The different types of publishing

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher will choose to invest in your work. They will help you to edit and polish your manuscript, organise a cover design and publish the book. They might or might not pay you an advance – a lump sum. Once the book’s royalties earn out that advance (if it ever does), you will receive royalties on sales, but the publisher will take their cut as well. They will almost certainly do some marketing, although they will still expect the author, especially if a first-time author, to do plenty of marketing of their own. They will be very fussy about who they take on – their goal is to run an efficient business. The biggest publishers will only accept work submitted by an agent, not work submitted directly from the author. The advantage of traditional publishing is the power of the publisher to promote the book and get it into bookstores.

Be aware:

If going with a traditional publisher, be aware of their reputation. How much marketing do they do? What quality editing do they provide? What is their quality control like? How fussy are they about who they pick up as an author? The main danger is signing your rights over to a publisher who does very little for you. Using an agent might help with this, but the agent will take a cut as well for the privilege.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has a bad reputation, but it has its place.  With vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to prepare and print copies of your book. Ideal for those with plenty of money, limited time and the wish to produce a one-off pet project, they are less than ideal for those actually seeking to earn through their writing, as they make their money from their writers and not for their writers. They might charge high prices for their services, and marketing may well be minimal or non-existent. They will probably take a large chunk of any royalties as well. The advantage of vanity publishing is the convenience.

Be aware:

The main danger is paying a large amount of money for services that at best you could have obtained cheaper elsewhere and at worst are poor quality as well.

Self Publishing*

With the ease of publishing these days, some people will finish a draft and immediately publish it, particularly as an ebook, with no quality control and with a cover design that marks the work out as amateur. Unfortunately, these tend to make little money and damage the reputation of ebooks generally, as well as producing a raft of scathing reviews that hurt the author. The advantage of self publishing is that it’s quick, easy and free.

Be aware:

It’s important not to rush a project out with no quality control, damaging your reputation as a writer. All the best-selling authors will have gone through a rigorous editing and proofreading, and professional cover design. That’s what your writing has to compete with if you’re trying to sell it.

Indie Publishing (Independent Publishing)*

An Indie publisher will also publish their own work, but will treat the whole thing as a business, investing in their writing via editing, proofreading, formatting and a professional cover. There are many writers who have chosen to publish independently after being traditionally published. There are some examples (but nowhere near as many) of writers going the other way – of being picked up by a trad publisher after publishing their own work. The advantage of Indie publishing is that the author maintains full control over the project and the end result.

Be aware:

You will need to act as a professional, investigating different editors, finding a cover designer who produces quality covers, and mastering marketing and other ancillary skills. An Indie publisher is a business person, handling all aspects of the publishing trade. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. An indie author does not do everything themselves, but engages other professionals to handle aspects of the publishing process, ensuring that each section is handled by someone who understands the job and can do their best for the project.

*Please note:

Not everyone makes the same distinction in terminology between self-publishers and indie publishers. The difference is in the attitude of the author, not in the term itself, but I find the distinction a useful one.

 

 

Exam strategy

At the moment, I’m busy most evenings tutoring, as we reach the peak of exam revision season. I’m often asked what the best way is to prepare for exams.

 

Most of the tutoring I’m doing is for maths, so I’m thinking in terms of those specifically, but most of this advice applies to any subject.

Past Papers

The best way to revise is to find a source of past papers to work through. Exam boards make past papers available on their websites, along with the mark schemes, although the latest past paper is usually reserved for schools to use as a formal mock exam. So download a past paper and work through it, marking your own work, and gradually weaning yourself away from using your books to look up techniques.

 

Alternatively, especially for the new-style maths questions, you can buy a pack of practice exam papers.

Exam Question Triage

Practise going through the paper quickly, categorising each question in one of three ways:

  • Easy answer, no problems at all
  • I think I could probably get this with a bit of thought
  • No way do I have any idea what they want with this one.

Answer all the questions in the first category (unless your revision is tight for time, in which case you can skip these altogether).

 

Then start working through the second category, seeing how far you can get on your own and then looking up the rest of the technique. If necessary, check the answer and any guidance/intermediate mark information given, and work backwards.

 

Don’t worry about the third category until you’re more comfortable with category 2. You might well find that as you master 2, you put more questions in that category instead of 3 anyway.

