The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Month: July 2015

IF YOU CAN READ THIS…

Have you finished the first draft of your Great American Novel and then given it to your spouse, mother, brother, best pal to look over? Anxiously you wait for their opinion and they hand it back to you, all the while shaking their head. You wonder why, and then they dish–“You misspelled supercalifragilisticespialodocious!”

“Sheesh!” you whine, “But I used spellcheck!”

You must have more than one edit of your story before it goes to the publisher. It is possible to self-edit, but believe me, it is a Herculean Task. At the recent IndieReCon, one contributor spoke about ways to clean-up your work before handing it off to another set of eyes (you can read the article here). I’m of the opinion that, if you opt for the self-edit only plan, don’t.

And the reason why? Self-editing is tough to do because your eye is trained to see things that your brain tells it to look for.

What do I mean by that? Well, have you seen those funny little exercises that make the rounds of email chain letters or Facebook memes that show a word cloud that is intentionally made up of mixed letters, numbers and symbols that challenge you to read and show how smart you are?
Hotmess
Then you may know what I am talking about. Your brain is hardwired to make order and find patterns that make sense. You know what the letters are, you have learned the correct pattern of letters that make up each word, and so you can read these chaotic sentences. (Does this mean that spelling is optional?)

Your work is just like that; a word cloud made up of letters in some order with misspellings, homonyms, bad punctuation, poor grammar, and just about every mistake you can think of. If it isn’t, you must have struggled for aeons to produce a perfect first draft, and still there will be misspellings, incorrect or missing punctuation, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, etc. And the more times you read it over, the easier it is to gloss over mistakes.

Spellcheck is a good helper, but it can lead you down the primrose path too.

[They’re] is nothing like a correctly spelled incorrect word to spoil your perfect draft.

One of the first times that I ran headlong into this phenomenon was for a school paper. I composed it in longhand, read it over, corrected the obvious mistakes and prepared to type it out on my portable manual typewriter. My typing skills had lots of room for improvement. My aunt just happened to come for a visit that day and she offered to type it for me. She started to type and began to point out all of the mistakes that I had missed in my first edit. So, I went through it again, correcting spelling, usage, grammar, and sentence length, etc. I handed it back to her, and she began to type it out but soon ran into the next round of errors. Long story short–it was midnight before we had a usable paper for me to hand in.

I have learned that the chances of me writing a perfect first draft are next to zero. If I don’t have the opportunity for editing help, then I write and revise, correct, then let it sit for a day or two, and then go back over it. I repeat that until I am satisfied with the quality of the final draft. If I don’t have time to let it marinate, then the process is shortened, but I still go over it multiple times. Preferably, I hand it to my wife to look over and she can be brutal with the red pencil.

So, you might ask, what can you do to publish a clean piece of writing?

If you have written anything for a grade, for submission to a third party then you know how important it is that your work is as perfect as you can make it. How often has a well written essay or research paper been downgraded because of misspellings, poor formatting, horrible grammar or nonexistent punctuation? You have seen this before. If your query letter doesn’t measure up, how do you expect an agent or publisher to take you seriously?

I suggested above, maybe the first step in the refining process should be to finish it and then let it sit for as long as time will permit before re-reading and revising. Time has a way of allowing a fresh look at the piece.

The more that you read it through, the more likely it is that you will gloss over mistakes.

Read it aloud. For some reason unknown to me, the act of reading my sentences aloud gives me a fresh perspective. My ears can hear what my eyes can’t see.

Have your wife, mother, BFF, or stranger on the street read it with some means of marking the problems that they see. It is better that this read-through be by someone you trust to be honest. (If you expect honesty, be prepared for the truth!) At this point the last thing that you would want is platitudes and false bonhomme.

Fix the errors and then read aloud again. Your ears will inform your eyes. Make sure that you read each word, don’t rush the narration. You could even record parts of it, or maybe the whole thing, with the aim of listening to the cadence and pace of your sentences.

Time is the cruel master in many of the projects that we take on so if your deadline looms, then by all means hire a pro. It will be worth the money to save the time needed to make critical corrections. Even if you have read, re-read, corrected, revised over and over again there will be mistakes that we miss. Don’t beat yourself up.

