Why Hire an Editor?

Let me count the ways I have tried to get the point across that you—yes, YOU—need an editor: I’ve said so in my book, I’ve made a video, I’ve told you why I desperately needed one… I’ve tried it every which way I can. It does seem like the message is sinking in somewhat, but I still meet self-publishers who think they’ll manage fine by themselves and send their book out into the world without it ever passing by the eyes of a professional editor. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t for the price-tag they’ve put on it. So today, my latest attempt is a guest post from Robert Doran, editorial director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, on why you should hire an editor. Read right through to the end for some vague hinting at something that’s, potentially, mildly exciting (at best) that starts here on this blog tomorrow. (Oooh, the mystery!)

Take it away, Robert… 

‘Here we go,’ I hear you say, ‘an editor telling us why we can’t do without editors.’ I would say that, wouldn’t I? Well, yes, I would. But I’m not only advocating for the editor here. Your readers deserve to get what they pay for, and your book deserves to be given a chance to compete successfully when you send it out to represent you in a crowded market. Hiring an editor to copy-edit your work is the bare minimum you can do to allow that to happen. But time and again authors decide to skip this step and to publish an unedited manuscript, hoping for the best. Let’s look at why.

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Lots of professionally edited books don’t sell. You’re right: having your book edited won’t guarantee you sales. There are thousands of professionally edited books published every year by traditional publishers that sell just a few hundred copies. A quick browse through any bookstore bargain basement will expose the truth that a book can be edited to within an inch of its life and still bomb. But that doesn’t change the fact that readers expect books to be edited in the same way that they expect cars to have wheels and beef burgers to have beef in them. It’s a basic requirement, not a selling point.

It’s not that readers spend much time thinking about the editorial process. They don’t, and that’s as it should be. The editing should be invisible, imperceptible. It’s only when it’s absent or shoddy that it becomes noticeable. And when readers notice it, they like to shout about it – just have a quick browse through a few of the gleeful ‘it was riddled with mistakes’ reviews that litter Amazon. When you open a book you have paid for and begin reading, you expect certain standards to be upheld, just as when you bite into a beef burger, you expect, well, beef. That’s what readers are used to, and they feel cheated when it clearly hasn’t been done.

But it’s expensive. Yes it is. You can reduce the amount of time an editor spends on your manuscript by sorting out as many issues as possible before you hire someone. This will help to keep the cost down. But editors are never going to be cheap, nor should they be. They offer a professional and often highly specialised service. Most editors have spent years studying and honing their skills, and they charge a fair fee based on their experience and expertise. When you get your marked-up manuscript back you’ll understand how much time, effort, and skill went into editing your work.

If you’re going to self-publish, you must, to some extent at least, act like a publisher. This means building the cost of editing, along with the other production costs, into the price of your book. Do you want a horse burger for 10¢ or a beef burger for €1? People do understand that higher standards cost more. Your book doesn’t have to be cheap, but it does have to represent value, and quality adds value to any product.

My friend read it, and she reads a lot. Great. Get as many friends as possible to read your book. Get your GP and your parish priest and Mary next door to read it. Every bit of feedback helps, and you should welcome it all and consider any suggestions your readers make. In particular, I think it’s worth joining a creative-writing group and having your work critiqued by your peers. But beware the nature of these relationships. People generally don’t want to criticise their friend’s work – they’d rather not offend. An editor will always take your feelings into consideration, but you are paying them to help you with your book and that will be the focus of your relationship. Even if your ego gets slightly bruised, your book will benefit, as will your readers.

Also, no matter how well versed your friends are in the rules of grammar, no matter how familiar they are with the vagaries of the English language, only an editor is likely to know and care enough about dangling modifiers, redundancies, hyphenation of compound adjectives, repetition, consistency of punctuation, presentation of numerals, elision, etc., to point them out and suggest appropriate corrections or amendments.

I can edit my own work. Certainly many authors can do a lot of structural editing without the help of an editor, and we’ll talk more about this in the next post. Structural editing can be fun, creative, and rewarding for the author; copy-editing, on the other hand, is essentially a technical task, more suited to those of us of a geekier persuasion. It is nigh on impossible to copy-edit your own work. You’re too close to it to pick up the tiny errors and the stuff that you don’t even know you don’t know. As an editor I have spent a lot of time studying obscure rules, semi-rules, and conventions-that-should-be-followed-unless-you-think-it’s-okay-to-break-them, yet I would never copy-edit my own work; I don’t know an editor in Christendom who would.

