Love on the Rocks: The Romance of Climbing

*as originally published by IDAHOmagazine, April 2015

It started at mile marker thirteen. Unlucky thirteen. Or maybe lucky thirteen? No, our relationship was destined to be a rocky one.

Jim Edgemon and I met early in the year of 2011. After chatting for months about our various outdoor interests, he asked me out on a date. He proposed a hike to, and climb up, Stack Rock, near the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. We had talked about it many times and I was excited to go, having never done anything like that before. Our date started at the trailhead near mile marker thirteen on Bogus Basin Road.

JimStackRock_300DPI_byCristenIris.jpg

Stack Rock

near Boise, Idaho

The June sky was bright and cheerful, all the vegetation was fresh-faced and wearing new leaves, as if to impress. The warm air alive with the sounds and smells of new life. The atmosphere encouraged us to go farther and seemed to diminish the effort required to get up steeper sections of the trail.

"We're almost there," Jim told me as we crested the top of a little hill and followed the trail to the right. And there it was, just beyond a swath of ceanothus. That's no big deal, I thought.

It wasn't a big deal. But it wasn't Stack Rock.

As we rounded that particular stack of rocks, the structure appeared that is nicknamed Freddy's Stack Rock. Now that was a big deal. Especially at an elevation of almost six thousand feet. This was the first time on our date when I felt nervous. I became self-conscious and insecure. I'd climbed at the Black Cliffs near Lucky Peak Reservoir once with my brother, but that was many years earlier, and we had been fully roped, harnessed, and chalked. I wasn't sure if my bravery would rally for this adventure.

But like the trees, I was eager to impress, in my own way. I put on a fresh fave and let the mood of a first date inspire me as we began our ascent.

I felt fairly bold for the first half of the climb. My strength and skill were lacking, but my date was attentive. There may not have been any doors to open for this lady, but there were certainly obstacles that allowed plenty of chances for chivalrous acts like offering a leg or a hand up. We made progress and were getting along well until I looked down. My heart began to pound, and I hoped my apprehension wan't showing. My face must have given something away, because Jim began to encourage me. I'll never forget what he said.

"You're doing great. That was the worst part."

That helped.

Up, over, around, and then I stopped dead in my tracks. "Dead" being the operative word. I had followed Jim as he clambered up a narrow section, but when he paused to swing around a corner, I saw the precipitous drop.

This trip was a bad decision. A very bad decision!

I've never been good at a poker face, and terror is difficult to mask. Jim assured me he was right there and it wasn't as bad as it looked. Bravery had abandoned me altogether, but ego rallied. My heart pounded as hard as it has ever pounded. I held my breath, grabbed Jim's hand and swung around. I tried not to consider the climb back down. I was committed now.

Jim had lied about the worst part, but just beyond the terror was the summit, with its fantastic 360-degree view. The tree-covered hills of Bogus Basin and Deer Flat Station were to our backs, while the Treasure Valley stretched out before us. To our left, the foothills of Boise gradually grew to mountains, and somewhere just beyond sight were the Boulder-White Clouds. To our right, we could see the Avamor community on Highway 55 leading to Horseshoe Bend. And across the valley stood the magnificent and still snow-capped Owyhee Mountains. We stayed for more than an hour, talking and enjoying our perch. Jim took the opportunity to familiarize me with the landscape and to tell me that none of the other women he knew would make the climb. He let slip that it had been a test, and I had passed.

So had he.

It was, without a doubt, the best date I'd ever been on. I'd never felt so high. That's love, I guess. It starts off scary, but it's worth the climb.

Over the next year, my fear of climbing subsided. We took on Stack Rock several more times, and settled into a steady relationship.

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Challis

scree field

One weekend in the early spring of 2013, we headed to Challis to explore the moraines near Mt. Borah. Challis' geology is active and with a minimal amount of training anyone can read the history of the landscape. The rugged beauty of the location we chose lured us farther up the draw. The air was coo, the sky dark, the vegetation not yet dressed itself for the new season. The air was damp and smelled of sleep. The atmosphere was unwelcoming if not foreboding, and the clouds spat snow at us, as if to warn of trouble ahead. Perhaps we should have taken the cue, but we pressed in and up, our sense of adventure and determintion driving us.

Even in unwelcoming places, there is always enough to keep adventurers engaged. The occasional fossil rock and high craggy peaks intrigued us long after we'd seen the gentle moraines and boulder-strewn glacial formations we had come to see. We decided to attempt to climb as high as we could.

After crawling on hands and knees through a dense patch of scrub trees, we reached a scree field at the base of a craggy rim. Jim started to cross first. By then, I was comfortable enough that I didn't need Jim's constant attention and encouragement. I like to do things myself. So he headed out first and I followed slightly behind, each of us picking our own route.

Suddenly, I heard the rocks groan. My head snapped up to find Jim. His head whipped around to find me. He locked his eyes on mine as he said, "This was a bad decision."

He was calm but emphatic. "We are not safe. We need to get out of here!"

I had come almost parallel to him at that point, but was above him on the slope. The rocks beneath my feet began to shift and slide toward him, and I had to stop moving. We risked more than sprained ankles here. The dislodging of smaller scree destabilized the slope, and the shifting of the boulders above us meant that we were in imminent danger. A scree field is no place to be in the event of a rockslide. It was imperative that we quickly make a plan and move in unison if we were going to get out of our predicament unscathed.

Gingerly, we worked our way to a large, dead tree not far from where we were. From there, we moved in single file across the scree, our feet following the same route.

Once across, we sat together for a while and decompressed from the terrifying experience. We both realized how close we'd come to a catastrophic end to our adventure. I was struck by the potential loss of this man and invigorated by our team effort to get ourselves and each other out safely. That's love, I guess. Two people get into a bad situation but work together to escape it.

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Somewhere in the Sawtooth Mountains

Stanley, Idaho area

By August 2013, Jim and I had settled in to living together in a comfortable little condo near the Boise foothills. By August, the stifling heat and sameness of our surroundings were starting to grate on us. We needed a change of scenery.

As all Idahoans know, summers here go hand in hand with wildfires. Between the months of June and October, it seems that somewhere, something is on fire. This did not dissuade us. We loaded up the car and headed for the Stanley area.

Jim had slowly introduced me to many of his old haunts, and I was an eager companion. Each new adventure seemed better than the last. My fitness and ability had increased to the point that I was no longer a tag-along but a partner. I had been warned, however, that this trip was different. We would ride our mountain bikes several miles up the mountain, ditch them in the high brush, ford a stream, and then hike an arduous trail to a hanging lake.

He said we would see how I was feeling once we got there. If I was doing well, we would then climb through the boulder field toward the second lake. It would be our most difficult ride, hike, and climb to date, I was told. I took exception to the insinuation that I was perhaps not up to the challenge and retorted with an attitude that declared, "I'll be fine, thank you very much."

The ride up was wonderful, and when we got the bike drop, I scoffed at Jim's concern over my fitness. I was doing just fine, thank you very much. We forded a small stream and picked our way through a wide marsh before finding a narrow trailhead. The middle section of the trail was little more than a series of exposed tree roots used as a ladder. The dry dirt was as fine as powder. No traction could be found using our feet. It was hot, dirty, and exhausting work to pull ourselves up root by root.

I became angry; Jim had lied. This wasn't a hike; it was a death march! To make matters worse, a severe forest fire was burning in the area. Our mouths were full of ash and the air had more of a taste than a smell. The smoke made it difficult to breathe and the higher up we went, the worse our eyes burned. Obviously, we were working our way toward the fire.

This was a bad decision, a really bad decision!

Suddenly, the trail widened and flattened. In the foreground we saw a clear, tree-lined lake, with bare granite crags in the background. Smoke hung in the air, lending an otherworldly quality to the scene. The orange sky reflected eerily in the ice-cold water. All my anger and frustration evaporated into the smoke. The scene was one of the most stunningly beautiful things I'd ever seen.

After a brief, refreshing rest, we were called higher by the rosy rocks. We struggled through the thick air up to a large boulder field. High in the rocks, it was even more beautiful, and difficult to leave. The images of that day have left a lasting impression in my mind, much like the fire that marked the landscape. There's a strange beauty in fire burning through sameness, making room for new growth. That's love, I guess. Sometimes, fire and smoke are all around. They can make the journey difficult, but they give us the opportunity to see things in a different, more beautiful light.

I often wonder how Jim and I found our way to each other, and how together we find our way in, and out of, so many wonderfully rugged Idaho places.

Just luck, I guess. Or a series of bad decisions. In any case, I'm certain of one thing: our relationship will always be a rocky one.

 

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

CristenClimbing.jpg

Room to Grow: Interview with Author and Transformational Life Coach Laurie Buchanan, PhD

Laurie Buchanan fascinates me. She has as much energy as anyone I know, but the difference between her energy and that of others is power.

People who exude energy often display nervous energy, the kind of energy that pulls rather than pushes, the kind that depletes rather than energizes.

When Laurie speaks and writes, her words don’t take up space and push out the opinions and thoughts of others. Her words create space. And in that space, the listener or reader has room to think, be, and grow.

I have the pleasure of sharing physical space with Laurie several times a month. She is a friend and sage. I learn as much from what she says and writes as I do by watching what she does: the way she moves, engages with people, and is fully present.

However, what is more interesting and informative is what Laurie doesn’t do: what’s in—or rather is not in—the spaces she’s intentionally created in her life. She has designed a life that allows her to make her highest level of contribution without destroying herself in the process. She is a beer and a doer and someone I’m thrilled to introduce you to because I know you will be better off for having met her.

But don’t be fooled by her disarming demeanor and Buddhist practice, this woman is serious about getting serious about life.

“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” —Laurie Buchanan, PhD

Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth

Many years ago, I heard the phrase “simple but not easy.” Note to Self is a simple book. Laurie takes the reader through a seven-step process of acknowledging and nurturing each of the seven selves. Readers who are visual learners like me are able to immediately grasp the concept and create a well-defined image of self with components that can be moved in and out of the circle that represents our highest self. Simple.

But as anyone who’s ever cleaned out a closet or downsized a house knows, the physical effort, emotional baggage, and decision making required can suck more energy from us than the day-to-day feelings of being trapped and thwarted. We must pay a price for freedom and growth.

It’s not easy. But it’s worth it.

What is easy is to write a book review and conduct an author interview that is full of superlatives: great, wonderful, exceptional, transformative! And this book is all those things, but the value of a book is only fully realized when the reader comes away a healthier, stronger, more resilient and aware human.

Laurie Buchanan—generous, wise, and inspirational as she is—is a fellow traveler and support. The catalyst for change is your situation, and the power to change is within you. Note to Self can serve as your map and travel guide, an introduction to the you you want to claim or reclaim.

I know because her book came to me at the perfect time in my life and career. My business activities had pushed my health, most important relationships, and peace outside the circle of my being.

By actively engaging with Laurie and committing to a journey of self-rediscovery through the words on the pages of Note to Self, I reshaped my internal and external world, regained my health, and left a lot of baggage behind.

Note to Self can help you live an abundant life by showing you how to enhance your sense of groundedness, increase your sense of delight, cultivate your inner landscape, develop your emotional empowerment, unleash your creative flair, boost your insight, strengthen the connection with your higher self, and integrate the seven selves.

“NOTE TO SELF is as good for you as kale, but reads like chocolate—smooth, rich, and fun!” —Leanne Dyck

Meet Author Laurie Buchanan, PhD

CRISTEN: Laurie, I describe you as a take no prisoners-free the prisoners kind of person. You are all peace, love, and happiness while looking someone who is offering excuses in the eyes and saying, “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

LAURIE: It brings to mind that I’ve been called a “velvet sledgehammer.” I might look like a pushover (sweet, loving, kind, and thoughtful), but I hold my client's’ feet to the fire when it comes to accountability.

CRISTEN: Most clients must come to you because they’ve recognized that the wall they’re facing isn’t going to come down without some help, that what they’ve been doing isn’t working and that if they could identify the cause, the solution would present itself.

LAURIE: A common theme among people who seek out a transformational life coach is “attachment.” They don’t realize that’s the crux of their negative situation. Attachments come in all shapes and sizes: people, places, things, events, and opportunities. It can be food, money, nicotine, drugs/alcohol, gambling, pornography—you name it. It can be “things”—a simple case of acquisition (you’ve seen the bumper sticker “whoever dies with the most stuff wins”). One of the things I do is help people to understand this, and then start the process of letting go.

CRISTEN: As I worked through Note to Self, I was surprised to discover where my attachments were. When I wrote down what I was doing and the things and relationships that were important to me, I saw how little space I had in my life. I realized that if I could identify what was essential and eliminate the nonessential, I could redirect my focus and energy. (To see how I did that, watch my video on YouTube.)

