What we learned in our quest to publish – Part IV

We’re very excited with our decision to self-publish, but because we didn’t know we had other options when we started this process, we thought we had to try and find any agent and go the traditional publishing route. Because of this, some could say that we’ve wasted time and lost money by not publishing our first book sooner. By the time we’ve completed everything and published our book, it’ll be over two years since we started this endeavor. And while we endured a lot of heartache and struggles, we wouldn’t trade our experience for an earlier publication date, because we have learned so much during this process. So, this is for all you aspiring authors out there.  Learn from our mistakes, so you don’t have to waste time trying to find an agent or publishing house and you can move on to self-publishing your book right away. This is just our advice to you. In no way do we know everything.

Part IV – Things to avoid in your writing

1.  Repetition
What sounds better?
A.    She walked into the room, looking around. When she looked at me, her eyes lit up and she immediately walked toward me. She walked, swinging her hips, and I knew she wanted me. The fire in her eyes told me the same.
-OR-
B.     She entered the room, looking around. When she saw me, her eyes lit up and she immediately headed toward me. She walked, swinging her hips, and I could tell she wanted me. The fire behind her gaze told me the same.
Avoid repetition. A and B are saying the same things, but B only says walk, look, and eyes once, whereas A repeats them.
This is a fairly easy thing to accomplish; you just need to make sure that you pay attention. And it’s easier to do when you’re revising, rather than when you’re writing your first draft. If you have an editor, this is something that they might help out with, depending on what you hire them for.
There are also programs out there you can use. SmartEdit is free here. Not only will it show you repetitions, it will pick up most idioms.

2. Telling versus showing
What sounds better?
A.    “What were you doing out past your curfew?” my father asked. He walked toward me, angry, and I was scared. What was my punishment going to be this time?
-OR-
B.      “What were you doing out past your curfew?” my father hissed, brows furrowed and eyes blazing. He stalked toward me, causing me to back up until I hit the wall and put my hands over my head. What was my punishment going to be this time?
Avoid telling. With A, the main character is telling you her father is angry and that she’s scared. With B, she shows you, with his furrowed brows and blazing eyes, that he’s mad. And by her actions of backing up until she hits the wall and putting her hands over her head, you know she’s scared.

3. Vary sentence structure
 What sounds better?
 A.    He walked into the room. His eyes scanned the open area. His gaze landed on me and I felt a tingle down my spine. He sauntered toward me until we almost touched.
-OR-
B.     The door opened, and he walked into the room. His eyes scanned the open area, and his gaze landed on me. A tingle went down my spine. Sauntering, he made his way toward me, stopping only when we almost touched.
Avoid starting your sentence the same way and putting everything in the same order. A’s sentences start with He, His, His, and He. B’s sentences start with The, His, A, and Sauntering, giving the paragraph better flow. This is also something that is easier to watch for when you’re revising. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, so maybe instead of a he or she, put the character’s name in the paragraph. Sometimes it’s just switching the sentence around. Change “He looked around when he entered the room,” to “When he entered the room, he looked around.”  If you feel this is something you struggle with, it is something an editor will help with if you choose to hire them.

What we learned in our quest to publish – Part III

We’re very excited with our decision to self-publish, but because we didn’t know we had other options when we started this process, we thought we had to try and find any agent and go the traditional publishing route. Because of this, some could say that we’ve wasted time and lost money by not publishing our first book sooner. By the time we’ve completed everything and published our book, it’ll be over two years since we started this endeavor. And while we endured a lot of heartache and struggles, we wouldn’t trade our experience for an earlier publication date, because we have learned so much during this process. So, this is for all you aspiring authors out there.  Learn from our mistakes, so you don’t have to waste time trying to find an agent or publishing house and you can move on to self-publishing your book right away. This is just our advice to you. In no way do we know everything.

Part III-Knowing your genre

When you decide to try traditional publishing, you must first find an agent. And, to find an agent, you have to query many of them. But, before you query, you have to make sure you query agents interested in your genre (and sometimes sub-genre), otherwise you’re wasting your time.
So, what is your genre?
Seems simple, right? Maybe for someone like us. Romance about vampires equals paranormal romance. Done. However, not everyone is that easy. And if you publish your book and don’t know what category to put it in, how are you going to market it?
How are you going to find readers who are interested in reading an advanced reader copy? How are you going to find book bloggers to blog about it? How are you going to sell it if you can’t tell the reader if it’s in a genre they read? And if you ask for reviews from book bloggers and readers interested in an ARC and they don’t read your genre, you’re probably not going to get the results you want or need.
Yes, you’re going to have a synopsis, but sometimes those can be misleading. (I recently bought a book that I thought was contemporary, but was actually paranormal. It wasn’t until I read some of the reviews that I discovered what sub-genre the book was in. As you can probably guess, I haven’t read it yet.) Just because a reader thinks a book is in one genre, doesn’t mean it is. Especially when you have two genres that are similar like paranormal romance and urban fantasy.* Also, you need to consider sub-genre. Because those can vary, too. Historical romance and paranormal romance are very different, and some people don’t read one or the other (as some agents done represent one or the other).
Genre matters. So, before you publish (or query), make sure you know what genre your book is in. Because if you don’t know, how will the reader?

