Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Finding the Best Way to Write

Finding the Best Way to Write

Finding the Best Way to Write with Michael LaRocca

I read voraciously, a habit I recommend to any author who doesn’t already have it. You’ll subconsciously pick up on what does and doesn’t work. Characterization, dialogue, pacing, plot, story, setting, description, etc. But more importantly, someone who doesn’t enjoy reading will never write something that someone else will enjoy reading.

I don’t write ‘for the market.’ I know I can’t, so I just write for me and then try to find readers who like what I like. I’m not trying to whip up the next bestseller and get rich. Not that I’d complain. Nope, I have to write what’s in my heart, then go find a market later. It makes marketing a challenge at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When you write, be a dreamer. Go nuts. Know that you’re writing pure gold. That fire is why we write.

An author who I truly admire, Kurt Vonnegut, sweats out each individual sentence. He writes it, rewrites it, and doesn’t leave it alone until it’s perfect. Then when he’s done, he’s done.

I doubt most of write like that. I don’t. I let it fly as fast as my fingers can move across the paper or keyboard, rushing to capture my ideas before they get away. Later, I change and shuffle and slice.

James Michener claims that he writes the last sentence first, then has his goal before him as he writes his way to it.

Then there’s me. No outline whatsoever. I create characters and conflict, spending days and weeks on that task, until the first chapter really leaves me wondering ‘How will this end?’ Then my characters take over, and I’m as surprised as the reader when I finish my story.

Some authors set aside a certain number of hours every day for writing, or a certain number of words. In short, a writing schedule.

Then there’s me. No writing for three or six months, then a flurry of activity where I forget to eat, sleep, bathe, change the cat’s litter… I’m a walking stereotype. To assuage the guilt, I tell myself that my unconscious is hard at work. As Hemingway would say, long periods of thinking and short periods of writing.

I’ve shown you the extremes in writing styles. I think most authors fall in the middle somewhere. But my point is, find out what works for you. You can read about how other writers do it, and if that works for you, great. But in the end, find your own way. That’s what writers do.

Just don’t do it halfway.

If you’re doing what I do, writing a story that entertains and moves you, then you will find readers who share your tastes. For some of us that means a niche market and for others it means regular appearances on the bestseller list.

Writing is a calling, but publishing is a business. Remember that AFTER you’ve written your manuscript. Not during.

=====

I’ve been paid to edit since 1991 and still love it, which has made people question my sanity, but they were doing that before I started editing. I got serious about my writing in 1978. Although I’ve retired more times than Brett Favre, I’m revising my 19th book. Learn more about me at MichaelEdits.com.

© Michael LaRocca 2019



Learning How To Write with Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

As a student of Spanish, my goal was to think in Spanish. Skip the word-by-word translation so I’d have the necessary speed to speak and listen. I know words in Spanish that I’d be hard pressed to translate. Usually profanity, I confess. Chingow!

For years my students here in China have studied grammar, and know it better than you or I. They read. They write. But speaking involves moving faster than that. In conversation, we don’t have time to write it first and make sure it’s all grammatically flawless, then read it aloud, perhaps after a bit of rehearsal.

So, I try to give them a chance to practice putting words together on the fly, rules be damned. The rules they’ve internalized will kick in and keep them comprehensible, which will build their confidence in their ability to keep creating conversation that way.

This is not unlike what we go through as authors. First we study rulebooks, perhaps take some classes, and conclude just about everything we’re is doing is wrong. So many rules to memorize. We might dread sitting down to write with all those constraints.

But really, it’s not about memorizing rules at all. It’s about internalizing the rules, following them (or not if you prefer) without being consciously aware of what they are. They’re there, but in the background.

The story’s what matters. You’re supposed to be having fun, not “working.” At least not during the creation phase.

We don’t always take the time to say, “I’ve written ten active sentences in a row so maybe I’ll whip in a passive one now” or “I need a beat for every X lines of dialogue.” I published four novels and edited dozens more before I learned what a beat was. (It’s a pause so the reader can catch his/her breath.)

And, of course, since it is writing and not speaking, we can always go back and revise later. Then rely on editors to catch what we missed, or at least make us wonder why we wrote it this way instead of that way.

Some authors aren’t even consciously aware of “the rules.” They’ve never taken a class, never read a book about writing. They’re simply avid readers who one day decided to write. But they’ve internalized the rules. It comes from reading.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you want to write, you must read. If you don’t like reading, maybe writing isn’t for you. It’s not about writing because you want to say, “I am a writer.” It’s about writing because you enjoy writing.

And, it’s really nice when you’ve been writing for a long time to go back and read a book about how to write. You might find one or two things to tweak in your technique, as opposed to a daunting laundry list of flaws. It’s much easier to internalize one or two new rules than 50 or 100.

=====

I’ve been paid to edit since 1991 and still love it, which has made people question my sanity, but they were doing that before I started editing. I got serious about my writing in 1978. Although I’ve retired more times than Brett Favre, I’m writing my 19th book. Learn more about me at MichaelEdits.com.

© Michael LaRocca 2019

Michael LaRocca Talks Writer School?

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

Michael LaRocca Talks Writer School?

Here’s something from my mailbag. “Dear Michael, do you need to do good in school if you want to be a writer? I stink at school and all my friends laugh at me when I tell them I want to write, but I’m serious.” Followed by a sentence or two of “I need your words to encourage me” or some such nonsense.

Fortunately, a writing sample is rarely attached. If it is, either it’s excellent or it stinks like rancid yak butter.

Do you have to be good in school? Given what’s passing for English in some places, I’d certainly like to see more effort given to school. If you’re a student reading this, please try to learn something while you can.

If you aspire to be an author and you did poorly in school, or if you’re just plain uneducated, don’t let it stop you. What we do as authors isn’t taught in school. They teach grammar, and bless them. I can’t teach that subject. If you’re very fortunate, you’ll stumble across some teachers who teach you how to think. But thinking is the beginning of writing, not the end, and grammar can be fixed later if you find some long-suffering editor who’s willing to do it.

In other words, school can help you with the first step or two of your journey to becoming an author. Considering how many steps come after those, don’t be discouraged by test results and report cards.

To distill what you think, feel and believe from all the trash floating around in your head, and then to actually put that on paper the way you mean to put it, is a skill that only comes from years of practice. They don’t teach it in school. At least, no school I’ve ever attended.

Also, remember that you can never learn how to write books. You can only learn how to write the book that you are currently writing.

Our emailer then mentions that her friends laugh at her when she tells them she intends to write. Why does she care? I’ve lost count of how many projects I’ve undertaken despite criticism. Not just writing, either. Life. But let me narrow my focus so I can end this rant.

I shouldn’t have to tell you why you write. You don’t need my vindication or anyone else’s. If those who haven’t even read your work can discourage you, maybe you should give up. Or leave it all in a file cabinet somewhere for people to find after you die.

But I can tell you this. If you’ll let something as silly as your grades in school stop you from even beginning to write in the first place, nothing you have to write is worth finding after you die. And if you’re angry at me for saying it, good. Prove me wrong. Write a book.

=====

I’ve been paid to edit since 1991 and still love it, which has made people question my sanity, but they were doing that before I started editing. I got serious about my writing in 1978. Although I’ve retired more times than Brett Favre, I’m writing my 19th book. Learn more about me at MichaelEdits.com.

© Michael LaRocca 2019

Car Horns

{Author’s Note: I wrote this piece called Car Horns in 2005. I live in North Carolina now. One day I’ll write about turn signals.}

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

Car Horns by Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

Let’s pretend that you live in China. Let’s also pretend that, unlike me, you own a car. A Volkswagen Santana, of course. Who do you honk the horn at?