As soon as I started right-sizing by letting go of the first big thing, my world shifted. I started to see other areas I could simplify and trade for more freedom. One of those things is our home. My husband and I love being in nature, traveling, and engaging with dynamic people: things caring for a house and yard limit.

You’ve already done that and live a minimalist lifestyle. When did you make that shift and how do you incorporate the philosophy into different aspects of your life?

LAURIE: When my husband and I relocated from Illinois to Idaho in the spring of 2014, we shifted gears from an already small home that we’d lived in for 20 years, to an unpretentious, simple 600 square foot carriage house. People often ask us, “Why on earth would you choose to downsize?” The reasons are simple.

I think of it as right-sizing—right for us—not downsizing. Empty-nesters in our fifties, now is the time to work less, travel more, live debt free, and do the things we really want. For us, the intentional promotion of our greatest passions (for me it’s writing, for my husband it’s flying) and the removal of everything that distracts us from them, has been liberating.

A smaller home means less space. Having eliminated the unnecessary, we are deliberate and thoughtful about the few things we do have. Living in less space means we spend less time, stress, and money on upkeep.

Embracing the belief that “life is an expression of the choices we make,” I’m a teacher and student of purposeful living. With tremendous respect for the earth’s natural resources, my goal is to leave the slightest footprint on the planet, while at the same time making a lasting impression on its inhabitants—one that is positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing.

A minimalist by intent, I live a beautiful life with fewer things—simple, yet full.

CRISTEN: You used the words "intent" and "simple“ underscoring my belief that although a concept may be simple, it is not always easy to execute. To grow from the information you provide, readers and clients must choose to do a fair amount of hard work: not physical work but emotional work. Why do you think we have a tendency to opt for doing work rather than sitting still, reflecting, and letting go?

LAURIE: Dogs experience life through their noses. Humans experience life through their emotions—how they feel. I help people work with their emotions mindfully. This runs the gamut from recognizing emotions, to investigating them—and everything in-between.

I’m often asked my thought on the difference between doing and being, and which one I feel is more important.

One of the byproducts of today’s fast-paced culture is busyness. With our amazing technology, we’re efficient, productive, and more inclined than ever to use our time to accomplish.

Doing is associated with self-definition (one of the seven selves). It’s represented by the color yellow. It’s external, visible, and active. It’s in the act of doing that we serve others.

Being is associated with self-knowledge. It’s represented by the color violet. It’s internal, invisible, and passive. When we listen in the quietness of being, we learn what we need to do.

Interestingly, yellow and violet reside directly across from each other on the color wheel. In nature, a beautiful depiction of this balance is revealed in ametrine—a crystal with a natural blend of amethyst (violet/purple) and citrine (yellow/gold).

In our everyday lives, the balance between doing and being is expressed as: engagement/solitude, serving/abiding, real life/reflective life, application/restoration, and work/rest.

Weaving a balanced combination of both threads—doing and being—into our life’s tapestry is ideal; they’re both important. A balanced life of doing and being nourishes both practice and perspective.

CRISTEN: In the book, you talk a lot about how color influences our emotional state and encourage readers to mindfully incorporate specific colors into their lives. Which colors are you most attracted to, and how do you use them to shape your experiences and expression?

LAURIE: I incorporate a rainbow of colors into my life, focusing on specific ones for specific purposes. For example:

Red is associated with self-preservation. I use it to enhance energy, vitality, and courage.

Orange is associated with self-gratification. I use it to enhance independence, and confidence.

Yellow is associated with self-definition. I use it to enhance awareness, and clarity.

Green (my favorite color) is associated with self-love. I use it to enhance compassion, peace, and inner-balance.

Blue is associated with self-expression (a great color for writers). I use it to enhance knowledge and relaxation.

Indigo is associated with self-reflection. I use it to enhance imagination and understanding.

Violet is associated with self-knowledge. I use it to enhance wisdom and inspiration.

CRISTEN: For many reasons, blue being my favorite color among them, I’m excited about what you’ve got coming up. Please tell our readers what they can look forward to after reading Note to Self.

LAURIE: I’m excited about the publication of my next book, The Business of Being: Soul Purpose In and Out of the Workplace. Woven throughout the pages is the story of a French restaurant, La Mandarine Bleue—The Blue Tangarine. It’s a real-life depiction of how nine individuals used twelve steps of a business plan to find their vocation and undergo a transformation. The Business of Being demonstrates how to stand in alignment with your core values; it explores how to thrive, soul-side out, in and out of the workplace.

CRISTEN: Thank you for your sharing your core values, energy, and space with us here, Laurie, and on your blog, Tuesdays with Laurie; Facebook; and Twitter.

Advance Praise for The Business of Being

“The Business of Being is the best silent partner I ever took on.”

—TERRILL WELCH, gallery owner and author of Leading Raspberry Jam Visions Women’s Way: An Inside Track for Women Leaders

“When we allow ourselves to show up authentically—be who we are—we’re in alignment. The Business of Being helps us unlock the power to reach our full potential and thrive.”

—RACHAEL O’MEARA, transformational leadership and executive coach, sales executive at Google, and author of Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break

The Business of Being is an important resource that will enable individuals to discover their calling and transform their personal and professional lives.”

—Dr. LYNN SCHMIDT, leadership development expert, executive coach, keynote speaker, and award-winning co-author of Shift Into Thrive: Six Strategies for Women to Unlock the Power of Resiliency.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

The Difference Between Doing a Job and Serving in a Role

*While I am specifically talking about editing and editors in this post, much of this applies to ghostwriting and ghostwriters as well.

When my son and nephew were seven and five years of age, my father asked them to help him do some yard work. He would pay each five dollars in exchange for their labor.

Before starting the project, my father gave the boys a set of instructions:

  • Pick up any trash.
  • Pull the weeds in the rose garden.
  • Move any rocks from the grass or flower beds back into the rock garden.

Off the boys went.

I was watching the work through a window and chatting with my mother when my father reported that the boys were doing an excellent job.

Not long after, the two hot and sweaty little men trudged around the side of the house in search of their boss. Moments later, they proudly ran through the list of what they’d done as they walked their grandfather around the yard to inspect their work.

My father stopped them under the willow tree mid-way between the rose and rock gardens.

“Boys, you didn’t pick up the willow branches.”

My son’s face fell.

“But, Grandpa, you didn’t tell us to do that.”

“Boys, I expect you to think about the reason I asked you to help and to pay attention to what you’re doing. Our goal is to make the yard look good. The yard won’t look good if the branches aren’t picked up.”

The Completion of Tasks Gets the Editing Job Done

Like the boys, many editors are task-oriented. They take on jobs. They systematically accomplish the task of editing.

Like the boys who pulled every weed and picked up every stray rock and scrap of garbage, they do their jobs well.

  • They clean up grammar errors.
  • They clean up punctuation.
  • They remove unnecessary sentences, clauses, and words.

When they are done, the words in the manuscript look good, but how does the “yard” look?

My son’s experience taught him what most adults understand, the labor-dollar exchange.

He also learned something many editors and authors do not consider: A job consists of a set of completed tasks, but the role supports the goal.

Acting in a Role Supports the Author's Goal

The role of an editor is to support you and your purpose: to perform the tasks while paying attention to the bigger picture.

The role of professional editors is to make sure everything about what you’ve written supports your brand and the purpose you had in mind for your book.

Professional editors see themselves as guardians of your investment and active players in your mission.

Many editors can do the job of making your writing look good, but few understand you, your topic or genre, your reader, and your critics enough to make you look good: more to the point, to keep you from looking bad.

Like my father who is goal-oriented, role-oriented editors see the big picture.

  • They understand the topic and identify areas where the author’s point runs counter to the facts available and that can, therefore, undermine the author’s authority.
  • They watch for logical fallacies and nonsequiturs.
  • They keep the readers’ experience at the forefront of their mind.
  • They identify potential liability (copyright infringement, defamation, etc.) and make referrals to professionals who can help their clients mitigate those risks.

If the author-editor relationship is to be strong, we must define expectations, the value associated with meeting those expectations, and the price associated with the value provided.

Price versus Value

When my father hired the boys to do the work, he hired them to perform a role. The value of the services each provided was worth parting with ten dollars.

When the boys committed to pulling weeds, picking up trash, and relocating rocks, they thought they were being hired to do a job for which they would be paid $5.00 each.

The cost of editing varies by type but generally falls within a range that caps at about $80.00/hour. After all, there are only so many rules and styles to apply, so there is a limit to value a job-oriented editor can provide.

However, a professional who operates in the role of an editor may charge much more just like some attorneys and physicians command higher fees.

Why? They have access to the same knowledge and tools as their lower-paid colleagues. Why are clients willing to pay more for their services?

The answer is simple: They provide more value per hour than their peers. They perceive more, identify more, and help clients avoid more exposure than other professionals in their respective fields.

What an editor charges and what you can expect to pay depend on your needs and goals.

When my father hired the boys, he just wanted a little help with regular yard maintenance and to provide an experience that might serve the boys as they matured.

A few years later, when my parents put their house on the real estate market, my father opted for more experienced and, therefore, more expensive help.

The goal was the same: Make the yard look good. But the risk was higher when the house was going up for sale. What looks good to family members and neighbors doesn’t necessarily impress home buyers.

Before hiring an editor, wise authors define “good” and consider only those service providers who are up to the challenge.

Before You Hire an Editor

  • Understand your brand and goals.
  • Articulate your values and needs.
  • Assess the risks associated with publishing a book: reputational, financial, career mobility, etc.
  • Determine a budget based on your goals and risk tolerance.
  • Seek editors with the education, perspectives, experiences, and skills who have the potential to match the experience and outcome you want.

Editors must also be prudent.

Before You Contract with an Author

  • Understand your business model and brand by identifying your niche based on your expertise.
  • Articulate your values and needs.
  • Assess the risks associated with working on a project: reputational, financial, career mobility, etc.
  • Determine your rate based on the value you can provide.
  • Seek clients who understand your services and respect your role.

The best editors are those who think and perform beyond the job of editor, and the best author-editor relationships are those in which each party understands and respects the other and works to accomplish the goal: to serve the reader.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

Tracking and Citing References for Your Nonfiction Book

*originally posted spring 2017

Before we dig into the nuts and bolts of tracking and citing sources, it's important to understand the legal and reputational risks you face as an author, particularly if you write nonfiction. You may be familiar with the rules that apply to academic writing, but those rules most likely do not apply to you now.

What follows is an explanation of how to track and cite your sources per Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), which is the publishing industry's style guide. Citing sources per CMS does not release you from legal obligations you may have or necessarily reduce liability. I highly recommend that you consult with an attorney who specializes in copyright law and read these articles by attorney Brad Frazer.

Related: 5 Things Nonfiction Authors Can Get Sued For, It's the First $50K That Kills You, and Is It Fair Use? 7 Questions to Ask Before Using Copyrighted Material

Properly citing your sources is not only ethical, it enhances your reader’s experience. The purpose of citations is to give credit where credit is due and allow readers to test assertions and interpretations against their original sources.

You and/or your editor may choose from one of several citation options (see videos below for more information), but it’s your responsibility to track and provide to your editor or publisher all the necessary information to cite your sources according to publishing industry standards.

I designed this post and Citation Tracking spreadsheet to keep you organized during the writing process. (Email me with "Citation Tracking Spreadsheet Request" in the subject line, and I'll send you a copy.)

Include enough information in the manuscript for us to be able to match your reference to the citation information on your spreadsheet. For example, when you quote, paraphrase, or refer to the work (written or otherwise) of another person or organization, you may simply put the author’s last name or name of the website in parentheses and add the required information to the spreadsheet. That will allow your editor to properly format the citations.

NOTE: You must cite the original source of a quote or idea. (Video: The Importance of Citing Original Sources)

Citation tips

  1. Determine your specific risks (by consulting with an attorney) and understand what constitutes Fair Use.
  2. Wikipedia can be a good place to start your research, but it is neither an original source nor is the information found there reliable. Test the accuracy of the information you find by seeking authoritative sources, and follow the trail to its original source.
  3. Track your sources from the earliest possible point in your writing process. Download my Citation Tracking spreadsheet to use now. Doing so from the beginning will save you a tremendous amount of time and enhance your professional image.
  4. Images and other graphics must also be referenced. Unless you've purchased a license to use them, they must be in the public domain and free for commercial (they vary as to whether you will be required to attribute them to the creator or if you may use them without attribution). The Internet itself is not public domain. Pixabay.com is an excellent source of images that are often free for commercial use with no attribution required. For the sake of transparency, I recommend citing them even if not required to do so. (Use the author or URL column on my tracking spreadsheet and add “CC0 Public Domain.”)
  5. OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource with explanations and specific citation examples. Remember, the publishing industry standard is Chicago Manual of Style (CMS).