*If interested in the difference, Heros and Heartbreakers.com has a wonderful explanation here.

What we learned in our quest to publish – Part II

We’re very excited with our decision to self-publish, but because we didn’t know we had other options when we started this process, we thought we had to try and find any agent and go the traditional publishing route. Because of this, some could say that we’ve wasted time and lost money by not publishing our first book sooner. By the time we’ve completed everything and published our book, it’ll be over two years since we started this endeavor. And while we endured a lot of heartache and struggles, we wouldn’t trade our experience for an earlier publication date, because we have learned so much during this process. So, this is for all you aspiring authors out there.  Learn from our mistakes, so you don’t have to waste time trying to find an agent or publishing house and you can move on to self-publishing your book right away. This is just our advice to you. In no way do we know everything.

Part II – Knowing when you’re ready

It was a bit of a debate on whether to make this part one or part two. But, because punctuation, grammar, and spelling really could go under the subject of knowing when you’re ready, we decided to put that first and this second.

So, what do we mean by knowing when you’re ready? We’ll go back to when we first started querying agents. We did tons of research on the subject since we’d never queried before, and one of the most universal ideas we came across was “be ready.” We, like all new authors, were very confident that we were ready. However, we were also, like all new authors, impatient. The hardest part of this is you don’t know you weren’t ready until after the fact.

We wrote our first draft, revised & edited it, listened to beta readers, and revised & edited it some more before sending it to agents. Plus, there were two of us, and we’re both avid readers. How could we not be ready? Looking back now, it was almost comical how unready we were. Sad, but comical. Because there were so many things we didn’t know. We had our grammar and punctuation pretty much down (we even had someone help us with that), but there is so much more to writing than grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

During the coming weeks we’ll explore the things we learned, like how to show versus tell, use active voice instead of passive voice, vary sentence structure, and how to keep your back story in check, but today we just want to focus on how we came to learn this stuff. And we did this by thinking we were ready when we weren’t.

If you’re lucky, like us, you’ll receive some feedback on your query letter and sample pages. Most agents simply gave us form rejection letters and some didn’t even respond. But we were about a month into our first round of querying for the first time, when an intern at a particular agency took pity on us and pointed out a few frequent mistakes we made in our manuscript. It’s almost embarrassing to think about now, but it was definitely a good lesson. It also made us realize we were not as ready as we thought we were and, because of that, we lost out when agents asked for partials on that first round.

Don’t get us wrong, it can be very frustrating and make one feel dejected. Especially, when you learn there are all these “rules” or guidelines for writing novels. It can make you throw your hands up in the air. And while that’s the beauty of self-publishing, those guidelines are there to make your book better, not just to make life harder for you.

Like we mentioned, we’ll get into most of these guidelines, but did you know that one “rule” is to only have two exclamation points throughout one novel? Seems like so few, right? And a little extreme…until you pick up a book that has almost 500 and you either feel like characters are constantly yelling, or the exclamation point has lost all effectiveness. “Oh, the heroine is mad again? What else is new? Yawn.” This is only one example, and it might seem like a minor one, but it makes a difference.

Because we received this constructive criticism on our sample pages, not only did we do a deep edit, but we also signed up to do a webinar class, and hired someone to critique our first three chapters. And even though we didn’t agree with everything these people said, we learned how to make our novel better, and how to find a good balance between what to do and what not to do.

We also set aside our novel more than once, before picking it up again and going through to revise and edit. We once read the suggestion to put your novel in a drawer for at least two weeks before picking it up again and looking at it with fresh eyes. This can be very hard when all you want to do is query or publish your novel, but it is some very sound advice. There will be errors or confusions that your brain was “auto-correcting” that you would never catch without taking a break from your piece. You won’t believe how much better your book will be if you take your time.

Thankfully, (and a little unthankfully) we experienced all this. We’ve set aside our novel at least three times before picking it up to revise and edit it again. So while back when we started querying we thought we were ready, now we know we are ready, and that’s why we wouldn’t change our experience for anything.

