I’m a firm believer in independently publishing my novels. I enjoy the marketing process since it involves getting out and meeting people. Being a working artist for the past twenty years or more, I find working a table at a convention or being in a booth at a fair to be a normal state of existence. I would miss the experience if I allowed others to do this for me. There is nothing like the personal touch when it comes to learning what your readers like (or not) about your work. Other pluses include retaining complete control over my writing and gaining the maximum profits on my sales.
Part of being an Indie Author is making sure your manuscript is the best that it can be before you release it into the world. Instead of accepting the cover art the publishing house insists upon and using their editor, I take the responsibility to hire people to do the work myself. It can be costly, a good editor doesn’t come cheap (nor should they), but in the end, I feel that keeping control of my work is the better end of the equation. Self-editing can help to reduce the cost of an editor and proof-reader since they will not have to do as much work.
During my self-edit process, I use beta-readers to provide insight into the content. I follow with editing software to catch general grammar, punctuation, passive voice, and adverbs. I spend far more time rewriting and editing a work than I spend in the rough draft. However, there is more I do during self-editing than rely on machines.
Below is a checklist I use to polish a novel, novella or short story before I send a longer manuscript to an editor and proofreader or submit a short story to a magazine.
1. Do not express emotion via mannerisms of punctuation, typestyles, and sizes. “The horse…is…DEAD!” doesn’t make an equine any more expired than “The horse is dead.”
2. Remove mannerisms of attribution. People speak. They do not wheeze, sigh, laugh, grunt, gasp, snort, reply, retort, or exclaim, ect.
3. Do not use similar names for your characters, it causes confusion with the reader. You should also avoid using the same first initial in names of your main characters.
4. Show, don’t tell. If Alex pounds on the door and demands entrance. You do not need to tell the reader he is angry.
5. Along with showing instead of telling, you do not need to explain the emotions of the characters. Let their actions do it for them.
Alex pounded on the door. “Let me in!”
Alex was angry at Mary. Furiously, he pounded on the door and shouted at her, “Let me in!”
6. Avoid cliches. This means not only common words and phrases, but also cliched situations.
Examples: Starting with your character waking up. Having a character look in a mirror so you can describe them via their POV. Having future romance partners bump into each other on their first meeting. It has all been done before. Don’t repeat history.
7. Remove stage directions. You don’t need to describe every single action of all the characters in every scene. Leave some of it to the reader’s imagination. We live in an age of television and movies. The reader’s mind has been trained to use similar images when they read about a place or situation. There is no need to describe it as much as authors did 100 years ago.
8. Use adjectives sparingly. Instead, find a strong noun and verb to convey the same information. Keep it simple.
9. Remove the word “that”. It adds extra weight to your sentences without giving any substance.
10. Avoid the words “up” and “down”. Only use them when needed. He started [up] the car. She walked [down] the street.
11. Do not be redundant. Do this in content with your ideas, but also in your sentence structure.
12. Choose regular words over the more unusual. Don’t show off your vocabulary. Make your content and ideas shine instead. Don’t get in the way of what you are trying to say.
13. Start the action right at the beginning. Don’t start it after a couple of pages of descriptive scene setting. Just get to it!
There is much more to self-editing, but this checklist is a place to start. Don’t let revision and editing daunt you. While it is a huge task, in the end it is rewarding to know you have polished your manuscript and made it the best you can.
After publishing the fifth book in my Andy Smithson coming-of-age, epic fantasy series last month I noticed something that helped my book sells. “What is it?” you ask, leaning forward, spellbound to learn how you a fellow author might exploit this nugget.
I noticed readers consistently report experiencing a roller coaster of emotions as they read the book. In fact, one woman reported she cried…which had her award my book five stars (how strange that seems, we feel hurt and award the author who hurt us with a perfect score…gotta love human psychology, LOL! But I digress).
These responses got me reflecting how earlier books in my series were received. With book two, I remember reviewers commenting on a small portion of the book. Book three had readers sighing and cheering as well but these responses were not as enthusiastic as what I was hearing about my latest release.