Example

The image below is an example of how one might appear in the body of your manuscript. Note that it has a name that readers can cross-reference in the back matter of the book and an in-text citation (Pixabay) that will help readers locate it in the resources section.

Happy Puppy (Pixabay)

Happy Puppy (Pixabay)

This is how the citation should* appear in the resources section of your book.

Pixabay. Wow_Pho. CC0 Public Domain.

https://pixabay.com/en/dog-cute-pet-715545/. (19 March 2017)

*NOTE: If you look at page 5 of OWL’s Citation Chart, you’ll notice that my citation doesn’t match the CMS example.

  1. The second line should be indented, but my version of WordPress won't allow me to do it (or I lack the knowledge to make it happen).
  2. This image does not have a name.
  3. Many users upload images onto Pixabay (Wow_Pho being just one), so listing the author or contributor's name (Wow_Pho) would be confusing for anyone trying to find the source. It would also look unprofessional in this case since Wow_Pho is obviously a usern ame, not the contributor's real name. The goal is clarity, which sometimes requires deviations style (as long as we include all the required information).
  4. Technically, since this image is in the public domain, free from commercial use, and no attribution is required, I am not required to cite it. However, due to widespread disregard for the copyrights of others, whenever I see an image, quote, or other reference that isn’t cited, I assume it’s being used without permission. Professionally minded authors and students can demonstrate respect for the work of others and a commitment to our craft by citing every source.
  5. CMS does not require the date a website or webpage was accessed, but I’ve included it in my citation because recently a question came up regarding a source one of my clients used. She’s very thorough but hadn’t noted one important piece of information. When she went back to the website, the page had been edited. She could not find the exact location of the information she’d cited. It could not, therefore, be verified. (I won't go into detail now about why that matters. If you're curious, ask me about it in the comments section below and I'll go into more detail.)

Tracking sources from the beginning streamlines the writing and editing process, can help when it comes time to request permission to use copyrighted material, helps you look like a professional, and adds value for your readers.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

When Adding Value Takes Away from What We Do

*originally posted in 2016

When does adding value devalue your business and detract from your quality of life?

Most of my posts are written to help authors, and authors can certainly learn what not to do here. But, this post is specifically for other editors and service providers.

I'm writing this because perhaps you too are experiencing what I've been experiencing, and perhaps we can overcome this together.

It has been a rough couple of months for me and my family. It has also been a rewarding couple of months.

I've been working ten to sixteen hours days, seven days a week. This is physically and emotionally taxing and affects not only me but those around me.

Here's the thing. I shouldn't be working this hard. I don't need to work this hard. So why the hell am I!?

The answer is simple.

Saying no to the wrong things

I'm saying no to the wrong things.

I'm saying no to hiking on Saturdays, mountain bike riding on Sundays, and relaxing in my yard in the evenings.

I'm saying yes to prospects who email, instant message, and text me with questions about everything from marketing to cover design.

First, as businesspeople, we must distinguish between prospects and clients.

We must also remember that a client who contracts with us for one type of work remains a prospect for other types of work.

Prospects are those who have expressed interest in our products and services. They are in our sales pipelines but have not signed a contract and no money has changed hands. When we spend time working for prospects we are working for free. That's expected because there are costs associated with customer/client acquisition.

But what exactly is expected and how much is it costing us to acquire that client, that person or entity who pays for a specific product and/or service?

Prospects expect "added value." We are admonished to offer free services before the sale. I have no problem with that.

Prospective Client's Expectations

I do provide added value in the form of blog posts, free consultations and sample edits, and volunteer work in my local writing community. I'm sure you do too. This is general information, and I gladly offer it for free. But, for individualized plans, I offer editing, coaching, and consultation-for a fee.

However, I have noticed a trend. Prospects have been approaching me about my editing services, making loose commitments about hiring me and then using the newly established relationship to DM, email, and even text message me at all hours of the day, night, and even on weekends. If I do not respond immediately, some send message after message. And they are not asking me questions that would help them make a buying decision about the service they've said they want me to provide. They are asking for individualized advice regarding my other services. (If it sounds like I'm whining, stick with me.)

And, rather than maintaining my boundaries and protecting my income and personal time, I am responding to these people when they overstep. And once I answer one "quick question," I've obligated myself to answer them all. And one question begets another.

Beware of Scope Creep

If you are a service provider, you may have also experienced the flip side of this problem. Scope creep. Scope creep is when a client contracts for a specific service--a light edit for example--but then asks for more and more as the project moves forward and sometimes even after the work is delivered as contracted. When we hear phrases like "could you just," and "real quick," we should recognize them as red flags. Like a creeper vine, these requests--if not nipped in the bud--grow outside of their area and encroach on others. This overcrowding is harmful to the work we're doing for that client, our other clients, our personal lives, and can even choke out the time we have to prospect for future work.

When I write blog posts, post on YouTube, or speak to groups about the topics I know and love, I feel energized. I feel the pleasure of giving.

When prospects overstep and clients push, I feel like I am being taken from. My emotions turn from happy and engaged to resentful and disengaged.

Scope creep puts our relationships and businesses in danger and saps our energy.

Adding value doesn't mean taking from ourselves to give to others, and it shouldn't feel like losing.

As I've analyzed these negative emotions, I've been able to home in on the real issue. I am allowing people that aren't a good fit to steal my energy, creativity, and time.

Clients Win When We Say No

I would much rather spend my extra time coming up with new ideas to better serve those who respectfully partner with me and surprise them with a little something extra that enhances their experience than to give to people who are bottomless pits because it feels great to see a client's eyes light up at delivery or to get an email that says how delighted they are to work with me.

Bad prospects and clients will never be satisfied.

Many of us left the misery of the 9-to-5 life so we could do work we love with people who respect and appreciate us. But it can be easy to slip into bad relationships because we're trying to be nice, attract new business, and be all things to all people.

What I've learned over the past few months and am coming to appreciate more and more as I rebalance is that value is a two-way street.

We will never be able to add value for people who want to take it all, and those who truly appreciate our services and the experience we offer add back to us.

It's truly a win-win with no negative emotional or financial impact for either party.

To add value is to give a gift and should feel wonderful to the giver and to the receiver.

Saying No and Adding Value Feels Great!

I started writing this post several months ago. Since I started I've fired several prospects. I nicely but firmly told them we weren't a good fit, wished them well, and reiterated my professional position when they continued to ask me questions. I also had to remind a client that I had fulfilled my contractual obligation (with high praise from them) and that if they wanted my consulting time, we would need to draw up a new contract. I did all of that and nothing bad happened. The sky did not fall. I did not lose my professional standing. It all worked out fine, and I felt so much better!

Feeling better made me more creative, and one day while working for one of my many awesome clients, I had a flash of brilliance. An idea for how to add significant value with little extra effort and cost to me. They loved it! And, I've been able to use it with every other client and prospect since. My conversion rate went up, and I'm getting more referrals than ever because I'm setting boundaries and saying yes only to people and things that add value to my life and allow me to add value to them and theirs.

If you're tired and your enthusiasm is fading, if seeing a prospect or client's name causes your stomach to tighten and your energy to drop, I hope my experience helps you know that you are not alone and that the solution is fairly easy and not nearly as painful as it may seem.

Solutions

  1. Set office hours that include when you will answer phone calls, text messages, social media DMs, etc. and hold yourself to them.
  2. Incorporate a scope of work statement into your contract. (Although my contract has always clearly defined the work I agree to do, reorganizing it to specifically say "Scope of Work" helps me visualize a boundary--the scope--around the work and makes it easier for me to maintain those boundaries. Here is a sample of my contract.)
  3. Remember (as I must remind myself on a regular basis), it's easy to blame prospects and clients for our stress, but we teach people how to treat us. When we don't establish and enforce our boundaries, we communicate that we have none and, therefore, cannot expect others to respect them.
  4. Learn to recognize bad prospects and clients before engaging with them.
  5. Be willing to walk away from unprofessional relationships.

Related: Why You Must Stop Being a Superhero (Seriously!): Are You Selling the Impossible?

Related: My Editors & Authors YouTube post: What Type of Business Do You Want, and What Type of Customer Are You?

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

Enough with the Meaningless Brags

*originally post 2016

There are certain humble (and not so humble) brags that beg questions.

  1. I have 30,000 Twitter followers.
  2. I’m a member of five, six, seven, etc. writing/professional groups.
  3. I’m a best-selling author.

So what!?

When I was in college one of my professors would write on my papers, “What’s your point?”

Her point was to force me to identify my point and why my statement(s) mattered. Why was it meaningful?

When we hear or read the personal stats listed above (or are tempted to throw some of our own out), we should be asking the follow-up question, “So what? Why does it matter?”

Social Media Numbers Lie

Let’s say we tell someone we’re trying to impress that we’ve got umpteenbazillion followers on social media.

That begs some questions:

  1. How many of them did we buy?
  2. How many of them are our target market?
  3. How many of them do we engage with regularly?
  4. How many of them have ever purchased our book, product, or services?
  5. Further, how many of them are even in need/want of our book, products, and services?

The point of being on social media is to create a platform that will help (among other things): secure a contract with a literary agent, find a publisher, and ultimately leverage that platform to sell our products (books), and services.

Regardless of our short-term goals, the purpose of social media marketing is to drive sales!

If our followers are not interested in what we have to say and, therefore, aren’t our target market, they do not count.

And, if we aren’t making an effort to engage the remaining social media followers by providing interesting, timely, and valuable information that supports our mutual goals then we can’t expect them to seek us out for our products and services. 

We can brag about numbers all day, but what matters is the outcome. Our numbers can mean that we spent fifty bucks and five minutes to do something to look better, or they can mean that we are dedicating our time and effort to building a platform that produces meaningful results.

Membership is Meaningless

Another oft-cited number is a list of all of the writing groups, professional organizations, et cetera to which we belong: as if membership in and of itself has meaning.

The real question is, in how many of those groups and organizations do we actively participate?

I serve as the leader of the Boise Chapter of the Nonfiction Authors Association. I send a personal welcome email to each new member of our Meetup group (the platform on which we organize local meetings). Recently I noticed that one of our new members is also a member of over fifty other groups. Fifty!

I debated whether I should even bother sending an email. I did.

But, there is no way that person is actively and meaningfully involved in all of those groups-not most, not many, probably not even some. If that person ever shows up for a single meeting, I will be flabbergasted.

Non-participants do not benefit from the group nor can the group benefit from them.

“Member of,” like so many labels, has lost almost all meaning.

What matters is how that organization makes you a better writer, editor, salesperson, etc. And, for those of us who value professionals who give back to their communities, how your participation makes the group better is also important.

(By the way, being a member of many organizations sends a latent message that you haven't identified what matters to you and that you are, therefore, unfocused.)

The Overused “Best-selling Author” Label

Amazon has arguably done a lot of good things for our industry, however (and I mean no disrespect to those of you who are Amazon best-selling authors), it’s relatively easy to get that label by manipulating genres and purchase timing.

Whenever I hear that phrase I want to ask:

  1. How many books has that author actually sold?
  2. How much money have they actually made?

It’s unfortunate that the term has been so watered down. There are authors out there whose books have sold well but for whom the “best-selling author” label has lost its meaning and therefore any real value.

Although, they’re laughing all the way to the bank because while the label may be shared, the results are not.

The bottom line is, if we throw out a statistic or a label to impress and persuade, do we fear the follow-up questions, or would we be proud to quantify and defend them because they represent meaningful results?

If we are proud and can defend, we need to set ourselves apart by answering the follow-up questions before they’re asked.

Set Yourself Apart: Show, Don't Tell

Rather than say: “I have 50,000 social media followers,” we might say, “I have __X#___ of newsletter subscribers with a ___%___ open rate,” or “I have 50,000 social media followers, none of them purchased and all of them gained through the execution of a long-term strategic plan to build a platform of target prospects.”

Or, you might say, “I am an active member of ______group/association, attending monthly meetings and volunteering as a _______ in the organization,” or “I’ve been an active member of _________for _____years. They’ve helped me ____________________.”

The phrase "show, don't tell" extends beyond the craft of writing. It is central to business strategies that sell products and launch careers.

Say something meaningful. People will pay attention.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

Plot vs. Story: How Rushing the Plot Robs Your Reader of a Great Story

*originally posted 2016

As a substantive editor, I look for many things when I evaluate a manuscript.

  1. Point of view (POV) and perspective
  2. Verb tense
  3. Rhythm and pacing
  4. Consistencies and inconsistencies
  5. Plot
  6. Story
  7. Character development
  8. Genre
  9. Length
  10. Marketability

These are big picture things. Forests, not trees.