I want it to be all my own work. Naturally you want your work to sound like you wrote it. An editor is always conscious of the fact that it is your name that will be on the cover and that it is your work they are editing. They will intervene only as much as you ask them to. The editor’s aim is never to remove the author’s voice but to enhance it and allow it to shine by introducing structure and consistency, and by applying rules. It is when you get these things right that they become invisible to the reader, your message is amplified, and the quality of your writing is appreciated. Good times!

I always find mistakes in edited books. And you always will. Editors are not perfect, neither are proofreaders. The job they do is difficult, and, unfortunately, things will always slip through unless the manuscript is exceptionally clean in the first instance. It’s always worth noting the number of errors that were caught before going crazy over the couple that weren’t. And remember that a copy-editor’s job is much broader than catching typos – but more about that in a couple of weeks.

I’ll just download an editing program and use that. Go on, I dare you! These programs are so rubbish they make me want to cry. They might pick up a few typos but they consistently make odd suggestions on usage and, in my opinion, they serve only to confuse and delay.

Hiring an editor may or may not pay financial dividends: you will never know about the books you might not have sold or the bad reviews you didn’t receive. But the bottom line is that an editor will make your book better, no matter what point you’re starting from. Before you hire one, talk to a few and see who you’re most comfortable with. Ask them to prepare a short sample to give you an idea of what they can do for your manuscript and discuss the level of edit you feel would be appropriate. Ultimately, the author–editor relationship can be very rewarding for you, for the editor, and for your work.

Robert Doran is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits.

The mysterious bit: tomorrow is the three-year anniversary of a very exciting day in my self-publishing adventures, and to mark the occasion I will be (a) showcasing something new and lovely, (b) writing a new post every day for a week and (c) giving YOU the chance the win stuff. Be back here tomorrow with a coffee in hand for the start of… superfluous drumroll please… MOUSETRAPPED MADNESS! 

NaNoWriMo: I’m Only Going To Say This Once, Okay?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is that you pull out all the stops to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days, or around 1,670 words every day during the month of November.

Every year around this time, something else starts too: NaNoWriMo Snobbery. Professional writers, who the other eleven months of the year seem like the nicest, most generous and friendliest people, suddenly start tipping their noses in the air and saying or even writing things about how NaNoWriMo and the people who partake in it are belittling their profession, ridiculing their craft and making a mockery of the 1,670 words they write every single day of the year in order to make a living.

Now, usually I just grit my teeth and try to ignore it, but this year I’m finding it impossible—and we’re not even T-minus 1 week to go yet. (Also, I can’t think of anything else to blog about today.) So I’m only going to say this once, okay?

***RANT BEGINS***

The NaNoWriMo Novel = Messy First Draft

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write a messy first draft, the one that “rough” would be a strong word for, the one that’s for you and you only, the one in which you work out the answers to the questions Would this even work? and What comes between the beginning and the end? No one in their right mind thinks you can go from a blank page to a finished novel ready for readers and their shelves in 30 days, but National Write a Messy First Draft That Might One Day, With Countless Rewrites, Become a Novel Month, just isn’t very catchy.

Also, keep in mind that most commercial novels these days are around the 100,000 word mark. If you thought that the idea of NaNoWriMo was to write a finished novel in 30 days, then the goal—50,000 words—should’ve been your first clue that honey, that just ain’t the case.

NaNoWriMoers = Writers

A couple of years ago I read a heartfelt blog post by a professional, published writer who truly felt slighted by NaNoWriMo. She said that this was her profession, her vocation in life, and the fact that “some people” thought they could come along and do it in the month—do the thing she had spent her adult life perfecting the craft of—made a mockery of it and her. She asked if there would be similar support for National Become a Doctor Month or the like, and ended her post by saying that she dreaded Novembers because of NaNoWriMo.

Now, first of all, get the lady 10 ccs of chill pill. STAT. (See? I could totally do National Become a Doctor Month…) The world really doesn’t need to take arbitrary challenges so seriously. But secondly, who does she think does NaNoWriMo? Sure, there’s a probably a few people in there who have never as much as read a book who suddenly decide to drop everything and attempt to write one during the month of November. But all the people I know who do it are writers.

They are already writing, have always been and for whatever reason, find it difficult to fit writing into their lives every single day. I hate that thing about there’s no such thing as no time to write, because who are we to say what people can or can’t fit into their lives? We know nothing about them. We don’t know what responsibilities they have, or what they’re struggling with. I know someone who works two full-time jobs, survives on less sleep than the average insomniac and has children to take care of. Would you tell him to “just find” the time to write?

