Book Baby Blog | How To Write, Self Publish, & Promote Your Book
Founded in 2011, BookBaby has grown to become the nation’s leading self-publishing company. Led by a crew of authors, poets, bloggers, and artists, BookBaby is dedicated to helping all writers publish successfully. How to self-publish your book, distribute your book, and promote your book. Professional writing tips from BookBaby.com to guide you through how to make a book.
Being prepared and flexible are two keys to success in an on-air interview. But remember, what makes a good guest for the show does not always make a good show for the guest.
Two concepts determine your relative success in answering questions during an on-air interview or television/radio performance: preparation and flexibility.
In most cases, you will not know the questions you will be asked during the interview, but if you understand your topic and know beforehand what you want to get across to the audience, you will be able to perform more successfully.
What makes a good guest for the show does not always make a good show for the guest. If all you do is answer the interviewer’s questions informatively (whether or not they lead to meeting your goals), the host will think you are a great interviewee and perhaps ask you to return. But there is no future in being a professional guest if it doesn’t serve your purpose.
Your objective is to sell books, and this may seem at odds with the goals of the host and audience. But you can meet everyone’s needs if you provide information in an entertaining way, stimulating viewers and listeners to purchase your book. As a general rule, you will sell more books if you entertain people, piquing their curiosity, showing them how they can reach their goals by reading your book.
You must charm the audience while communicating important information. And you may have to do it in three minutes, perhaps while the host is asking you questions that have nothing to do with your book. Reaching your goals under these conditions requires you to blend your understanding of the audience, knowledge of your topic, and diplomacy to create a polished, effective performance. You can do this if you know the answers to these questions:
Given a limited time on the air, what are the major points you want to impress upon the audience? Since you may participate in shows of varying lengths, decide in advance how many points you can communicate reasonably in different time periods.
What information is important to each audience? Your presentation will change, depending upon the composition of the audience.
How can you make the transition from an irrelevant question (How is the weather where you are?) to your message without offending the host?
Succeed through planned spontaneity
Reaching your objective does not mean you ignore the interviewer’s questions. If you do not answer, it will appear as if you are evading the question. Instead, allow the host time to fulfill his or her agenda (part of being a good interviewee) to the extent that your purpose is not compromised. If you sense the conversation going off in a different direction and you have not addressed your critical points, you must begin to respond differently.
Impart a brief, yet smooth, transition from an irrelevant question (from your perspective) to one of your agenda items, making it relevant to the audience. Then once you make the transition, give an example to demonstrate your point. Concise anecdotes, particularly those germane to the audience, can make your presentation more personable and convincing. People like to hear examples to which they can relate.
But this must be done cautiously. In a three-minute interview on a national show, you do not have time to relate a complete story. Practice making your transition statement and giving an example in about thirty seconds. Here are three illustrations:
That’s an excellent point, and with a different twist, this can help your audience by… Your point #1. For example…
I agree. But if you look at it from a different perspective, then… Your point #2. Here is what I mean…
Most people think that is true. However, if we put it in the context of… Your point #3. For instance…
You have acknowledged the question, complemented the interviewer, and led the conversation back to where you want to be. During a longer show you will have more flexibility in your answers and will be able to expand upon the interviewer’s questions while still covering your agenda items.
In any case, know how much time you have on the air, what points you want to communicate in that time, and how you can get those points across graciously. Do that, and you will sell more books and be asked to return on more shows.
Reading — in addition to being plain fun — can make you a better (smarter, more informed, satisfied) person. In my experience successful people are often voracious readers.
All successful people I know have one thing in common: they never stop learning.
That’s why so many CEOs, thought leaders, and politicians read so frequently. There’s a limit to how much time, money, and effort people are able to dedicate to formal education, which is why reading voraciously, as part of a dedicated personal routine, is one keystone of lifelong personal development.
I call it personal development because a big part of what you learn from reading is about yourself. I’m a student of writing and of words — reading helps me understand who I am, how I should approach my writing, and what I want to focus my attention on outside of my literary ambitions.
But that, of course, is not the only benefit of reading.
Reading keeps your mind balanced and sharp
The most successful people are both scientists and artists — they utilize both the left and right brain. As such, they consciously nurture both sides of the coin, often through reading.
One approach is to actively read both fiction and nonfiction. This is advice I give regularly: immerse yourself in the worlds and adventures of books like James Clavell’s Shogun: The Epic Novel of Japan, and educate yourself with biographies and intelligent opinions — such as Dwight Eisenhower’s account of World War II, Crusade in Europe, which I’m reading now.