Well, you honk at everyone who’s in your way, and who you think is in your way, and who you are passing, and who you think is trying to pass you. Every bicycle needs a honk in case the driver can’t see you. Every pedestrian, most definitely, because they’re not looking at anything except their feet as they float out in front of you, or the text messages they’re sending on their cell phones.

Every car does this, and the roads become a constant cacophony of car horns. The noise is such that everybody tunes it out in order to function, so the horns are pointless. Nobody is listening to the horns. Some of us wear MP3 players cranked up to full volume specifically to block the noise, which is why we’re deaf. But honking is a habit the Chinese driver can’t break. It’s like breathing.

Okay, now here comes a legitimate reason to honk the horn, an emergency, perhaps some fool walking right in front of your car. What do you do? Flick the headlights. Just how stupid is that? If he can’t hear your horn, he sure can’t hear your headlights. Of course he can’t see your headlights, because he’s not looking at you. That’s what caused the crisis in the first place. Plus, it’s daytime. Nobody can see headlights in the daytime when he’s facing the other direction.

I offer this little tale for authors who wonder why I prefer understatement. Exclamation points and superlatives are your car horns. Save them until you actually need them.

{Author’s Note 2: I gave this to one of my Advanced English Writing classes in China. They weren’t offended. Hey, it never hurts to check. Beep beep!}

=======

I’ve been paid to edit since 1991 and still love it, which has made people question my sanity, but they were doing that before I started editing. I got serious about my writing in 1978. Although I’ve retired more times than Brett Favre, I’m writing my 19th book. Learn more about me at MichaelEdits.com.

© Michael LaRocca 2018

Guest Bloggers Wanted

Guest bloggers wanted for the PPG Publisher’s Blog! If you have truly helpful advice to share with aspiring and established authors, we’ll consider it. Here are our guidelines.

Guest Bloggers Wanted

Guest Bloggers Wanted

Guest Bloggers Wanted to Inspire Budding Authors

There is already plenty of guidance out there (and on this blog) that warns authors about the possible difficulties they may experience during their book publishing journeys. This type of advice has value, for sure. But your guest post should be inspirational rather than cautionary.

Do you have a success story of your own to share? If you landed on a bestseller list, which one was it? Did you sell more copies of your book than expected? Did you receive some great book reviews from your fans? How did you do it? Share your inspirational advice with others so they can learn how to achieve the same. Show them the wonderful possibilities that will help them keep themselves inspired.

Guest Bloggers Wanted to Educate Indie Authors

Some authors prefer to start with self-publishing and build a solid fan base before approaching trade publishers to take on their books. This way, they’re more likely to sign a traditional publishing deal.

Others prefer to remain independent. Once they see how much success they can have on their own, why share their profits by handing over the reins to someone else?

What tips do you have for these indie authors? Where can they find the best book cover design templates for free? How can they convert their manuscripts into .EPUB and .MOBI ebook files for publishing on Kobo and Amazon? Do you have any helpful book printing tips for paperbacks or hardcovers?

What advice do you have that will make life easier for indie authors everywhere? Share it here so you can help them to self-publish more easily.

Guest Bloggers Wanted to Share Writing Tips

The purpose of this blog is to provide free tips that help aspiring and established authors with every aspect of the book publishing process from conception to publication. Writing. Graphic design. Editing. Proofreading. Indexing. Publishing. Printing. Sales. Marketing.

Since I’m a TESOL-certified sales coach for authors, my blog already contains lots of post-publication content regarding book sales and marketing. More pre-publication advice, specifically tailored toward helping writers complete their manuscripts, is also very welcome here. (Click here to view examples of past writing-related posts.)

How Do You Submit Your Original Content for Consideration?

If you have a guest post that meets all our criteria, please contact us here to tell us more about it. If we like the idea, we’ll ask you to email it to us in Microsoft Word format.

To keep the flow of information open and easy for everyone involved, there aren’t any hard and fast deadlines to meet nor specific word counts that must be met. We ask only that your guest post contains more than 300 words. And it must be original content that has never been posted online anywhere else.

Please provide an author photo along with your post. To ensure all guest bloggers receive as much value from this experience as our subscribers do, you are free to promote your own books/websites/projects here. Place links and information of this variety within an author bio at the bottom of your post.

Can You Re-post This Content Elsewhere Online?

You will remain the copyright owner of your guest post on the PPG Publisher’s Blog. However, to protect the SEO of both this blog and your content, please refrain from reposting it anywhere else within 60 days of it being posted here. If/when you do share it elsewhere, you must attribute the original source by including the following message at the top or bottom of your re-post:

This post first appeared on the PPG Publisher’s Blog:
insert direct link to the original post here. It has been republished here with permission.

Why do you want to refrain from re-posting it anywhere else within 60 days of it being posted here? And why do you want to include that notice on your re-post? There is a very good reason that will protect your own blog’s ranking on search engines such as Google. The below article provides important details. Make sure you read it before guest-posting or sharing anyone else’s content on your own blog.

Related reading: How Content Syndication Can Help Authors Sell More Books (An Excerpt)

* * *     * * *     * * *

As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2018 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.



Proofs and Three Parables by George Steiner

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

The Wikipedia entry on proofreading includes four works of fiction in which one of the characters is a proofreader. The novella Proofs and Three Parables is one of them. The professore is one of the more memorable protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. His skill as a proofreader is unrivaled. No mistake escapes him, however tiny, in the most trivial printing jobs. His eyesight has been damaged by years of exacting work, exacerbated by self-neglect, and he may be going blind.

Alas, this is a subplot.

The novella deals mainly with the fall of Communism. It’s the most readable thing I’ve seen on the topic, brief yet illuminating, simple without being simplistic, not as boring as I’m making it sound. The author is also passionately concerned with the tradition, culture, and fate of Judaism.

But I’d rather dwell on the professore’s character as a proofreader because, well, you do know what I do, right?

Now the burn seemed to smart behind his eyes.

Thirty years and more a master of his craft. The quickest, most accurate of proof-readers and correctors in the whole city, perhaps in the province. Working every night, and throughout the night. So that the legal records, deeds of sale, notifications of public finance, contracts, quotations on the bourse, would appear in the morning, flawless, exact to the decimal point. He had not rival in the arts of scruple. They gave him the smallest print to check, the longest columns of figures to justify, the interminable catalogues of lost and found to be auctioned for the post-office and public transport. His proof-readings of the bi-annual telephone directory, of electoral and census rolls, of municipal minutes, were legend. Printing works, the public record office, the courts of law vied for his labours.

But now the sensation of burning, just behind his eyes, felt sharper.

With an opening like that, the reader must read on. I know I did.

(For the record, I’ve only been editing for 28 years, and I use Word to zoom in on small fonts all the time. No phone books, but I’ve done some awesome work with sales catalogs.)

He hated litter. Waste paper struck him as the very waste of waste. At times, if the winds blew a piece towards his feet, he would pick it up, smooth it, read closely and make any correction needed. Then he would deposit it in the garbage receptacle, feeling obscurely rewarded and saddened. Any witness to this rite would have thought him deranged.

I’ve never done this, even though I do pick up litter. The professore is “a man whose obsessive scruple in respect of the minutiae of print, whose bristling distaste in the face of the approximate and the loosely mistaken, were magisterial and pedantic to a degree.” He’s also the kind of man I’d debate the Oxford comma with, but I fear I’d lose in the face of his stamina.

Since I mentioned Judaism, let me quote the professore.

Do you know what the Kabbala teaches? That the sum total of the evil and miseries of mankind arose when a lazy or incompetent scribe misheard, took down erroneously, a single letter, one single solitary letter, in Holy Writ. Every horror since has come on us through and because of that one erratum.

When his replacement replies that proofreading a hand-bill for an auction of used farm implements and manure sacks isn’t important enough to demand perfection, the professore disagrees.