Some people, myself included, write more when a deadline is sending us daggers from the edge of our computer screen. Some people write more when they are spurred on by being part of a group whose members are also trying to write more at the same time. And some people have so much going on that they feel they can’t set aside time to write all the year around, but that NaNoWriMo gives them some kind of official permission to do it, just for thirty days.

NaNoWriMoers are, for the most part, writers. Not “some people.”

What Are You Worried About, Mate?

Oh, you write 2,000 words every day of the year, do you? When I say “NaNoWriMo” you say “Welcome to my life”? In the immortal words of Chandler Bing, is your wallet also too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes too tight?

SO THE FUDGE WHAT if you already do NaNoWriMo every month of the year? What has that got to do with other people trying to do it for one month? I just don’t see the connection. That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym… [Sorry, burst into a fit of giggles there; let me try that again.] That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym and work out every day for the next thirty days, and being belittled and mocked and generally held in contempt by people who already do it, just because they already do. There is something missing there, and it’s ALL LOGIC AND SENSE.

On September 11th, Ricky Gervais tweeted about taking a moment to remember all those who had perished during the terrorist attacks. A tweeter from the UK asked him why the world makes an effort to pause and mourn on 9/11, when they don’t necessarily on 7/7, the anniversary of the London terrorists attacks. And Gervais’ response was “What are you worried about, mate?”

Now obviously we’re talking about two entirely different points on the Things That Matter Scale, but Gervais’ response to that has really stuck with me, because I’m sure that tweeter couldn’t answer it. (Because what was he worried about? Non-reciprocated  sadness?!) And so, if you are a professional writer and you don’t like the idea of people doing NaNoWriMo, what are you worried about?

(Side note: agents and editors can probably answer that question because they do have something to worry about: the influx of newborn manuscripts that start arriving in their mailrooms come December 1st from the small minority of people who think you can conceive, draft, rewrite, edit and polish a novel in just 30 days. But for the rest of us, what does it matter?)

NaNoWriMo + Time = Bestselling Books

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Cuckoo by Julia Crouch and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (which, by the way, was one of the most unsettling, nerves-on-a-knife-edge thrillers I’ve ever read) all started their literary lives as NaNoWriMo projects. You can see the full selection of published NaNoWriMo projects here.

Fun: Have You Heard Of It?

The whole point of NaNoWriMo—more so than writing 50k, I’d say—is FUN, as in, the having of it. During NaNoWriMo, you can sign up for groups, even meet those groups in your town or city, and create a buddy list that will help spur each other on for the month. It’s great craic, as us Irish would say.

And sometimes, having fun is reason enough to do something, all by itself. This is one of those times.

So NaNoWriMo Snobsters, stop taking a dump all over it, would you please? And bring your nose back down until it’s parallel to the horizon while you’re at it. Thanks ever so much.

***RANT ENDS***

What do YOU think?

(P.S. What do you think about NaNoWriMo, NOT what you think about 9/11, 7/7 or Ricky Gervais. I know how this internet thing works and I’m telling you right now, that’s NOT what this post is about, okay?)

UPDATE 2015: You might also be interested in… My debut thriller, Distress Signals, will be published by Corvus/Atlantic in June of next year and I’m chronicling the publication process and my attempts at writing a second book in almost no time on this blog, in a series called Book One/Two. Read the first installment here.

Don’t Break the Chain

It’s T-minus 6 days until I turn 30.

Age is but a number and all that, but 30 comes with an annoying alarm sound, because my goal has always been to get a book deal before I reached the big three-oh. This isn’t because seven days from now, should an editor come knocking on my door, I’ll say, “Thanks, but you’re grand. [Meaning no in Irish-speak.] I’m 30 and a day now so the moment’s gone.” I presume I’d be just as excited getting a book deal at sixty as I would be today. It was just a goal, a self-imposed deadline intended to motivate, and one that I thought gave me plenty of time.

But there’s only six days left, and I don’t have a book deal. I’ve done all the other big things on the Before I’m 30 List—live in the U.S., see a Space Shuttle launch, see the Grand Canyon—but I’m still waiting for some Fairy God-Publishing Type to descend with a sheaf of contracts in one hand and a pen in the other.

But there’s a very good reason why I’m still waiting.

(At least one; I may also not be good enough. But let’s not dwell on that happy thought and just assume, for the purposes of this blog post and my continued mental health, that I am.)

I don’t have a book deal because I don’t deserve one.

I don’t deserve it because I don’t do the work.