Reading instills discipline
Reading doesn’t just strengthen or nurture both parts of our brain — it strengthens more intangible skills, too. For one, reading can make you more disciplined and foster an appreciation for learning and growth.
How, exactly? Well, people who make the decision to read everyday are actively deciding to engage, improve, and challenge their brains instead of doing more passive activities, like surfing YouTube videos or binge-watching Netflix.
That’s why some of our most effective presidents, for example, have made reading a personal priority. When President Obama was in office, he talked about how books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration during his terms. Books helped focus him amidst the maelstrom of world crises and 24-hour cable news analysis. Books also gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
That’s precisely what reading does. It’s why we see so many leaders in so many different verticals of human activity devote time to reading.
Reading benefits your business
There’s one last benefit that most people don’t associate with reading, and that’s the manner in which it can actively benefit your professional life.
For one thing, reading encourages curiosity. And people who are curious are, more often than not, high achievers. Understanding this, you yourself can use reading to feed your curiosity and acquire more knowledge.
But you can also apply this awareness to elements of your business life, like honing your hiring practices. At BookBaby, when we’re hiring a potential candidate, I always ask, “What are you reading right now?” or “What have you read in the last six months?” I know reading behavior can be a barometer in measuring a person’s level of curiosity, discipline, and zeal for learning — and curious, disciplined people who are hungry to learn are the sort I want in my company.
I don’t particularly care what these candidates are reading. I just want to see that they are reading.
It’s also true that reading helps people improve as communicators. As a student of writing, I appreciate great communication, and as the CEO of a publishing company, I see it as something of a requirement. A writer who communicates effectively with his or her audience can help readers do the same in their own lives.
At the end of the day, reading provides a variety of tangible and intangible benefits — for both the mind and the soul — and the simple awareness of this fact is the most obvious reason successful people prioritize it as a means of professional and personal development.
Young authors abound in modern and classic literature. While age brings wisdom and experience, youthful imagination and perspective have served many writers through the ages, as evidenced in this post.
In “It’s Never Too Late To Start Writing,” I wrote about notable and outstanding authors who first published in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. Now, I’d like to take a look in the other direction.
Young writers have wonderful stories to share, but can easily feel overwhelmed simply by the idea of writing a book. They can also assume that “real” authors need decades of exotic experience, or plenty of gray hairs, or serious physical and/or emotional scars to pen anything worth reading.
This is not how it really works. Whether you’re a writer in your twenties, teens, or even younger, your dreams and ideas are worthy and can translate into a compelling story that readers will want to experience.
Here’s just a brief sampling of young authors who successfully published and gained notoriety for their work.
The great Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published twenty-four years later. Originally written for serial release, the book showcases early examples of Dickens’ signature character building, which focused on humorous exaggeration and satire. At the same time, the book showed the author’s knack for reflecting difficult truths of everyday life in nineteenth-century England in a way that resonated with readers. Dickens’ bibliography would go on to include timeless novels like Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and more.
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer published the critically acclaimed Everything Is Illuminated at age 25. The book grew out of a thesis the author wrote while a student at Princeton University and tells the largely autobiographical story of Foer’s trip to Ukraine, a journey during which he seeks the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The book was a New York Times best seller, a Guardian First Book Award Winner, and was adapted into a movie.
Mary Shelley was reading ghost stories with her husband Percy, Lord Byron, and others when Byron recommended that all gathered try crafting scary stories of their own. The resulting novel from Shelley changed the face of horror literature. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was a landmark philosophical horror novel that sparked countless movie adaptations, Halloween costumes, and nightmares. Shelley was twenty-one when it was published.
English author Zadie Smith secured a publishing deal for her first novel, White Teeth, based on a partial manuscript and completed the work while a student at Cambridge. The book became an instant best seller and earned Smith numerous accolades, including the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth First Book Prize. The New York Times described the work as “a novel that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer — a writer who at the age of 24 demonstrates both an instinctive storytelling talent and a fully fashioned voice that’s street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time.”
Huffington Post describes Jake Marcionette as the youngest author to ever be featured on the New York Times best seller list and the youngest author to ever land a publishing deal with Penguin Books. His Just Jake series launched when Marcionette was 12. “I think a lot of young people are scared to write a book because they think they can’t do it . . . You have to be fearless and be passionate and take all the chances you have and do it with an open mind,” he told Huffington Post.
Nancy Yi Fan
At age 11, Nancy Yi Fan dreamed about birds—and wrote about them when she woke up. She emailed the resulting manuscript, called Swordbird, to executives at HarperCollins. “I began reading and knew immediately that this was very good,” said HarperCollins’ Phoebe Yeh in an interview with Publishers Weekly. “I knew that a child had written the book and that was part of what caught my attention, yet the writing was truly top-notch and very imaginative. Other editors [here] also read the book and were very impressed.” Fan was 13 when the book was published.
