junior high student be the only one to edit your manuscript - so why would you put all of your faith in a spell check?

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Wichita, Kansas, or a small town like Bird In Hand, Pennsylvania, I can provide that second eye.



Add reaction shots to heighten dramatic tension

Description in your Reaction shot stories shouldn’t be limited to landscapes and introductions of characters. While most description in a story will be devoted to those purposes, there are other times when a single phrase or line of description can be inserted amid action and dialogue with great effectiveness.

One such insertion is known as a “reaction shot.” A term commonly used in science fiction workshops and critiques, a reaction shot is a cut away from the narrative to show a character’s emotional response. Consider this example from Benjamin Rosenbaum and David Ackert’s short story “Stray”:

“You smoke?”

Ivan blinked up at him. What was this? “I have,” he said.

The description of Ivan blinking up at the speaker is an example of a reaction shot. It provides insight into Ian’s character by showing his surprise that another would treat him in a friendly manner.

Such cutaways are natural to readers of today, primarily because we see it all the time in movies and television programs. Indeed, the term comes from the filming industry.

When utilizing a reaction shot, be sure to follow a couple of guidelines. First, the character cut away to is the main character. It’s his emotional responses and insights into his personality that most interest readers. Secondly, don’t cut away to an obvious emotional reaction, such as laughing at a joke. If you do, you risk slowing the story. Be selective with reaction shots, using them to further the dramatic tension.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Boise, Idaho, or a small town like Cut n' Shoot, Texas, I can provide that second eye.



Start story with event that upsets status quo

Often 362the opening of a story involves some incident that upsets the status quo. In doing so, the main character faces the challenge of restoring order in the world.

This incident is known as an “out-of-whack event,” which is “when the story concerns a character who stable life is knocked out of whack by an external event,” as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., defines it.

Consider this example of a story opener that employs an out-of-whack event:

Peter Hanswurst sniffed indignantly. A gray circle of withered plants lay in the middle of his field, an otherwise perfect patch of green soybeans alternating with black dirt that ran into the horizon. The hot Midwestern sun beat down on him, and he wiped sweat from his forehead. Hanswurst figured the circle was no more six feet across, a miniscule fraction of the entire field, and one he decided that was small enough to eradicate.

In this story, farmer Peter Hanswurst finds his world out-of-whack: a strange circle of dead plants sits in the middle of his otherwise perfect field. He now will spend the story trying to rid the field of the circle – and face a number of obstacles in doing so.

Starting a story with an out-of-whack event is a time-honored tradition in Western storytelling. Indeed, Aristotle touted it.

Usually the out-of-whack event happens at the story’s beginning. Sometimes it even occurs before the story begins, as the tale starts with the main character already engaged in the struggle to get his life back in order. If the excerpt above started with Peter Hanswurst plowing under the dead plants in the gray circle, the out-of-whack event would have occurred before the story began.

If using an out-of-whack event, don’t wait too long to introduce the incident. If you do, you risk having the story move too slowly and missing out on a great opportunity for a narrative hook.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Syracuse, New York, or a small town like Hicks, Alabama, I can provide that second eye.


Should you use a pen name for your book?

Your name 240_F_123107505_sp6rQGWV1DqHIihQujmYoBldyKob4Cvmwill appear all over your book – the cover, the title pages, the preface, the author’s bio, probably on a at least half of the book’s main text. So before you actually start putting the book together, you might want consider taking up a pen name.

There are several advantages and disadvantages of having a pen name.

Among the advantages are:
• Cooler, catchier name than your own – If your name is difficult to remember or spell or if it sounds silly or obscene, then a pen name might be right for you.
• Your name already is in use – Perhaps someone famous already has the same name (or a similar sounding one) as you. To create your own identity, you’ll want to come up with your own name.
• Allows you to write books you wouldn’t normally be associated with – For example, romance books sell better if written by a female, and the same is true of westerns written by men. That doesn’t mean a man can’t write a good romance or that a woman can’t pen a great western, but there does seem to be a bias among readers.
• Branding – If you plan to write a series of books about outdoors activities and also publish mystery novels, selecting a pen name for one of the series will help create a more unique sense of who you are as a writer.
• Conceal your identity for business purposes – Say you’ve created your own publishing company but also are an author (er, the only author?) that this company publishes. This can make getting publicity difficult.
• Privacy – You may simply have no desire for people to know who you are as you despise being bothered by the press and nosy family members who think you’re now rich that you’ve published a book.