I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but I’m not very productive when it comes to writing. I wrote Mousetrapped over the summer of 2008, and Results Not Typical between September of that year and May 2009, including re-drafting and editing. I wrote the first edition of Self-Printed in a month in April 2010—I swear, my fingerprints were starting to disappear after that session!—and although I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, after procrastinating for weeks on Backpacked, I ended up writing the whole thing in just a fortnight. (A fortnight in which there was only sleep, coffee and Backpacked, I might add.) I don’t like to talk about the work I do that’s intended for submission to agents and editors on here, but suffice to say that although there has been plenty of partials and chapter outlines and synopses and sample chapters and extravagant and superfluous visual plotting devices consisting of expensive and unnecessary stationery in complicated color schemes, I haven’t finished writing a whole novel since Results. Therefore, I have only ever written one novel, start to finish, and I ended up self-publishing that.

Therefore, I don’t deserve to get published.

(And anyway, what would they publish? My to-do list?)

But it’s okay. It’s okay because I’ve realized this—that I don’t do the work—and I’m all geared up to do something about it. And that something is my summer project, Not Breaking the Chain.

(I’m just back from a trip, and there’s another one planned for October. That makes a nice stretch of time in between: July, August and September. I know that’s not “summer” but just go with it, okay?)

Shortly after my realization, I came across three things on the internet that I really needed to see. The first was this post about training your brain to write on demand. The second was this dangerously useful post about how one author went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000. And the third was a post about Jerry Seinfeld.

Yes, Jerry Seinfeld.

Maybe I was the only person with an internet connection who hadn’t read it about yet (the date on the post is 2007), but according to Seinfeld the secret to his success was productivity, and the secret to his productivity was a method he called “don’t break the chain.”

Essentially, it’s this: get a large wall planner, the kind that has a box for every day, and hang it somewhere prominent. Arm yourself with a thick red marker. For every day you complete your writing task—another chapter, another page, a thousand words—put a ‘X’ in the box for that day. Do it a few days in a row and you’ll have a nice chain of red ‘X’s. Now, your only goal is don’t break the chain. As you can imagine once you have a week’s unbroken chain, you’ll want to keep it going and because you’ll probably see the planner several times a day, any break will be staring at you accusingly forever more. (Or at least until the end of the year.) You can read the full post here.

Just before I went to LA I visited The Writers’ Store website to get their address (I wanted to stop by when in LA but never got around to it) and lo and behold, weren’t they giving away a free download of a “Don’t Break the Chain” wall planner

I’m totally taking it a sign.

I love a good motivation idea, and I adore ones that involve the purchasing of stationery products. So starting next week, I’m going to try to not break the chain. I’m going to combine it with what I learned from James Chartrand’s post about training your brain to click into writing mode with a regular routine, and Rachel Aaron’s lesson that trying to simultaneously make stuff up and write it down is not good for your word count. I’m going to give it approximately 90 days—until the end of September—and see what I manage to achieve in this time. I’d like to manage 1,000 words a day, every day. If I did that—IF—I’d have a completed first draft  by the end of it.

I’m telling you this because I only ever seem to achieve things when other people are aware that I’m doing them. (And, let’s be honest, because I’ll get a few blog posts out of it.) I’ll keep you abreast of my progress. But for now I’m wondering…

Who’s with me?

What the Dream Looks Like or, Why This Self-Publisher is Still Pursuing Trad Publication

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In Friday’s post, Self-Printing: My Biggest Mistake, I talked about how I was trying to shift my thinking away from self-publishing non-fiction as something to do while I pursue a traditional book deal, and towards self-publishing being a parallel to a traditional book deal and one that could, in the future, be profitable enough to ensure that I could be a full-time writer regardless of whether or not someone else ever gives me that illusive deal. I figured out, for instance, that if I were to double my current e-book sales, i.e. release another book that sells just as well, and either maintain or increase those sales, I could be making 50% more a month than the wage I was making working 9-5.

Which begs the question: why I am still pursuing traditional publication at all? Why don’t I just go with self-publishing? Why don’t I release the novel I’ve already written as an e-book, this afternoon, and start earning money from it instead of leaving it in a drawer (or my computer, to be specific) and waiting for someone else to publish it? Why don’t I forget about traditional publishing?

The arguments for doing that go something like this:

  • Going by average advances and the standard cut of 10% of the list price, I could make more money releasing it as an e-book and keeping up to 70% of the profits for myself
  • I could make more money in the long run, because if I do it myself my book will always be in print or at least always available as an e-book
  • If I do it myself, it can happen now and so I can start earning money now. No waiting a year or two for the book to come out, or spending years of my life submitting to agents and publishers and waiting to hear back from them.

The common denominator in all those is money. Now while I like money as much the next person, that’s not what this is about – or all about, anyway – for me. And so I still want to get “properly” published because that’s what my dream looks like.