When it comes to naming authors who published in their earlier years, this list is just the beginning. If you’re among the young authors working hard on your first book, remember that you are in outstanding company.
As a side note, I’m proud to count myself among the group of authors who published young. At 21, I was asked by a small, education-themed publishing house to write an advice guide on studying abroad—and gained a tremendous amount from the experience. Among other things, I learned first-hand that, whether you’re writing instructional material for a niche market or grand novels for the history books, publishing a first work can be pivotal for craft, confidence, and creativity. Taking a work from initial conception to final, finished volume teaches you a huge amount about yourself and writing in general. And knowing that you are and will always be a published author, no matter what else happens in life, can give you momentum to elevate your art and writing career in ways you’d never imagine.
Who is your favorite author who started publishing in the single digits, teens, or twenties—or are you yourself in this category? Tell us in the comments below.
“Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.” —Elmore Leonard
If you search the internet for “why authors should never start a book with the weather,” you’ll get a slew of hits. It is a classic piece of advice.
“It was a dark and stormy night,” is an oft-maligned opening sentence that has gone down in history – and it was from an accomplished author (Washington Irving in A History of New York from 1809).
It’s not that the weather isn’t important, it’s just that book openings need a lead character doing something interesting to hook readers.
The only reason to open with the weather
Do book openings with atmospheric descriptions of rainy nights really rub readers the wrong way? Or is it just the pundits who call this out as unacceptable?
There is only one solid reason to start a book with the weather: if it’s a book about the weather.
If your lead characters are tornado hunters, it might behoove you put a deadly tornado in your opening scene.
A tornado, though, is not “weather” in the traditional sense. It’s a life-and-death extraordinary event that drives your plot.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest starts with the weather, but only in the sense that a storm, the tempest, is raging and the characters are thrust into a conversation about how to save themselves and their ship – an outstanding opening full of peril and consequence.
People love people
Humans love humans most of all as subjects of reading. We scan the page until the next human appears if there is too bulky a description of backstory.
We don’t see acres of screen time about Dorothy wondering if the weather is turning bad, we see the tornado hit and fly her away to Oz. We care about Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, more than the tornado.
A modern book opening usually puts your lead character front-and-center. You need to make us care about your lead character as quickly as possible and do so with a minimum of backstory in the early pages. “Dive in!” is the rule.
Openings need a fantastic hook
An opening needs to draw the reader in and it does this with a hook that keeps the reader wanting more.
Compare these two openings to see which one holds a hook and which doesn’t:
A. An opening description of the rain while a police detective ponders whether he should keep living in his small town.
B. An opening event in which our police detective is attacked by a one-handed man saying he’s an angel of death come to avenge his murdered family (the attack occurs during a rain storm for heightened impact and no one can hear them shouting above the high winds and thunder).
The first opening might make you settle down for a nap. The second should evoke a string of scary images, fear, and a curiosity about what happens next. It has a hook: will the “one-handed angel of death” be thwarted or succeed?
Best of all, this throws the reader into the thick of things, or medias res, Latin for “in the midst of things.” The plot is up and running.
Could weather ever provide a hook? Sure, if say your main character watches the weather channel 24/7 and notices that the TV and the outdoors don’t show the same reality, this discrepancy could be a great hook. Perhaps the weatherman is saying it’s 70 degrees and sunny and a swirl of black clouds is settling on the ground as a thick black fog. If it turns out the TV station has been hijacked by aliens invading Earth who are broadcasting false weather, this might be a great weather-based hook. But it’s still far from several paragraphs about the weather itself.
Your opening must hold secrets
If you read books or watch movies carefully, you’ll notice an advanced feature of great openings. Experienced writers link their openings to their closings in interesting and imaginative ways.
For a classic example, the opening and closing shot of Citizen Kane is a “No Trespassing” sign. By the end of the movie, viewers understand the meaning of the sign – the whole movie has been about why and how it got posted.
The first and last sentences of SE Hinton’s classic, The Outsiders, are identical.
Re-read a bunch of book openings or watch movie openings and see this trait of well-crafted scenes in action. Openings give subtle or blatant clues to the ending of the story. “Ah! So that’s what the flickering candle and the book falling from the shelf into shadow meant!”
You might be quite surprised if you haven’t noticed this feature already. You can only appreciate it once you know the ending – the opening only makes full sense once you see the whole picture. They are the bookends of the book, a matched pair. This speaks to how fully your story should be crafted: once done, the beginning and ending tell the same story.