All of these things are important, but this post is going to focus on plot, without divorcing it from story.

There are two general types of writers: planners and pantsters. Some of you outline scenes and chapters before you start writing. Others of you just jump right in and fly by the seat of your pants.

I’m not advocating one style over another. Planners can use this information up front to write a better draft. Pantsters can use this in hindsight as they edit their draft. The only wrong way to write a book is to ignore the relationship between story and plot.

Before we get started, let’s define some terms. And let’s keep it really simple.

Plot versus Story

Plot- a series of things that happen (what happens)

Story- the why, where, when, how, and to whom

Understanding the difference between plot and story is critical to your success as a writer. The plot moves the story. The story makes the plot more interesting.

It’s much easier to focus on plot than it is to focus on writing the story. That’s because plot is simply a series of--and then, and then, and then. Plotting scenes avoids the hardest part of writing. It’s a way to avoid having to come up with the answers to the critical, burning questions.

The Questions Readers (desperately) Want Answered

In my post, Developing Fictional Characters, I mentioned the constructive feedback (in the form of two questions) I received from an English professor, mentor, and friend. It has served me well as both a writer and an editor.

  1. What’s your point?
  2. Who cares?

Those are burning questions, but they are not the burning questions you want a reader to ask!

The burning questions you want readers to ask are:

  1. What happens next? and
  2. How does the story end?

Plot does not answer those burning questions. And without burning questions, why should a reader keep turning the pages?

Cheating Your Reader Means Risking Your Success as an Author

If a reader (whether an agent; an acquisition editor; a publisher; or, as I’m more specifically referring to here, an everyday reader) puts your book down never to pick it up again, they feel cheated. Not only did they spend money on your story, they spent their time.

A reader who gets bored and feels cheated will not recommend your book; they may even leave a nasty review and a low rating, telling others not to read it. And, to add insult to injury, they’ll probably never give you the opportunity to redeem yourself. That is, they won’t purchase your next book.

From a marketing perspective, cheating readers means fewer sales, less money, less recognition. Less.

Nothing bores a reader faster than rushing the plot. Rushing the plot means going from one event or scene to another without showing the reader why.

I can hear some of you now. You’re saying, “That’s all well and good for you, Cristen, but you like literary fiction and memoirs--bleh! booooring!--so what do you know? I write thrillers, and you gotta have action to keep the reader wondering what’s going to happen next!”

Yes, action is required. But, if you don’t give the reader time to get to know the main characters and develop feelings for them, they won’t be concerned about the characters’ safety. Readers won’t care if a character lives or dies or if that character experiences trauma. Events will serve only as data points because the reader isn’t emotionally invested.

Guy walks out of a bar. Another guy follows him. Guy turns down a street. Other guy turns down same street. Other guy kills guy.

So what? What’s your point? Who cares? Certainly not I.

In his book Watchers, Dean Koontz offers a master lesson for fiction thriller writers, with a perfect blend of plot and story. Or, on the more literary side, read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

But, since you probably don’t have time to drop everything and read two novels at the moment and because your book is probably nothing like either of those, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of writing a book that doesn’t sacrifice story in an effort to move the plot.

Plot-Rushing Solutions

Any critic can point out problems, but good editors are there to point out problems in your specific manuscript and help you solve those problems.

While that is author and manuscript specific, there are some general steps you can take to avoid rushing your book’s plot.

  1. Identify every plot point or scene.
  2. Ask yourself: what’s my point? (How does this serve the story?)
  3. Then ask: who cares? (Why should the reader care about this?)
  4. Cut anything--ahem, cut everything--that doesn’t serve the story.
  5. Now, show the reader why they should care. Tell them a story. Make them feel. Help them identify with your characters and live vicariously through them. After all, there is no interest like self-interest!

Now that you can identify plot rushing when you see it in your writing, you can fix it. But how can you take your writing to the next level by avoiding it in the future?

Why Do Authors Rush the Plot in the First Place?

Often when an author begins to rush the plot it’s because the stakes aren’t high enough. Good authors create high stakes problems (events/situations) that require complex problem solving on the parts of their characters.

Remember, it’s not the action in and of itself that interests readers. It’s the potential consequences of actions and reactions that keep readers turning pages.

So slow down. Think like a substantive editor when it comes to crafting your manuscript's plot and story. Most importantly, think like a reader.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

The Differences Between Book Marketing, Book Promotion, and Book Sales and Why They Matter

*originally posted 2016

Are you confused by the terms book marketing, book promotion, and book sales?

Do you know why understanding the differences matters?

If you're like most authors, the goal of publishing your book is to sell that book.

Again and again.

In order to do that, you must convert prospects into buyers.

Convert Prospects into Buyers

  1. The prospective buyer/reader must know about your book. They can't buy it if they don't know it's available.
  2. And if they do know about your book, they won't buy it if it doesn't appeal to them.

Appeal to Your ideal Reader and Audience

  1. Your cover must intrigue them.
    1. Does your book's cover interest the potential buyer and meet their expectations for quality and style? Does it match other books in its genre?
    2. Are your book's synopsis and quotes of praise compelling?
  2. Your price point must be competitive.
    1. Is your book priced appropriately for its genre, topic, length, etc.?
  3. Your content must resonate with them.
    1. Remember, they haven't decided to buy and read your book yet. If they've gotten past the cover and price point, does your table of contents make them want to commit to the purchase?

In this excellent video, Michael La Ronn "unpacks" marketing and promotion in more detail. What he doesn't touch on is the sales aspect. I'll expand on how to promote your book below and talk about the bottom line-book sales.

As Michael said, promotion cannot exist apart from marketing. Likewise, book sales will not happen without book promotion.

Once you have an excellent product (the book marketing piece), how will you promote it and then, how will you sell it?

How to Promote Your Book

Before you can promote your book you have to ask a few questions (I recommend asking these questions in the developmental phase of writing your manuscript):

  1. Who are you going to tell about it?
  2. Who is a likely reader, more specifically, who is in your target market?

If, like many new authors, you look around and have only close family and friends to tell, you don't have an author platform.

If you think of your author platform as a stage and yourself as a performer, who is it that would want to see your show? Audiences don't gather around empty stages, and performers don't play to empty rooms.

  1. Develop and use your author platform (build your stage, and promote from it).
  2. Develop relationships with people who have platforms that appeal to your target audience and ask for their help promoting your book (borrow other people's stages, promote to their audiences).

It's unfortunate, but one of the biggest and most frequent mistakes I see is authors not having a platform. Authors spend months and sometimes years developing a manuscript but no time finding their audience and developing a platform so that their audience can gather around them.

Without a platform of some kind, promotion and the sales that follow are nearly impossible.

Develop Your Platform

The foundation of an author's platform is their website, and everything they do on social media should be done with the goal of building interest in the author's brand and their book and bringing their target audience to their website. A website serves as the home of a book even before the book is published.

Establishing a blogging site (with a subscription option) is an excellent way to build your author platform.

Your website establishes your brand and keeps the target market engaged. When a book is published, the website can be set up to fulfill book purchases (a sales platform) or direct readers to another sales platform such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Examples of Solid Author Platforms

Anne Leigh Parrish, author of What is Found, What is Lost; Our Love Could Light the World; and All the Roads That Lead From Home (literary and women's fiction)

Andy Johnson, author of Introvert Revolution (nonfiction, leadership development)

Back to Book Promotion

Websites, businesses, and bookstores can all serve as sales platforms, but how do you get prospective readers to them?

There are many ways to tell your audience about your book, and which ones you choose depends on where your market is. One of the best ways is by tapping into the power of social media.

When used effectively, social media can establish your brand and allow you to promote your product to a wider audience than you might otherwise be exposed to in the normal course of your life and business. While social media marketing (SMM, more specifically social media promotion) may seem overwhelming at first, when you consider what it can do and how to use it in specific ways to accomplish specific purposes, it can make all the time and effort you put into developing your manuscripts worth it.

Anne Leigh Parrish uses Twitter to promote her books. She has over 40,000 followers. Andy Johnson on the other hand, is far more active on LinkedIn. Each has chosen the social media channel most likely to be used by their target audience.

Both of these authors have "baked" the marketing into their books. Each author knows who their target market is and where to find them. And, just as importantly, they seek out the people in their markets by effectively using social media to direct prospects to their websites and a sales platform. Anne and Andy are excellent role models for understanding how to market, promote, and sell books.

When your book marketing is well done and your book promotion targeted, book sales will naturally follow. That is why understanding the difference between marketing, promotion, and sales is so important.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

Amazon Ebook Quality Control Measures

*originally posted 2016

Love it or hate it, there's no denying that Amazon has changed the publishing landscape.

Some of these changes are arguably for the good of authors and readers. The ability for authors to self-publish and sell their books using a preexisting sales platform has certainly helped democratize publishing and provides readers with far more choices than before. However, by removing publishers--traditionally the gatekeepers of quality--from the equation, an abundance of poorly crafted stories and terribly executed books have flooded the market.

Legitimate authors who once were able to make full-time livings as writers have been forced back into the 9-5 workforce partly because price point is no indication of quality, and choices abound. Therefore, many readers are unwilling to pay more than a few dollars for a book.

I don't blame them. As a publishing professional, I see every day the lack of respect we have for our own craft. Anyone can call themselves a writer, author, or editor. And anyone with Photoshop and Adobe can call themselves a book designer. Few even talk about interior layout. That seems to be an afterthought, if a thought at all. Quality and quality control measures are not an industry-wide priority.

AMAZON TO SAVE THE DAY?

Amazon--largely to blame for this quality vacuum--is about to implement corrective action in what appears to be an attempt to repair the damage done to its brand by the abundance of low quality ebooks.

Starting February 3rd, 2016, Amazon will begin posting warnings to prospective readers that a book contains spelling and/or formatting errors. Those books with significant formatting problems will not be available for purchase through Amazon.com.

 

Some authors have raised concerns about intentional spelling errors related to diction or words that, depending upon one's country, vary in their spelling-color versus colour, for example. According to the Good E Reader report, this is not a cause for concern. The system is not dependent upon an algorithm like a spell-checker but on reader reports of errors. Warning messages will only be posted after the reports by readers are verified.

Bogus reviews, both good and bad, have made Amazon's rating system untrustworthy. Verified warning messages offer protective measures for all legitimate players in the publishing industry as well as the readers we serve.

IT'S TIME FOR MORE ACCOUNTABILITY

It's time for people who call themselves authors to act like professionals.

It's time for editors who charge money for their services to be professionals.

It's time for small presses to vet projects and reject those that do not meet minimum standards of excellence.

It's time for authors, editors, and publishers to partner with design specialist who have the knowledge and ability to elevate a project to its full potential.

And it's time for readers to expect and demand excellence from all of the above by pointing out our deficiencies.

Accountability for quality control is what is going to bring respectability back to the publishing industry, wages up for legitimate authors, and value back to readers.

Kudos to Amazon for doing something that promises to build up our industry, not further degrade it.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

6 Query Letter Must Haves

*originally posted 2016

If you want to sell the idea of your book to an agent, acquisition editor, or a publisher you must have an excellent query letter. Not an excellent book, an excellent query letter.

There are many excellent books out there that will never be published (by a publisher that uses editorial discretion*) because the author didn’t demonstrate an understanding of the market, a hook, a plan, and a fit.

Sure, you could self-publish, but in order to sell your product you still must have a strong grasp of these components (and many more) if you’re going to make money.

Which leads me to the number one mistake authors make when writing a query letter-not understanding that publishing is not about art, it’s about money. Publishing is like any other business. Publishers must make a profit in order to accept and publish more manuscripts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

You don’t work for free, and neither do we. We’ve all gotta eat.

So, you must demonstrate to an agent, editor, or publisher that your book is worth the financial risk and/or the risk to the publisher’s brand.

The way you demonstrate that is by addressing the following six must-haves in your query letter.

6 QUERY LETTER MUST-HAVES

  1. Your book’s genre and subgenre
  2. Your target market
  3. A market analysis and why your book is competitive
  4. Your platform stats
  5. Your marketing plan
  6. Why you’re a fit for that publisher

Your Books Genre and Subgenre

Knowing where your book belongs on a shelf is a talking point and helps identify where your target market is going to find your book.

Your Target Market

Your target market is the person who is most likely to buy your book. “Buy” being the critical word.

No one makes money if a reader won’t pay money for your book. Your ideal reader may be six-year-old boys, but your target market would be whomever is most likely to buy that reader the book (parents and grandparents of six-year-old boys is a good place to start). The difference between reader and buyer is critical.