I have spent more than a decade daydreaming about being a published author. In those daydreams, there is the excitement of being offered and then signing a book deal. I have the input of an editor who has a vested interest in the success of my book, an editor who says that in her professional opinion, my book is good enough. I get to work with a publishing house, staffed with people whose job it is to edit, design and sell books. In the meantime, I get a phone call to say my book has been sold abroad, and is going to be translated into other languages. I have a beautiful, physical book – one that looks and feels like all the other books, and has both my name and the logo of a major publishing house on the spine. I have a publicist who knows newspaper editors well enough to be able to get my book reviewed, or a story about me written. And when people read that story or hear me on the radio, they can walk into almost any bookshop and find my book on the shelf. I have achieved a lifelong dream.

Self-publishing – even if you work with an editor, produce a beautiful book, hire a publicist, find a distributor to take on your book so it can be in stores and get nothing but rave reviews – is not the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It’s great and it’s an achievement and I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I haven’t ticked a dream off my list with it. And I know there will be traditionally published authors reading this whose experience of getting a book published will not be anything like the one described above (which would be the ideal) and they’ll tell me things like, “Stick with self-publishing – getting traditionally published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” I don’t care; I want to discover whether or not that’s the case for myself. I want to be traditionally published because that is my dream. My self-publishing success is irrelevant. I could sell 1,000,000 e-books and it still wouldn’t even begin to compare. It certainly wouldn’t “do.”

And the self-publishing evangelists may start to sharpen their stakes upon hearing this, but traditional publishing done right is done better. If I leave illustrated children’s books out of the equation, I can honestly say I have never seen a self-published book that looks as good or better than a “properly” published one, my own included. It is possible to make one? Surely. Hopefully. But does the average or even above average self-publisher have the time, knowledge and resources to do it? No. Not even close. Even Amanda Hocking (who I like a little bit more every time I read one of her down to earth, tell it like it is blog posts) has admitted that the time it takes just to produce her books is staggering, and that even after going through them with editors time and time again, she still finds errors in the finished product. It takes a village – or the staff of a publishing house – to produce a perfect or almost perfect book, and I’m just one person. And I want to write.

But while marketing and promotion isn’t as much fun for me as writing the book in the first place, I still really enjoy it. I love blogging, tweeting and Facebooking and I don’t even mind talking on the radio or to rooms full of people. (Once it’s over and done with, anyway!) I have managed, after all, to sell a few thousand copies of a book that has a perceived super-niche readership and isn’t available in bookstores. What could I do if it was a mainstream, commercial book, and it was available in bookstores? And not just here in Ireland, but wherever you live as well. What could I manage to do then? And so that’s another reason I’m still chasing traditional publication: because I would love to be let loose promoting a book of mine that was widely available. That would be the ultimate challenge. And I love me a (non-physical type of!) challenge.

Finally, it’s not all about money but it is about money a little bit; I want to do nothing else but write or do writing-related things, and in order for that to happen the writing I do has to earn me some money. And while it’s easy to get carried away with the figures in the headlines, self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not even a get slightly less poor slowly scheme. There are no guarantees. For every mega-selling e-book author, there are probably hundreds if not thousands if not millions of e-book authors who can count their sales to date on the fingers of one hand. They mightn’t even need all of them to do it.

I read about a couple of guys recently who released an e-book, as an experiment, to see if they could sell a million copies of it in six months. They did everything right, but they only sold a 1,000, because the most important factor in publishing success – be it e-book, print, self or traditionally published – is luck. And so you can’t say things like “By spending the next six months submitting my novel to agents, I’m losing money” or “By signing this publishing deal that will release my debut novel in 2013, I’m missing out on up to two years of earnings I would make if I self-published it” because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Money that doesn’t yet exist can’t be counted and money that does exist, however small the amount, is worth more than theoretical earnings.

Now I’m about to really over-simplify things but let’s say a traditional publishing house knock on my door and offer me €5,000 as an advance on a two-book deal. The first book won’t be published for a year, the second book will be published the year after that and I’ll earn 10% off its list price of €10.99. I’ll have sold 4,000 copies of Mousetrapped in a year so for the sake of argument let’s say I sell the same amount of these books, so that’s 4,000 sales in the first year and 8,000 in the second, because there’s two books. Because I have to wait a year to publish it, there’s no earnings in the first twelve months. An agent brokers the deal so all earnings are minus 15%. That means that in the next three years, I’d earn somewhere in the region of €11,118 from that deal.

