What is the saying again? A picture is worth a thousand words? What if your novel is 80,000 words? Is the picture (cover) you've chosen worth 80,000 words? If it isn't, readers will not be drawn to your book, buy it, read it and possibly review it!
Andrea and I recently helped a client choose an illustrator for her cover, and we faced the same issues we face each time we search for the perfect cover for a client's book. So, I thought we would try and answer the question:
What makes a successful cover for YOUR self published book?
It would be great if the answer to this question was as simple as taking a picture of your favorite waterfall, typing the title of your book in any open space, and adding your name as the author towards the bottom in somewhat smaller font...but it's not. Although picture, title and author are key components, their position, size and meaning are vital. You may even need slightly different covers for electronic and physical versions of your book to account for thumbnails vs. competition for attention in bookstores.
Let's consider the key parts.
~ Title/Author. If you have had more than one edit - content and copy - your initial title may well have changed during this process. Therefore, the key elements you want your title and cover to convey may have also changed. You must also consider what style font you wish to use for both title and author, and whether the text will share or compete for attention with an image. I wouldn't suggest assigning your ISBN, designing your cover or blogging/networking about your new book until you have completed edits and are relatively sure of the exact title.
~ The Picture/Background. Your favorite waterfall may have very little, if anything to do with the content of your book. Therefore, if you want a picture on your cover, the first thing you must consider is graphic arts or illustration. Each has a unique look and feel as illustrated below.
The Harry Potter book is a drawing/illustration. The Of Poseidon book is created using Graphic Arts. Either way, you need to convey to the artist creating your cover the feeling you want a reader to have when they initially see your book. A good cover artist will be sure there is enough non-essential space available for your title and author name to stand out, and that all elements come together to create an outstanding representation of the work your cover protects and advertises.
I can't wait to share our latest client's book cover with you, as the illustrator is amazing, but first, all the above details must be worked out.
What were the key components you wanted your book cover to show a potential reader? How did you ensure it would entice a possible reader to click or pick up your book? Please share!
~Mary Kathryn Johnson
Author ~ Entrepreneur ~ Mom
MommyLoves to Chat!
Say Bump and Take a Left
Choosing the right editor can be like hiring a contractor. Both are helping you construct your vision and turn it into a reality. But, like a poor contractor, the wrong editor can leave you frustrated or depressed over an unfinished product and money down the drain. On the other hand, the right editor can help you bring your story to life.
Most importantly, your editor's main goal should be helping you create the best book possible!
So, what should you look for in a good editor?
- A positive rapport. Your editor will become intimately involved in your book. We all feel vulnerable initially sharing our "baby" with someone, especially a stranger. Start a dialogue. Learn their editing style and experiences and how they approach the process. Is this someone you can see building a solid relationship together?
- What type of editing do they provide? Do they only provide content editing services, or will they also include line item edits and proofreading, too? Many editors separate out their services, and some will only do certain types of editing.
- Sample their work. A good editor will not mind providing a sample of their editing skills and give you a solid idea of what you'll be receiving. A few editors will offer to edit a chapter or two of your book with no obligation.
One common mistake authors make is to hire the first person contacted. Keep in mind that the most expensive person may not provide the best quality, which is why cost should be the final consideration. You can find common editorial rates via the Editorial Freelancers Association.
- Cost. Editing can be charged either per word, per hour, and/or per page. You should know what your editor will be charging, the estimated timeline of completion, and their payment policy before you hire. Some ask for payment up front, others for a percentage up front with the remainder due upon completion. The range between rates can vary largely, so it's prudent to get multiple quotes.
What has been your experience with editor(s)? Any additional advice you'd like to share?
In my mind, the real difference between self publishing and traditional is the control factor. Traditional publishing houses own the rights to the author’s book; therefore, they’re in control of everything from how the story is written to who the audience will be. If they want something rewritten to their specification, the author doesn’t have any choice once they’ve signed the contract.