I may be preaching to the choir, but every self-published book and even ones published by major publishing houses that I have bought and read has had spelling errors, homonym errors, punctuation faux-pas, and poor sentence structure. I’m serious, everyone. Obviously, those published by the established authors and publishers have fewer embedded problems, but I have spent major dollars for books from my favorite authors had errors that jumped off of the page and distracted from my experience.

If it can happen to them, it can and will happen to us.

Remember…IF YOU CAN READ THIS…make sure you are not letting your brain trick your eyes.

DSCN0042_2_3Michael D. LeFevre is the author of the newly published novella, “Ghost of the Black Bull”. He lives on the verge of the Great Basin, overlooking the historic Lincoln Highway, Pony Express Trail, and Hastings Cut-Off of Donner Party notoriety–literally in the midst of history. “There are so many anecdotes that lend themselves to dramatization, that I am at a loss of where to go next in beginning my next story.” He works at being retired, reading and writing. He is enjoying his hobbies as well.

Balancing patience and hustle

An author’s career is often compared to a long-distance race, a marathon not a sprint. While that may be so, I see it more as a teeter-tooter, a delicate balance between working as hard and as fast and you can in the short term (hustle) while keeping yourself in the game for the long run (patience). Balance is essential. Going hard for a year is all well and good, but if you give up and quit before the results come in, what’s the point?

If you can’t find a maintainable pace, all that hard work is for nothing.

Steal Like an Artist image

credit Austin Kleon

The trick, at least for me, isn’t finding motivation, it’s spreading it out, like manure over a budding spring hayfield. Highs and lows are inevitable, but the key is to level them out, to temper our fiery passions when they threaten to engulf us, to kindle our creative spirit when life’s torrential downpours threaten to extinguish it. Once you find a method and process that works for you, you’ve got to trust that it’s going to take you where you want to go.

As Austin Kleon, in his brilliant book Show Your Work says:

“Every career is full of ups and down, and just like with stories, when you’re in the middle of living out your life and career, you don’t know whether you’re up or down or what’s about to happen next.”

Unrestrained hustle can do more harm than good. It over-inflates our ego, persuades us to take on too many projects and then, like the shameless hussy it is, leaves us alone in the morning with nothing but it’s lingering scent on the pillow. It’s the mistress of every person out there who always claims to be busy, but at the end of the day has nothing to show for their exhaustive efforts.

On the other hand false patience — procrastination and fear — can be just as harmful. “Telling ourselves it’s okay that we didn’t write today, it’s okay if we miss a deadline” can soon become an author’s bane. Granted, there will be days when we simply can’t write as much as we’d like or when emergencies arise that are unavoidable. These are okay. These are part of everyday life. What I’m talking about is when these instances become the building blocks for a tower of excuses rather than the temporary detours and roadblocks they really are.

As Paul “Bear” Bryant, famous Alabama football coach said. “The first time you quit it’s hard, the second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don’t even have to think about it.”

Given too much leeway, an extra dose of patience turns into passiveness. We’re okay not finishing that novel this year. We’re okay that we haven’t sold a book in six months. All of that will improve somewhere down the line.
If only we could take these two opposing — and equally important — forces and cache them away. The secret, I believe, is learning to recognize when one or the other is taking over. Know thyself.

Recognize when your hustle is out of hand. Recognize when you’re focusing too much on tomorrow and someday instead of today. The yin and yang of our author lives, we cannot exist without both patience and hustle, each playing a pivotal part in the ongoing development of our careers. We all — and I believe the pace is different for every person — need to find the sweet spot, find the speed where we can set things on cruise control somewhere between going just over the speed limit and Fast and Furious.

The hardest part about all this is that there’s no crystal ball to look in, no soothsayer to show us our future. Will we ever find success in this endeavor or will we at last admit defeat, an empty, broken husk with failed words floating overhead like the scattered ashes of our cremated muse? There’s no way of knowing.

That’s the real challenge: commit to the little things and have some level of confidence (or craziness) that things are going to work out. We only have so much energy in any given day, week, month or year. Hammering the throttle on and off in bouts of manic inspiration and despair only serve to drain our emotional and intellectual gas tank all that much faster.

Author Origins: Lindsay Buroker

Lindsay_BurokerLindsay Buroker is a full-time independent fantasy author who loves travel, hiking, tennis, and vizslas. She grew up in the Seattle area but moved to Arizona when she realized she was solar-powered. You can find her at http://www.lindsayburoker.com where she blogs about her adventures in self-publishing and shares character interviews and excerpts from her latest books. Some of her recent releases are Warrior Mage (epic fantasy) and The Blade’s Memory (steampunk).