If I released the first book right now as a $2.99 e-book (70% royalty), and then the second book as soon as it’s written in six month’s time, and they sold in the same amounts (4,000 each a year), I’d make €32,911 in the same period. (See calculations below for specifics.) And yet I would take the traditional deal because I’d be getting a €5,000 advance on those earnings, and there is no guarantee that I’ll ever sell a single copy of either book no matter what route I take. And money that exists is better than money that doesn’t.

BUT.

(You knew there was going to be a but, right?)

I’m not an idiot, and I’m not going to keep submitting forever. I have one novel written, a third of another and a basic synopsis and two chapters of another one after that. The first novel has been relegated, for the time being, to The Drawer, as its feedback was (Mousetrapped flashback) along the lines of, It’s funny and well-written, but I don’t think it’s suitable for the market here or worse again,  I love it but I don’t love it enough. (I know, I know – it could be so much worse.) And I can’t self-publish it for a variety of reasons but mainly because it’s tied, thematically, to the other two and while I’m trying to get my fiction published, I think it’s safer to stick with just non-fiction for my DIY publishing adventures. The second one has had some interest but I haven’t been offered a dotted line to sign on. (Yet – I hope.) And a girl can only take so much rejection, so I’m not going to let this go on forever more. There will come a point where I will stop this and self-publish the first novel, see how it goes. This time is not anytime soon, and in the meantime I have two non-fiction projects which will be getting the Mousetrapped treatment this side of Christmas. But if I can’t find a traditionally published home for those books, which while connected are not a series, I will self-publish them.

Hopefully they’ll sell, and I’ll start to earn some serious money. (And bribe someone for a US visa and move to Celebration, while I’m at it.) But do you know what I’d do then? Write a new novel about something totally different.

And try to get that traditionally published, but that has always been and always will be The Dream.

Click here to read more about Mousetrapped.

Calculations:

Traditional deal: earning 10% off €10.99, or €1.09 per book. 1st  year: no sales. 2nd year: 4,000 x 1.09 = €4,360. 3rd year: 8,000 (2 books each selling 4k) x 1.09 = €8,720. Combine all 3 years (€13,080) – 15% agent’s fee (€1,982) = €11,098. (The advance is just that – an advance – and so is not added but included.)

Self-published e-books: earning 70% off $2.99, or $2.09 per book. 1st year: 4,000 sales of book 1 and 2,000 sales of book 2 (released six months from now) = (4,000 x 2.09) + (2,000 x 2.09) = $12,540. 2nd year: 8,000 sales (2 books each selling 4k) x 2.09 = $16,720. 3rd year: 8,000 sales (2 books each selling 4k) x 2.09 = $16,720. Combine all 3 years ($45,980) and convert to euro where 1 EUR = 1.39709 USD = €32,911.37.

These calculators do not factor in tax or self-publishing costs such as cover design.

UPDATE: Five years later, I got a book deal. Six years later, I got published.

6 Ways to Survive Bad Reviews

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Once upon a time I used to think that the worst thing about Being a Writer was the writing itself. Don’t get me wrong: I love having written and I love making up stories and I love writing funny dialogue that (shamefully) makes me chuckle as I type it up, but I don’t much like the actual writing bit, which can be really hard sometimes and gives you headaches and breeds guilt and gets in the way of mindless TV watching. When it’s going well it’s the most amazing feeling in the world ever, but when it’s going bad you wish that your biggest dream was something a bit more doable, like to fly in a plane or find a toy inside of a Kinder egg.

But anyway. I digress. My new worst thing about Being a Writer is reading bad reviews.

Now I’ve been very lucky not to have had too many bad reviews. I’m hoping this is not because the people who hate the book couldn’t be bothered to review it, or because they are discussing what a wretch I am on Disney fan message boards I can’t access because I’m not a member. And to clarify: a bad review is not a review where the reader didn’t like, wasn’t impressed by or is is ultimately ambivalent about the book you spent a year of your life writing. Those are just normal; we don’t all like the same things. A bad review is a baaaad review – one where the reader is so annoyed by the sheer audacity of you committing words to paper that you can practically hear them spitting blood as you read their opinion.

Yes, I am normally dressed in evening wear and wearing (what was) a full face of make-up when crying over bad reviews. Who isn’t?

What does it feel like to read a bad review of a book you’ve written? Ooooh, it’s really not nice. The closest universal experience I can compare it to is when you’re like 19 and you really, really, really fancy someone and you think, after a protracted flirtation or other signs, that they like you too and then out of the blue and without any warning at all, they show up with their girlfriend. And she’s pretty. And thin. And they’re all over each other right next to you and you have to carry on as if nothing is amiss at all, that you’re fine, when really you just want to run home and cry. It’s that sudden-stomach-dropping feeling, that I’m-about-be-sick-feeling, that blood-rushing-in-my-ears-drowning-out-all-other-sounds feeling – or, sometimes, all three rolled into one.