It is just here that it matters more than ever before. To act otherwise is utter contempt. Contempt for those who cannot afford to look at a fine book, at quality paper or crafted type. Contempt for those who have a right under God, yes, under God, to have a flawless hand-bill, also for a sale of manure! It is just for those who live in rural holes, in slums, that we should do the best work. So that some spark of perfection will enter their wretched days. Can’t you understand, how much contempt there is in a false accent or a misplaced serif? As if you spat at another human being.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2018



Hiring a Fiction Editor, Part Two

Marnie Lamb

2. Set a budget.

Hiring a professional editor is expensive. As with hiring a professional contractor, working with an editor will cost at least a few hundred dollars and possibly up to several thousand, depending on the service and the amount of work your manuscript requires.

Some editors charge a flat, per-job rate. One benefit of this approach is that both editor and writer know exactly how much the job will cost from the outset. However, from an editor’s perspective, a flat rate can be problematic because it requires her to estimate the time involved in editing a manuscript, including time for administrative duties. Even for experienced editors, estimating is an imprecise science, particularly if the editor and writer have never previously worked together. To guard against over- or underestimating, some editors present a range of fees, with a minimum and maximum.

Other editors bill by an hourly rate. This is often easier for the editor because it saves him the conundrum of estimating. Yet for the author, an hourly rate can be risky because the ceiling price is unknown. You can try to negotiate for a flat rate instead, but be aware that some editors won’t agree to a per-job rate. I once had an editor tell me that she didn’t believe in flat rates. Her perspective was that her time was worth a certain amount per hour, which is completely valid.

So what are the average hourly rates charged by editors? On its website, the Editorial Freelancers Association in the United States provides a chart of common rates. Copy editing starts at a rate of US$30 per hour, substantive editing at US$40 per hour (see https://www.the-efa.org/rates/). Editors Canada does not publish suggested rates, but I can share anecdotally that most Canadian editors will charge rates comparable to those of their American colleagues.

Two points mentioned in part one of this article are relevant here: First, a manuscript page is usually defined as 250 words (though for proofreading, this number is closer to 400 or 500 because a formatted page will be single spaced). Second, Amy Einsohn generalizes that copy editors work at a pace of anywhere from one to nine pages per hour; Editors Canada estimates the editing pace for structural or stylistic editing at one to three pages per hour (see https://www.editors.ca/content/what-do-editors-charge). If you multiply the number of hours needed to edit the manuscript times the hourly rate… well, you can do the math. Flat rates won’t necessarily be cheaper because they are based on the editor’s hourly rate times the number of hours that she thinks the job will require.

Don’t forget about tax. Like hairdressing or repairing cars, editing is a service for which practitioners can charge tax. In Canada, once an editor has earned an annual total of C$30,000 per year from his editing business, he must register with the federal government to obtain an HST number. Thereafter, he is required to charge tax for his editing services. Some editors choose to apply for an HST number even before they’ve hit the minimum threshold of earnings. In Canada, a Canadian editor working with a Canadian author will charge federal tax based on the province in which the author resides. Hence, an Ontario-based editor will charge 5% tax (GST) to an author who lives in British Columbia but 13% tax (HST) to one who lives in Ontario.

As you can see, a budget of $400 will not suffice in most cases. Unless your manuscript is short, has already been through a critique and several substantive edits, and requires only a light copy edit, which is not the case for 99% of manuscripts, you’re better off spending that $400 on a writing course or a writing coach.

3. Research editors with whom you might want to work.

Researching an editor’s specialties and contacting only editors whose skills and interests match your needs saves time for both writer and editor.

An excellent way to find editors is by using the free Online Directory of Editors (ODE) from Editors Canada (https://www.editors.ca/ode/search). (In the United States, the Editorial Freelancers Association has a similar directory.) The ODE lists each registrant’s editorial skills (e.g., copy editing), media or genre of specialty (e.g., fiction), and subject fields in which she has worked (e.g., family). You can choose from a drop-down menu in any or all of these three areas or type keywords into a general search bar. One word of caution: Searching for a skill, media, and subject field all at once will show you editors who have experience in all these areas but who don’t necessarily have experience in the intersection of these areas. That is, editors who come up in a search for “copy editing,” “fiction,” and “family” may not necessarily have copy edited fiction manuscripts about families.




Therefore, it’s wise to conduct further research by reading the profile statements and looking at the websites of editors who pop up in search results. For example, my ODE entry includes substantive editing as a skill. I have experience substantive editing journal articles, grant applications, and resumes. While I enjoy this type of editing in certain contexts, I’ve chosen other editorial services as the focal points of my business. My website showcases these services, including manuscript evaluation and copy editing. If you’re seeking substantive editing for your manuscript, contacting an editor who lists experience in “substantive editing” and “fiction” is completely fair. But because those terms are likely to yield dozens of potential candidates, digging into the backgrounds of some candidates should help you narrow down the list to those editors who are the closest matches.

If you’re interested in hiring an editor to undertake multiple types of editing, as some self-publishing authors are, then be sure to look for editors who can handle all the kinds of editing you need (e.g., structural editing, stylistic editing, and copy editing).

While you’re digging into an editor’s background, double check whether his ODE entry and website contain spelling or grammatical errors (surprisingly, I’ve found a few). Also consider how long the editor has been in business and what sort of testimonials he has garnered.

When you’ve decided on a group of editors to whom you’d like to reach out, limit your first round of emails to no more than five or six people. Emailing thirty editors is tantamount to sending the same resume and cover letter to thirty employers: the broader the target, the less likely you are to hit the bullseye. If the first round of queries doesn’t yield a hire, embark on a second round, again of only a few people.

4. Craft a detailed introductory email and prepare a sample from your manuscript.

Write a detailed, courteous (see point five) email introducing yourself and your manuscript and answering the questions I posed in part one of this article.

During the initial negotiations, an editor may request a short sample from your manuscript (perhaps ten pages) so that she can assess which type and level of editing are required and how long the job will take. Although you should have a sample available before contacting an editor, don’t send your sample when you first reach out to her. Don’t presume that an editor has the time or desire to read your manuscript. Remember that at this point, you’re only querying. You and the editor haven’t yet agreed to collaborate. Also, many people will not open unsolicited attachments from unknown individuals, and emails containing such attachments may end up in the receiver’s spam bucket.

If you have a deadline (e.g., you’re writing a family memoir and want it completed for a relative’s eightieth birthday), by all means share that with the editor and make it a parameter of your agreement. But in that case, plan ahead. Editors can’t necessarily accommodate a quick, urgent turnaround. The more experience an editor has, the more likely he is to be booked weeks or even months in advance. If you procrastinate and then want your manuscript edited immediately, you might get lucky and locate an editor who has the right credentials and is available right away. You might have to compromise by hiring someone whose experience and background are not exactly what you’d been seeking. Or you might have to jettison your original deadline to respect your chosen editor’s availability.

5. Be courteous in all your interactions and give each editor a final response.

Editors talk. We have associations with conferences, monthly meetings, and email discussion groups. Many of us are friends as well as colleagues. If you’re sending out a slew of emails that sound unprofessional, suspicious, or generic, editors might pass on this information to one another as a warning (e.g., “Has anyone else received an email from a guy looking for an editor for his 200,000-word manuscript on a rebellion by Martian dry cleaners?”). The greater the number of editors who are contacted, the less likely each particular editor is to be hired for the job. Hence, many editors don’t want to spend time responding to queries that sound as though they’ve been sent to dozens of other editors (failing to include the editor’s name in the salutation screams mass email). If your query falls into this category, you might find yourself receiving a lot of nos or no responses.