On the Day

By the time you get to exam day, you should be practised in dividing the questions in this way. Make sure you answer all the category 1 questions quickly and accurately. Then go for the marks in category 2. If you still have time, try to put something down for category 3 questions. If you can show that you understand what maths is involved, and get some way towards an answer, then you might pick up a valuable mark or two.

 

Whatever you do, don’t waste time on a question while there are easier marks to be picked up elsewhere.

 

Alpha reader or beta reader?

Most writers these days are familiar with the concept of a beta reader – someone who reads your work and gives you feedback on it. But what is an alpha reader, and what’s the difference?

An Alpha Reader

An alpha reader is usually a fellow writer, who might be reading the story as you write it, giving technical feedback and helping you to shape the story. They should be familiar with how to structure a story, technical issues such as passive voice, foreshadowing, character development, point of view, etc.

 

An alpha reader is reading a story that could be very raw indeed, maybe even first draft, and needs to be able to look past the rawness to the heart of the story, and give feedback accordingly.

 

An alpha reader is the free equivalent of a developmental edit or full critique. It could be a way to help reduce the cost of developmental editing, but be very careful that your alpha reader is experienced enough to be of real help.

A Beta Reader

A beta reader is a reader. They should not be giving technical feedback, but should be explaining how they relate to the story – where do they get bored? Which bits were most exciting? Which characters do they love/hate? Can they understand the story? Do they get lost anywhere?

 

A beta reader should be reading a story that’s as polished as you can make it. They should be the last step before you pass the work to a professional editor. They might catch typos and other errors, but that is not their job and you should not consider them to be your proofreaders or editors. Instead, they give a reader’s eye view of the story, picking up weaknesses and strong points.

 

Neither type of reader will fully replace a professional editor, and you should still consider paid editing and then proofreading as your final quality control. But these two stages will help to ensure that the product you pass to the editor is as good as you can make it.

 

 

 

How much does self-publishing cost?

This question receives many different answers, from thousands of pounds to nothing. So what’s really going on?

 

First of all, actually publishing your book costs nothing. Uploading files to Amazon and creating either ebook or print version does not involve a fee.

 

But it’s not as simple as that. There needs to be quality control of what you’re uploading. Has your work been reviewed, to ensure that it makes sense, that it’s well written, that it doesn’t contain silly typos or other errors that will put your reader off? Will your cover design attract readers to your book? Is your layout correctly formatted for whatever platform you want to publish on?

 

If you’re self-publishing, then all those quality control issues come down to you. It’s your responsibility to get an editor to go through your work, to get a good cover design done, to ensure the formatting is correct.

 

Some of these you can do yourself, if you have the skills, but editing is one of those jobs that must be done by someone else to be done well; you are too close to your own work, and just can’t see what you’ve actually written as opposed to what you think you’ve written.

 

Even cover design and formatting are worth paying experts for; while anyone can throw a cover together, books are a competitive market, and your book deserves a cover that will attract the reader. Likewise, formatting can be fiddly and frustrating if you’re new to it. Why not spend your time writing, and pay the experts to do their job?

 

There are publishing companies around who offer to do all this as a package deal, for a price. Be very wary of these; generally, they make their money from the services they sell to you, not from their share of the books sold (although they take a good slice of that too). You risk paying a lot of money for services you could have got cheaper separately, and losing control of your book as well.

 

What if you can’t afford to pay an editor, cover designer etc?

 

The answer then is not to just put it out anyway. The quality is likely to be poor, and that will put readers off anything else you write, and weaken the reputation of self-published books generally.

 

Traditional publishing involves a publisher liking your book enough to invest money in it. They keep part of the sales, yes, and you might lose some of the control over your book, but they are the ones who take the financial risk. Remember, if they ask you for money to publish, they are not a traditional publishing company.

 

So in the end it comes down to this: please either be prepared to invest money as well as time in your writing to ensure quality (after all, you’re expecting others to invest money in your books!), or find someone else who is willing to do so.

 

Openings

Within the first page, you need to catch the reader’s attention.

  • What does your character want or need? What’s in the way?
  • What are they like as a person? Does a real sense of personality come across?
  • Is everything happening in a vacuum, or is it solidly grounded in time and space?
  • Is there a sense of direction in your story?
  • Is there a sense of unease, of something wrong?
  • How does the writing flow? Silly errors will put the reader off.