Likewise, there are several disadvantages to a pen name:
• Nobody knows you are – You wanted to be famous author, right? Most people at your high school class reunion won’t realize that you’ve succeeded if you’re using a pen name (I know, this is vanity).
• No credit for what you’ve written – Readers and critics alike typically won’t recognize you for the breadth of your talent if you publish some of your books under a pen name.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Nashville, Tennessee, or a small town like Turkey Creek, Louisiana, I can provide that second eye.



Five great quotations about writing

“We do Pexels-photo-210661 (1) not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” – W. Somerset Maugham

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.” – Isaac Asimov

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair, the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” – Stephen King, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” – James Michener

“Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains; God composes, why shouldn't we?” – Terri Guillemets

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Oakland, California, or a small town like Goobertown, Arkansas, I can provide that second eye.



Tweet your self-published book to popularity

One of Twitter-117595_640the best ways to connect with readers who might be interested in reading your book is through Twitter. The idea of Twitter is to send out brief 280-character messages, known as “tweets,” to all who become your “followers.”

The first step is setting up a Twitter site. That’s easy enough to do, but you’ll then have to decide the site’s name, the picture or avatar that accompanies you tweets, and what your background looks like.

You want to keep the Twitter site’s name as close as possible to your website’s name, though that’s not always possible as your book’s title may be too long to fit into a Twitter name; if so, abbreviate and come as close as can. There’s a spot under your site’s name where you can explain that visitors are at the official Twitter site for your book.

The avatar should be of the book’s cover. If you’ve written several books in a series, you might use the series’ logo (if you have one) or a picture of yourself.

The background can be plain, but if you’ve got a clever idea that will help make your page look more attractive, go for it. Just make sure the colors in your background work well with your book cover.

The next challenge is to start tweeting. You can tweet the exact some topics that you might write a blog about, such as upcoming book signings/readings, when the book appears in newspaper or magazine articles, expert tips/advice you might give, and so on. Because of the similarities, I simply tweet my daily blog entry when promoting my boooks. The blog entry’s title and URL appear in each tweet. For example, the blog entry “How to avoid and treat altitude sickness” would be tweeted as:

How to avoid and treat altitude sickness: http://hikeswithtykes.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-to-avoid-and-treat-altitude.html

You also might retweet other entries that would be interesting to your readers. A retweet is tweeting a tweet that someone else already has tweeted (confused yet?). For example, if you’re a science fiction author specializing in space opera, and astronomers discover a new exoplanet, you might retweet an article about it that you saw on your favorite news website. Be careful of retweeting competitor’s work, though. Remember, you’re using Twitter to sell your book, not theirs.

The best time to tweet, according to studies, is between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Pacific Time. That’s when the largest percentage of Twitter users are online. Since Twitter users go to the site at different times of the day and often are inundated with tweets, there’s nothing wrong with retweeting your original tweet at another time. More than one tweet per hour, however, probably is overdoing it.

Finally, your tweets will simply end up in Twitter oblivion if you don’t tackle the next challenge with gusto: Finding followers. All followers receive your tweet. Begin finding followers by stating on your blog and other social media efforts that you have a Twitter site. Then, start following other people who tweet, especially those with topics and interests similar to your own. To find followers for my hiking site, I daily type “hiking kids” and “hiking children” into the Twitter site’s search engine. When other tweets with those words pop up, I follow the person who tweeted it. Ultimately, a few of those you follow will in appreciation follow you. Your tweets then will appear on their Twitter page – and in that way those who follow your followers will be introduced to your book.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like San Jose, California, or a small town like Boar Tush, Alabama, I can provide that second eye.


Computer requirements for self-publishing

We’ve previously 535960_10152687081340216_2787580159391216539_n noted that to self-publish you’ll need a computer with an Internet connection. But that’s sort of like saying you need a car to move across the country. True enough, a car alone will get you there, but what if want to haul three bedrooms worth of furniture with you? A car then isn’t sufficient to the task.