It’s astonishing how many people lack basic email etiquette. Often, I don’t receive a final response from writers who have queried me about editing their manuscripts. I’m fine with not being hired. The editing market in North America is a free one, and writers are at liberty to choose whomever they’d like to work with. Both writer and editor must be comfortable with their mutual arrangement. If a writer feels that I’m not the best match for her, then our working together is not a good idea. But I do get a bit grouchy when I’ve taken the time to correspond with and offer advice to a budding writer, only to have that person go silent and leave me dangling.

So regardless of whether you hire a particular editor, if you’ve corresponded with that person, be sure to thank her for her time and let her know your decision. Editors are busy professionals, and any time spent corresponding with you may not be billable even if the editor is hired and is definitely not billable if she isn’t. So be grateful that you’re getting free advice and respond accordingly.

6. Recognize what an editor can—and cannot—do for you.

An editor can provide an honest, unbiased, professional assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript. An editor can offer practical suggestions for improving your manuscript. An editor can help you make your manuscript the best it can be.

Note the word “help”: the onus is still on you. An editor can provide an insightful manuscript critique, but if you choose to ignore parts of it, that may result in the manuscript not realizing its potential. Likewise, an editor can suggest edits to a manuscript, but you have the final say as to which ones you accept. Certainly, you should act on and accept only critiques and edits that make sense to you and with which you’re comfortable. But be aware that rejecting too many of the editor’s ideas defeats the purpose of having hired an editor in the first place.

An editor cannot guarantee that a traditional publisher or agent will accept your manuscript. While having an editor assist you is likely to increase your chances of getting published, it’s important to understand that an edited manuscript offers no promises. Many other considerations, mainly surrounding the marketability and potential sales of a book, come into play in a publisher or agent’s decision to accept a manuscript. Be suspicious of any editor who makes promises about your manuscript being published—unless he owns a publishing company and is telling you that he will publish the manuscript himself.




*************************************************************************

You may be thinking that hiring an editor seems like a lot of work. Perhaps, yet consider this: How many years of work did you put into your manuscript? Surely, your manuscript is as important to you as a kitchen renovation, so why not take the same amount of care in finding the right person to help you take your project to the next stage? Even if you plan to self-publish and don’t need to worry about polishing a manuscript to please a publisher, think of your readers. You have only a single chance at that all-important first impression. Do you want a weak structure, confused paragraphing, and multiple typos to be part of that impression?

Lest you think that all of this advice is coming from the perspective of an editor only, let me share a personal story. Ten years ago, I was a published short story author who had a book-length manuscript, a young adult novel. The manuscript had grown out of the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree in creative writing. I’d been shopping the manuscript around to publishers without success and wanted an honest, non-academic perspective on the story. After searching the ODE, I found an editor and hired him to conduct a manuscript evaluation. His enthusiastic feedback confirmed that my manuscript had value outside of an academic institution. The evaluation included a few suggestions for structural improvements, which I implemented myself.

Several years later, after having sent the manuscript to several more agents and publishers to no avail, I heard that my manuscript evaluator had started his own publishing company. Resubmitting my manuscript to him in the hopes that it would be published seemed like fate. Last spring, The History of Hilary Hambrushina was published, after an eighteen-year journey from academic thesis to published book.

My story is proof that working with an editor can be a rewarding experience that ultimately results in success in finding a publisher. I hope that it will inspire you in your own publishing journey.

Happy editor finding!

© Marnie Lamb

Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2017. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, manuscript evaluation, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

Hiring a Fiction Editor, Part One

Marnie Lamb

As a freelance editor, I receive queries from aspiring authors seeking editing for their book-length fiction manuscript. Getting a book published, particularly with a traditional publisher (as opposed to a hybrid or self-publisher), is even harder now than it was a decade ago. More and more, publishers and agents are seeking polished manuscripts. If you’re an author, working with a professional editor can improve your chances of having your manuscript accepted for publication. However, simply requesting “editing” in your email query without further specification is similar to saying, “I want some renovation work done on my kitchen, but I don’t know what type of renovation I need or what my budget is.” Just as a kitchen can be renovated in many ways, a manuscript can be edited in many ways.

Many authors don’t have a strong sense of what occurs between a manuscript’s acceptance and its appearance on a bookstore’s shelves or website. And why should they? The publication process is not a basic subject of a secondary-school or university education. When I launched my editing career in earnest, I was a published short story writer with three university degrees in English literature. Yet until I began taking editing courses, I didn’t know the difference between a copy edit and a proofread. But having basic knowledge of the steps in the publication process, including the different types of editing and their order in the process, will serve you well if you’re contacting an editor. The more specific you are about what you want for your manuscript, the more an editor will be able to help you and the more likely you’ll be able to choose the right editor for the job.

Let’s look at a typical first email from a budding writer looking to hire a fiction editor: “Hi, I’ve just completed my first novel. It’s 100,000 words, and I’m looking to have it edited. What you do charge?”

Now let’s break down the problems with this email:

I: Who are you? What is your background as a writer? Do you have a degree or certificate in creative writing, or have you taken any courses in that area? Do you have publications or a website? Granted, many writers seeking editing are first-time authors without a lot of credentials or an author website. But providing even a few details about your writing background is a helpful clue to the editor about what type of editing you might need (e.g., “I’m a yet-to-be published author who has just completed the novel writing workshop at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies”).

My first novel: What are the title, subject, and genre? Whom do you envision as the audience? How would you summarize your story in a sentence or paragraph?

100,000 words: This is a good start, but word count is only one chapter in your manuscript’s story. What is your manuscript’s history: How many people have read it? Are they experienced writers or other professionals who regularly assess creative writing and who have no emotional connection to you, or are they your family and friends? How many drafts has it gone through?

Edited: What kind of editing are you seeking? What is your goal for your manuscript? Are you looking to self-publish it or submit it to a traditional publisher or an agent?

Charge: What is your budget? Do you have a deadline for completion of the editing?

As you can see, the initial email is vague. It doesn’t provide an editor with enough details for her to determine whether she’s even the right person for the job, let alone whether she’s interested in undertaking it. When I receive such emails, I respond requesting the missing details, particularly the type of editing that the writer is seeking. Many writers come back with quixotic ideas like “I want the prose to sing” or muddy direction such as “I want the book to be a good read.” But these statements don’t give an editor any sense of what the writer actually needs.




You don’t have to provide an editor with answers to all the questions I asked above, but you should at least be able to talk about your manuscript’s history and your goals for your manuscript. Teasing out such details is time consuming for everyone involved. So in the interests of saving time, frustration, and potentially miscommunication, here are some steps you should take if you’re considering hiring a fiction editor.

1. Determine which type of editing you need.

To return to the kitchen metaphor, let’s say that you’re selling your house and you want to update the kitchen (the manuscript) to entice potential buyers (publishers and agents). Each type of editing represents a different type of renovation. For a fiction manuscript, these are the potential types of editing, in the order in which they need to be completed.

Manuscript evaluation: A manuscript evaluation is a ten-to-fifteen-page critique of a book-length fiction manuscript. The critique focuses on areas such as plot, structure, characters, dialogue, setting, and writing technique and style. In our kitchen metaphor, a manuscript evaluation is the equivalent of a contractor, designer, or realtor looking over your kitchen and making a list of suggested improvements. That person doesn’t make the improvements. Rather, he itemizes what he thinks the kitchen needs and you decide which items to act on.

While not an absolutely necessary stage in the editing process, manuscript evaluation is highly useful for most writers. If you haven’t had your manuscript critiqued by an editor or writing instructor, taken a writing course, or been part of a writing group, I strongly recommend that you begin with a manuscript evaluation. Writing is like any other skill: it’s developed in part by having people critique your efforts. This critique is particularly valuable to those who haven’t studied the craft of writing, either formally or informally. Even if you have had a writing teacher or fellow participant in a workshop read your manuscript, obtaining a second (or third or tenth) opinion from a dispassionate source is wise. If nothing else, an evaluation will show you the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript, which will help you decide whether you want to proceed to the more costly and time-consuming steps that follow in the editing process.