What do you think?
Great openings should focus on the lead character experiencing a plot-establishing moment, with minimal backstory, and foreshadow the ending in clever and unexpected ways.
Book openings are anything but random – they are often like a microcosm of the whole book.
Your opening sentence might be the hardest sentence to write – it has so much work to do. It is also challenging because the reader has no internal references to lean upon – it’s all new material.
What makes a great book opening in your estimation? What are your favorite book openings? Have you read a book you liked that opened with the weather? What are your favorite ways in which authors linked story opening and closing?
Wondering what an author platform is (and why you need one)? This post answers some basic questions to get you thinking about how to grow your platform before you publish your book.
So you’ve finished your book. Now what?
If you’re like me, your first impulse is to lock that sucker away in a drawer so no one can ever, ever read it. At least while you’re still alive.
I’m not alone. Many writers have a huge problem with book promotion, not to mention self-promotion. The phenomenon does make sense. Writers are often introverted, solo creatures — it’s not in our nature to want to be in front of the camera.
But, if you want your book to be successful (and no matter how terrified of feedback you are, you do want your book to be successful), you need to put effort into building your author platform. Without building a solid author platform, you’ll miss out on opportunities to promote your work and reach more readers.
What is an author platform, anyway?
As an indie author, you’ve probably heard the term “author platform” before. And even if you haven’t, I’ve mentioned it several times already! Let’s break down what this bit of jargon means.
Basically, your author platform is your fanbase. It’s the group of people who support you and read your books. These people follow you on social media, show up to your speaking events, and sign up for your newsletter. They are also your proof of an existing audience, which can help convince publishing houses to take a chance on you.
You can think of your author platform as your sphere of influence. Who are the people you can reach? How can you reach them? Your Facebook friends, Instagram followers, Tumblr followers, fan-fiction readers, your blog subscribers… all of these people are in your author platform!
Every author has a different platform, depending on the blend of tools you choose to engage with. If you’re a young adult writer, your author platform and how you interact will look very different than a business writer. The common thread is, you’re reaching out and interacting.
Why you need to spend time building your author platform
Remember E L James? She’s the author of 50 Shades of Grey. James had a massive author platform well before 50 Shades was published. She had built up a loyal following by writing fan-fiction and engaging with readers on social media. That meant, when her book was published, there were already thousands of people waiting to buy it. That rabid fan base helped James make more noise and reach more people with her work.
Building your author platform is vital. It’s important to engage with your author platform when you’re just starting out, and it’s just as important to engage with it when you have a more established career. It’s never too early to start building your author platform.
Your author platform can convince publishers to take a chance on you
These days, publishers aren’t just looking at the quality of your work when considering whether or not to give you a publishing deal, they want to know that your work will be a commercial success. Your author platform can play a part in that.
If you have thousands of followers on your blog, publishers will see that people are already invested in reading your work. They’ll think that you already have the ability to convert people you interact with into paid readers and will be more likely to take a risk on you, particularly if you’re a new author.
Your author platform can help you reach more people
Marketing a book is expensive! Whether you are self publishing your own book or working with a publisher, you’ll likely always be wishing for more money to help reach more readers.
Using your author platform to promote your book is free (or close to it). By interacting with readers via your author platform, you’ll help turn casual readers into rabid fans. And those rabid fans will later go out, buy your book, and, most importantly, help new fans find you. Every single one of your rabid fans has his or her own platform — tapping into those networks is how you get your work to reach more people, quickly.
ProWritingAid’s guide, How to Build Your Author Platform on a Shoestring Budget, is all about building an author platform. Download it for free. Readers of the BookBaby Blog can also get 20% off the Premium version of ProWritingAid by using voucher code BB2017.
Some bright literary stars died in 2018. I’ll remember these four writers for their contributions to literature and society, which will continue to have an impact for years to come.
It happens every year: we lose some of the best and brightest writers among us.
2018, of course, was no different. As this year moves along at an ever-faster clip, I thought it worth taking a pause and looking back to four of the world’s favorite writers who passed last year, along with the books that we can all treasure and remember them by.
Tom Wolfe — The Right Stuff
Tom Wolfe pioneered the “New Journalism” approach in the 1960s, applying fiction writing techniques to the subjects that interested him. In many ways, he blazed a new literary trail all his own.
Wolfe was a prolific essayist, with many pieces appearing in prominent magazines of the day — including Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Harper’s. It was later in his writing career that he became an acclaimed novelist, publishing The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1987 and A Man in Full in 1998.
