My 5 Top Tips for New Authors

Getting back to the posts from the Heart Search Blog Tour, Elaine Hillson was my next fabulous host. She asked me for my 5 top tips for new authors. I could have written more than five to be honest, but I think these are the most pertinent and important.

Writing, like any skill, needs to be honed. You need to study the craft and never stop learning. I could spend ages giving you the benefit of my experiences, and it’s all useful stuff, but I’m going to pass that by and talk about things you need to ponder once you’ve finished your manuscript.

Editing and Beta Reading:

It’s incredibly difficult to see our own mistakes in our manuscripts. We see how we want it to read and not how it actually does. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to take our work and turn it into a polished gem. Editors don’t come cheap yet good ones are worth their weight in gold. There are two levels of editing; copy/line editing and full editing.

A copy/line editor will look at grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. They will also look at overused words and repeated sentences beginning with the same word which are too close together. In addition, they check for inconsistencies within your manuscript. They won’t make the changes for you, but will point out where the problems exist and leave you to correct the mistakes.

A full edit will encompass all the above plus a developmental and structural edit. This is where the editor will look at redundant phrases and paragraphs, timelines and the story as a whole. They will suggest changes based on experience and the way the story reads. Ultimately they want to make your manuscript the best it can be for you.

A good editor will gently guide you in bringing your work to ‘submission ready’ status. You may not agree with all the changes an editor suggests, and that’s okay because it’s your right as the author to take or discard their recommendations. But don’t dismiss them out of hand – never forget the editor has the experience you lack, so consider each comment carefully and be prepared to compromise on occasions.

After all the editing, I would always recommend getting a Beta Reader to go through the novel. Pick wisely. This should be someone you trust to give you good honest feedback and criticism, preferably not a family member as they will feel obliged to tell you how wonderful it is because of your relationship with them. It needs to be someone impartial. Take their critique on board. They are, in a way, representative of all the readers who could potentially buy your book. If they find something confusing, lacking in substance or explanation, you can bet other readers will too, so be prepared to rewrite in places and once again, get your editor to check the changes.

The important thing to remember here is by self-publishing a book (if you decide to take that route) which is full of typos, mistakes and bad grammar, you are setting yourself up for bad reviews and a tarnished reputation. Mud sticks!

ISBN’s:

If you plan to publish your novel as an e-book through Kindle only, you don’t need an ISBN. If you decide to go through one of the ‘print on demand’ companies like CreateSpace or Lulu you can get a cheap or free ISBN. However, you are quite limited by where you can make your book available for sale.

Let’s take CreateSpace as an example. You can obtain a free ISBN when you upload your book, but you are limited to their sales channels. Sure you can pay for ‘Extended Distribution’ which would open up further outlets in which your book can be bought, but you cannot go outside of their network and sell your book wherever you want.

By purchasing your own ISBN (please note: you need one for each medium your book is published so if you decide on e-book and paperback, you will need separate ISBN’s for each), you are in control. You own the legal rights to your book which gives you the freedom to select your own sales channels anywhere.

ISBN’s aren’t cheap, but well worth the investment in my humble opinion. I have bought a block of ten through my publishing group, which has worked out very cost effective.

If you are one of the lucky ones who get picked up by a traditional publisher, this is all done for you, but the publisher owns the ISBN not you!

Social Media Platforms:

If you’re not very social media savvy, you better start practicing before your book comes out. Don’t try and spread yourself too thin – just pick a couple which are manageable and start building a following/friends list. These people are the first ones who will be exposed to news of your book and if they like the sound of it, they’ll keep watching you closely. Feed snippets of news of your progress to keep them interested, make and cultivate new online friendships as you never know where it might lead. You can also pick up useful information from other authors recommending editors or beta readers, plus hints, tricks and tips which you can utilise to your advantage.

Blog:

Start your own blog. This is, by far, your most useful platform and what’s more, the vast majority are free! You can utilise this space to allow your potential readers to get to know you and your writing. The more you engage them, the more they will talk about it to their friends and the wider your reach and potential readership becomes.

You don’t have to blog every single day – I don’t. Some authors do, but that is their choice. Set yourself a goal of blogging, say once a fortnight, to begin with (and don’t forget to publicise each post on your social media platforms). If you begin to feel you can increase it to once a week, then do so. You’re the one in control – just make sure you leave enough time for writing outside of this and the previous activities mentioned for Social Media.

And finally . . .

Marketing:

Whichever route you take to publishing, you are still going to have to market yourself. And if you haven’t done it before, it’s quite a daunting task. Look on social media to see what other authors are doing, read blog posts devoted to the subject, research what is available, what is free and what you can afford.

I have an advantage. I’ve had quite a bit of experience in marketing in my ‘day jobs’, so already have the ethos entrenched in the old grey matter. I’ve followed the advice and tips given to you above and orchestrated a marketing plan leading up to and following on from the launch of my novel. I’m told I’ve created a bit of a ‘buzz’ about it on the internet/social media platforms which is what I set out to do. I know my plans aren’t going to generate humungous sales overnight (although it would be nice), but each person who buys my book and enjoys it is likely to recommend it to their friends. Each reader who posts a good review on Amazon or Goodreads is showing the world that they think my novel is a worthwhile buy. All this adds to my credibility as an author and little by little the network expands.