In Canada, manuscript evaluation has standard rates. The Writer’s Union of Canada, which offers a manuscript evaluation service performed by anonymous reviewers, charges C$125 for the first ten pages of a manuscript (in publishing, a manuscript page is usually defined as 250 words) and then $2 for each subsequent page.

Structural or substantive editing: Structural editing refers to big-picture editing of both content and form. Structural editing is the equivalent of adding or removing walls, building an extension, and reinforcing floors. Unlike manuscript evaluation, structural editing addresses all structural problems, rather than merely pointing to the biggest ones. Once your manuscript has been evaluated, it will most likely need at least some structural editing. Alternatively, you may decide to skip the evaluation and instead hire someone to help you with the structural editing. This editing could comprise a total tear-down or just a few well-placed tweaks. Depending on your arrangement with the editor, she might suggest the changes or make the changes herself.

Stylistic or line editing: This type of editing involves combing through a manuscript line by line and smoothing paragraph and sentence order and construction, clarifying unclear wording, and eliminating wordiness. The kitchen renovation equivalent is adding or removing cabinets, replacing appliances, and retiling the kitchen floor.

Copy editing: Copy editing is what many people think of when they hear the word “editing”: checking and correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word usage. For the kitchen renovator, this equates to updating the wallpaper or paint, installing a Lazy Susan in a cabinet to ensure that pots and pans are easily accessible, and recycling that rickety chair that you’ve never gotten around to fixing.

Proofreading: The final step in the editing process is proofreading, which involves reading text after it has been placed in its final format. A proofreader double checks page numbers, ensures that design specifications have been followed, and fixes typographical and formatting errors and any flagrant mechanical booboos missed by the copy editor. In our kitchen metaphor, this amounts to buying matching cushions for your chairs, ensuring that cabinet handles are not loose, and replacing your rustic cutting board with a sleeker model to complement the kitchen’s contemporary look. Proofreading is frequently confused or conflated with copy editing. Unless you’ve already found a publisher and your manuscript has been put through page-layout software such as InDesign and a PDF file generated, you’re not looking for proofreading.




For all types of editing other than manuscript evaluation, keep two points in mind. First, there are different levels of edit: heavy, medium, and light. The heavier the edit, the longer the task will take. For example, in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Second Edition, Amy Einsohn estimates that a copy editor typically works at a rate of four to nine pages per hour for a light copy edit, two to seven for a medium edit, and one to three for a heavy edit. (These are generalizations. Many factors, including the number of words per page and the complexity of the material, influence an editor’s pace.) Second, the rates for editing services vary, depending on the type of editing and the amount of time the edit takes. I’ll talk more about rates in part two.

The biggest error that most writers make when contacting an editor is assuming that their manuscript is at a later stage than it is. Most writers need manuscript evaluation or substantive editing; their manuscripts simply aren’t ready for copy editing. You wouldn’t update the wallpaper on a wall that you might end up removing. So too is it illogical to copy edit a manuscript that needs substantive editing. Your manuscript could be edited to have sterling spelling, gorgeous grammar, and perfect punctuation. But if the manuscript contains chapters or paragraphs that are confusing, repetitive, or tangential, they will need to be reworked or even cut from the story before publication. Then the sterling spelling, gorgeous grammar, and perfect punctuation—and the expense of paying for them—will have been for nought.

If you’re uncertain about what your manuscript needs, don’t fret. You can still approach an editor, giving him some sense of what you might need (e.g., “I think I need substantive editing”). Editors will appreciate the fact that you’ve tried to understand the terminology.

Regardless of the type of editing you’re seeking, you should have a complete manuscript, at least a first draft, if you’re approaching an editor. You can’t renovate a kitchen that exists only in theory. If you’re seeking help with a first draft that is still in progress, you’re looking for a cowriter, ghostwriter, or writing coach, someone to help you write the book, which involves a different skill set than editing. While some editors may offer these services, they are not editing services.

For more details about the various types of editing, visit the Editors Canada website: https://www.editors.ca/hire/definitions-editorial-skills.

© Marnie Lamb

Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2017. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, manuscript evaluation, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

Marketing: 10 Tips to Make It Work for You, Part Two

Marnie Lamb

 6. Go on NetGalley: Dock your boat at a big, densely populated island where the inhabitants know you’re coming and at least some of them want to meet you. NetGalley is an online service that connects book reviewers—including bloggers, members of the media, booksellers, and librarians—with authors and publishers seeking to promote their books. As an author, you sign up to have your book listed on NetGalley for a specific term. During that term, book reviewers can request a digital copy for review. Sounds fabulous, right? It is, but for authors, NetGalley comes with a few caveats.

The first is the cost. While NetGalley is free for those seeking to review books, those wishing to have books reviewed must pay a fee for their listing. The cost for an individual author to list a single book for six months is approximately US$450 (C$571), a heavy duty to pay for landing on NetGalley Island (https://netgalley.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/105722-do-you-work-with-individual-authors-). Fortunately, you can join a co-op, which allows you to purchase a listing at a reduced price. Through Xpresso Book Tours, the company who arranged a blog tour for my book, I bought a three-month listing for only US$180 (C$228).

Deciding who should review your book is another challenge. NetGalley has over 175,000 registered reviewers (http://xpressobooktours.com/xpresso-book-tours-netgalley-co-op/). While no book will interest all reviewers, you may be in the lucky position of receiving hundreds or even thousands of review requests. However, as Xpresso cautions on its website, a small percentage of the reviewers on NetGalley are simply looking for free books. You want to promote your book, but you don’t want to be taken advantage of. How do you know which reviewers to trust? Although you can’t be certain of the answer, you can try to weed out the inhabitants who are simply going to grab a copy of your book, run off to the other side of the island, and never be heard from again. Set parameters for who reviews the book. For example, you could stipulate that reviewers must have a social media following of at least 500, and or that they must have posted a review on NetGalley within the last six months. As part of its NetGalley service, Xpresso undertook this weeding process for me. My contact at Xpresso, Giselle Cormier, asked whether I wanted to stipulate any other parameters as to who could review my book (such as the ones I’ve suggested above). As a first-time novelist, I decided that I would welcome everyone who wanted to read my book, so I didn’t include any additional restrictions. I’m glad, though, that I had Xpresso protecting my interests by choosing who would and wouldn’t receive a copy of my book.

Finally, as with all marketing, be careful what you wish for with NetGalley. During the three months that The History of Hilary Hambrushina was listed, it received numerous review requests, which resulted in reviews being posted on Goodreads, Amazon, and elsewhere. Having cleared the hurdle of finding reviewers, I now had to worry about their response to my book. While my book earned some heartwarming praise, it also gathered its share of criticism, some of it snarky. Yes, some island inhabitants are going to roll their eyes at your art, and you are powerless to stop them. Instead, be grateful that your book has garnered interest, and at the risk of sounding a bit slimy, try to make peace with the old adage about all publicity being good publicity. Point nine offers a more in-depth discussion about dealing with negative reviews.




 7. Be careful how you set up giveaways: As you’re rowing around the ocean, you may wish to toss a few freebies to the island inhabitants. Keeping the prizes small and light will ensure that you’re not weighed down or distracted from all your other marketing duties. I found this advice in several articles about giveaways, but I didn’t always follow it. So I think it bears repeating here.