What we learned in our quest to publish – Part I

We’re very excited with our decision to self-publish, but because we didn’t know we had other options when we started this process, we thought we had to try and find any agent and go the traditional publishing route. Because of this, some could say that we’ve wasted time and lost money by not publishing our first book sooner. By the time we’ve completed everything and published our book, it’ll be over two years since we started this endeavor. And while we endured a lot of heartache and struggles, we wouldn’t trade our experience for an earlier publication date, because we have learned so much during this process. So, this is for all you aspiring authors out there.  Learn from our mistakes, so you don’t have to waste time trying to find an agent or publishing house and you can move on to self-publishing your book right away. This is just our advice to you. In no way do we know everything.

Part I – Punctuation, Grammar, and Spelling

This may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to publishing a book, but if you’ve read any indie authors, you’ve probably come across a book you wanted to take a red pen to. This is also, single-handily, the biggest complaint when it comes to self-published writers, yet it’s continually abused, giving the good indie authors a bad name. Don’t be one of them.  This why you must edit, edit, edit, and why we choose to start with this topic.
It may not feel like it fits under our subject line today, but this is stuff we learned because we tried the traditional publishing route, and because we often feel that self-publishers skimp on it. Maybe because they don’t have agents reading their sample pages, or because they don’t have to write a query letter, or because they don’t get rejected. However, we feel, it’s often because they just didn’t know, and they publish their book before it’s ready. We made the same mistake, and this is where we hope to help you.

We’re not saying every author needs help, because I think some people just get it, like others just get math. You might be one of these people. But if you’re not, our advice to you is, one, do some research—we are constantly looking up punctuation. It’s easy and free. Two, buy the Chicago Manual of Style. Three, take some local English or writing classes if you feel like you really need help. But the fourth and easiest (even if not cheap) is to hire an editor.

Even if you do understand grammar and punctuation well, you have to remember, once you’ve read your book the first twenty times (if you haven’t read your book that many times, you’re not editing enough), it’s hard not to skim and it’s really hard for your brain to not auto-correct because you know what’s supposed to say—you did write it after all. This is why, no matter who you are, your best bet it hire an editor. However, it never hurts to do some research or take classes. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better armed you are for all future books. Besides, you’re going be writing more than your book…even if it’s just Facebook and Twitter posts, there are people out there who are going to judge you.

If you’re unsure of you skills, take this fun test.

When you do research for an editor and you think you found someone, but you’ve never read any books they’ve worked on, go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and download samples of books they’ve edited and get an idea of the work they do. This is an easy way to cut down your list of possible editors to hire.

Until you hire an editor, check out places like Grammar Girl or use Google.
Also, we have a few quick tips on things we’ve learned or relearned along the way for you that are easy to follow, but are often not:

1. Toward, backward, forward, afterward…any English words suffixed with the word -ward does not have an “s”, if you are using American English. (British English uses the “s.”) The theory is Americans are lazy and dropped the “s.” It’s also an easy way to remember.

2. When addressing someone, you put a comma before and after. Whether you are using their name, nickname, pet name, using a formal address such as sir or ma’am, etc. It doesn’t matter what you are addressing them as, you always use commas. This has to be one of our biggest complaints, because it’s so easy—there are no expectations or weird rules—yet people neglect doing it all the time.

  • Example #1: “We have to move Bob” versus “We have to move, Bob.” In A, the person is saying they have to move Bob. In B, the person is telling Bob they have to move. The comma makes a difference.
  • Example #2: “That just means it’s more beautiful than before.” “That just means it’s more, beautiful, than before.” These two sentences read two different ways. The second sentence you can replace the nickname “beautiful” with a person’s name. In the first sentence, you can’t; beautiful is part of the sentence.
3. Commas and periods always go inside quotes in America English.

4. Just because someone is referring to themselves with another person doesn’t mean it’s written as “you and I.”

  • Example: “This gift is for you and I.” If you took out “you and” you wouldn’t write “This gift is for I.” You’d say, “This gift is for me.” Therefore, it should be: “This gift is for you and me.”
5. Always watch your use of words that sound the same, but have different meanings. We know you know this, yet it is a common mistake because spell-check doesn’t pick it up.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to help yourself learn grammar and punctuation is to watch TV with subtitles on. If you pay attention, you can pick up quite a bit. And it’s also enjoyable.

Remember, it takes skill to write, and while the more you write, the better you get, it still takes talent. It also takes imagination to come up with a story, weave characters together, and make a plot and premise interesting. These things are hard. But hiring an editor is easy. And it gives you more time to focus on your story. It lets (you) the writer, write, while you let the editor, edit.

*An important note: We don’t proclaim to be know-it-alls in this department. Not by a long shot. (In fact, you probably found errors in here.) However, we understand this is a weakness for us, and not only is it something we are constantly working and doing research on, it’s the reason we hired an editor. But it’s also an area where we can relate with others, so anytime you need a shoulder to cry on, we’re here for ya.