 

 

I’ve finished my novel

I’ve finished my novel! I have a complete, readable story. So now I knock together a cover, upload the cover and Word file to Amazon and hit publish, right?

 

Wrong.

 

Now the real work begins.

 

It’s really important to understand that there’s a continuum in writing. There isn’t any bad/good writing divide. There’s a whole range of qualities between barely readable and compelling writing. Just because you’ve completed a draft, and maybe a friend has enjoyed it, doesn’t mean it’s ready to publish. It means you have something you can work on and develop.

 

In this age where we can literally type “The End” on a draft and then have it for sale within minutes, some people are tempted to do just that. The result is often a barely readable mess, with spelling, punctuation and grammar issues, random tense changes and very odd, distracting formatting and a cover that screams Self Published!

 

If you just want people to read your work, then there are platforms where you can upload it and have a ready-made audience. In fanfiction particularly, writers can upload stories and be inundated with praise. That’s often not because of the writing, but because of the ideas they express about the characters people have already bonded with.

 

If you want people to pay for your work and feel so happy they’ve done so that they’ll tell others, then you need to put in a lot more investment – in terms of time, effort and usually cold, hard cash.

 

I can’t afford it, you might say. That’s where the traditional publishing market comes in. Find yourself a publisher, often via an agent, and they will invest in the writing for you, as long as they feel it’s good enough. Of course, they’ll take their share of the profit for doing so.

 

Failing that, you need to be prepared to put in the effort yourself. This means revising until you can’t see any way to improve it, asking beta readers to help, working on it some more, and then when you’ve taken it as far as you can, you enlist the professionals – the editors, the formatters, the proofreaders, the cover designers.

 

After all, the traditionally published writers expect to be put through such quality control, and they will be your rivals for sales. And you have not only your own reputation as a writer to protect, but the reputation of indie authors as a whole.

 

So now I have a full draft of my novel, I’ll be going back through to beef it up, and then seeking help, and I’ll be saving up for an editor, because even though I’ve studied writing and editing intensively, I know that I’m too close to it to edit my own work. And I’ll be making sure that what I do eventually publish will be the best I can make it, because I want my readers to want more, not to feel they’ve wasted their time and money on an inferior product.

 

 

 

 

Sending your manuscript to a beta reader

When sending your manuscript to a publisher or agent, it’s vital that you follow their instructions exactly. Whatever font they recommend, whatever layout they recommend – if you don’t follow their guidelines, then at best you’ll irritate them and at worst your manuscript will be deleted unread.

 

However, when sending out to a beta reader, it’s nowhere near as straightforward. In one sense, it doesn’t matter at all, but I’ve looked at a lot of manuscripts in the past month as I offered free readings of the first 5k words, as an experiment, and I started to notice a few issues.

 

  • Your font should be easy to read and in a reasonable size. I see no reason to use anything more fancy than 12pt Times New Roman. Some are submitted in Courier New, but that tends to give the manuscript a “typewritten” feel, and can be hard on the eye.
  • I recommend including a cover page, containing the title, author and basic contact details. This is useful in case the original email disappears, and as a reminder of the information – it’s very frustrating to not have the book’s title displayed anywhere!
  • It would also be useful to include basic information at the start of your book, such as the blurb and a little about your writing background and your intentions for the book. Be wary of including a full synopsis here though – a reader will generally not want spoilers before reading.
  • Save the file with a clear filename – preferably your book title, with or without extra information. A file entitled “ABBC” really isn’t useful! You might be familiar with it as a nickname for your book, but your reader isn’t.
  • Make good use of the header/footer facility. A page number on the page itself will ensure that you and the reader are both considering the same text on the same page. Having the author/title repeated at the top of the page can be useful.
  • Label your chapter changes clearly. A reader will often read in chapters, and it’s irritating to discover that there are no chapters, or only vague line spaces for breaks. Yes, some writers do write without chapters, but it’s not recommended unless you’re really sure what you’re doing. It’s easier to consider issues such as plot when you can break it down chapter by chapter.
  • Start each chapter on a new page. Page count is not an issue with electronic versions, and the visual white space helps to make the jump from chapter to chapter. It will also help you think clearly about your chapter breaks.
  • Make sure that at the very least you have run spell-check before submitting to a reader. While they do not expect a clean, proofread version, it’s incredibly irritating to discover error after error that could have been easily discovered and fixed with a quick read-through.