I’ve run several giveaways (contests) in connection with my book promotion: two on individual blogs, one through my blog tour with Xpresso, and one on Goodreads. The first guideline of giveaways is to resist the temptation to offer your book as the prize. Otherwise, you’re taking away potential sales. After all, if people think they can get something free, they won’t buy it. On Goodreads, you can offer only books for giveaways, but blogs and blog tours provide the chance for different prizes. On the two individual blogs, I did offer my book as a prize, and in one case, I offered two different rewards: one print book and one ebook. Giving out two different prizes can be confusing, though, because winners may think that they have a choice of prize and they may both want the same one. So if you have multiple prizes, simplify the process by offering two of the same prize.

For one of my blog giveaways, I offered a $10 charitable donation to a charity of the winner’s choice, in addition to a copy of my book. I felt that this was a unique prize in keeping with both my life philosophy and the themes in my book. The prize did involve a bit of legwork in terms of setting up an account with the charities, but I’m happy to have been able to use my success to give back a little. Depending on your values and budget, you may wish to incorporate a charitable element into your giveaways. Overall, though, I strongly suggest keeping your prizes as simple as possible.

What prize is both simple for the donor and enticing to the recipient? You can’t go wrong with an Amazon gift card. Gift cards may seem unoriginal, but they give the winner a choice in what he or she wants to buy. When I was first looking into gift cards as prizes, I began considering other popular stores and places that tied into some of the themes and characters in The History of Hilary Hambrushina, such as The Body Shop, Lush, and Cineplex Odeon. But that just raised more questions. In which countries do these stores operate? Are the cards transferable between countries? Will readers even want one of these cards? A certificate to an online retailer, which can be easily accessed in any country, is more straightforward. And anyone who’s visiting a book blog clearly likes books, so why try to guess what else the person might like?

I think I was trying to be as innovative with my giveaways as I am with my writing. Setting up a giveaway is not an exercise in creative writing, however. By the time of my book tour, I’d learned from my earlier missteps, and as the end-of-tour prize, I chose a US$50 gift certificate to Amazon, which proved popular with blog readers. So don’t get too fancy with your prizes. You have enough other marketing tasks without trying to complicate this one.

 8. Take advantage of small promotional chances: In the midst of all the large promotional opportunities—going on a blog tour (see point five), getting your book into bookstores, and running a giveaway on Goodreads—it’s easy to overlook more modest marketing venues. But islets have fruit-bearing plants, too.

For me, the best smaller promotional opportunities came with marketing my book to colleagues. As an editor, I’m blessed to be part of a profession filled with people who love to read. Editors Canada (the national association for editors) provided me with several chances to tell other editors about The History of Hilary Hambrushina. The first came in the monthly e-news update, which contains a section for members’ news. I typed a short description of my book and sent it in. The blurb ran in the next update, which was distributed to 1300 editors nationwide.

Sometimes, a chance to market your book can be the fringe benefit of another opportunity. Three months after my blurb ran in the Editors Canada e-news update, I was featured on the Editors Toronto blog in its series Editor for Life. Although the article’s purpose was to profile my career as an editor, I piggybacked on the publicity by mentioning my book and including a link to my publisher’s website. Similarly, at a recent Editors Toronto monthly meeting, I spoke on a panel about branding for editors. Again, the panel’s purpose had nothing to do with YA novels or marketing fiction, but I made sure to mention my book in the biography the host read before I began speaking.

Have these promotional gambits resulted in many sales? I don’t know yet, but these marketing tasks involved little time and no money, so choosing to pursue them was a no-brainer. I know I made at least one sale through the blurb in the e-news update: The membership coordinator, to whom I’d sent my announcement, emailed me a week and a half later to say that she’d purchased my book and really enjoyed it. As with any marketing task, you need to ask whether smaller opportunities are worth your effort and money. But if they are simple and free, go for them. After all, no sales can be generated from people who don’t know about your book.




 9. Manage your emotions: During your journey, you will sometimes be riding high, hair billowing behind you, lungs breathing in the fresh sea air, as your boat crests the top of a wave and you survey all the islands you’ve conquered. The next minute, your boat will be pitched down into the roiling ocean and your body drenched in frigid water. As you emerge, gasping for breath, you’ll have salt up your nose, seaweed in your ears, and a bad case of the chills. The main cause of this cresting and pitching? Reviews. As a friend sagely warned me just weeks before my book went on NetGalley, “Amazon is good, but Amazon is horrible.”

I remember confidently telling two people at a party a couple of weeks later that while I knew my book, like any other, would receive one- and two-star reviews, I simply wasn’t going to read those reviews. “Good for you,” my listeners responded. Yes, good for me, only my resolve was about as adhesive as glue from the Trudeau era—Pierre, not Justin. The first review I came across had rated my book two out of five stars. Unable to stop myself, I clicked on the review, read the criticism, and immediately felt a six-inch-square knot crystallize in my chest. I read the first dozen reviews of my book—including, I’m happy to say, several four- and five-star reviews. Still, I had trouble sleeping for several nights, haunted by the snippy comments in some of the negative reviews. Soon, though, after I’d had my fill of masochism, I found the Justin-era glue, slathered it on my resolve, and stopped reading reviews that were fewer than three stars, a resolution I’ve stuck to.

If your willpower is stronger than mine and you can avoid reading negative reviews from the start, kudos! I don’t believe that anything positive can come of reading bad reviews, so if you can crush your curiosity immediately, you’ll be in a better emotional state than I was. Realistically, though, I suspect that many writers, particularly first-time novelists, will find it impossible not to unstop their ears for at least a moment as they row past that island of hecklers. And that’s OK. Indulging your curiosity about bad reviews is a part, albeit a painful one, of the writing journey. However, if you’re finding that you’ve been sucked in to landing on Heckler Island and you simply cannot move your feet to get back in the boat and row away, put out an SOS call to a loved one to rescue you.

Share your heartache with compassionate, supportive people who are good listeners, people who will let you rant without shelling out that useless advice, “Don’t worry.” It’s easy for people who haven’t had to endure public (or even private) critiquing of their art to tell you not to worry, but many writers are sensitive souls who are natural worriers. With apologies to Geico, if you’re a worrier, you worry. It’s what you do. You can’t will yourself to stop worrying. You will be anxious about bad reviews. How you handle that anxiety, however, is key.

Aside from connecting with supporters and trying to avoid reading bad reviews, you can use several techniques to deal with negative publicity. You can try rationalizing it by telling yourself the following: “One review is just one person’s opinion” and “If that reviewer didn’t connect with my book, that’s unfortunate, but I can’t expect that everyone will like it.” Personally, though, I don’t find rationalizing a very effective technique, at least not at the start of the process of recovering from heartache. When I feel badly, I need to feel well, not think well. So if you’re like me, prioritize positive feeling over positive thinking. I keep a separate file folder on my computer containing some of the four- and five-star reviews given to The History of Hilary Hambrushina. When I’m feeling down about marketing, I read these reviews to remind myself that regardless of what else does or doesn’t happen with my book, it has touched the hearts of strangers tens of thousands of kilometres away. That in turn touches my heart. Rewarding yourself also induces positive feelings. After reading those first dozen reviews, I bought several bags of tea, not of all which I needed. But the luscious lemon liquid and calming camomile concoction revived and soothed my body, mind, and heart.

Most importantly, regardless of how you’re feeling about your marketing, take breaks from both it and your book. Making a small excursion on the ocean before returning to the mainland to rest and refuel before heading out again is more than fine; it’s necessary. As difficult as it is to remember, you are not your book. For your own emotional and mental health, you need to separate the two.

 10. Define the extent of your marketing: Decide when you’ll return to the mainland. One of the best parts of being published with a company that doesn’t provide marketing is that you control your book’s promotion. Yes, the responsibility of creating and implementing the marketing plan falls solely on you. But so do all the decisions about where—and how far—you want to take your marketing.

