What we learned in our quest to publish – Part VI

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.

Wrapping up what we’ve learned, we only have two more pieces of advice for you. They are both very different from each other but important.

1. Start saving money right away.
Maybe you’re a saver, maybe you’re not, but our advice to you is to start saving ASAP. Self-publishing is not cheap. There’s your book cover, editing, blog tours, query services, writers associations, P.O. boxes, website domains, and all that other stuff I didn’t mention.  You have to pay for everything up front and don’t get paid until later. And with that, you don’t know how much you’re going to make, so any money saved can be helpful.
If you start early, you don’t have to save much either. Between the two of us, we put away $25 a week for about five months and saved over $500. Saving money isn’t something we learned from trying to find a literary agent, but if we had started saving way back in 2012 when we began this adventure, we would have saved almost $3000 by now!

Now there are two of us so we are able to save $25 a week, but even if you can save $25 every two weeks (on payday), it will still add up.

2. Rejection
As with any form of art, you’re in a subjective business, and it is statistically impossible for everyone to like your work. And there is nothing more heartbreaking than your first rejection. Even though you knows it’s going to come and you’ve prepared yourself mentally, it still hurts. And it’s not as if rejection ever gets easier, but you get used to it and learn to accept it. You also realize that it’s not personal. The more you hear “no,” the more you come to see that it honestly is not personal.
And the “nice” thing about trying to find an agent or publisher is, everyone gets rejected. Okay, almost everyone. If we were, let’s say, Miley Cyrus, and we wrote a book, it wouldn’t take us too long to find an agent or publisher, because regardless of what I wrote, it’s going to sell.  But if you’re an everyday average Jane, like us, you’re going to be rejected. And you’re going to be rejected multiple times.
So, will that first one star review hurt? Ohhhh yeah, of course! But getting our query letter rejected numerous times has definitely built up our armor some, and as long as all our reviews aren’t negative, we’ll be fine. Eventually…

What we learned in our quest to publish – Part V

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.

!. Avoid info dump and back story
Have you ever read a book, and right away at the beginning, there were just too many facts about the main character? Soon you become bored and just want the story to start. That is because the author might have made the mistake of info dumping.
If you’ve read any advice on writing, you’re going to see everyone tell you the same thing. Avoid info dumping. Like most first time authors, you’re probably going to think you’re not guilty of making this mistake. And maybe you aren’t. But the majority of us do and often don’t know it until an agent sends you a rejection saying (if you’re lucky) you have too much back story.
You probably already know what back story is and if you avoid too much of it, you’ll avoid info dumping. The hard part is knowing what is too much and what is not enough? After an agent’s intern kindly told us we had too much back story in the beginning, we went through and edited our manuscript. We gutted the thing. Some time later, we entered a Writer’s Digest webinar and were told that we didn’t have enough info. So as with anything else, balance is the key.
Unfortunately, there is not magic formula for this. But our best advice is:
1. Is it needed to further the story?
Example: “I walked into work.” Is it the character’s first day? Do they work in a prison? Did they get the job but have no idea what they’re doing? It’s okay to give some back story here, like the character got the job because they lied on their application about having experience when they really have no idea what they’re doing, but they did it to feed their five children. (Also, going back to part four of our advice, this would show the reader more about the character, like their ethics, why they might be nervous, and why they’re desperate, rather than just telling the reader they have these flaws or problems.)
2. Is the reader going to pause and have questions if you don’t explain?
Example: “I was shocked to see my neighbor in my yard.” Is your neighbor a recluse? Do you live in the country and your nearest neighbor a mile away? Why is the main character shocked? Your reader might live in a townhome with neighbors all around, so they’re not going to assume your character lives on acres of land.
These are two helpful ways of knowing it’s okay to put back story in. Just make sure you only tell the reader what they need to know and try to avoid going on and on.
Here are two different ways of giving the reader with the same information, one with info dump and one without.

“I was born at midnight, sixteen years ago to a single mother who hated me. I always knew she felt that way because she never got tired of telling me so, especially if she was drunk. I want to tell you it didn’t hurt my feelings, but it did.”
Are you nodding off yet? Now, how about this?
“‘Stacy, get your ass down here and pick up your shit,’ my mother yelled with a drunken slur.
I sighed, not wanting to face my mother when she was like this. I walked quietly down the stairs in hopes she had turned her attention to the TV as she did most nights.
I peaked around the corner and saw my mom facing away from me on the recliner. I tiptoed to pick up my dancing gear. I had almost made it back to the stairs when she turned around.
‘So, you decided to listen to me for once?’
I reluctantly turned around. ‘I always listen to you.’
My mom snickered. ‘Yeah right?’
There was no use arguing with her when she was like this. I always lost.
‘You’re right, Mom. I’ll try harder.’
‘You better. You’re lucky I let your worthless ass live here.’ Maybe because I was only sixteen and by law she was responsible for me? ‘I should kick you out. I don’t know why the hell I ever had you. I can’t stand to see your face.’
I turned away, hoping she couldn’t see me cry.”
Does that sound better? Do you see how the information is sprinkled into the story amongst all the action? Does it make it easier to read?
It’s definitely not an exact science, but hopefully this helps.

2. Use active voice versus passive voice
This is a very important part of writing fiction, and it’s something you need to know. However, it’s not something we explain the best, and we even sometimes struggle with it (because most people don’t think about active voice when they’re emailing their friends or writing a Facebook post). So rather than trying to give you advice, or copying someone else’s, we’re going to direct you to Grammar Girl. She gives wonderful explanations and great examples of each. She also has a lot of other good tips, so keep her in mind when you’re writing.

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.