Because of that, many writers decide to self publish. But, does that mean they’re completely on their own, having to learn how to edit, design covers and the ins/outs of formatting? Not necessarily. In fact, it’s just the control factor that's different. Instead of taking on the entire publishing process on their own, they can hire people to assist them. But, the big difference is that the author remains in control. They’re the employer instead of the employee and their vision remains in tact while others are allowed to help bring it to life.
So, which services should a writer hire out and which should they tackle on their own?
To create a self published product worthy of competing in the big leagues, authors want to be sure they hire a professional editor. A good editor should work with the writer from plot to proofreading. They will not only look for the holes and inconsistencies, but the best ones will offer recommendations and solutions to make the story shine it’s brightest, without losing its core vision. Of course, most writers want their story to remain as it was originally intended, but they should also be certain they write a page turning story where their audience gets lost in the prose. Nothing breaks that spell more than boring, unnecessary back story, dialogue that doesn’t fit with the character’s personality, and/or plot lines that are going nowhere, leaving the reader with more questions than answers.
The cover art is the next service that should be hired out. (Unless the author is a professional graphic artist.) Self Publishing has made it easier than ever for an author to get their work out to the public; but the downside is there are also many more books with which they must compete. With a book’s first impression based on the cover art, no writer should squelch on this important publishing decision.
There is some investment involved: either time or money.
But, the recent explosion in self publishing has increased the competition for those pre-publishing services, so it is possible to find highly competitive rates. Like with any important purchase, it’s always best to shop around and/or get referrals. For those services an author may choose to forge on their own, a whole host of free information on how-to self publish can be found.
Are you an author that has published on your own? If so, which services did you hire out and which did you feel you could handle yourself? Did you have to learn a whole new skill set to do it? I'd love to hear your experiences.
I have a dear friend who is getting ready to publish her first novel, and I am one of her Beta Readers.
I have been a Beta Tester for a Beta Launch or Beta Version, but a Beta Reader for a novel? What a novel idea - I love it!
If you are ready to self publish, right before you hire an editor, you might seriously want to consider finding some Beta Readers of your manuscript to ensure the best possible success of your hard work. Before you simply go ask Aunt Martha to read your book, and give her your pile of college-ruled, lined paper filled with your one-of-a-kind, handwritten brilliance, here are some things that might make the experience actually worth your (and your Beta Readers') time:
It is common practice for serious self publishing novelists to ask for feedback before the final stage of publication. Joanna Penn, Self Published Author of two Best-Selling thriller novels and voice of The Creative Penn says Beta Readers are essential to successful publishing. Find Beta Readers and use them wisely; you will be happy you did.Have you used Beta Readers prior to self publishing? How would you characterize the experience - Successful? Painful? Please share ~~Mary Kathryn Johnson
- Choose your Beta Readers carefully - Unless the aforementioned Aunt Martha is a professional copy editor, and can do double duty as editor and Beta Reader, you might want to find five to seven other people who love to read and/or write the type of book you have written. If your audience is primarily one gender, your Beta Readers should be also. Remember, you are asking these people to provide constructive feedback on your baby - make sure you feel their comments will possibly improve your book.
- Provide a format that is both easy and functional for your Beta Readers - I received an Adobe Acrobat version of Clare's book, which allowed me to add my comments by using sticky notes and the like. Joanna Penn, on the other hand, printed a version of her first novel and provided it to her Beta Readers for hand written notes. Whichever you choose, think of the ease of use for your Beta Readers, and be prepared to read your book many times with many comments.
- Give clear instructions and a deadline for your Beta Readers - You are looking for usable feedback, so provide usable instructions. Ask your readers to read as if they themselves bought the book. Have them look for plot/timeline confusion, character concerns, "speed bumps" that make the reader stop and question, factual errors, tone or voice confusion - any comments repeated by two or more Beta Readers tell you that a rewrite of that section is probably wise.