I offer this advice with some trepidation because I don’t want to appear to be contradicting everything I’ve said thus far. So don’t think of this advice as telling you that the marketing route you’ve taken has been incorrect and you need to row your boat back to the dock from which you departed. Rather, see it as plucking you out of your boat, suspending you several hundred feet above the ocean, and giving you an aerial view of the path you’ve travelled and all the possible paths you could take.

When I began promoting my book in earnest this past spring, a well-meaning cheerleader urged me to “Reach for the moon. If you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” While I appreciated the sentiment, I dislike this expression for three reasons. First, it’s a cliché, often said without any deep thought about the particular situation in question. Second, it’s illogical. Think about it. The stars form about as solid an alliance as a sieve. They’re not necessarily going to catch you if you miss the moon. Who’s to say that in shooting for the moon, you won’t wind up flat on your back on the Prairies? Third, it’s harsh. It implies that any endeavour that doesn’t attain, or at least attempt to attain, a heavenly body is a failure. And that’s narrow thinking.

Let’s review. If you’re at the point where you’re marketing a book, you’ve already accomplished so much: creating the story and characters, writing the book, rewriting and editing it, finding a publisher, dealing with the lows and highs of rejection and acceptance, and maybe even running a crowdfunding campaign to cover the book’s publication costs. Those accomplishments comprise more than most hopeful writers will ever achieve. Yet, these achievements are often portrayed as not enough. What’s the motto of the biggest global competition, the Olympic Games? “Faster, higher, stronger.” You can always have more sales, more income, more accolades, more publicity, more glory.

When I first spread the news about the upcoming publication of The History of Hilary Hambrushina, several people made bold predictions: “Think of how much money you’ll make!” “You could be the next J.K. Rowling!” Fortunately, as someone who has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade, I have much more realistic expectations about where my book publication will likely lead. Furthermore, I have no interest in being the next anyone. I’m the first Marnie Lamb, and I’m proud of that.

However, some people will always tell you that you haven’t done enough. Ultimately, though, you need to take the marketing journey for yourself only. Marketing takes time, money, and mental stamina. Most of us have families and careers, from which we can be away for only so long before we begin to suffer in other ways. (Remember: You are not your book.) So one day, you may decide to dock your boat permanently and move on to other oceans and land masses. When that day comes, be proud of everything you’ve accomplished. Moving on is not the same as giving up.




Finally, rout out that festering weed of a word, “enough,” from your vocabulary. Your achievements aren’t impressive enough, inspiring enough, praiseworthy enough, or amazing enough. They are impressive, inspiring, praiseworthy, and amazing. Full stop. Don’t limit your accomplishments by qualifying them. Celebrate them in all their glory.

Happy marketing!

© Marnie Lamb

CLICK HERE TO BUY NOW!

Author Bio:  Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books this past spring. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services to educational, scholarly, and trade publishers. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

Marketing: 10 Tips to Make It Work for You, Part One

Marnie Lamb

This past spring, my first book, a young adult novel named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books, a Toronto-based hybrid publisher. Hybrid publishers represent a third way, a cross between traditional and self-publishers. Like a traditional publisher, Iguana maintains high quality standards and will not publish manuscripts that do not meet those standards. Like a self-publisher, Iguana does not include free marketing in the services it provides for authors. Instead, authors are responsible for promoting their own books.

After having successfully raised money for my book’s publication costs through crowdfunding (see my earlier two-part article on crowdfunding), I turned my attention to marketing. I wasn’t a total greenhorn. I’d been running a freelance editing business for seven years, which necessitated some self-promotion. But for me, marketing was always the grimy other side of the coin to the polished artisanship of writing and editing. During my years in Ryerson University’s Publishing Program, I studiously avoided all the marketing and sales courses. I wanted to focus on the careful crafting of books, not on the dirty, cutthroat business of selling them.

But once my book was in the process of being published, I had to accept the grime and begin navigating the treacherous waters of selling. However, Iguana didn’t just toss me off the pier and walk away. My contact there suggested that we have a phone conversation with a colleague of hers who had marketing experience. In it, they sketched out a rough map of the marketing ocean, highlighting some of the islands at which I should stop. The planning of the route, the paddling, and the embarking and disembarking were all up to me, though.

The Internet offers a cornucopia of information about marketing for writers. Some fruits appear multiple times in the cornucopia. For example, many wonderful articles have been published about the importance of having an eye-catching, informative website and becoming social media savvy. In this article, I’ll focus on some of the smaller fruits that remain hidden in the middle or at the back of the horn of plenty, as well as on the arrangement of the fruits in the basket—that is, on marketing as a process.

Here are ten tips I’ve learned in my marketing journey with a hybrid publisher.

 1. Give yourself as much time as possible: If you’re being published by a company that doesn’t provide marketing services, chances are that the publisher is either a hybrid or self-publisher. Therefore, you probably have at least some sway over the publication date. You may be tempted to set the earliest possible date so that you can send your masterpiece out into the world immediately and begin bragging to everyone you know about your book’s being on Amazon. But doing so is rarely a wise marketing strategy, especially for an unknown author whose book doesn’t yet have any buzz surrounding it.

Marketing is multi-faceted. Not only are there many islands to explore, but these islands are all part of archipelagoes, and each island in the archipelago must be visited or at least considered for a visit. For example, when Iguana advised me to “go on Facebook,” I had many more tasks to complete than simply signing up for an account. In fact, before I even signed up, I needed to decide which type of page I wanted: business or personal. Then, I faced a multitude of decisions about my friending policy, my security settings, the tone of my posts, and the amount of control I wanted to grant to others (would they be allowed to initiate or only respond to posts on my wall?).




Every aspect of marketing is a journey in itself. So allowing yourself enough time to formulate and execute a marketing plan before publication is crucial. Six months is the average time that a writer must wait after publication before receiving the first royalties cheque. If you rush to publication and haven’t had time to spread the word about your book, you’re unlikely to garner many sales, which could mean a delay in receiving payment. You’ve already worked so hard to get your book published, so why not start earning money as soon after publication as you can?

Even more sobering is the possibility of your book going out of print after only a short time in print. Most publishers, including hybrid publishers, have a clause in their author contract stating that if sales fall below a certain threshold, the publisher will cease to print copies of the book. Garnering sales can be a slow process because you often have to try various marketing initiatives to see which ones are most fruitful for you. If you wait until after publication to begin marketing, you risk having very low sales over the first few months or even year, which could put further printing of your book in jeopardy. The few months before publication are a precious time to get a jump on your book promotion.

Start your marketing at least six months in advance. If that means postponing the publication date, do so. Production wise, my book was ready to be published at the end of February. But I wasn’t ready. Fortunately, in earlier consultation with the publisher, I had chosen May 31 as the publication date, which gave me an extra three months of marketing time. By the time that date arrived, I felt comfortable knowing that I had made a push to spread the word about The History of Hilary Hambrushina.

 2. Talk to someone before you start formulating your marketing plan: If you push your boat out before making a map, you’ll quickly become lost at sea. But even creating a map is tricky for a newbie cartographer. Speak with an experienced mapmaker who can give you an idea about how to chart your course. For me, this person was my Iguana contact’s colleague. If your publisher cannot provide any advice about marketing, seek that guidance elsewhere.

Chances are excellent that you know someone who knows someone with marketing experience. If you’ve successfully crowdfunded your book’s publication costs, the network you’ve built during your campaign will come in handy now. If you’re lucky, you may know someone who works in marketing or publicity. But people who have some background in promotion, even if they’re not marketers per se, may be helpful. Maybe the daughter of a friend took a marketing course in her publishing program and would be glad of the opportunity to hone her skills by assisting a newly published author. Or perhaps a colleague’s spouse had a book published and can offer his perspective. However, ensure that whoever you choose does have marketing experience, preferably with books. Many well-meaning people will give you ideas, solicited or not, for promoting your book. But when you’re beginning your marketing, you need to first talk to someone who’s been out on the ocean, however briefly.

