Archive for October, 2010

Turning the page ~ 10 tips for maintaining reader interest

Posted on: October 31st, 2010 by Carrick Publishing 3 Comments

As writers, we know it’s vital to keep the reader interested. This is true whether we’re constructing a thriller, a poem or a technical document.

Without the reader, there is no transaction. There are only words on a page.

Given the subjectivity of our art, how can we ensure our work is compelling to our target audience? It isn’t important to reach every potential reader, but we do want to connect with those who have a natural interest in our genre or subject.

Each author must find his or her own voice. There is no certain road to stellar writing. However, there are a few key tips that can help keep the reader “on-line” with your story. Keep in mind, each time a reader is “stopped” by something that clunks, there is one more opportunity for him to put your book down…for good.

The following is a checklist of things to watch for. The occasional occurrence of these “sticky” factors is not usually a deal-breaker. However, if these problems arise in your work with any frequency, you may need to drag your manuscript back to the old drawing board:

1- Poor spelling or grammar. Most independently published work, and even a good deal of the traditionally published work these days, will contain the occasional ‘typo’. These rare slips are easily forgiven by modern readers.

However, repeated errors in grammar and spelling will indicate to a reader that the writer is not skilled. If this problem occurs with any regularity, a course in basic writing is recommended.

If a writer believes his story is strong but is aware of a problem in this area, a copy editor can help. In that case, it is recommended that the author get professional assistance.

2- Pet words or phrases. We writers are human. Naturally, we’ll be tempted to slip colloquialisms into our work.

It’s ok to repeat a phrase when it lends voice to a specific character. However, it’s not ok when the writer shows an obvious attachment to a word or phrase. The reader will be turned off by repetition of this kind.

I keep a checklist of words that I have a particular fondness for. As soon as my first draft is complete, I “go hunting” for those words using the “find” function in my word processor.

3- Lengthy descriptions that interrupt the story. I call this the “explainy” stuff. We all do it, to some degree. As writers, we’re often describing the environment (either internal or external) to ourselves, as much as to the reader.

Most readers will lose interest if they are confronted with huge blocks of description or lengthy narrative. Of course, there will be some exceptions. For the most part, though, it’s best to give the reader sufficient foreground and enough artistry that he can fill in the background using his own imagination.

4- Cardboard characters. We hear this all the time. But how will we know if our characters are one-dimensional? And what does that really mean?

A fully developed character will seem real to the reader. He/she won’t preach, won’t be 100% good or evil (unless that character is a saint or a sociopath!), and won’t be entirely predictable.

A strong character has room for growth. There may be flaws, but there is also the potential for redemption.

5- Take care with dialogue tags. Use “he said/she said” sparingly, but make sure the reader always knows who is speaking. Avoid replacements for the word “said”. They are intrusive to the dialogue. Also, avoid adverbs for “said”, like “he said breathlessly”.

6- Get comfortable with dialogue. Strong dialogue is a clear indicator of writer confidence. Listen to people speaking. Practice injecting your character’s voice into the dialogue. Read it out loud to yourself. Better yet, record yourself reading it.

7- Cut anything that is not related to your story/purpose. You may come up with a brilliant idea, but unless you can work it seamlessly into your current project, put it aside. If it’s really great, you’ll be able to use it down the road.

A red pen can be your best friend.

8- Know your characters like you know the real people in your world. You don’t have to offer this intimate insight constantly to the reader, but you should have it in the back of your mind when you bring your characters onto the page. Each time a character steps into your story, he/she should arrive as a complete person, with likes/dislikes/views/habits/dress intact.

Author infusion of self into characters is a common problem. Remember that your characters are not you. They should be free to act and think in ways that may be completely alien to you as a person.

9- Respect your readers. They don’t want to be talked down to. Each reader will have his or her own views on life. It isn’t necessary (or even desirable) for a writer to suppress his own natural ideas. However, it’s important to present those ideas within a foundation of respect, knowing that not everyone will agree.

10- Finally, the most important tip I can offer to writers of all skill levels is simply: READ, READ, AND READ SOME MORE. The more we read, the better we write. There is no substitute for exposing ourselves to literature of every genre.

An open mind facilitates excellence in writing.