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

I’ve been a lifeguard, a fast food jockey, a soldier in the U.S. Army, a systems administrator, and a professional blogger. I’ve been writing off and on since I was a kid, but got “serious” about being an author back in 2009 or so. By 2010, I had finished my first couple of novels (The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted), but was dreading the agent-querying process. That fall, I got my first Kindle, and soon after, I stumbled across J.A. Konrath’s blog, specifically an article where he shared his self-publishing success. Within less than a week, I tossed aside all of my thoughts of seeking an agent and committed to self-publishing. I published my first two novels in December 2010 and January 2011.

I wasn’t an overnight success, but I managed to sell some books, and I got some nice feedback from readers. Encouraged, I published two more novels in my Emperor’s Edge series in 2011, along with some shorter works. By 2012, I was making enough to quit the day job, and by the time I was doing my taxes for 2013, I realized I was making more as an author than I ever had in any of my previous professions. Things have been going along well ever since, and I have over twenty novels out now, between my name and a pen name.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

I was already self-employed, so I didn’t have as hard a time as many authors do, but I’m lucky things went well, because I mentally checked out of the day job before I was really there with the author income. 🙂

As far as balance goes, I love writing and publishing and pleasing my readers, so it’s easy for me to work more than I should. I also see this as the golden age of self-publishing, so there’s a little “better save up what I can and invest it while the going is good” in the back of my mind. I feel guilty if I don’t get X number of words done a day, so I’m often plugging away well into the night. I have to remind myself to go out and play with friends and take non-working vacations now and then!

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

If I’m working on a new manuscript, I’ll usually get up, make a latte, and try to get some words done before heading out for some exercise. I have dogs and live up the street from the national forest, so that’s often a morning hike. I’ll work through the afternoons and try to get to my word count goals before dinner and any evening activities. If I make my goal, I might relax a bit at night and answer some emails, but I have been known to put my head down and ignore email until I finish a manuscript. It’s hard for me to take my eyes off the end goal, and I can usually get a rough draft done in 2-3 weeks these days.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

There weren’t many places to advertise back in 2010/early 2011, but I tried a Goodreads campaign and was able to get a couple sales a day that way. I still remember getting Encrypted reviewed at The Fantasy Book Critic, a big site that usually sticks to traditionally published stuff (or at least it did back then) and that I got a nice boost in sales that February. When I released the second book in my EE series in May, I dropped the price of the first from $2.99 to $0.99, and that helped bring in more readers. In November, when I released the third book, I made the first one permafree, and that also helped a lot, especially with sales in other stores, such as Barnes & Noble.

I never really had any huge best sellers until I got lucky with a 99-cent boxed set this year, so a lot of my success has just been from continuing to put books out and from gradually building up a fan base. One of the cool things about self-publishing right now is that it’s very possible for a “mid-list” author to make a good income.

At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

Early on, probably earlier than I should have, but I still had some income coming in from my blogs, so it wasn’t as much of a leap of faith as for people who have a regular job and walk away from it. You are motivated to succeed, though, when you cut the cord a little early, because there aren’t many other options!

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

I kind of tell it all in my blog and on various podcasts, so I’m not sure if people who follow along are missing anything. I probably make more than people would guess (that’s the one thing I stopped talking about openly, since it seemed like bragging once it was more than paper route money :D), and that’s probably true for a lot of indies who aren’t mega sellers but who have a few series out that are selling moderately well.

I play tennis, hike, take road trips, and this year, I’m hoping to spend the winter some place where I’m closer to skiing, since that’s a hobby I miss.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Writing and publishing a lot of books is a good plan, but you have to be ready, too. I was a little lucky that I didn’t find out about ebooks and self-publishing right away, because I joined a workshop and worked on selling some short stories and such (basically following the old route to finding an agent). I got those rejections and abandoned a few novels and learned a lot before coming back to the EE series. I might have rushed to publish if it had been as easy as it is now, and that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.

You usually only get one chance with a reader, so you want to make sure the book they pick up is a good one. Having a lot of books out there only helps if people go on to buy and read the other ones and tell their friends about them.

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