If your circle of acquaintances doesn’t yield fruit or you want further advice, consider taking a seminar or reading a book. I picked up some good tips at a morning-long course from the Toronto-based Canadian Children’s Book Centre titled “The Business of Writing: Selling Your Books, Selling Yourself.” The newer and more convenient cousin of seminars, webinars, ensures that as long as you have Internet access, living outside a large metropolis is no barrier to availing yourself of educational opportunities. Shop around online and look for marketing courses aimed at writers and offered by professional institutions such as universities or writers’ groups.

With all the advice about marketing for writers available online and in print, you may be wondering why you should bother having an information interview with a marketer or spending money on a course or book. But before you begin reading articles, knowing where to start is essential. If you don’t which islands are out there, how will you know which travel guides to read?

 3. Make and remake a to-do list: Once you’ve spoken with a cartographer, sketch out a plan for which islands to visit in which order, and revise the plan as many times as you need to.

Most people work better having a written plan for major endeavours. I’m no exception, and as an indexer, I love lists. So after speaking with Iguana about marketing, I saved a new copy of the notes I’d typed during the meeting and began putting tasks in the order in which they needed to be completed. At first, I grouped tasks under different headings such as Author Website, Social Media, Readings and Bookstores, and Other. Although this was visually pleasing because the to-do list was not presented as one big chunk, the presentation was impractical because it meant that I had to look under multiple categories to figure out what my next marketing task was. So I collapsed all the categories and simply made a long list. For every completed task, I wrote “done” in uppercase pink letters at the end of the line (or “n/a” in red letters if I’d decided not to pursue the task). For ease, I highlighted in blue the tasks that I needed to perform next.

You may prefer to group tasks by category, or perhaps you’d rather use an Excel spreadsheet or pen and paper instead of a Word document. Experiment with different list formats and find what works for you. Regardless of format, include timelines for completion of a given task. Return to your list every time you work on your marketing, and refine it by adding, deleting, or moving tasks around.




 4. Realize the limitations of non-traditional publishers: Sadly, books from self-publishers, independent publishers, and hybrid publishers are not welcome in some quarters. If you attempt to land on those islands, you’ll encounter hostile inhabitants who will bar your ship from entering the port.

This fact didn’t come up during my marketing conversation with Iguana. Instead, my status as authora non grata was a distressing lesson I learned soon after I began researching book bloggers to whom I could send my novel for review. Some bloggers state in their review policy that they won’t consider self-published books. Because of its newness and connection with self-publishing, hybrid publishing is equally suspect in some quarters, and books published by such companies are lumped in with self-published books.

I wish I had a way of busting open these ports, Commodore Perry style, but I don’t. You’re better served by advice warning of the existence of these islands and suggesting that you move on. As an individual writer, especially a new one, you’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind about non-traditional publishing. More likely, your impassioned pleas and carefully reasoned arguments will annoy bloggers. This anger is justifiable. After all, you wouldn’t send a query about a romance novel to a blogger who specifically states that she does not review romance novels, so the same applies to non-traditionally published books. Also, book bloggers are a close-knit community. They talk to one another. If you send too many “will you make an exception for me because my book is awesome?” emails, you might be pegged as an obtuse pain who wastes bloggers’ time because he doesn’t read review policies properly. And as someone trying to promote your book, you definitely don’t want that reputation.

The tide of opinion about non-traditionally–published books has shifted over the past twenty years. When I was studying for my master’s in creative writing, self-publishing was called vanity publishing, and our seminar instructor assured us that none of us would ever have to stoop to the degradation of publishing our own work. Now, with the commercial and critical success of more and more self-published books, including Canadian Terry Fallis’s first novel, The Best Laid Plans, non-traditional publishing is becoming more respected. You can do your part to help this opinion shift by writing the best book you can, promoting it to the best of your ability, accepting that some still people won’t want to read it, trying not to take this rejection personally, and moving on.

 5. Go on a blog tour: A blog tour is a virtual book tour. Instead of visiting bookstores, reading from your book, and signing copies, you have your book featured on several blogs (the exact number depends on the tour package you choose) over a set period. The blogs offer excerpts and reviews of your book, author interviews with you, and guest posts written by you—all important promotional opportunities. The best part? You can hire a blog tour company to organize a tour for you. Inviting someone else to chart a course and steer my boat for a while was the smartest marketing decision I made and the best money I spent.

When I first learned about blog tours, my reaction was “why bother?” Many individual reviewers have guidelines for how authors can contact them. I figured that if I could contact reviewers myself, I could save money by not hiring someone to reach out to people for me. I was confident that I could secure the same number of reviews and promotional opportunities that a blog tour would produce. I resolved to resort to a tour only if I struck out with the bloggers I was contacting personally.

Within a couple of weeks, I realized my error. Iguana had provided me with a list of over 600 YA bloggers. I spent several days combing through the list and narrowed it down to 184 who were the best candidates to review my book. Then, I spent another two weeks reading over some of these blogs, crafting personal emails to the bloggers, and sending out queries. Of the 96 bloggers I emailed, I received 8 responses: 3 yeses, 2 maybes, and 3 nos. Given the number of books out there and the number of authors, publicists, and publishers jockeying for reviews, I suspect that an 8% response rate is decent, especially considering that I was a first-time author with no published reviews and only a fledgling web and social media presence.

Nonetheless, I found the process demoralizing and time consuming and the result disappointing. I’d hit a sandbar and knew that I couldn’t continue. I checked my pride and made an SOS call to a blog tour company that specialized in YA fiction. Thankfully, Giselle Cormier of Xpresso Book Tours responded immediately and agreed to come to my aid.

As I was researching potential blog tour companies, I realized just how arrogant I’d been to assume that I could quickly make the kinds of connections that tour hosts have taken years nurturing. Blog tour companies are deeply connected; Xpresso has ties to over 2000 bloggers. Unless you’re someone who’s already securely plugged in to a network of bloggers, I strongly recommend hiring a professional to organize reviews and other promotional opportunities for you. As with any other hiring decision, do your homework. Tour companies specialize in certain genres of writing, so make sure you’re targeting organizations who will promote your type of book. Investigate their credentials. How long have they been in business? What are their qualifications? Is their website professionally designed and free of grammatical and spelling errors? Does it have a testimonials section?

Promotional opportunities organized by tour companies have another advantage over those you organize yourself. If a blogger says she’ll review your book, that’s not a guarantee that the review will happen. Life sometimes has other plans. With a blog tour, there are no guarantees, either. However, you’re more likely to get the reviews requested. For example, Xpresso added a couple of extra stops to my tour to compensate for any bloggers who might not be able to post. In the best-case scenario, everyone would post and I would get a couple more stops than the twenty for which I’d paid; in the worst-case, I’d still have my twenty posts.




My blog tour provided The History of Hilary Hambrushina with great exposure. I first noticed the effects on the giveaway I’d been running on Goodreads. After five weeks, around 400 people had signed up to win one of ten free copies of my book, not exactly a stellar turnout. Then, Xpresso posted my tour sign-up sheet on their website and began promoting the tour. In the last week of my giveaway, the number of entrants spiked to over 1300. During the tour, I ran another giveaway organized by Xpresso. Over 2000 people entered, meaning that those 2000 people were now aware of me and my book. I would never have been able to attract that many eyeballs on my own. If you take only one piece of advice from this article (except for point ten, coming in part two), take this one.

© Marnie Lamb

CLICK HERE TO BUY NOW!

Author Bio:  Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books this past spring. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services to educational, scholarly, and trade publishers. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.