- Be prepared and have a plan for another red pen markup of your perfect baby - Many of us writer-types wed ourselves to passages, dialogue or scenes, and if those are questioned, we fight for our darling tidbits. If only one person questions one of your wedded verses, maybe they just didn't get it, but if two or more people question it...kill it! Which is more important...the success of your novel, or that one brilliant verse?
Author ~ Entrepreneur ~ Mom
MommyLoves to Chat!
Say Bump and Take a Left
“Geez, looking back on draft 1, I can really see how some of the scenes and dialogue were really not going anywhere, but I guess that happens when you write (by) stream of consciousness. I am almost done revisiting your summary report and want to praise you on your expertise. You really pinpointed all the problems and boy, were there a lot.”
These kind words were sent to me by an editing client who wrote the first draft of her first novel by the seat of her pants. She had an awesome idea, wanted to write a book, sat down, and did it. And it is a really cool concept that I look forward to helping her promote once it’s completed. As much as I admire and respect her ability to just go for it without any prior experience, courses taken, or even reading a “how-to” book on writing a novel – this approach did create many challenges: the main one being the amount of loose ends and a lack of a tight, cohesive story where everything has a purpose within the plot. There were other issues, too – but for the purposes of this blog post, I wanted to focus the attention on plot creation.
My client enjoyed writing stream of consciousness and was a little leery at my suggestion of creating an outline for a more structured story. But, I assured her that she didn’t have to choose between writing extraneously versus structured.
“I think as you fine tune your writing skills, you'll be able to utilize your impulse writing with your initial ideas and notes, with a more structured approach to creating the actual manuscript. It's sort of like the difference between planning a trip and just getting in the car and going. Of course, if you decide to just get in and go, it's probably helpful to at least have money and a map.”
Instead of choosing one technique over the other, she could combine the two. How so? By simply beginning her writing projects stream of consciousness. All initial ideas can be written down as they come. No rhyme or reason, just off-shoots of each other. Then, once a specific idea has been chosen, that’s when the gears can be switched to a more structured approach. The idea being that you are constantly going back and forth between these techniques of stream of consciousness for ideas and then structure for bringing those ideas to life within a story.
Here’s a great article by David Carr from The Book Designer website that I recommend for assistance on how to create a story outline. And don’t worry…there are no Roman Numerals involved.
Do you write stream of consciousness, structured, or a combination of the two?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Have you ever received those emails testing your ability to read the words when they're just a jumble of letters and numbers? Here's an example: 7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5! Apparently, our brains will fill in the gaps for us and adjust the word to create what we need to see, once we figure out the first word or two.
Well, this can be challenging for an editor. One of my clients, recently asked me if I would prefer to read her manuscript in printed form as it was easier for her to read it that way and was kind enough to offer to print her book for me and send it via snail-mail. This wasn’t necessary, as the last several years I’d adjusted myself to be able to read online, especially for work, having spent my adult life on the computer. (For pleasure, I still enjoy the old fashioned curling up with a good book where I can feel the thickness of the cover and smell the ink and paper. But, work and the computer are synonymous for me.)
Plus, making corrections on paper seems antiquated to me, now. Sometimes, I’ll make a note, only to have my question or concern answered a few lines or paragraphs down. Also, note making or rewriting sentences and paragraphs are a lot more challenging on paper. It’s much cleaner to have these marks electronically. That and it feels kinder. (Perhaps it’s my memories of my work in school being marked up in red ink, but a tangible mark on a piece of paper feels more permanent – like the difference between writing in pencil versus ink.)
But, either way, paper or onscreen editing, it doesn’t rectify the problem with my brain filling in the errors for me. Where does my “eagle eye” come from? I think it comes from reading aloud, something I recently found myself doing. It’s not louder than a whisper, and sometimes it’s me just moving my lips. I think the combination of these two activities forces me to see things I might otherwise miss.
Try it. Especially if you’re stuck on your dialogue writing. Hearing it spoken out loud will test how natural the words sound. You’ll also be surprised how many more errors you spot.