I first encountered Wolfe’s writing in the mid-1980s while on a solo trek around the South Pacific islands just after college. I was eight months into the trip and getting homesick for the US when I picked up a copy of Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. In the book, Wolfe profiled NASA’s first astronaut class, known as the Mercury Seven, as well as some test pilots who never made it to space — most famously, Chuck Yeager, who in 1947 became the first pilot to break the sound barrier.
Wolfe’s fantastic depiction of the American space program prompted me to end my trip almost on the spot and return to America.
Ursula Le Guin — The “Earthsea” series
My high school English teacher introduced me to the writing of Ursula Le Guin, the award-winning science fiction/fantasy author who explored feminist themes. Her books changed my life.
Her best-known works, the books that make up the Earthsea collection, have sold millions worldwide, and she was regarded as a great science fiction writer. But Le Guin disliked being labeled.
“I know that I am always called ‘the sci-fi writer,’” she told a Scifi.com reviewer. “Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes.”
I found this rebellion against stereotyping inspiring.
In addition to her more mainstream work, Le Guin also produced volumes of short stories, poetry, essays, and literature for young adults. Her themes ranged from children’s literature to explorations of Taoism, feminism, anarchy, psychology, and sociology. She wrote tales of a society where reading and writing are punishable by death, and of a scientist who battled aliens to save the world.
She was a warrior for good art. Le Guin won an honorary National Book Award in 2014 and warned in her acceptance speech against letting profit define what is considered good literature. She often criticized the “commercial machinery of bestsellerdom and prizedom” — even as she was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, a rare achievement for a science fiction/fantasy writer.
“I have had a long career and a good one. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river,” Le Guin said in the speech. “We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”
Anthony Bourdain — Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Less than one year ago, the world was shocked to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain was a writer long before he became famous. Most of his fans don’t know, for example, that he wrote two novels while working as an executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles.
Of course, it wasn’t until 1999 that his literary career started in earnest, when The New Yorker ran his unsolicited article, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” In that famous piece, Bourdain exposed readers to what really goes on in restaurant kitchens — even those that are 5-Star. “If you are one of those people who cringe at the thought of strangers fondling your food,” he wrote. “You shouldn’t go out to eat.”
The public reaction to that article prompted him to write Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, the book that elevated him to celebrity chef status and travel television stardom. But he did more than entertain. He gave readers like me the courage and incentive to investigate local cuisine, no matter how foreign or alien it might be.
“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s?” asked Bourdain in his memoir. “Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
Peter Mayle — A Year in Provence
Peter Mayle was not as famous as the other writers on this list, but his travel memoir classic, A Year in Provence, inspired generations of romantic adventurers seeking an idyllic life in rural France. It certainly inspired me, as a reluctant adventurist myself.
Mayle was an Englishman who embarked upon his writing career in his 30s with sex-education books for children. His first book, Where Did I Come From?, published in 1973, sought to explain the facts of life to children. He followed that book with one on puberty, titled: What’s Happening to Me?
When Mayle wanted to try to write a novel, he and his wife, Jennie, moved to Ménerbes, a village in the Provence region of France, in 1987. Unfortunately, he was quickly distracted by the task of renovating the 18th-century stone farmhouse he and Jennie had bought. As a result, Mayle shelved the novel and instead told the story of the couple’s experience in his new home, with tales of encounters with local builders, neighbors, lawyers, truffle hunters, and more — with vivid descriptions of the region’s food and drink.
Mayle’s British publisher, Hamish Hamilton, didn’t think much of the book and ordered just 3,000 copies to be printed. But when The Sunday Times excerpted the book, sales in England rocketed past the million-copy mark. The book sold more than 600,000 copies in the United States.
Publishers Weekly’s BookLife program offers free book reviews for independent authors — the BookLife Prize offers a cash grand prize to boot.
A professional, independent review can validate an author’s hard work and can encourage readers to take a chance on an author they don’t know. The difficulty for independent authors is to find trusted third-parties who will review their books.
At Publishers Weekly, reviews are our core business. We receive over 25,000 submissions a year and we review almost 9,000 of them. These reviews tend to run two-to-three months in advance of the book’s release date and the primary audience for our reviews is booksellers and librarians who use our reviews to help make buying and acquisition decisions. In some library systems, a book can’t be acquired unless it has a Publishers Weekly review.
In 2010, we recognized that self-published books were becoming an important part of book publishing, so we started experimenting with reviewing them. By 2014, our bookseller and librarian readers were asking us to help determine which self-published titles were of professional quality, so we launched BookLife, which gives independent authors a FREE way to submit their books for PW review consideration.
