Monday, March 3, 2014

My Flow

I have a process to publishing a book. I find when I get stuck, it's usually because I'm thinking about the wrong step. For instance, trying to edit while trying to write. Or anticipating the readers.
So, in case anyone is interested:

  • Outline. I don't think I'd do this for fiction, but for nonfiction it is very easy to go off on useless tangents* or get repetitious or create a circular mess that no one can follow.
  • Intro. I write the introduction first, mostly for myself. This becomes the mission statement-- what I intend to write, why I need to be the one writing it and what the reader will get. This becomes the promise I have to live up to for the rest of the book. And I really like under-selling and over-delivering. I want an awesome intro but an even better book.
  • Write the book. Write the damn thing. Finish it. When I give this list to other people I skip the above two steps because this is the important one. Nothing happens with a manuscript unless it is finished. Mental trick-- I don't think of writing as a creative process. It is vomiting onto paper. I get stuff out of my system that would be toxic inside. I can make the vomit pretty later. But I have to get it out.
  • Run through. This is not a rewrite. This is a quick read to see if you left out big ideas or have big grammatical errors or missing words or pages. Frequently in a manuscript I'll type XXX and a note on something I need to add, change or research XXX. Triple X is easy to search the document for. I can't emphasize enough that you do not rewrite the manuscript at this stage. You are too close to see it.
  • First Readers. I have a small group of mean friends or honorable enemies who I trust to read the manuscript and tell me honestly where I screwed up. Things that are unclear, where I went off in my own private language. Connections that don't make sense. In fiction, at this stage, you are too close to the story to see plot holes. Your mean friends and honorable enemies will point them out. DO NOT have nice people or people who really like you in your reader pool. That's great for stroking your ego, but useless for improving the manuscript. And don't have too many people who "desperately want to be writers someday" because they will be critiquing the manuscript in their heads, not the one on the page. Best are smart people with a mean streak who love to read in the field.
  • Rewrite as necessary. Once you have your first reader's input. Remember you don't have to take all of their suggestions, but if all of them say Chapter Six and Chapter Nine contradict each other, that's good to know.  You may have had some other ideas during this wait and the wait time is usually long enough to get over being too close. So if you want to add some stuff and can make it blend, go for it. But there's no problem with saving the new stuff for the next book either.
  • Send to a proofreader. You can't proofread your own stuff. If you knew the right spelling and grammar rules, you would have got it right the first time. Send it to a pro or a friend who is really good. Friends are cheaper, so you can send it to two, but proofreading is tedious as hell so don't go through all your friends too quickly. Make sure 'track changes' is on.
  • Accept or reject changes. There are grammar nazis and comma queens out there-- people with advanced degrees in english who couldn't write to save their lives. A lot of those become editors or proofreaders. That doesn't mean they are right. Evaluate all changes. Syntax (meaning) trumps grammar (form). There has never been a great work of literature that was grammatically perfect.
  • About this point you want to create or commission someone to do the cover. I use fellow Inker Kami
  • Front and back matter. Add legal notices, disclaimers, acknowledgements, bibliography, about the author, back cover copy if you're doing a paper book. **
At this point, prep for publishing. You will do things slightly differently for different formats.

  • Formatting. Formatting for e-books is weird and I have slightly different flowcharts for Draft2Digital, SmashWords and Kindle. One of the biggest issues is that if you have already created a Table of Contents, especially a linked one, it will screw up Draft2Digital's automatic ToC generator.*** Make sure to change the notices in the front matter to reflect the publisher. Embarrassing to have 'This Kindle version..." in your Smashwords stuff.
  • Upload
  • Review (Smashwords has an automatic review as well)
  • Change as necessary. Repeat these steps as necessary
  • Authorize
  • Add to your author profile (automatic at SmashWords, not necessary for D2D)
  • Announce/Market
Print Books (I use CreateSpace)
  • I have Kami do the interior design for print books
  • Submit
  • Order proofs
  • Proofread
  • Change as necessary (you always find errors in the paper version you missed on your laptop.)
  • Repeat as necessary
  • Authorize
  • Add to Author Central on Amazon
  • Announce/Market
* A lot of my useless tangents I just cut and paste to the bottom of the manuscript because I might use them later. Or if I get an idea. Usually, at the end of my first draft, the bottom of the manuscript has pages and pages of concepts, ideas and things to work in. That way I can concentrate on getting it done without worrying about forgetting an idea or detail that belongs somewhere else.

** Somewhere about here is where you start asking people for blurbs for the back cover, if that is something you want to do.

***Strange that in one area of my life, ToC means Table of Contents and in another it means Totality of Circumstances that justify a use of force.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Book They Read

Lawrence Kane, my co-author for "Scaling Force" cautions me (frequently) that "I'm too pithy." He says that I trust my readers too much, assume that they'll make connections that some will miss. I don't explain the things that I think are obvious.

I'm largely okay with that. When I'm in a grumpy mood I don't want stupid people reading my stuff anyway. In a normal mood, I hate talking down to people and my baseline assumption is that people are smart.  They can and will keep up and if they have to stretch a bit to do that, that's good exercise. I was a knuckle dragging jail guard. I'm pretty confidant the average person can hold their own with anything I write.

But... (you knew that was coming, right?)
Here's a caution for newbie writers, especially neo-pros: No one actually reads the book that you wrote. They read a different book, the one that exists in their heads. It's not (much) a matter of clarity or education or reading level. It's just how people are.

Decades ago, when I wrote fiction, I got a rejection letter from MZB saying that she didn't publish stories with unicorns or elves. I have never once in my life written a story with a unicorn and gave up on writing about elves about the time I finished puberty. If I recall the story, it was a pretty dark thing about urban shamanism. Or maybe a pretty dark thing about what a familiar spirit would actually be...

Anyway, she read and rejected a story that had absolutely no relationship to the one I wrote.

That's pretty extreme and I transitioned to non-fiction a long time ago... but it crops up even more. Occasionally I read reviews or articles and two reviewers will get completely opposite information from the same chapter. Not ever about the material, but about the author. Evidently I hate training methods that I've used since before the reviewer was born; hate traditional arts and love them; never do X but always do X. Some even go deeper and I've been labeled a fundamentalist christian, an anti-christian, an atheist and a buddhist. Based on a self-defense book? Really?

Not that any of that matters it's just...puzzling.
A couple of things, though. If you hit a nerve with your writing, especially non-fiction, the human animal is driven to find a reason not to change, not to learn and the fastest way to do that is to put a label on the author.
Hit nerves anyway. That's what good writing is supposed to do.