For hardware requirements, virtually any laptop or desktop made during the past four or five years will be adequate. Mac or PC is irrelevant. The more of the self-publishing process you wish to do on your own, though, the more memory you’ll need to run the software on your computer. As for an Internet connection, a high-speed connection is best. Old-style dial ups will work, but you run the risk of crashing and having to resend files, which can be a real headache.

For software, you should ensure that you have a program for:
 Word processing – This allows you to type, edit and store your manuscript. Microsoft Word (available in Microsoft Office packages) is most commonly used.
 Manipulating photographs – Most computers come with some photo-oriented program, but you’ll probably need something more than what usually is on a Windows system. Adobe Photoshop is most widely used; the program can be expensive, though, so if you know of somebody who already has it, see if they will help you out by doing a little work for you. You also can use it free on a trial basis, usually for 14-30 days.
 Making pdfs – This may not be necessary depending on the self-publishing house you go with, but odds are that you’ll need it. Typically your Word manuscript, cover designs and photos must be uploaded as pdfs. Adobe Acrobat, which is standard on Windows, allows you to see and manipulate pdfs.
 Designing books – As with Adobe Acrobat, you won’t need a design program unless you plan to create picture books or a series of books. Microsoft Word can be used to format (placing text within margins and adding page numbers) simple, text-heavy books, such as novels. Microsoft Word, however, is an extremely difficult and frustrating program in which to format, and unless you’re willing to put in the time, your book will look amateurish. Adobe InDesign is the prevailing design program.

Of course, obtaining each of these programs requires that you gain some proficiency in using them. Believe it or not, you’re probably already familiar enough with Word and Adobe Acrobat to use them for self-publishing. Photoshop will require a small learning curve, and InDesign can take a few days to learn just the rudiments of. On the plus side, if you own and know how to use each of these programs, you could begin an independent business formatting self-published books for writers!

Alternatively, you can pay others – either freelance contractors or the self-publishing house itself – to handle the formatting of this for you so that all you need is Word. If you plan to publish just one book, this probably is the more cost-effective option. If you plan to publish several books, seriously consider investing in the above software or their equivalents.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Indianapolis, Indiana, or a small town like Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, I can provide that second eye.


Sound writing advice on advisor vs. adviser

Frequently 13240501_10153419495480216_3341474503210158617_nmy writing clients ask me which form of these words is correct. The good news is they may use either “advisor” or “adviser” … they’re synonyms that both mean “to counsel.” I must admit, though, that I was taught to use “adviser” by both my high school English teachers and my college journalism instructors, but apparently none of them ever attended Purdue University (or a handful of other institutions of higher learning) where “advisor” is the official spelling in job titles and “advisor” appears as the official spelling in their guidebooks. Regardless of which version you use, the best advice is to be consistent and stick to only one spelling throughout your piece.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like San Jose, California, or a small town like Boar Tush, Alabama, I can provide that second eye.


'Show, don’t tell' when writing fiction

Perhaps 240_F_102558630_taETAICPcIa9UIsnsxwOIxztRurErT4athe most common mistake among novice writers is that tell rather show.

To “tell” what happens is to state it directly, as might occur in a newspaper article. For example:

Lambert was excited to see another boot print.

To “show” what happens, however, is to present the events without being told directly how one feels or reacts. The above example of “telling” could be rewritten to show Lambert’s excitement:

“There’s another one!” Lambert said, pointing at the boot print.

The “show” example is far more dynamic writing. It helps create for the reader a sense of illusion that he is in the story, observing and even participating in the action. This helps generate dynamic tension and causes the reader to invest more in the character.

As a fiction writer, you’ll want virtually all of your sentences to show rather than tell. There a few instances when the author needs to “tell” – such as quickly providing a back story or to make dialogue sound realistic – but such occurrences should be rare.

As writing, look for words such as “was” “were” “is” “be” and “being”. These words usually indicate you’re telling rather than showing. Also, watch for nouns that are emotions, such as “angry”, “sad”, “happy”. Such words usually mean you’re telling rather showing. Rewrite those sentences so that you’re describing the action.

Showing rather than telling can be hard work for writers. Finding just the right words to describe how someone is excited or angry requires more thinking about the scene. But it’s well worth the slowdown and the sweat. You’ll have a much better story – and one that’s much more publishable as well.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like New York, New York, or a small town like Bantam, Connecticut, I can provide that second eye.