To print and beyond ~ the brass tacks of independent and self-publishing

Posted on: October 24th, 2010 by Carrick Publishing 5 Comments

The decision to self-publish or to sign a contract with a small, independent publisher is a difficult one for most writers. Last week, we took a look at some of the reasons Alex and I chose to “go indie”.

This week, we’d like to carry the topic further by sharing some of our personal experiences in the self-publishing process.

Keep in mind; it’s not our aim to persuade any writer into a specific course of action. Nor is this post intended to replace your own good research into the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry.

We hope that by laying bare a few of the facts we’ve discovered, we may be able to shine a light into the dark and scary tunnel of indecision.

For each of our Carrick books, the self-publishing process was slightly different. This is because each work was unique and had its own needs. It’s also because the Print On Demand technology and the services available for authors were evolving.

Alex is a trained editor and I have a background in literature, so we had a small advantage throughout the revision and editing process. Even so, we did not take quality for granted. We put each of our books through a rigorous process of revision, copy editing and formatting.

With Gold And Fishes, because of the research material presented in the book, I hired an outside copy-editor and I was glad I did. He didn’t recommend many changes, but he was able to assist me with the correct way to present statistics. This knowledge went a long way to enhancing the quality of the book.

Once Alex and I were satisfied our books were ready for press, we went looking for a publisher. There are a number of excellent print on demand publishers — your research will no doubt lead you to the one that best suits your needs. We chose to use BookSurge, which later became CreateSpace, because they offered several service packages that allowed us some freedom.

For authors who cannot make the financial commitment to use a print on demand service, there may be less expensive print options available. Also, the new Kindle technology is truly outstanding, and is designed to allow authors of quality work to see their books on the virtual shelf.

We opted to make all of our books available in both print and Kindle version.

The great thing about Smashwords (See Donna or Alex on Smashwords) is that you can make your e-book available to e-readers other than Kindle. Provided you have an ISBN number and meet Smashwords quality control, you can also have your work appear in the main Bookstore catalogues: Barnes And Noble and Sony for example.

We found we had greater success through Kindle than through Smashwords, but we loved the freedom of Smashwords, and the way it supports independent writers. If you’re determined to reach readers through any means possible, I do recommend you look into the Smashwords formatting guidelines and give it a try.

In the past, writers were expected to write. Large publishing houses would pick and choose whom they wanted to invest their resources in, which is certainly fair, since they assumed the burden of the costs. Their editors would recommend re-writes and revisions as deemed necessary. Once all revisions were complete, they would also take responsibility for the editing process.

The obvious advantage of the old publishing model was quality control. The publishing houses would ensure only high quality work was presented to the public.

The disadvantage was that a great many worthy manuscripts never saw the light of day, and were destined to lie in the dust of the editor’s slush pile.

Now, thanks to e-publishing and Print On Demand services, many terrific writers are finally able to realise their dreams. Yes, they must be willing to bear the cost and the effort to get there. For most of us, the benefits of artistic control far outweigh those costs.

Also, under the old model, most large publishing houses would spend at least some effort promoting even lesser known authors. That service has largely fallen by the wayside, along with the expectation of quality control for entry level authors. For the most part, the author is now responsible for revisions, edits as well as promotion.

Which leads me back to independent and self-publishing. Since the greatest burden of quality and promotion is placed squarely on the author anyway, the only divide between traditional and self-publishing for most of us is now the cost of Print On Demand services.

E-publishing crosses that divide for authors who do not have the resources for print. It is the final bridge. Most e-publishing services are free. This includes Kindle’s Data Text Processing module.

To summarise, here are the key steps to be aware of in either independent or self-publishing:

1- First and foremost, write a good story. This should go without saying, yet we often seem to forget the basic principle of story-telling. Find your niche, your target audience, and tap into it.

2- Hook up with a talented group of fellow-writers who understand your genre. A strong critiquing group can lead you to better understand what revisions or re-writes your work will need. If you can’t join a group in your area, join one on-line. In the absence of a traditional editor, this is vital.

Remember: be open to criticism, but you are the author. Take suggestions with an open mind, and implement the ones you agree with.