While the BookLife program doesn’t guarantee a review — books are chosen on their editorial merit – since its launch, we’ve published thousands of reviews of self-published books. These reviews are no different than any other PW review: they run alongside other PW reviews in each issue of the magazine, they are searchable in our reviews database, and they are syndicated to PW‘s licensees like Amazon, Apple, Google, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. And they are free.
In 2016, we launched the BookLife Prize, not only to give indie authors a chance to win a $5,000 cash grand prize but to give every author a chance to receive a guaranteed, publishable assessment from a PW reviewer. The 2019 BookLife Prize entry period is open for nonfiction titles until August 31, and this year we’ve added a nonfiction contest with its own $5,000 grand prize — that doesn’t open until October of this year.
This year, BookBaby has contributed nine social media ad packages (valued at $1,000 each) as a prize for all of the category finalists. Plus, BookBaby authors receive a special discounted entry fee of $75 by clicking here or using the promotional code BBABY when entering.
We encourage every independent author to take advantage of BookLife’s free Publishers Weekly review opportunity, and we also encourage you to participate in the BookLife Prize, where you have a chance to win great prizes and receive the type of feedback from an experienced, professional reviewer that can mean so much in promoting a book.
Transforming your work from “draft” to “done” can be daunting, and the process can differ depending on the needs of a project. Here are some strategies to consider when reviewing your text, regardless of context, when preparing your final edit.
Whether you’re crafting poems, cookbooks, novels, or articles, there’s a point in every writing project when you give your work a final edit and call it finished. More than a simple copy edit, this process involves evaluating your writing multiple times from different perspectives and signing off at every level, whether the goal is to publish it immediately online, share it with an editor, or pass it along to a collaborator.
Transforming your work from “draft” to “done” can be daunting, even for experienced writers, and the process can change significantly depending on the needs of any given project. Here are some strategies I’ve used to help me feel confident about reviewing my text thoroughly, regardless of content or context, and delivering it in final form.
Have a plan
Rather than reading your text haphazardly fifteen times, sending it off, pouring yourself a stiff drink, and hoping that it all turned out okay, approach your final edit with a plan, knowing what you hope to accomplish each time you review.
As outlined below, some read-throughs should be focused on microscopic elements, like copy-editing and factual accuracy, while others should be more high-level, allowing you to evaluate your work for atmosphere, flow, rhythm, and aftertaste.
Different types of read-throughs will add different value to your writing: while examining your text through a magnifying glass will help you render it polished and professional, looking at a work with a broader eye can reveal issues you’d never otherwise notice and provide opportunities to streamline your text.
As you make multiple passes through your text and focus on different things each time, try going through your work in a non-linear order. If you’re examining the text on a granular level, choose paragraphs or sections at random and read them out of context in an effort to root out anything you may have glossed over in the momentum of reading top to bottom. You can also try starting at the end of the work and read paragraphs, chapters, and/or sections in reverse order.
Regardless of how you proceed, I recommend using your word processor’s highlighter to keep track of your review. If you’re happy with a particular section, mark it in blue, for example, and areas that require more attention can be marked in pink. Once you’ve made any needed tweaks and have an entire document that’s highlighted in blue, you’re good to go on to the next level of review.
Strive for consistency
No final review is complete without a thorough copy edit, where you sniff out grammatical, spelling, or formatting errors and fix small issues for clarity. A big part of any copy edit is consistency.
Whether you’re sending your work on to an editor or directly to readers, make sure your text is as internally consistent as possible. For words that can have multiple correct spellings, for example, choose one spelling and stick with it; don’t mention an exciting “theater” production in one paragraph and the history of a landmark “theatre” in the next. Other elements like spelling out numbers versus using numerals, putting names of written works in quotes or italics, and adding spaces on either end of an em-dash are equally important to standardize throughout your entire document.
Choices about how to make your text consistent shouldn’t be arbitrary. Many publications, in print and online, have style guides you can follow. In the absence of such a reference, you can always turn to tried-and-true style guides like those listed in this Wikipedia entry. The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press, is one of several popular mainstays (you can sign up for a free online trial).
Unless your editor or publication tells you otherwise, more important than the particular style you choose is that you use that style throughout your work. Delivering a polished, internally consistent document to colleagues, or directly to readers, can go a long way towards defining yourself as the writer you want to be. Also, eliminating internal inconsistencies gives your readers fewer distractions and a better chance to focus on your words.
