Sunday, April 28, 2013

Soap Box Sunday: Advice for Writers Who Self-Publish

*Steps on Soapbox*

I understand your desires, writers. I really do. I'm a writer, too. I understand.

You don't want to wait years to find an agent. Then wait years to find a publisher.

And it's so easy to do now. Go online, and you have a hundred places at your fingertips that will walk you through, step-by-step, the formatting and online publication of your manuscript. You can even jumble together a cover for it, and then there it sits, gleaming like a new promise, online.

You are published.

But not so fast. What are your goals for this little book? To get ten people to read it? Ten of your relatives, who will all write glowing reviews of it online and entice hundreds of others to read it? But what about those other people, people who buy it for a steal at 99 cents? What about those people who put it on their Kindles so that your book is walking around electronically all over the world?

Before you get all giddy and giggly, please realize that these new people are not your relatives. They paid for this book hoping it would be worth reading. They may have even assumed it would be edited. By a professional editor, not your mother.

But it wasn't. Nope, you were cheap and in a hurry. You wanted the book up NOW, dammit.

So these new readers get, for whatever price, a rough, lame book. The first 75% was boring (they didn't get any farther to know whether the last bit was). Commas are either every three words or nonexistent. The thing is impossible to read. Or at least difficult. And nothing really happens except that every character goes wandering around moaning and groaning, just for the angst of it.

If your goal is to chase readers off and make sure they don't TOUCH any future (crappy) novels you post up, then you are well on your way. So stop reading this blog entry.

If you want to gain a following, a true following, people who await your next novel with desperate longing, people who buy one of your novels, read it, and then buy every other thing you've written because they LOVE your stuff, then you need to do some things. Even if you have novels up, sitting there and getting a couple of people to buy them each month, you need to do these things. You MUST do these things.

Don't think you have some mojo that makes these not a requirement. You are not special. You are just like all the rest of us. And even if your stuff is good, you need to do these things to make it better.


1. Revise. No really, revise your novel. If you read through it the first time around, and it sounds great, then sit on it for a month or two.

2. Make other people read it. And don't pick your mom, not unless she's an overly critical mom. Moms do not make good readers, for just seeing your by line on the novel makes them all teary-eyed and they can't see anything else. Not friends, either, unless you have a VERY honest relationship where they can tell you anything. Choose readers carefully, and pick the ones who are the meanest. You don't need a cheering section. You need criticism. Especially if you are still rereading your work and thinking it's brilliant.

3. GET AN EDITOR. Not your mother. Not some friend of yours who writes poetry. Someone you have to PAY to edit your novel. And if you think you're getting a steal when the editor costs $100, you aren't. No real editor would work for so little. If it doesn't cost you at least $500, you aren't going to get what you need. Better yet, the editor will cost $1000, and will work on your book for a freakin' month. And fill it will comments, and tell you when characters are discussing nothing, or are being stupid, or when your descriptions are non-existent. This is the most important step. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. 

Even better, you need to LISTEN to what the editor says. If he says the scene is unclear, it is. If he is confused, your working is making him confused. If a character's motivation doesn't make sense, listen. And fix it, for God's sake. No, for all our sakes. The editor says these things, not because he's a big fat meanie, but because he reads a LOT of other books, too, and he doesn't want sucky books out there in the marketplace.

I'm not just trying to drum up business. I could edit non-stop if I took all the jobs I was offered. But I can't tell you how many torturous books I've read on my Kindle that might have been readable if someone had just edited them. Yes, it costs money. I know. And it will take time to make that money back once you put the book up for sale. But it will also keep readers like me from giving your book one star and saying we can't really review it because it was UNREADABLE. Those non-friends who pick up your book and hate it will post their hatred online, and people surfing through the books will NOT BUY YOUR BOOK because they read that review.

But it's your decision. Be cheap and in a hurry if you wish. Just hope I don't wander across your novel's page and buy it. Hope no other stranger who likes GOOD, READABLE books does, either. It won't be pretty. Then again, it might be a learning experience. Learn the easy way, and pay for it up front, or learn the hard way, and pay for it in the end. You pick.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

*Steps off Soapbox*

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Take Time

Take the time

Though your list is long
And cares weigh down
Of all still left to do

Take the time

Though it is late
And you are tired
More tired than you can imagine

Take the time

Forget the past
Forget tomorrow

And drive a few miles
Past your house
Your cares
Your past
Until the road bends
And you see
In the great dark starless sky
The perfect