 

 

 

Plotting with Aeon Timeline 2

One of the rewards for nanowrimo this year is a discount off Aeon Timeline. But what use is Aeon Timeline to a novel writer?

 

I made extensive use of it this year to plan my novel, so here is a basic guide on how I used it. Click on any image to see it larger.

timeline-example

This is a partial view of my completed timeline. You can see the buttons along the top, then the timeline itself, and then events at the corresponding mark on the timeline. Because my novel is set during a school year, it was important to work out term dates and to know what day of the year events took place on.

 

This view shows the story events separated into different arcs.

 

At the bottom of the window is a timeline graphic, with a sliding bar representing the part that’s visible, and the coloured blobs representing the events. This provides an overview of the spread of your events. I used colour coding for the different arcs involved.

 

add-arcAs well as events, you can add entities to your story – arcs, places or characters, within the fiction template. Arcs help you to keep the different elements straight, while places and characters help you keep track of who’s doing what and where. If you set a birthdate for characters, you can keep track of their ages at different events. This is a feature I didn’t need this time, but relied on a great deal last year.

 

 

add-eventAdding events to the timeline is easy. Either double click on the timeline, or use the Add event button. The double click method pre-fills the date where you clicked, but you can adjust this at any time.

 

Fill in the information about your event – at the minimum, you need a title and a date. Choose a colour to represent your event – use colour coding to help you see related events.

 

 

Add all the events you need for your story. For each event, you can assign an arc, location, and observers/participants.

 

info-bar

 

This is an example of an event with several of the boxes filled in.

 

Clicking on any event on the timeline opens up the event details for you to tweak as necessary.

 

Tabs provide places to put notes for the scene, such as what the weather is like, or add tags to the event. You can also nest events, but again this is a feature I haven’t used this year.

 

It’s straightforward to view a story with or without arcs. I used this to create the different story arcs separately, and then view without arcs to see how the different events were interwoven.

 

timeline-with-arc

This shows the story events broken down into their separate arcs. This enabled me to check that each arc made sense and events happened in the right order.

 

If an event needs adjusting, you can either click on it and make amendments in the info pane or just drag the event along the timeline until you reach the right date – a tooltip showing the date makes this easy.

 

 

 

 

 

events-with-no-arcAnd this shows the story events interwoven – the coloured blobs indicate what arc they belong to. This enables me to see how the events affect each other, and make sure that there are no issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

relationship-view

Another view that is useful is the relationship view – a grid indicating events in a list, with markers to show the entities involved. I then used this list to create scenes in Scrivener. All that was left was to actually write them up. I did go back and make changes to the timeline to reflect changes that happened in the novel, to ensure consistency between the two files, but generally the timeline represented the bulk of the planning I needed.

 

Aeon Timeline 2 will sync with Scrivener, but that’s a feature I haven’t explored yet. For now, the timeline itself is a useful enough tool even without that.

 

Aeon Timeline 2 also has templates for use with time management projects, legal projects and non-fiction projects – it’s incredibly useful, and the more I explore it, the more useful I find it.

 

 

 

 

How can I tell the writer…

If you’re a beta reader, one issue that you will come across sooner or later is a project that you just can’t get on with. So how do you break the news to the writer?

 

First, you need to decide whether the problem is yours or theirs. Could it be that you just don’t like the theme of the writing, or that something about it is hitting a sensitive spot? If so, then you could mention that and then either decline and return the project, or be as objective as you can despite your misgivings. It’s possible to write about the way a story is presented while at the same time cringing internally at the storyline.

 

If the problem is that you feel the writing is weak, or the storyline is too implausible, or something else related to the writing itself, then it’s important that you think carefully about the issues you find. Feedback in this case is even more important than if you enjoy every aspect of the story, but it needs to be specific. “I hated this story” is unhelpful. “I found this story totally implausible” helps a little. “I found it very unlikely that he would want to kiss her two minutes after finding her standing over his beloved mother’s body with a gun in her hand” is something that can be dealt with much more effectively. If you really have to return a piece of work unread, or only partly read, explain as sensitively as you can why you had such a problem with it. This might be as simple as “I’m sorry, but the number of spelling and grammar errors in this text make it very hard to read, as I’m having to constantly stop and work out what you’re trying to say. I suggest that you at least run spell check before submitting a piece of work to a reader.”