I hope you find these tips useful and I wish you all the very best of luck in your published career!

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The Boomerang Effect

When I finished my first draft of Heart Search and the initial euphoria had worn off a little, I gave my raw manuscript to my editor, Maria Johnson, to smooth out the rough edges. At that time, I had no real idea of what was involved and the true ‘boomerang effect’ (as I affectionately call it) my novel would be involved in.

Maria skilfully and professionally guided me through the process, giving explanations, good constructive criticism and recommendations along the way. By the time Heart Search: Lost was ready for submission, I’d learnt so much about the process, how hard a good editor has to work and the importance of building a good working relationship between author and editor.

Now, one of my nicknames is ‘Hawkeye’, mainly because if something is lost on a carpet or furniture, no matter how small, I’d be the one to find it. So where is this leading? Be patient, I’m getting there! Lol.

I was reading a book on Kindle and began to notice various grammatical errors, words missing and the like. The author was a contact of mine on Twitter and I sent her a polite Direct Message mentioning I’d found errors in her book. She sent me her email address and asked if I would tell her what I’d found, which I did. This was the start of a lovely friendship between Alison DeLuca and me.

After she’d written her third novel, she asked me to beta read and line edit it for her. I not only did that, but also gave her feedback and suggestions for structural changes. Alison and I worked well together and our friendship has grown as a result. Alison was very happy with the work I’d done for her and has recommended me to some of her author friends.

Now I’m editing the third novel of Connie J Jasperson (on Alison’s recommendation). This time I’m doing more than just line editing. Connie warned me her manuscript was, in her words, “very raw” and needed a lot of work.

When you edit you have to look at so many things; attention to detail, as well as a good grasp of grammar is a must. These are the sorts of things an editor must look for, apart from the obvious spelling mistakes:

  • Repetition of words and phrases within a sentence and/or paragraph
  • Over-use of words – ‘that’ being the most common
  • Sentence structure – does the sentence flow? How does it sound when read aloud? If it doesn’t flow then it need changing and then you make recommendations of how to improve it
  • Extraneous words
  • Grammar – this is more than just having commas in the right places. It also involves looking at over-use of exclamation marks, seeing where two short sentences could be joined and what punctuation is required to do it successfully
  • Dialogue – has it been written too formally (as in the ‘Queen’s English’) or is it realistic?

These are just a few examples of what a good editor will do for you, but in each case there should be an explanation for the author as to why something isn’t working as well as suggestions for improving it. I can’t stress how important this bit is. How can a writer learn and grow if they don’t know why something they’ve written is wrong or why it doesn’t flow? And as for the suggestions to improve a particular section, this gives the author ideas of how they can correct it in their own words.

Some authors think an editor should just go ahead and make the changes for them, rewriting sections as necessary, but what they fail to understand is no one can imitate an author’s voice. Of course I could make changes to Connie’s manuscript, but would it read differently to the rest of the novel? Of course it would! Connie has her ‘voice’ and I have mine.

Anyway, having finished the first round of edits (I’ve been sending them to Connie a chapter at a time); along with an overall feedback on the novel, we are now starting Round Two. And this is where the Boomerang Effect comes into play.

No editor is infallible and whilst they will try their very best to capture everything first time around, there are the occasional holes in the net and bits do slip through. Now Connie has made the changes based on my first set of comments, I’m now going through it again to check there’s nothing I’ve missed and this time to look at any sections within the story that slow it down or aren’t really needed. I will make my recommendations and it’s then up to Connie whether she accepts them or not. At the end of the day, it’s the author’s choice to accept or reject suggestions an editor makes. It’s their baby and they’ve poured their heart and soul onto the pages so it has to be their decision.

Again, we have the Boomerang Effect. After this second round, I will have a final check over before Connie sends it to someone she trusts to beta read it and ask them for constructive criticism and feedback on the overall story. At this point, the author can take it upon themselves to make changes suggested by the beta reader or discuss them with her editor before making the changes – again her choice. However, it’s very important for the author to save each version of the manuscript under a different name so if something doesn’t work, they have a reference point to go back to and, if necessary, restore an original phrase/sentence/paragraph.

So what happens next? Yep, you’ve guessed it – the manuscript Boomerang’s its way back to the editor for final checking before it goes to the publisher. [I can’t wait for this to be published – it’s an AMAZING novel!!]

I’m happy to say Connie and I have built a lovely friendship as well as a great working relationship. She can see by the way I’ve managed the first round of edits, the loving care with which I’ve treated her ‘baby’, and appreciates the way I’ve handled the constructive criticism with kindness. Connie is a joy to work with, as Alison was; they are both consummate professionals when it comes to their writing and it shows in the way they’ve responded to the editing I’ve done for them.

Most of what I’m able to do with editing, I learned from my own editor and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude, one I may never be able to repay.

One final word of caution, to those considering undertaking an editing job for someone, be prepared to spend humungous amounts of time and maybe even put your own projects on hold. Editing is a time consuming job if done with the loving care each manuscript deserves and you can’t duck when that Boomerang comes flying back!