Fill in the gaps
During one of your read-throughs, pay attention to whether there are any quotes, facts, plot points, key details, or other elements you’ve inadvertently left out. (An anecdote related to this: I’m on a mailing list that regularly sends out event invitations that always inexplicably fail to mention the time the event will take place. The folks responsible for writing and sending those blasts would do well to give their work multiple reads, for multiple purposes, before sharing them with the world.)
The truth and nothing but the truth
When you’re in the flow of writing, it can be easy to quickly grab facts from Wikipedia, quotes from some other random webpage, scribbled notes from a pad you’ve had in your desk drawer for years, or numbers from a fuzzy memory of what some expert told you years ago. Before you sign off on your final work, take the time to verify any information you’ve cited and ensure that you’re not inadvertently offering up fiction as fact.
The intensity of your fact check will likely depend on context, as well as where your writing will be published. Submitting an op-ed on the global economy to The New York Times will require a more robust investigation than crafting a sonnet about the evolution of snakes to a small, local poetry journal. But, regardless of whether you’re writing about currency exchanges for many or reptiles for few, it’s always worth vetting your facts, doing your homework, and making sure any nonfictional information in your work comes from trustworthy sources.
Great writing is full of intentional features that give a rhythm to the music of the text. Novice writing is not. Patterns bring readers into a story and are often what makes writing great.
As you delve deeper into the writing craft and have read multiple manuscripts, you can assess — even on the first page — if the writing is well-structured or “loose.” This is a huge part of why agents can decide yay or nay on a book just from its opening.
Great authors leave nothing to chance. We aren’t jarred by holes in their stories or inconsistencies that seem to have no rhyme or reason. In great writing, everything is on purpose. Everything in its place and there’s a place for everything, as the saying goes. If there is a beginning, there is an ending. Ideas come full circle.
Patterns in writing are wonderfully satisfying because they make us believe that the author has thought deeply about every aspect of the story at hand. This promise of a well-engineered story draws us in. We relax and suspend disbelief.
We are always pattern-hunting
The human mind is looking for meaning everywhere – including in every nook of a book. It’s in our nature to seek out patterns. This is how we make sense of the world. This means we are quick to put two and two together to make four. We hear the word “wicked” and we might think “witch.” We read that a horrible thunderstorm is rolling in and we think “Uh oh, maybe the author is signaling a sad turn of events.” We are always looking ahead and wondering.
If the strongest pattern in a book is that there appears to be not a single thoughtful pattern, the book will quickly be put down.
Fabulous patterns form much of the most enjoyable and memorable aspects of a work. The expectations and convention of modern fiction are all patterns of a kind. A romance follows one general pattern, a thriller another, and a mystery another. The first pattern is about blossoming love between two people, the second maps out a chase for something against dire odds, and the third involves a network of clues that lead to an answer.
These are established genre patterns, but patterns abound in many other forms in books. The most obvious, is the pattern of the Three-Act Structure. The details of Three-Act Structure might only be consumed subconsciously by readers, but they’ll miss them if they are absent. The climax is the biggest promise of any book, it must be there, involve all the main ingredients of the book, and lead to a satisfying resolution of all loose ends.
The most obvious general pattern is that every set-up must have a payoff. Forget the payoff and readers will certainly miss it. Likewise, every hook must have a solid trajectory with a climax.
In short, if something is introduced, it is important. If a promise is made to the reader, it is delivered upon without excuse.
Novel patterns, even never-seen-before, are what help define an author’s unique voice.
When it’s great to break a pattern
Once you have established a pattern, consciously or not, you take a risk if you break it. But it can deliver a powerful shock to readers if you do it right.
Say you’ve built the expectation that your lead character is a shy, retiring librarian. Her pattern includes saying “no thanks” to most things in life. Your readers will know something is afoot when she says “yes” to driving cross-country to help a handsome colleague move into a new house. It’ll be clear how much she likes this fellow because her actions are so out-of-character.
Or, there could be a surprise when the nice librarian turns out to be the killer.
Such twists are based on the power of a great exception. Learn to build strong patterns and you are in the position of being able to use the advanced skills of throwing an exception that is rich in meaning and highly entertaining. Readers will think you are going right — then you go left. They’ll love you for it if it makes sense in the end. The beautiful pattern you crafted did its job.
What really matters is consistency
Most of all, what matters is the presence of a rich and interesting set of patterns and consistency. Consistency builds readers expectations — for the predictable or for wild exceptions — but it also greatly increases readers’ ease with the material.
Take, for example, the multi-character point-of-view (POV) debate. Much has been written on how and when to move from the perspective of one character to another. In the end, what really matters is that you pick a pattern and stick to it.