 

It’s natural to worry when you feel you have lots of negative feedback for a writer. Try to praise the aspects of the writing that you find do work – even if you have to look really hard. They’ve put a lot of work into the writing, and it’s disheartening to be given just a list of errors. Remember the phrase “even better if…”. Try to raise questions rather than making criticisms. “Did you mean…”, “I’m not quite sure what you mean when…”, “Have you considered…” Explain the effect their writing has: “The way you jump from one person’s thoughts to the next means there’s no chance for tension to build up, because I know what they’re both feeling all the time. Have you thought about sticking to her point of view for the scene, so that we only know his reaction and not the reason for it?”

 

Remember that you’re not their cheerleader. Too much focus on the positive and too little on the negative could give them a mistaken idea of their own capabilities and will not help them develop their writing. Any writer who publishes work will be in for criticism via reviews, and some of it will probably be harsh. You can help to prepare their work by raising the issues that you see. After all, they’ve asked for feedback on their work, and that means they should be expecting to receive information to help them.

 

Adapt your feedback to the writer’s background and experience. If you’re reading for someone who’s already published several pieces of work, then they should be used to receiving feedback, and should readily understand terms such as foreshadowing, POV, third person. If they’re showing their writing to someone for the first time, then you need to recognise that and encourage them forward. This might involve explaining the terms you use, recommending they find a writing group, or pointing them towards resources, but shouldn’t be praising them to the point where they feel they’re ready to hit the publish button right now.

 

Above all, don’t worry too much: some writers do find it very difficult to take any sort of criticism. That doesn’t mean that you should become upset over their response. As long as you’ve been careful and sensitive over your feedback, then their reaction is not your problem. Just mark it down to experience, consider briefly if you could have handled it any differently, and move on. There are plenty of writers out there who would value your feedback.

 

Nanowrimo survival guide

Four days to go until people all round the world hit the keyboard or notebook for (inter)NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. But what’s the best way to achieve that?

  1. Aim to write every day. The target is an average of 1667 words per day, but it’s better to aim higher than that in the beginning if possible, as it can be very hard to catch up if you fall behind right at the start. Your enthusiasm may wane later in the month anyway, so bank extra words whenever you can.
  2. Use all your available time – not just that time when you can sit and physically put words down, but the time when you’re cleaning your teeth, or waiting for a bus, or sitting in traffic. Time spent planning means that when you reach the page you’re ready to start the words flowing. The best part of nano is getting totally involved with your story.
  3. Even if you are so hard-pressed for time that you can’t fit in your normal writing session, at least aim to open the file and look at it. That’s easier than ever this year, with Scrivener available on iOS. Letting the story drift from your thoughts, even for one day, can be hard to recover from.
  4. Don’t worry about the quality of what you write. You’re working out the story. There’s plenty of time to polish later. Sometimes you need to push through to figure out what your story is about.
  5. Don’t be afraid to change things as you go along – but don’t go back to fix earlier things. Just make a note to yourself for later and plough onwards. If you must rewrite a section, then leave the original there too for now – they still count as words written during November.
  6. Remember that everyone goes through a stage of hating and doubting their writing. Acknowledge that you’ve reached that stage and work through it. You only have 30 days maximum on the one project. After that, you can re-evaluate and do something else instead, but this project deserves its 30-day 50k-words of attention.
  7. Other ideas will rear their heads once you open yourself up to creativity. Thank them, note them down and promise them attention in December.
  8. If you have the chance, local write-ins can be great for motivation and companionship. There’s nothing quite like sitting at a table with other writers and just hammering out the words.
  9. Accept that whatever work you do will probably need to be redone or at least edited thoroughly, but remember that you’ll be that much better as a writer for the regular practice.
  10. Most of all, when you hit 1st December, don’t stop writing!

Opinions vary on the usefulness of nanowrimo as a writing tool. My opinion is that as long as you don’t expect to write in November, publish in December and then do nothing until the following October, then nano can be a fantastic tool.