Competitive Market Analysis

Know what books yours will be competing against and what sets it apart. What sets your book apart is part of your hook. Consider how you might make the most of that hook.

Your Platform Stats

Do you have a website and a blog? How many blog and newsletter subscribers do you have? How often do you post and/or send those newsletters? Are you a member of a writers guild or other author organizations? Are you active in them, and in what capacity? Do you have social media accounts? How many followers do you have on each?

This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have an audience, that you understand that you will be responsible for much of the marketing of your book.

But make sure that your followers are people in your target market and make sure you articulate that (and how you know that) in your query letter. Single eighteen-year-old wannabe-rock-star Twitter followers don’t count. Sorry. Numbers lie.

Your Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan is largely tied to your platform with one critical distinction. A primary goal of your platform is to make you visible. The goal of marketing is book sales.

This is where you explain how you’re going to use your platform to drive sales of your book. How are you going to convert prospects into buyers?

Why You’re a Fit for That Publisher

I rarely see this addressed in query letters, and it’s something I always want to know. How is this author a good fit for me and my company, and how am I a good fit for them?

For example, I’ve done manuscript acquisition work for several different types of publishers, and on several occasions I liked what I read and requested more from the author. A few times, I read the entire manuscript and contacted the author to discuss acquisition only to be told that they weren’t interested in any type of contract other than a traditional one.

Do not waste your time or the time of anyone who represents a company other than the kind you want to work with. It’s unprofessional and frustrating for everyone involved. There are many publishers out there, many different business models, and many different imprint brands.

Only submit to agents, editors, and publishers that fit your needs and goals, and demonstrate your thoughtfulness and business savvy by stating why a relationship with you is a win-win.

If you aren’t sure if it’s a good fit, ask, or state your needs and desires up-front.

A Word About Craft

Editors and publishers are always saying “show, don’t tell.” A query letter should be crafted to show the great writing skills every author wants to brag about.

You should have a hook and great segues.

The order you choose to place those six must-haves is yours to determine. Whatever the order, act with purpose and demonstrate craft.

If you include the six query letter must-haves above and deliver the vital information that the recipient needs in a way that captures her or his attention, you’ll have a much better chance of one of us actually reading and accepting your manuscript.

Good luck! And remember, we love what we do. We’re looking for a reason to say “YES!” to you. All you have to do is give it to us.

 

*A publisher that uses editorial discretion is one that has standards of excellence that must be met before a project/manuscript is accepted. Those standards include—but are not limited to—topic, content, writing quality, author platform, and marketability.

Vanity presses do not use editorial discretion.

For more on editorial discretion (manuscript vetting), see my post, Which Publishing Option is Right for You?

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2016

Establishing Boundaries on Social Media

*originally posted 2015

Establishing social media boundaries is critical to the success of your brand.

Do you have a social media strategy, and does it articulate who (or the types of accounts) you will connect with on various social media platforms?

I designed this post to help you identify and correct areas where your social media practices are working against you if you are trying to enhance your credibility as a professional*.

It is also designed to explain why I probably won’t accept your friend request on Facebook and may not connect with you on LinkedIn or follow you back on Twitter.

MY BIGGEST SOCIAL MEDIA MISTAKE

When I became a freelance writer and editor, I had no social media strategy. I watched what others did and followed suit.

That was a mistake!

I was emulating the wrong people. I had to learn the hard way that what works for others didn’t work for me and the goals of others were not my goals. Further, our personalities and strengths differed.

Goals, personality, and strengths work together to form your brand.

You can have an accidental brand (which rarely works in your favor), or you can purposefully brand yourself to put yourself in the best position to achieve your business goals.

What's Your Brand?

Your brand dictates your boundaries.

If, like me, your personal brand is professional and your goal is to be seen as a resource and authority in your industry, your behavior on social media will be different from someone whose brand is informal.

It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the pros and cons of branding choices. However, if you lean toward an informal brand, my experience may serve as a cautionary tale.

MISTAKES I MADE

  1. I used my personal Facebook page to connect with clients and prospects.
  2. I followed most people and accounts back on Twitter.
  3. I connected with any writer who sent me a LinkedIn connection request.

WHY THOSE WERE MISTAKES

Facebook

I use my personal Facebook account as a way to keep up with close friends and family. My family is large and spread across the globe. Facebook is an excellent tool to stay connected.

Per Facebook’s rules, Profiles are for personal use and Pages are for business use. Many writers (and other business people) blur the lines by using their personal profiles for business purposes.

I accepted friend requests assuming that I was connecting with people on a more personal level and that they were using Facebook the same way I was. They were not. Having pictures of my son’s graduation pool party on my profile was, no doubt, confusing for those who use their personal profile for business, and I have no doubt that this diminished my professional brand.

It was a mistake to engage with professional connections on my personal Facebook profile because they were showing up there dressed in business suits, I in a swimsuit.

Twitter

Twitter is my favorite social media platform, and I use it to add value to my business in several ways.

Many of the accounts I follow will never use my services or be interested in what I have to say. I follow them because they provide valuable information and because I plan to use the services of some in the future.

I follow some accounts because they fit my ideal customer profile, and I hope to engage with them professionally at some point. In the meantime, I follow their tweets in an attempt to understand their specific challenges and needs and how or if I can help them. This a “long game” strategy.

When I first started using Twitter, I followed back almost every account that followed me. I mistakenly assumed that if someone followed me, she or he was interested in the information I provided and/or using my services at some point down the road. Therefore, I wanted to engage with them.

However, there is a trend of follow, follow back, unfollow to grow an account’s follower numbers on Twitter. Once I started to see patterns, it was very easy to identify those who were using that strategy. I quickly realized that while I viewed those I followed and those that followed me as valuable connections (not all for the same reasons), to many I was simply a number. That’s a “short game” strategy.

It was a mistake to follow back so many accounts because they weren’t quality connections and the tweets they put out clogged my feed and distracted me from quality connections and information I wanted.

LinkedIn

I have high hopes for my LinkedIn activities because my ideal clients are professionals. However, it has taken me longer than expected to gain traction on LinkedIn.

I did a lot of things right when I set up my profile, and I took the advice of experts and generally didn’t connect with those outside of my industry or market. However, I should have been more particular. I received a number of connection requests from people who listed “writer” in their profiles. Because LinkedIn is a professional platform for people seeking business resources, I assumed that those people wanted to connect with me as a professional in the publishing industry. They were not. Like Facebook and Twitter, many simply wanted to sell me their book and/or were growing their numbers.

It was a mistake to follow them because when my ideal professional prospects look at my connections they see connections that do not reflect their brand and needs. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels where Michael Caine’s character says, “A poacher shooting at rabbits scares off big game.” Although I have no real business connection to the “rabbits,” it may appear that they are my primary market and scare off those I do want to attract.

(By the way, I found out that you can disconnect from people on LinkedIn, and have since done so.)

How I Established Boundaries by Reframing My Expectations

Having learned from those experiences, I have established social media boundaries that compliment my business goals and fit my strategy.

I use each social media platform differently but in harmony, and I’ve brought my expectations in line with reality.

The key to social media success and to establishing social media boundaries is having realistic expectations.

Therefore, I no longer accept Facebook friend requests from prospects, clients, or business associates unless we have a well-established personal relationship.

I do not automatically follow back on Twitter. I research new followers and only follow those that demonstrate real engagement with their audience, those accounts that, like me, are playing a “long game.”

And, I no longer accept invitations to connect on LinkedIn unless the connection serves the needs of my business.

Being Professional Isn't Being Unfriendly

One thing I struggled with was the idea that people may be offended if I didn’t accept their friend requests on Facebook, follow them back on Twitter, or connect with them on LinkedIn.

Then I remembered my brand and strategy, the reasons I established boundaries in the first place. I also reminded myself of my target market-professional writers, editors, agents, and publishers. Professionals expect and respect boundaries, and they focus on quality not quantity. Those that do not are not my ideal clients. I certainly do not wish to offend anyone, but as professionals, we cannot please everyone nor should we try.

The result of being selective about who I connect with, and where, has been a decrease in effort and an increase in sales. For someone working to develop a sustainable, lifestyle brand, establishing social media boundaries has served gone a long way to helping me build the business I want.

*By professional, I mean someone who consistently sells her or his products or services to those outside their circle of friends and family and who demonstrates a steady increase in sales and professional development.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

Food for Thought: Interview with Many-Times-Published Literary Fiction Author, Anne Leigh Parrish

*originally posted 2015

Food for Thought

The acrid smell of burning chicken potpie finally registered and drew my attention to the hot spot on my backside where I’d been leaning against the oven door. I laughed as I spun around, tossing my book on the kitchen cabinet and opening the oven door. Smoke swirled around me. I surveyed the damage.

Edible.

I pulled the pie out of the oven, set it on a rack to cool for a few minutes and went back to my book.

The pie was almost cold when, once again, I realized I was standing in my kitchen, leaning against the oven I’d forgotten to turn off.

I had to laugh as I asked myself, When was the last time you got so engrossed in a book that you completely lost track of time and place? Two books came to mind, A Land More Kind Than Home and Olive Kitteridge.

Who needs food when there are books like these to be read? Over the next two weeks Anne Leigh Parrish's debut novel, What is Found, What is Lost, was never far from reach. In spite of a heavy editing schedule, I snuck in chapters whenever I could. Food was of little importance. I devoured words instead. And, hungry for more, as I closed the cover on What is Found, What is Lost with one hand, I picked up her book of short stories with the other.

The gripping Olive Kitteridge came immediately back to mind, as did the work of Joyce Carol Oates.

While reminiscent of Strout and Oates, Our Love Could Light the World isn’t the slightest bit derivative. Parrish’s voice is strong, her characters uniquely adapted, and her prose, satisfying.

For readers, Anne’s books are like a fine dining experience. The atmosphere creates a mood of anticipation and every word delights the senses. For writers and editors, Anne’s work can be examined much as a nutritionist would assess the quality of a meal. Regardless of one's perspective, the verdict is the same-delicious and nutritious.

So, let’s talk to the head chef and see what’s on the menu.

What's on the Menu?

Anne’s first book, Our Love Could Light the World, is a collection of stories about the Dugan family. The Dugans are that family and yet, they are, if we are honest with ourselves, every family, and Parrish’s understanding of each member is deep and honest, her prose bitter and sweet, complex and compelling.

Each story is bite-sized and tempts the reader to taste just one more. The book, like heavy hors d’oevrers, is a meal in and of itself and demonstrates that the novel needn’t be the only thing worthy of consideration for the literary plate.

Anne, you are a prolific short story writer, as evidenced by your long list of published works.

Why short stories?

Short stories were what I read when I was young, and first thinking of becoming a writer. There were so many wonderful authors to choose from, Flannery O’Connor, the Irish great, William Trevor, and of course my beloved Alice Munro. A lifelong subscription to The New Yorker Magazine also fed my passion for stories. And, I’m happy to say, that to date I’ve published thirty-nine short stories. I have to think that number forty is right around the corner~

What made you decide to write a collection of short stories centered around one family?

My first story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, had eleven pieces which didn’t intersect with one another at all. Each was free-standing, unaffiliated. The last story in the book was about the Dugan family, and thus became the first story in Our Love Could Light The World. I decided the Dugans were people I could spend more time with. I knew some people wrote linked story collections, where the pieces all have a common cast of characters of location, so I thought I’d give it a try. When the manuscript was finished, and being vetted by my publisher, there was discussion of whether to call the book a story collection, or a novel-in-stories, which is another form I’ve seen, though not as often. I opted for “stories.”

And how did writing short works prepare you for a novel-length story, what some might think of as the main dish?

I like to say that one can’t write a novel until one knows how to write a short story. Short stories require efficiency, being exact, economizing on space, if you will. That said, a novel, by virtue of being so much longer, means there is a lot more to manage. It can be a little hard to keep track of all the characters and what they’re doing over time. And this novel, What Is Found, What Is Lost, as you know, spans over ninety years. In sum, I had a lot of graphs and timelines at hand.

The consideration that Anne puts into her menu and the time and energy she committed to making each recipe and balancing the flavors are evident.

While we might be tempted to take in the Dugan family as a whole, each member has his or her own flavor that at times clashes, at other times compliments, the flavors of others. Parrish uses these ingredients to distinguish each character and exposes the roots of human frailty and familial dysfunction- what it is to be human with other humans to whom we are bonded by proximity and blood.

In her debut novel, What is Found, What is Lost, Parrish expands the selection to four generations of a family: grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters.

When taken in as a whole, Anne’s story pulled this reader smoothly through. I didn’t want to stop reading. Eating lost its importance. Sleep was put off. I was wholly engrossed as if the story was unfolding around me. I identified so strongly with parts of each character that it was as if I was both in it and outside of it. And yet, there were lines in the book so profound that I had to stop and just listen and open myself to a deeper understanding of myself, those I love, and those I want to love.