And people are nice. You are nice. And you tell me to not pay any attention and that you liked my book and that the reviewer doesn’t know what she’s talking about and has she written a book? and look at all my good reviews and all this and I really, really appreciate it, really I do, but in that moment of discovering a bad review, it doesn’t matter. You could have just won the Booker Prize (I imagine) and yet you’d still feel like upchucking your Weetabix.

How can this horrible feeling be avoided?

  1. Write a book that everyone will love and/or avoid reading your reviews. Although I have yet to encounter a writer who has managed to do either; if you know of one, do let me know.
  2. Print out or photocopy a review of your book that you really like from a source you explicitly trust and/or one whom you recall has raved about books you’ve loved and been blasé about the same books you’ve given up on. Stick it somewhere prominent, or in multiple somewheres prominent. Maybe even put an emergency copy in your wallet. Force yourself to read it immediately after the encounter of a bad review.
  3. Look up a book you adored on Amazon and read its reviews. This is always a good one, if only because the reasons people come up with to dislike books never cease to amaze me, not to mention the imaginative insults they heap on it afterwards. (Yesterday best-selling author Jill Mansell tweeted about a reviewer who left one of her books on the train because she “couldn’t bear to have such rubbish in the house”. ??!!! etc. etc.) Remind yourself that you loved this book and yet BigReader874124 thought it was “not good enough to wipe my ass with in a no-toilet paper emergency – I’d rather use my hand.” You can’t please everyone. (And why would you want to?)
  4. Look up the reviewer’s other reviews. On Amazon especially, this can be a very soothing exercise. Maybe they gave Freedom one star because it didn’t have any pictures, or maybe they slated Little Women for false advertising once they discovered it wasn’t actually about vertically-challenged females. (Thanks Rebecca!) Or maybe they thought Never Let Me Go, one of your favorite books of all time ever ever, was not good enough to wipe their asses with in a no-toilet paper emergency.
  5. Write a response. Bad reviews tend to linger with us because we are passionately arguing with them in our heads. I didn’t mean it literally! You took that out of context! I really did do that! You obviously don’t understand what I was getting at! Did you even read the blurb? Did you even read the book?! So put a stop to this by sitting down and typing out a response. You can always delete it or dump it or print it out and set fire to it afterwards. Or, you know, comment on the review on Amazon. (Although if you’re going to do this, wait a few days. Cool off. And be sober.) The fan blowing the shit is multi-directional, you know.
  6. If all else fails, get drunk and ask anyone who’ll listen, ‘Did she write a book? No. I didn’t think so.”

On a more serious note, I watched an interview with The Daily Show host Jon Stewart on Oprah last week (one Big O Disciple, right here!), and he said something really interesting. Oprah asked him what he thought of his rock star status among certain groups – East Coast college students being the prime suspect – and (I’m paraphrasing of course but) he said that he thinks there are people who like him too much and people who hate him too much, and that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

I think this is the perfect way to look at reviews. I’ve had some reviews so gushing I wonder if I bribed them and then forgot that I had, and some so bad I feel like entering the Witness Protection Program is the only way to recover from them. But I think the truth of how good (or bad!) my book actually lies somewhere in the middle, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

And I must remind myself of the alternative: having written no book – good or bad – at all.

(If you’re going to leave a comment, please don’t mention my book. I’m not fishing for compliments or looking to be cheered up – my Twitter stream did that for me on Saturday night, when I shared The Most Horrendous Review That Anyone Possibly Has Had in the History of the World. But do feel free to share your thoughts on Amazon reviews. Do you read them? Do you rate them? Do you pay any attention to them? How do they affect your book buying, if they do? And if you’re a writer, what’s the best rubbish one you’ve got?)

10 Steps to Perfecting Procrastination

Recently I noticed that all the procrastination-related tweets/posts/motivational CDs of questionable legality costing just five easy payments of $199.99 seemed to be aimed at solving our habit of doing anything at all that we can think of except the thing we’re supposed to be doing, which for many of us is writing another chunk of words.

But what if want to procrastinate? What if we need to? What if we’ve never finished a novel before and are happy to stay here for a while, just before the end, and enjoy the view for a few minutes (or days, or weeks), before we send our double-spaced baby out in the world so that the awful waiting game can begin?  What if we’d rather finish a few weeks behind and prolong the dream, delaying that inevitable day when someone will tell us that our characters are two dimensional stereotypes, our scenes lack conflict, our plot is confusing and that one of our characters is pregnant for eleven months?