I started thinking about the books I enjoy reading…lots of YA fantasy, with a splash of romance thrown in. I love it when an author develops characters who connect with one another in a way that is vulnerable, yet pure and healthy—the characters who experience deep insecurities yet come to a point where they are able to share with one another the depth of their worry and pain without fear of being laughed at, knowing their confession will be respected and held in strict confidence. These are relationships, and in turn books, that get my heart a pumpin’ – I adore them. Put another way, I connect with them.
An example, I think of Air Awakens and Fire Falling. In this series, Elise Kova constructs a relationship between the crown prince and a relative “nobody” who, of course, is not of social status appropriate for him to fall in love with, let alone marry. That relationship is vulnerable and seemingly pure and I find myself rooting for the pair. The Divergent series is another example is Bea and Tobias’s relationship. You feel their pain and cheer their triumphs. And there’s so many more awesome examples I can point to, but I share that to prove my point. We adore these relationships because they touch us deeply, emotionally, many times over.
When I’m writing a particularly vulnerable part of a story, my whole body experiences it. It’s hard to describe the sensations: my heart feels soft, my emotions are raw, and I feel “twitchy” as I approach writing (much like someone before confessing a deep secret). Then once the dialogue begins my whole heart is consumed by an essence of purity for what my characters are truly feeling. Emotion pours out of me until I’ve gotten the scene down on paper. That may sound strange, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Its purity and heart poured out. And these are the scenes my readers have commented specifically about as touching their hearts—they’ve always started this way.
This realization has shifted how I orient as I write, for I see that causing my characters to connect with my readers on this deeply vulnerable and emotional level IS the difference between creating books readers like vs writing a novel readers adore! So, yes, I’m sure the old adage “Sex Sells” is true, but so does the creating of characters who connect with each other on a deeply vulnerable level. Having come to understand this principle I will work to create scenes that tug on my reader’s heart strings like never before.
L. R. W. Lee is the award-winning author of the Andy Smithson coming-of-age epic fantasy series which will span seven books when complete.
She writes to instill in readers life-principles including overcoming frustration, fear, impatience and more. She also weaves throughout her writing her narrative that true success in life comes from pursuing responsibility, diligence, and dignity.
Visit her at her website at LRWLee.com to find out more.
I was seated at my local Starbucks coffee house the other day and fell into conversation with an artist. I was asked, as our conversation went on, “So what is your novel about?” I started to think about all the threads that run through my current novel and was at loss for words. This is a common enough question that I will face as an author and it is one that should be addressed even before a novel is finished. What I needed was a one or two sentence summary of what my story is about, one that is designed to capture the interest of a reader or listener. It is known as a “hook line” and beyond its use in conversation, it also serves as a pairing with the book cover in online catalogs to entice readers to buy your book.
What are the Elements of a Hook Line?
Examples of Good Hook lines from movies, also known as Loglines:
BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (Clint Eastwood, 1995) – An Iowa housewife, stuck in her routine, must choose between true romance and the needs of her family.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (Sergio Leone, 1965) – A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons.
MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger, 1969) – Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to.
LONE STAR (John Sayles, 1996) – A small town Texas sheriff, despite warnings not to, investigates a convoluted case, when a brutal predecessors’ remains turn up 40 years after he was supposedly run out of town.
What are some common elements in these compelling loglines from famous movies? First, they mention the main character in some way. The main character is the star of the movie or the novel and needs to be someone that the reader can be interested in or they will not read the book. You do not always need to mention this character by name, but rather find a way to describe them to make them stand out as unique in the reader’s mind. Next, notice that in the examples, the location of the story is mentioned: Iowa, Mexico, Texas, or New York City. This helps to give the reader an idea of where or when this story takes place. Observe that the conflict that the main character will face is hinted at. A housewife must choose, a man hunts a bandit, an innocent man becomes a friend of a scoundrel, or a sheriff investigates a murder. This is exciting action. Hopefully enough of a conflict to interest a potential reader. Finally, an element of originality should be offered. This helps to off-set your hook line in the book catalog from all hundreds of other offerings in the book store.
The next time I am at the coffeehouse and someone asks me what my novel is about, I might answer this:
Alice dreams of romance, and when her handsome prince arrives, she follows him through the looking glass into a world of Victorian steam-powered engines, a mad queen, an assassin, and a charming rogue. Will she have the courage to be the heroine that Wonderland needs and find her heart’s desire?
What will be your answer?