Anne, like any good literary fiction writer, your work speaks to meaning. What is Found, What is Lost examines marriage, motherhood, faith, and love (not a requisite ingredient for any of the previous three relationships but one that makes each more palatable).

How do you measure and incorporate love into your character’s relationships to create such complexity for readers?

Everyone has some capacity for love, so naturally it’s a sort of common denominator for my characters. And I always recall something Toni Morrison said (and I paraphrase here) “Angry people love angrily, weak people love weakly,” and so on, which I take to mean that love is an expression of character and sensibility. That alone creates complexity, I think. Love is measured in gestures and impact. In my novel, Freddie knows Ken loves her, she also knows he can be harsh and sometimes cruel. It’s easier to accept this inconsistency in him because her own mother, Lorraine, was very much the same way. Freddie understands, on an innate level born of experience and observation, that love has many facets, not all of them kind.

That answer is why I love doing author interviews like this. It gives me an even deeper appreciation for Anne’s characters, and it serves as a palate cleanser, allowing me to reexamine and appreciate love in its many forms in my own life. That’s the critical, but difficult, understanding great authors must reach before they can tell a compelling story.

A good book is, at least for me, one that I read with the book in one hand and a pencil in the other. Over and over again in both of these books, I found myself circling lines and paragraphs and making notes in the margin: raw and real, honest, profound, beautiful.

Anne tackles difficult subjects and relationships: lost childhoods, lost love, lost faith, neglect, betrayal. At one point, toward the end of What is Found, What is Lost I wrote: She has an amazing grasp on relationships as if she’s experienced the tumult and triumph of each first-hand. Her writing is 100% believable.

Anne, you seem to have a grasp on human nature that extends beyond your years and experience. It seems innate, completely natural, almost magical.

From where do you draw your inspiration and how are you able to allow yourself to go so deep into each character?

I was born to a complex, highly-intelligent, narcissistic mother. She took a lot of figuring out. I spent years on that personal project, and after hearing her deathbed confession, my analysis of her life and character deepened a great deal. My mother used to say, after watching our house cats interact, that affection very quickly and easily gives way to aggression. She was proof of that, in spades.

Having had the pleasure of reading both of your books and many of your other published short stories, I see strong, rich threads that bind the body of your work.

I cannot help but wonder, is this purposeful? Are you setting a table for a specific occasion or purpose or are these the foods you grew up with and have become accustomed to?

I like to consider the main drivers of female experience – what women typically go through, I should say. This includes marriage and motherhood, but also sorting out one’s relationship to one’s own mother, and how those fundamentals are relayed – or avoided – if one has a daughter. Interestingly, my novel-in-progress is all about the female experience, as lived by three women, unrelated by blood, but brought together in a nursing home, of all unlikely fictional settings.

If you were to think of your work as food, what part of the meal do you hope impresses itself upon your guests the most?

Oh, I always like to think that every book is simply leading to the next one as I create a life-time body of work. So, think of what you read as being a small course in a long, candlelit dinner with many, many courses!

For me, parts of Anne’s work serve to satisfy each of my appetites. It is not often that a writer can be compared to Wiley, Strout, and Oates, but her work is every bit as creative, well prepared, and tastefully served as any of the great and better-known literary fiction writers of our time.

Anne’s are books that make you hope for bad weather, power outages, or sick days-any excuse to stay put and read for hours on end, until the end. She is a writer whose work I expect to someday see on bookstore shelves everywhere. And when I do I will buy her latest work, go home, stand in my kitchen reading it as another meal burns, and end the day wholly satisfied.

Menu

Appetizers and Desserts

Anne’s 39+ individually published short stories

Main Courses

Our Love Could Light the World

What is Found, What is Lost

All the Roads That Lead From Home

Coming soon: Women Within

 

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

Which Publishing Option is Right for You: Traditional, Indie, Hybrid, Partner, or Self?

*originally posted 2015

Are you writing a book but aren't sure which publishing option is right for you?

There are many options: traditional, indie, hybrid (sometimes called partner), and self-publishing.

This article is designed to help you identify which one fits your needs and goals. I’ll provide a brief overview of each option’s business model, pros and cons, and a profile of the type of author who may consider it.

But before we begin I want to address two things:

  1. Hierarchy
  2. Fit

HIERARCHY IN PUBLISHING

Talk to a few authors, read a few blogs, scan a few tweets, and you’re bound to see a trend--that publishing can be ranked on a scale from best to worst. Traditional publishing being best, self being worst. I’ve had countless conversations with authors that go like this:

Me: “You’re writing a book? Fantastic! What is your publishing preference?”

Writer: “Well, I’m going to try to find an agent first and go the traditional route. If that doesn’t work I’ll submit to indie publishers. And if that doesn’t work, I don’t know, I might shelve it or maybe, maybe, self-publish. But I really don’t want to do that unless I have to.”

The conversation usually turns not to the business of writing but to the ego of writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing ego. I’m a writer too don’t forget. There’s nothing wrong with making a decision to traditionally publish based solely on ego, on the cache that traditional publishing offers. On the other hand, I’m also a business person and there are plenty of self-published authors (or I should say non-traditionally published authors) who make a good living from their efforts. For them, putting food on the table is more important than the model or label under which they publish.

So, let’s dismiss the idea of hierarchy from the get-go because if your value or goal is to be on an author list that includes one of the big players, you should probably go the trad route, but if you put value in having more control over your artistic expression and making a living from that work at the same time, I’m going to tell you about some other options. Who is anyone to say that one way is better or worse than any other?

That's your business. And that business starts with fit.

FINDING A GOOD PUBLISHING FIT

As you may have gathered from my comments about hierarchy, we need to determine what’s most valuable to us as individual artists and business people. Once we do that, we’re in a better position to make an objective assessment. And when the haters make their snarky comments, whether they’re self-published authors mocking trads or trads looking down their noses at selfs, we can brush them off.

This reminds me of birth order. Oldest children vs. the babies while the middle kids get lost in the shuffle. Hopefully, no one will get lost here because let’s face it, in the end, we’re all in the same family. We’re all siblings in the publishing family.

And just like members of any family, each member has its own unique personality, strengths, and weaknesses.

It's important to understand each other and appreciate each member for who/what they are.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

Business Model: Traditional publishers pay authors an up-front payment for their work plus royalties on sales, and they cover all of the expenses to publish the book.

The business of writing from an author's perspective

Pros:

  1. Because of the competition and arguably high standards, being traditionally published can validate an author’s craft and launch their career.
  2. Traditional publishers have the resources to get better shelving position for a book, which increases its exposure. Traditional publishers may also be able to give a book global exposure.
  3. Traditional publishers have access to all distribution channels.
  4. The publisher assumes the cost of publishing a book.

Cons:

  1. Authors often have to go through an agent to have their work traditionally published. This adds a layer of complexity and may reduce an author’s income because agents get paid a percentage of profits.
  2. Authors give up editorial and artistic control.
  3. If an author does not have an established platform they will most likely not be a candidate for traditional publishing. A fiction author's platform is less important than a nonfiction author's; however, consider the comments below when making decisions about your platform.
  4. Because of their size, traditional publishers are more rigid, sometimes forcing square pegs into round holes.
  5. It can take years before a book gets to market.
  6. Contrary to what many who are new to the industry believe, traditional publishers rarely pay for much book promotion, particularly for new, unproven authors. Authors are expected to market and promote their own book at their own expense.

Being traditionally published will appeal to authors who hope to be in contention for prestigious literary awards and recognition (although using a different model to publish your book does not disqualify you). It will also appeal to authors who do not want to invest any of their own money (up-front anyway) to have their book published.

The business of publishing from an agent or publisher's perspective

Publishing is a business. If a manuscript would require several rewrites and heavy line and copy editing, an agent or publisher may reject it in favor of another, well-polished manuscript because less time in their editor's hands means more money in the publisher's pocket.

Did you know that editing is the single most expensive aspect of publishing and professional editors spend 85--110 hours editing a 100,000-word manuscript (The Chicago Manual of Style, 2010)?

Related Article: The Economics of Writing a Book

INDEPENDENT "INDIE" PUBLISHING

Business Model: The business models of indie* publishers vary, but in general, unlike traditional publishers, they do not pay authors when a book is acquired.

Like traditional publishers, some indie publishers cover the up-front cost of publishing the book. The publisher and the author share royalties.

The business of writing from an author's perspective

Pros:

  1. Indie publishers vet manuscripts prior to acquisition, maintaining some of the cache that comes with traditional publishing.
  2. There are a growing number of indie publishers from which to choose, each with their own vibe and specialty.
  3. An indie publisher is far more likely to accept a manuscript from an author with no previously published work and/or no established platform.
  4. Because indie publishers are much smaller than traditional publishers, they are more agile and can typically publish a book within twelve to eighteen months.
  5. Although access and use vary, indie publishers can also distribute their catalog of books across multiple channels.
  6. The publisher assumes the cost of publishing the book.
  7. The publisher manages the back-end financial tracking and payout leaving the author time to focus on other things.

Cons:

  1. Because indie publishers assume the cost of publishing (and therefore more risk), the author must relinquish editorial and artistic control to a large degree.
  2. The profit-sharing/team model (where editors and other service providers share royalties) used by some indie publishers has not proven to be sustainable, putting authors in an unenviable situation when the publisher closes its doors.
  3. Regardless of the specifics of their business model, because indie publishers assume the cost of publishing a book, if too many of their books underperform, they risk going out of business. That puts authors at risk (see article below).
  4. Production quality can vary widely. An author must take the time to research and vet an indie publisher just as publishers must vet authors.

An indie publisher may be a good choice for writers who just want to write without the distraction of having to source publishing professionals and who do not want to assume any cost for publishing their work.

The business of publishing from a publisher's perspective

The same business considerations that apply to traditional publishers apply to indie, partner, and some hybrid publishers. Although, the risk to smaller publishers (and the authors with whom they contract) is greater because they have fewer books to bet on. If too many underperform, everyone loses. Like traditional publishers, indie, partner, and hybrids must be selective. Authors with excellent manuscripts and an established platform will be more attractive to them because a risk assessment is easier to perform.

*Indie is a broad term many people use to cover all models that fall outside traditional publishing.

Related Article: Team publishing startup Booktrope to shut down, citing revenue shortfall

PARTNER PUBLISHING

Business Model: Partner publishers share the financial risk of publishing with the author. The author pays some of the cost of publishing a work. The publisher assumes the rest. Author and publisher share royalties, but the author receives a much higher percentage than with traditional and some other indie publishing options.

Pros:

  1. Like traditional and many indie publishers, partner publishers vet manuscripts and authors prior to acquisition.
  2. There are a growing number of partner publishers from which to choose, each with their own vibe and specialty.
    1. Partner publishing can be considered a mentality because many partner publishers form strong connections with the authors with whom they contract to help them accomplish their publishing and career-related goals.
  3. As with indies, a partner publisher is more likely to accept a manuscript from an author with no previously published work and/or no established platform. However, a strong business plan is usually required.
  4. Because partner publishers are much smaller than traditional publishers, they too are more agile and can typically publish a book within twelve to eighteen months.
  5. Partner publishers can also distribute their catalog of books across multiple channels.
  6. Some partner publishers help their authors market and promote their books and establish their platforms.
  7. As with traditional and indie publishers, the publisher manages the sales and reporting aspects of the business of having a book and sends the author payments per their contract.

Cons:

  1. The author will have to make an up-front investment and share royalties with the publisher.
  2. Because the author will have to make a financial investment, there is some stigma attached to partner publishing.
  3. Because the publisher assumes some of the risk, they may exercise more editorial and design discretion than an author would like.
  4. As is the case with other indie publishers, if a partner publisher overextends the authors with whom they partner are at risk.
  5. Like all indie publishers, partner publishers may not have the reach and influence offered by a traditional publisher.

Partner publishing may be a good fit for an authorpreneur, a business person writing a book for the purpose of establishing themselves as an expert in their field and/or one who plans to use their book as a loss leader in the sale of higher priced products and services. This model often attracts consultants and coaches because they see the value in partnering with publishing experts, which allows them to spend time doing the work that makes them the most income while hedging their bets against financial losses that can arise when self-publishing. They may also be attractive to fiction and nonfiction authors who want a more intimate publishing experience.

The business of publishing from a publisher's perspective

Partner publishing is speculative in nature just as traditional and indie are, therefore, responsible publishers must consider carefully any manuscript submitted to them and whether or not the author's marketing and promotion strategy offer a reasonable expectation of producing profits. Authors with clearly articulated visions for their work, their careers, and those with established platforms will be more attractive to partner publishers.