I figure I’ve spotted a gap in the blog post market. So here is (drum roll, please): Catherine’s Not So Patented 10 Steps to Perfecting Procrastination Today: Everything You Need to Know and Do To Never EVER Finish That Novel!

1. Only Work With Wi-fi

It is imperative that you only work in areas with wireless connectivity and with your computer set to receive it, so that you have the constant temptation to check for new e-mail messages, Facebook notifications and the latest on Tiger Woods. Mac Users: don’t even THINK about using this.

2. Use Twitter to Bookend Every Task

Twitter can be the ultimate procrastination facilitator but only if you know how to maximize its potential. The simplest way is to bookend every task/action/bodily function with what we like to call the TwitterCheck. For example: you are writing and decide to make a cup of coffee (see step 7). While this alone will waste a good 5-10 minutes of your time, the TwitterCheck method can push that to a minimum of 30 minutes. Yes, really! All you need to do is check Twitter BEFORE you go to make the coffee and AFTER you get back, i.e. ‘bookending’ the coffee making with TwitterChecks. It’s just that simple!

3. Become a Neat Freak

Refuse to work in any space that isn’t clean, dusted, organized, colour-coded, alphabetized, arranged for optimum feng shui and has ‘a good energy.’

4. Don’t Use Sky+ or Online iPlayers

Services like Sky+ and online ‘catch up’ players will be the death of procrastination – stick with live TV. If you want to watch something at 8pm and you set it to record, you could find yourself working as late as ten or eleven o’clock safe in the knowledge that you can watch that program at your leisure. However if you give yourself no option but to watch it live, you are far more likely to stop working at six-ish (to have your dinner), spend the intervening two hours watching TV you’re not even interested in (because what’s the point of going back to work? It’ll be on in a minute) and doing nothing for the rest of the night (well, you’re here now so you may as well watch ‘celebrities’ you don’t recognize camping/dancing/figure skating).

5. Invent a Need for Time Swallowing Tasks

Learn from this example from my own not-so-creative life: I have a self-published book-like thingy coming out in March and am trying to not finish a novel to submit to an agent at the beginning of January. (It was supposed to be this week, incidentally, that I was to originally submit it – see how effective this procrastination plan is?) But instead of finishing the novel first and then working on publicity for the self-published book (which is called, FYI, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida and is about, FYI, one girl’s – i.e. this one – search for happiness in the happiest place on Earth and has, FYI, several funny bits), I took three days – THREE DAYS! – off from the novel to make a book trailer and to make this Facebook page, which you looking at for a couple of minutes and then clicking the ‘Become a Fan’ button will help your procrastination! Don’t say I never give you anything.

6. Two O’Clock is the New Seven

As I’m at home writing full-time at the moment (I believe “unemployed” is the common term), I find myself with ample opportunity to finish my book. In fact, on some days I’ve got as much as five or six thousands words done. Disaster! To combat this productivity, I initiated the ‘Two O’Clock is the New Seven” Rule, which works like this: if I haven’t started by two then I won’t start at all, because what’s the point? The day is practically OVER. To help yourself not start by two, see steps 3 and 9.

7. Develop a Caffeine Addiction

If you never want to finish your book, this step is non-negotiable. Not only will making endless cups of coffee waste an hour or so every day, but the Caffeine Depleted Syndrome (also known as ‘The Jitters’) that sets in about 3pm – symptoms include nausea, clouded thinking, headaches, shaky hands and an overwhelming urge to dance to Britney Spears’ songs – will prevent you from writing anything of note in the afternoon.

8. Chart Your (Lack of) Progress

This may surprise you but your unfinished book is a wealth of procrastination in itself! It has lots of confusing things like plots, characters, scenes, timelines, words, sequences – all of which can be charted, graphed and listed, wasting hours upon hours of your time (and paper)! To maximize the procrastination, alternate between hand-drawn charts (rulers, pencils) and Excel spreadsheets, colour-code, cross-reference and refuse to use any on which you’ve made a mistake. Happy graphing!

9. Sleep

Sleeping can be a procrastinator’s best friend. For maximum results, utilize naps and throw out your alarm clocks.

10. Write Random Blog Posts

Finally, the Number 1 Step to Perfecting Procrastination and making sure that novel of yours never gets written is to write numerous random blog posts – like this one.

Here are your 3 FREE BONUS Procrastination Tips:

– Leave comments on blog posts (well, you’re already here so…)

– Follow people who have nothing of import to say on Twitter (well, you already know me so…)

– Unlearn how to touch type and/or break a couple of fingers.

HAPPY PROCRASTINATING!