Do you read your work out loud before submitting it? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Writer, Editor & Co-founder
I believe the most difficult thing about editing your own work is determining if and when you need to cut text. You may have written the most poetic and harmonic sentences, but if they don’t propel the plot forward and are simply beautiful words strewn together, they probably need to be deleted. Most authors, once they find a sentence or phrase they are totally in love with and feel conveys the perfect sentiment, will sometimes try to make that phrase work even if it hurts the overall story. This is why a professional editor is highly recommended since it’s nearly impossible to be truly impartial to your own work.
When taking on at least the first level of edits, make certain every word chosen has a purpose in the story. Perhaps that perfectly written phrase or paragraph doesn’t need to be cut entirely, but simply rewritten so that it offers meaning to your plot? Or maybe a whole new story is fighting for life?
How do you determine what should be cut? Do you find making cuts stressful or liberating? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Last week, I was inspired by a post from Michael Hyatt titled, The Power of Asking the Right Questions about a friend of his that after a year of being out of work and landing interviews (but no job offers), became discouraged and began asking, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why won’t someone offer me a job?”
Michael reminded me that our minds are powerful tools: what you put in is what you'll get out. By feeding our brain negative thoughts, the results will simply spiral us into self-doubt and despair. Instead, we need to nourish our mind with the right questions, such as, “What can I do to make my interviews more memorable?”
I realized this great advice could also be applied to writers who are all too familiar with rejection letters. When this happens, if you find yourself questioning your writing abilities or consider abandoning your story, then hopefully replacing them with these questions will put you on a more successful path:
“Does my book/query letter need additional editing?” It’s often difficult to be completely impartial on your own work, especially if you’re a first time author. Two things are most critical: your first chapter and the one paragraph summary/description. In today’s world of sound bites and 140 character news snippets, it’s mandatory that you hook your reader in early, using the fewest words possible.
“How can I create attention grabbing text?” If you don’t have a background in marketing, it’s pretty difficult to write a query letter on your own. Maybe all you need are a few techniques and tweaks to get the attention you need? Having these skills will also be necessary even if you sign a book contract. Today, most marketing is the author’s responsibility.
“Should I publish this myself?” If you’re passionate enough about getting your story told, the many rejections could be a sign that you’re simply on the wrong publishing path. Fortunately, it’s never been a more exciting time to choose this option.
How do you remain positive when faced with rejection? What questions would you add to this list? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Below are my favorite articles for finding solutions to the most common writing errors.
Last week, while editing a client's book , I realized how starting and ending a chapter is similar to attending a great party.
Let's imagine you're inviting your readers to a gathering. If you ask them to arrive too early, they’re standing around with little to do and few people to interact with. Similarly with your books, if you bring your reader into the scene too early, they may be bored with overly described scenery, or back-story related to how the characters got to this point. "Yawn." If you do this, your readers, like your guests are nervously looking at their watches, wondering how much longer before the party or the story really gets going.
Instead, pick your scene up in the middle of the action. Think of those high energy festivities you attend that are bursting at the seams, just as you’re arriving. The music is blaring, people are dancing, or chatting, as you listen in on some conversations that have already started. Maybe you simply absorb them, maybe you decide to join in, but, rarely are you there for all the polite pleasantries and official introductions. You can create this same mood with your books by starting your chapters in the middle of a conversation or some action that has already begun. Sure the reader will be a little lost at first, but that confusion is what's compelling them to read on. Of course, you have to be sure those inevitable questions get answered; it just doesn't have to happen at the beginning of the scene.
It’s the same thing when it’s time to end the chapter, or leave the party. Do you overstay your welcome, waiting for the last person to head home and the lights get turned out as your host(s) head to bed? It may sound silly to reference a party, but by ending your chapters with your characters ending the day only gives your readers the same cue to close the book and head to bed, themselves. Instead, you want to compel them to read just a couple extra pages and find out what happens, next. So, by ending your scenes and chapters early, you'll leave the reader wanting more.
Any advice to share? What tricks do you use to keep the momentum flowing? How do you create page turning scenes? We'd love to hear your thoughts.