3- If you cannot find a strong critiquing group, it may be worthwhile for you to invest in professional manuscript evaluation. This is not the same as a copy-edit service. An evaluation will not tell you whether your use of the language is correct. It will tell you whether you have a good story, and whether it flows in a logical and compelling sequence.

4- No matter how strong your editing skills are, once all revisions and re-writes are complete, present your work to a copy-editor. If you have a trusted friend with good eyes, ask for help. If you do not, then hire an editor. (We offer both manuscript evaluation and copy-editing at Carrick Publishing.)

Understandably, many writers operate on a shoe-string. If you cannot afford a professional copy-edit service, then we strongly urge you to impose on a friend who has solid writing/reading skills.

5- Ensure your work is properly formatted — whether for print or for e-publishing. There is nothing more annoying as a reader than paying good money for a book only to find it has been hastily put together with sloppy presentation. For those who may not possess the technical skills, we do offer formatting services. For the technologically brave, we recommend you review all work in layout before placing it on the market.

6- Be prepared to market your work. You will need to invest time, and often at least some money, in promotion. It is naive to assume that “if you build it they will come”. Without the resources of a large traditional publisher behind you, you will need to roll your sleeves up.

For many writers, this final step may prove the most challenging. Historically, we have enjoyed imagining ourselves hidden away in garrets recording our deepest tales onto paper. We are not people who enjoy the front lines. However, we need to become that kind of people.

If we don’t find a way to maintain a high quality in our work, the noble art of writing and publication may pass into history. It’s up to us, folks, to keep this art alive.

Best in writing,
Donna Carrick

Why Self-Publish?

Posted on: October 17th, 2010 by Carrick Publishing 10 Comments

For Alex and me, the decision to self-publish was arrived at after much discussion. In 2006, after a number of “near” victories with The Noon God and Gold And Fishes, I personally made the leap. It was apparent to me that glowing rejections, no matter how flattering and well-meaning, would not be enough to sustain my work. I needed to get my stories ‘out there’, to engage in meaningful artistic expression.

I was ready.

In the fall of 2009, Alex’s first book of short stories “Two Scoops” Is Just Right was set for publication at the same time as was my novel The First Excellence ~ Fa-ling’s Map. I’d already run the gauntlet of agents and publishers with six previous manuscripts, including The Noon God and Gold And Fishes, so I took the lead and helped Alex put together proposals.

Again we received encouraging rejections. I’m not bitter about this. I deeply appreciate the busy people in the literary industry who took the time to write me letters of encouragement. Many of them were very kind. Just the same, I knew I had a good story with The First Excellence and I knew my characters would be memorable.

We’ve never regretted our decision to make an independent ‘go’ of it with our books. A number of writers have asked me whether they should do the same. I’ve been hesitant to recommend this route, knowing each artist has to make his own decisions. Many can’t afford self-publishing, and many more feel their work just isn’t ready.

Also, there is a stigma associated with self-publishing. From what I hear in my networking circles, a lot of writers are still nervous about jumping into the fire.

I enjoyed all of Dan Brown’s earlier works, leading up to and including The Da Vinci Code. I loved the Stieg Larsson Dragon Tattoo series — it got me reading again with an enthusiasm I haven’t experienced in awhile.

In short, I’m not one of those people who sneers at success. It’s just that, well, I have at least as much to say and at least as many stories to share as Justin Bieber does.

So, while I do wish Justin well, his venture into the literary world serves to reinforce my belief that real writers must not allow their work to be passed over by the powers that be. Publishers like Harper Collins will always reach for the sure profit of celebrity authors. It’s up to each of us to ensure their profit-driven decisions do not determine what history will remember as the art of our time.

Our words are valid. They represent our time and place, the culture from which we speak.

That’s why Alex and I chose to self publish. That’s why readers have responded to our work. They understand, as we do, there is more to this world than teen-culture. There is adventure, love, mystery…a whole range of experience that needs to be recorded.

Art, dance, music, and let us not forget fiction!

And so we write. We write to record for those who will follow what it’s like living and struggling and loving in our time.

We publish for the same reason we write. Because, without publishing, our words are just so much dust scattering on the fickle breeze.

As writers, that is simply not ok.