How you approach POV changes is up to you – whether only at chapter breaks, at section breaks, or after dropping a big clue. What matters is that you pick a way and stick to it. This lets readers easily follow.
Consistency keeps confusion at bay and readability high. It’s not the exact pattern that matters — it’s reliability that helps the reader navigate the story and enjoy the writing.
Purge randomness from your writing
Just as great patterns delight, randomness diminishes the impact of your writing. The most common general weakness of novice or unpolished manuscripts is the dreaded state of randomness.
Fixes to broken patterns can transform a work. Remove or tie up all stray bits and bobs that dither and linger, starts that go nowhere, dead ends that shock, signposts that are missing and misdirect, or circles that are broken.
Equally, watch out for false patterns. These are expectations of significance you might have created inadvertently. They occur as a result of our constant search for meaning. If readers seize on potential starts of patterns but nothing materializes, they might feel the book is going nowhere and grow frustrated.
If something occurs once, it’s an orphan. Think about removing it as superfluous or even spurious. Twice, and it signals to the reader it may or may not be a pattern. Three times and readers take it as an established pattern. This is the “Rule of Three” in fiction. If something appears more than three times, it is a very strong pattern.
What you want is meaning
Mostly, just bear in mind, readers are always looking for meaning, significance, clues, foreshadowing, explanations, impending mysteries, and all other such intrigues.
In the end, patterns are about building a story-world that feels meaningful.
Tying up all forms of randomness is hard enough, but even harder is pulling on the creative strings to introduce strong and satisfying patterns. This double-whammy skill is the lifeblood of great storytellers. Beautiful and innovative patterns can often be the most memorable parts of a work.
Books are tasteful, customizable, and convey a touch of class to a promotional effort — so why not pitch your books as promotional products to corporate buyers?
Corporate buyers purchase coffee mugs, cameras, apparel, watches, and other items to use as promotional items. They use them to increase sales, encourage buyers to remain loyal to a product, or to keep their brand front-of-mind. More and more, companies are using books to accomplish these goals, though you may have to convince corporate buyers of the viability of using your books as promotional products.
Here’s a list of reasons why books are superior to many other promotional items.
Easy to redeem
A book can be delivered in a variety of formats, so the cost of the promotion can be reduced while providing consumers with the same content. For example, an eBook can be delivered quickly, reducing the consumer’s acquisition cost and the company’s shipping costs.
Books are appropriate because they are classy. Their high perceived value does not demean the sender or recipient. In a way, a book defines the taste of the giver. Plus, people like a premium that flatters their intelligence, and books do that.
Books can be used to reward, motivate, educate, or entertain employees, salespeople, customers, and dealers. And a title may be coordinated with a season or holiday. For example, Nestles, Betty Crocker, or Pillsbury might seek a cookbook as a premium offering recipes for Christmas cookies.
Books can be customized to quickly identify the provider by adding the corporate logo to the cover. Or, you might ask the company’s president to write the foreword. Some companies may want to include a page of advertising or links to related products and services. The content may also be tailored to fit a special occasion or season, to recognize service anniversaries, or celebrate a company landmark or anniversary.
Promote additional purchases
A book can create incremental demand, spurring purchases that might not otherwise be made. This is a common effect of multi-tiered promotional programs (silver, gold, platinum) where each higher tier requires more purchases.
Create a sense of momentum
Even when status levels are not part of a program, a valued reward can lead consumers to increase the velocity of their purchases. The further along members are in a promotional program, the more motivated they become. Companies can encourage this by including the “first book free,” giving a little push to get the program moving.
People like to meet the author, and you can get a lot out of conducting book-signing events. For added impact, arrange an appearance on the company’s premises or at a trade show.
A book provides a tangible medium for repeatedly communicating an ad message. Books can be targeted for an entire family or to individuals at any age in the family.
Books are not easily damaged, which makes it more likely to be given to others to read (the “pass-along” factor), further extending the reach of the message.
Because they’re durable, books — and your prospects’ ad message — are permanent. The message is long lasting, unlike food or flowers. There is no loss of quality over the years — apparel fades, glass breaks, carry-on bags can rip.
Readers get involved with their book for the entire time it takes them to read it. Being user-friendly is important for relationship building.
Books can create and solidify your prospect’s brand image and create customer interaction, further extending the impact of your potential buyer’s positioning statement.
If a book is used as a premium, it can be easily integrated with traditional media. This creates synergy and multiple impressions.
Books provide a versatile, profitable and effective promotional item that can help corporate buyers reach their objectives. Once you convince them of the viability of books as promotional tools, then you must persuade them that yours is the one to choose.