(It never looks as good
Through the thick trees hanging over
Or through the rear view mirror.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Prayer for You

This week

May you see the trees more than the traffic
May you see your cute dimples more than your cellulite
May your mind be filled with dreams, not self-doubt
May your heart feel forgiveness, not resentment

And may you know the magnificence
To be found
In each tiny gesture

So that you may act in the little ways
That make the world oh so worth living in

And may you see
That all around you are human too
That they all need to feel love

And may you give it

And feel it in return.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Shadows follow me
Gliding with soft whispers
Along the walls

I hear their calling
When they reach out
But I pull back

I float through the months
Fearing to touch
What I do not understand


And the world opens to me
As I open to it
To the shadow of it
Of me

I see everything
And it is more beautiful
Than I imagined.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

So Much Joy

I've had a rough spring, for oh, so many reasons.

But it's all over. Sure I got a few more sets of papers to grade, and two more sets of final exams... but my classes are fine. Good students, people trying hard, a bunch of people who are really getting into literature. And that makes me happy, willing to grade whatever comes my way.

That's not why I'm better.

In reality, nothing has changed. Only my mindset. I'm doing what I love, and I'm making time every single day to do more of it. A friend of mine here, walking one morning with me, was listening to me telling her (during spring break), "I'm mostly done with my grading, and then I just have my writing and painting."

She corrected me, called me on the destructive word I had used: Just.

Thank God she's an artist. She understands too well how easy it is for artists to negate their abilities, to lessen what they do, to push it off into the corner because it isn't work.

But it is. It's my work. It's what I do. It's real, and tangible, a mixture of artistic ability, perception, insight, and meaning. It's hard to do. It takes practice, revision, lots and lots of work.

She made me say it: "I am a writer."

That statement has made all the difference. I'm writing now. I'm starting on one book, revising, and then I'm attacking the next one. I'm going to send one off--time after time--while I revise the next one, and the next. I have four novels, each one of them with some kernel of truth worth working on.

So I will work. And work. I can't promise to love every minute of it, but I love what I do.

I am a writer.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Having It Both Ways

I am both writer and editor.

Being a writer makes me a better editor, too. Not because it makes me a better writer--oh, no, I don't delude myself in that--but because I understand what a writer is going through during the editing process. Though I've taught English for 20 years, I have never forgotten the feeling of receiving an essay back--with comments and a grade--assessing the effectiveness of what I've written.

I know what a writer wants when he or she has me edit. That is the very thing which makes editing so hard. The writer wants two things, always two things. The problem is that these two things do not exist together. One cannot have it "both ways," so to speak. In fact, the very act of seeking professional editing guarantees that one will not receive one of the things one desires most.

What do writers want? Well, if writers are willing to spend hundreds of dollars having me edit a novel, it's because they want someone to examine their work for holes, errors, weaknesses--anything that might lose a reader's interest, or get in the way of the suspense, or confuse, or irritate. They want my insight--as an honest, knowledgeable outside reader--to help them see what they can't see on their own, so that they can fix it.

And that is no problem.

But that is not only what writers want. I would say that this is only a practical want. What writers want, deep in the recesses of the most secret part of their hearts, is something else entirely.

We all want it. We want it in other areas of our lives. It's called validation. Appreciation. That joy others express when they view something we do as wonderful.

What my poor authors want is for me to write back and tell them I would edit their work, but it's already perfect as it is--that I wouldn't change a thing, and I'm sending back their check in the mail this very day.

But if I told them that, I wouldn't be doing my job. My job is to tell them what isn't good. Sure, I also get to tell them what is good, and I do, but they don't need to know that as much as they need to see what isn't. I might be able to suggest effective ways to fix what isn't good, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

Believe me, though. I know it. I know it because I am there, too. That's why I have sat on four completed novels all this time. I go back to my work, time after time, and I see that it still isn't ready, that it still needs work.

That is why I don't trust the reader who only sends me good feedback. I know the truth, and I know this reader isn't telling me the truth.

She is only telling me what, deep in my heart, I really want to hear.

But that is not enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Not sunny skies
Not rain
Not snow
Not your personal preference
Greeting you

It's the smile
The willingness to feel
The world as it is
No matter what

Not success
Not praise
Not togetherness
Alone time

It's the balance
One feels
Being wherever one is
At that very moment

Not outside
Not the fault of others
Not determined by the day
The list
The goals

It's the mere joy
Of living
In a world brightened
By the magic of one's mind.