HYBRID PUBLISHING

Business Model: Hybrid* publishers are a cross between self-publishing and indie publishing. Like self-publishing, authors pay up-front fees for professional services such as editing, cover design, layout, and formatting. However, rather than publish under the author’s name and without wide distribution options, they publish under an imprint’s name. (The same applies to the partner publishing model.)

Depending on the business model of a particular hybrid publisher, authors may assume all of the cost for publishing their book or the author and publisher may share it (closer to a partner publishing model).

The business of writing from an author's perspective

Pros:

  1. Hybrid publishers are more likely to accept manuscripts from first-time authors than traditional publishers.
  2. Hybrid publishers, like the publishing models listed above, use distribution channels that are not available to self-publishing authors.
  3. Hybrid publishers offer a one-stop-shop for professional publishing services such as editing, design, layout, and formatting.
  4. Like other indie publishing models, hybrid publishers can typically produce a book faster than traditional publishing houses.
  5. Many authors use a hybrid publisher to publish their first book and better establish their platform before pitching subsequent projects to other types of publishers.
  6. Hybrid publishers also manage the financial aspects of books under contract freeing author's time and energy to devote to other things.

Cons:

  1. Like self-publishing, there is sometimes a stigma attached to this types of indie publishing.
  2. Authors pay out-of-pocket for publishing services.
  3. Publishers may not vet manuscripts for quality and/or marketability prior to acceptance, which means there may be little quality assurance and market analysis.
  4. For those models where manuscripts are vetted, the author gives up some artistic control. The publisher makes the final call regarding layout, cover design, and when the manuscript has reached the bar set for being ready to publish. Authors wishing to maintain all artistic control may be frustrated by being forced to conform to the publisher's standards.
  5. Editing, design quality, and financial viability vary widely between publishers in this category.

A hybrid publisher might be an excellent choice for an author who wants faster production and access to publishing professionals and distribution without having to cobble resources together on their own.

*While partner, hybrid, and self-publishing may technically be considered indie, I have delineated publishing options based on their business models. Self-publishing is distinct in several substantive ways, therefore, I consider it in its own category. The critical distinction in my mind is whether or not the publisher assumes any financial risk when publishing a book. If they do not--that is to say that if a book's success or failure has no impact on the financial position of a publisher--they are a self-publishing service provider.

The business of publishing from a publisher's perspective

Assuming the publisher would suffer a financial loss if a book were to underperform, the same considerations that apply to traditional, indie, and partner publishers apply to hybrid publishers.

Related Article: How Hybrid Publishers Innovate to Succeed (This article applies to partner and hybrid publishers.)

Highly Recommended Related Article:  Truth and Lies About Self-Publishing

SELF-PUBLISHING

Business Model: Self-publishing authors choose if, and who, they pay for publishing services. They pay out-of-pocket and keep all the profits.

The business of writing from an author's perspective

Pros:

  1. Authors have total control over their book project.
  2. Authors keep all profits.
  3. Many authors self publish their first book to establish themselves as authors.
  4. The self-publishing stigma, particularly for first-time authors is fading.

Cons:

  1. The author assumes all financial risks.
  2. The author is responsible for quality control and for finding professionals to edit their manuscript, create a cover design, and properly layout and format the text.
  3. Self-publishing authors do not have access to all types of distribution.
  4. You don't know what you don't know, applies to self-publishing. The learning curve for publishing is steep. A self-publishing author must find a way to learn every aspect of publishing to produce, distribute, and successfully market their product.
  5. They must also manage all of the back-end payments and sales information as well as storage and print runs.
  6. Although the stigma is changing, some authors have difficulty overcoming it in their own minds and the minds of others, particularly potential readers.

Self-publishing might be right for an author who already has relationships with publishing professions and who has a clear strategy for producing, marketing, and distributing their book(s).

Recommended Article: I Will Not Join in the Snooty Trashing of Self-Published Books; Here’s Why

BUT WHAT ABOUT MARKETING & PROMOTION?

There is a misconception that traditional publishers will assume the responsibility of promoting an author’s book. That is not the case. The burden of marketing and promotion is increasingly shifting to authors.

Authors who are business minded and willing to devote their own resources to insuring the quality of their product and who are willing to aggressively promote their work are beginning to ask themselves why they should relinquish control and profits to agents and traditional publishers when there are so many other publishing options from which to choose.

On the other hand, the flood of poorly executed books on the market serves to enhance the cache of being traditionally or otherwise professionally published.

Regardless of an author's reason for choosing one model over the others, establishing a platform and book promotion will largely be the author's responsibility.

Related Article: The Economics of Writing a Book

Related Article: Amazon's New Quality Control Measures

IT'S ALL ABOUT FIT

So, there is no hierarchy in publishing, or there needn’t be. Authors need to find the right fit.

So, which publishing option is best for you, your project, and this stage in your writing career?

That is a question only you, dear author, can answer.

 

*ALWAYS do your homework on every agent, editor, and publisher to whom you wish to submit. Knowledge, experience, professionalism, and connections vary widely. Just because someone claims to be an agent, editor, designer, or publisher, doesn't mean they understand the publishing industry and the standards to which publishing professionals adhere.

Only submit to those that are a good fit. If you aren’t sure, ask them. The good ones will be proud of what they do and happy to answer your questions.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

Developing Fictional Characters

*originally posted 2015

How do you develop fictional characters when you write?

Marlie Harris, a fellow Boise area writer, said and asked the following on one of her blog posts: “I would love to read your thoughts on characters, fictional or not, and how you search then find them. Are they memorable? Do you wish you could no longer see them?”

Marlie’s artistic talents bend in the direction of thriller and horror fiction. I, on the other hand, have, until recently, focused on creative nonfiction. Although Marlie directed her question at fiction writers I commented with my perspective as a nonfiction writer.

I’ll share my perspective in a moment, but bear with me because her question and my initial answer have caused me to ruminate further on what it is to be a great writer and how great stories are dependent upon the proper development of characters.

When I read Marlie’s post, I was in a quandary. Although the bulk of my writing has been nonfiction, I recently started writing a fiction piece. By the time I read Marlie’s post I had identified the characters and formed a basic plot line, but something was missing. I was having difficulty finding one of my characters, several in fact. They felt very flat.

The words of one of my English professors and mentor, Cheryl Hindrichs, kept echoing in my mind.

“What’s your point?”

Find Your Point

I’d been asking myself, What is my point? I knew what I wanted the point to be, but then I remembered something I heard Sir Salman Rushdie say during his lecture at Boise State University in 2014. He admonished writers not to preach (my interpretation of his point) or to have an agenda. It is our job to tell a story.

The story I’m trying to tell deals with complicated ideological issues: politics, gender, war. And I’ll be honest, I have a very clear opinion about how things should be, or at least how I want them to be.

But my writing had stalled. I didn’t want the story to be prescriptive, pointed, and preachy. I wanted it to be descriptive, deep, and thought-provoking. Sir Rushdie’s point had impressed itself upon me.

I abandoned my original preachy point, but was left with Cheryl’s question. What’s my point now?

In other words, why am I writing this? Why does it matter? And further, why does this matter to me? What interests me about this story; why do I want to write it?

Find the Character

As I pondered all of those questions I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. At one point he talked about developing characters that are real. We must acknowledge that “murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.” I’ve seen this failure time and again in books I’ve read and edited.

Characters are either good or bad, and while authors may sometimes allow the hero of the story to be flawed and multidimensional, their villains rarely are. We, myself included, are uncomfortable with complex characters, particularly “bad” ones. They can be difficult to write.

Mine was difficult to write.

I added King’s advice to Rushdie’s--don’t preach, acknowledge all aspects of my characters’ lives, and once again asked myself Cheryl’s overarching question, “What’s the point”?

I was getting closer. I was starting to feel my way toward my story and its characters.

And then along came Marlie, asking questions, good questions.

Here is my original response to Marlie’s question:

I am a creative nonfiction writer, so, much of the work I do is reflective. As I write about myself and those around me, the situations we find ourselves in, etc. it is, as you said, a search for the character, my, or our, inherent character(s) that drive a thought or an action.

When I begin to write it’s like seeing the reflections in a foggy mirror. The more I write and seek the finer details, the more the fog evaporates until I see with clarity.

I never wish I hadn’t seen a character, although I am surprised by that fact. Even when I write about difficult people and my experiences with them, the process of finding my character and theirs brings me closer to who I truly am and closer to who the other person truly is. I am always astonished by the fact that I find reflections of myself in others–even those I dislike–and that seeing myself in them makes me more thoughtful.

Switching metaphors, but I can also see it as two sides to a coin. The faces/characters may be back-to-back, but they still touch. It’s that point where characters touch that inspires and intrigues me and keeps me searching.

Find the Answer

Answering Marlie’s question allowed me to articulate what I love about writing and how I find a character. It was a watershed moment.

Hindrichs, Rushdie, King, and Harris helped me identify why I write, why it matters, and how I will find my way.

I no longer write to make a point. I write so that I can find the places where my characters touch one another, where the difference between a “good” character and a “bad” one disappears, where the characters share common ground--that uncomfortable place I believe King was referring to.

I write until I force myself to see my reflection in every character.

Marlie, I hope I never write a character that I wish I could forget, because that would mean that the development of my own character would be fixed, for I would no longer be willing to see myself any more clearly. The mirror would begin to fog, and I would once again view myself as being on the opposing side of that which causes me discomfort.

It seems to me that the development of fictional characters is tied to the development of their writer’s character and guided by the questions that make that writer love their craft.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

How to Avoid and Correct Passive Voice

*This post was originally published in 2015.

Using passive voice is an oft-cited faux pas for writers. 

Before I get into what it is and how to correct it, I want to be clear: Passive voice is not a bad thing. Don't listen to grammar pedants who tell you otherwise. It's better to use active voice in many writing situations. This post addresses situations when active voice is better than passive and why.

WHAT IS PASSIVE VOICE?

You can think of passive voice as a way of stating something that puts the subject behind the verb (a transitive verb that is).

Active voice shows that the subject is doing the acting. Passive voice shows that the subject is acted on.

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, (2003) puts it this way: “Compare the ox pulls the cart (active voice) with the cart is pulled by the ox (passive voice) ... The passive voice is always formed by joining an inflected form of to be (or, in colloquial usage, to get) with the verb’s past participle."

Never mind transitive and intransitive verbs, past participles, etc. There’s good news. You don’t need to know that to avoid or correct passive voice.

It’s helpful if you can identify the verb, subject, and object of a sentence, but we’re not here for a grammar lesson.

By the way, using passive voice isn’t a grammatical mistake. It’s a style issue.

But sometimes style matters.

Imagine how confused and distracted Maroon 5 fans would be if they went to a concert and Adam Lavine took the stage singing “Lucky Strike” while wearing bell-bottoms and sporting mutton-chop sideburns?

The song didn’t change. The music didn’t change. The meaning didn’t change. But there would be something between that meaning and the audience’s interpretation. Style would override substance.

WHY DOES USING ACTIVE VOICE MATTER?

Have you ever had to read a sentence more than once to determine its meaning?

Active voice communicates clearly. Passive voice can obscure meaning.

Let’s go back to the ox and the cart.

Using active voice made it very clear that the ox was acting on the cart, and it communicated that point in five words. The sentence written in passive voice used two more words, and it slowed the reader down because some mental flip-flopping was in order to put the ox back where it belongs, in front of the cart.

At least in that sentence we could figure out what is pulling the cart.

Since this example communicates both the thing being pulled and the thing doing the pulling you may think that this passive and active voice thing is akin to hair-splitting, but it's a problem because when we use passive voice we often leave out the who or what doing the acting.

Passive voice: Next month's speaker will be announced.

Active Voice: I will announce next month's speaker on the fifteenth.

If your plans for attending next month's meeting hinge upon the speaker you probably want to know who will announce the speaker so you can look to that person for the information. Passive voice obscures that information. Active voice articulates it.

And did you notice that I added on the fifteenth? I could have said at a later date.

Great writers are great communicators. They anticipate questions and answer them.

Active voice communicates clearly and quickly and doesn’t add unnecessary obstacles to understanding (bell bottoms and mutton-chop sideburns).

HOW CAN YOU AVOID USING PASSIVE VOICE?

You can avoid using passive voice by putting the ox in front of the cart, but that might not always be as easy as it sounds. What you really need is something that can show you, in real-time, when and where you get things out of order.

Microsoft makes it easy to identify passive voice.

Instructions for Setting up Word to Flag Passive Voice:

UPDATE: The latest version of Word does not support this option. If you've updated to Microsoft 10, this is no longer available. (Yeah, seriously. Who decides this stuff?)

Open your manuscript document in Word.

Click: File

Click: Options

Click: Proofing

Under Proofing find: “When Correcting Spelling and Grammar in Word”

Click: Settings

Under Settings find: “Style”

Check the box: “Passive Sentences”

Click: OK

Now Word will catch many (but not all) instances of passive voice. As soon as you write a sentence in passive voice, you’ll know.

Now you need to correct it to make your writing clear**. Your manuscripts will be tighter and your writing will become more engaging for your readers.

HOW TO CORRECT PASSIVE VOICE

You know that the ox should be in front of the cart, but what happens when the sentence is more complicated and Word tells you that you’ve gotten things wrong? How are you going to put things right?

Identify the verb in your sentence.

“The cart is pulled by the ox.”

Verb: pulled

Identify the subject in your sentence by asking yourself who or what pulled the cart?

Subject: the ox

Identify the object by asking yourself what the ox pulled?

Object: the cart

Now, flip the subject and the object and tweak the verb.

“The ox pulled the cart.”

WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS?

I decided to write this post because the use of passive voice is pervasive. I spend a lot of my editing time highlighting it and telling authors what I just told you. I realized I could save myself a lot of time and energy if I only had to say it once.

And I realized that by writing a post like this, I can save my clients time and energy (ahem, and money!) by giving them this information upfront.

Now, I am an editor and I charge by the hour so you might be wondering why I’m telling you all of this. I could keep it to myself and make more money by having one more thing to look for and document when I work on your manuscript.

True.

But the point of editing is to help writers see things they can’t see. Passive voice is easy to see once you know what to look for. And if you don’t want to look for it, Word will find it for you!

I would rather spend my editing time on substantive issues, split infinitives, and other scary grammar stuff that is more difficult for writers to see. And I’d also rather not have to bleed all over a writer’s manuscript for something as simple as this.

And there’s one more reason I’m telling you this.

BONUS

Writing in active voice can correct other problems.

Many writers, particularly fiction writers, use too many words. And those words are often adverbs, adjectives, and prepositional phrases. More on that some other time but keep in mind what Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” A sentence written in active voice is clear. There is less temptation for the writer to try to clarify it by tacking on unnecessary verbiage.

So, if you learn to recognize passive voice and correct it immediately, you will not only avoid one huge style faux pas you might just avoid several of them.

Use active voice when you write. Let your talent and your story shine. Put the ox in front of the cart, and let your manuscript look the part. You may not be a rock star, but you can be a word star.

**This is a quick guide not a comprehensive explanation for passive voice. When in doubt, leave it. That's what your editor is for.

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

Why You Should Participate in a Twitter Pitch Event

*originally posted 2015

If you are an author who aspires to have your book published by any means other than self-publishing, you absolutely should participate in Twitter pitch events because literary agents and acquisition editors are participating.

If you’re an author in the making and don’t have a book to publish yet, you absolutely should not participate in Twitter pitch events. You absolutely should observe a Twitter pitch event!

Why You Should Participate in Twitter Pitch Events

  1. It’s FREE!
  2. It’s more personal than online or mailed queries.
  3. You'll get faster feedback than traditional queries.
  4. You'll get the opportunity to check out your competition.
  5. You'll get the opportunity to learn from what others are doing.
  6. It’s FUN!
  7. Most importantly, if you’re a first-time “pitcher” it will help you step out of your comfort zone and get used to risking rejection.

Things to Consider BEFORE Participating in a Twitter Pitch Event

  1. Do you have a good Twitter persona? Does it demonstrate your ability to market and passion for what you do?
  2. Have you written an excellent query letter? If not, get on it. If an editor, publisher, or literary agent favorites your pitch tweet they’re going to want it.
  3. Have you thought about how you will provide a manuscript sample when asked? You should (tips for that below).
  4. Have you prepared several different 140 character pitches? These should include the event hashtag and the genre hashtags.

Twitter Pitch Events

#PitMad        6/9/2016, 9/8/2016, and 12/1/2016 started by Brenda Drake

#SFFPit         no 2016 date set, started by Dan Koboldt

#WritePit     no upcoming date set yet, hosted by agent Jessica Schmeidler (for faith-based works)

#Pit2Pub       2/3/2016 This is an event where authors pitch directly to publishers, not agents. It's co-hosted by Kristin VanRissenghem and Ann M. Noser.

#DVPit (New!) 4/19/2016 This event was created to highlight marginalized voices. It's hosted and moderated by Beth Phelan.

Pitch Etiquette and Rules

These are general guidelines. Visit the links above for specific pitch event rules and information.

DO NOT favorite pitches unless you are an acquisition editor, publisher, or a literary agent-I know, you want to help your friends, but don’t! Favorites are reserved for literary agents, publishers, and editors.

DO NOT directly contact or mention an editor, publisher, or literary agent unless they specifically say you may do so.

FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES for each event.

USE HASHTAGS. Include the specific #event and #genre. Otherwise, how will agents find you, and how will they know you’re what they’re looking for?

What to Do When Your Pitch Tweet Gets Favorited

  1. Do a happy dance or spin your chair around. High-five your office hamster. Give yourself a fist bump.
  2. Go to the website or Twitter profile of whoever favorited you. Look for their submission guidelines for that pitch event. Follow the guidelines. I cannot overstate this! See tips below.
  3. Gather all the required materials-pitch, query letter, sample chapter (or whatever they asked for), etc. I said “gather,” but you should already have these ready because you are a professional, and you are there for business. This is the business of writing.
  4. Send the requested information within a reasonable amount of time.

What to Do If Your Pitch Does Not Get Favorited

  1. Pull your office chair closer to your desk. Smile at your office hamster. Give yourself a pat on the back. You now know what doesn’t generate interest.
  2. Reformulate your pitch tweets. Be ready for the next event. You probably won’t have to wait very long.

TIPS to Help You Stand Out

  1. Put the hashtag and event name in the subject line of your email. Agents, editors, and publishers get many emails a day. It helps if you give context so that we can prioritize answering them. If you simply say, “Query” or “Pitch” I will make a frowny face. It tells me that you lack attention to detail. The last thing you want is for an agent, editor, or publisher to think of you as unprofessional before they even read your query. (When I originally posted this, I was participating in pitch as an acquisition editor for an indie publisher.)
  2. Put the working title of your manuscript in the subject line. If you include the genre I will smile. The goal is to make the recipient’s job easier so your story gets noticed.
  3. Of course you’re going to follow the query submission guidelines of whomever favorited your pitch, but if they do not specify their preferences, I recommend attaching to the email your sample chapter as a Word document, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt. font. Include at least the working title and your name. Name your Word doc something like this: Title_AuthorName_MS_Date. You want at-a-glance-recognition. Make it easy for an agent, editor, or publisher to identify and sort your query. It makes you look professional.
  4. Be professional. A query is the first step in a business interaction: Think of it as a job application. Set the right tone for any future business relationship that might develop.
    1. Do your homework. There is a lot of variation in the publishing industry. Only submit your manuscript to the parties that match your goals. If you're looking for a literary agent because your goal is to be traditionally published, don't submit to an indie or partner/hybrid publisher. It's a waste of your time and theirs.
    2. If your manuscript gets favorited by an editor, agent, or publisher that does not match your goals or, for whatever reason, doesn't seem like a good fit, thank them for their interest and kindly decline the offer.
      1. I've received several submissions I solicited on behalf of an indie publishing company that included a note from the author stating that what they really wanted was to be published by one of The Big 5, but that they were submitting to me anyway. (I'd been very clear about the publisher I was representing.) Not cool.
  5. Engage. Do some research and personalize your email intro or query to match the agent, editor, or publisher you’re pitching/querying.

Whether you’re a new author or a pro, you absolutely should participate in Twitter pitch events and with #PitMad, #SFFpit, #DVPit, #WritePit, and #Pit2Pub to choose from and because literary agents, editors, traditional publishers, and indie publishers will be monitoring, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015

5 Tips to Help You Save Money on Editing Services

*originally posted in 2015

The cost of professional editing services can take a big bite out of the budget you’ve set for your book.

Here are 5 tips to help you save money on editing while preserving the quality of your product.

Know Your Genre and Its Style

Did you know that fiction follows a different set of editorial guidelines than journalistic articles do?

And if you’re just out of high school or college you might think that MLA is the go-to style guide for all of your creative writing. It is not.

Generally speaking, if you are a fiction or creative nonfiction writer, the Chicago Manual of Style should be your guide. If you write for newspapers or magazines, follow The Associated Press Stylebook.

If you know your genre and follow its style guide, your editor will have much less work to do. If you’re paying by the hour, less work means less time. And less editorial time means that more money stays in your pocket.

QUICK TIP: Use Owl of Purdue for quick style lookups.

Know Your Ideal Reader

Having a very clear idea of who your ideal reader is will help you write directly to them. For example, using words from your Word of the Day calendar when writing a YA novel for eleven- to fourteen-year-olds is probably not the best idea. It’s best to use words and phrases your ideal reader understands and relates to.

An editor’s job is not just to watch for poor grammar, improper use of punctuation and misspelled words. A great editor thinks about sales. If your book won’t appeal to your intended reader, it won’t sell.

Pay as much attention to your reader when you write as your editor will when they edit. This will simplify the editing process saving the editor time and you money.

Communicate with Your Editor about Style Choices

Writing is an art, and each writer has a unique voice. Part of that voice is how we string words together to make sentences, including punctuation. Great writers use punctuation appropriately. Great writers also use punctuation to create an effect.

Virginia Woolf was one such author. In To the Lighthouse she wrote a paragraph that takes up almost an entire page. The first six sentences are ordinary enough, but the seventh sentence is twenty-two lines long and contains twenty-nine commas, two semicolons, and two hyphens!

Virginia Woolf was arguably one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, but I’d be willing to bet that her editor worked very hard for her or his paycheck.

If you have a specific artistic reason to deviate from your genre’s style, communicate that to your editor so she or he does not spend their valuable time on grammar and punctuation choices you purposefully made.

Read and Study Bestsellers

The next time you pick up a book, pick up one that represents what you hope to achieve in your market. If you want to indie-publish and hit the New York Times Bestseller List, find an indie book that matches yours on that list and read it. Become a student of success.

Ask questions of the book:

Why did the author-editor-publisher team decide to open the book the way they did?

How is it organized?

What kinds of words do they use?

How long is it, et certera?

I am not suggesting that you copy their format or style. What I am suggesting is that you read with intent.

Notice patterns and incorporate the things you like about bestselling books into your book.

How will that save you money on editing?

Smart writers are better writers, better writers have tighter manuscripts, editors spend less time editing tight manuscripts.

Keep your budget tight by keeping your manuscript tight.

Stay Organized

A tight (well organized) manuscript is written with style and audience in mind. And it has a unique voice.

Some writers sit down, start writing, and see where the story takes them. Others like to outline, storyboard, draft, and re-draft. That is a matter of personal preference and creative flow. But when it comes to editing, a lack of organization in a manuscript is a huge time suck, particularly during the substantive editing phase.

Regardless of your flow preference, make and keep lists. If you're writing nonfiction, draft an outline or list the topics and points you want to make. Jot down names and anecdotes to use as examples that support your thesis. A table of contents is a good start, but articulating your vision for the book and its critical points will help you and your editor focus on what matters most.

Tip: Even if you plan to self-publish your book, I highly recommend that you write a book proposal like the ones agents require. It will make your book easier to write, edit, and market.

If you're a fiction writer, make a list or chart of your story’s characters, their characteristics, backstory, and important associations. If the main character’s name is Malcolm and he has black hair, brown eyes, and hates the color blue, make note of that. It will help you keep things straight as you write, but it will also save your editor time if you give them that list along with your personal style guide. Good editors watch for continuity. Your guide will make that job easier.

Making a character list as you go takes very little time. It takes much longer on the back-end and draws your editor's attention away from other important details. Anything you do to reduce the amount of time an editor will spend reviewing your manuscript will save you money.

Do You Even Need an Editor?

You might be thinking that if you follow the advice above you won’t need an editor.

You do. We all do.

I am a professional editor and professional writer. Before I submit any piece for publication I send it to my editor. I just finished a piece today. I was very pleased with it and, because the submission deadline is only two days away, considered submitting it without having it edited by an outside source. But I know better.

My editor told me to cut the first sentence and reorder the next few to increase the tension. She was right.

Now, why didn’t I think of that!? Because I was too close to the work.

The difference between a nice paycheck and a rejection letter can be a professional edit.

A professional editor earns their up-front paycheck by helping you get a bigger paycheck on the back-end. Use these five tips to pay less and make more.

 

Reference

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 1927.

 

Cristen Iris

WriteNow, LLC

2015