07/24/2012 (1:35 pm)

Self-Publishing Leaves Few Excuses

Filed under: Writing Basics |

I’m not going to claim any expertise in self-publishing.  Over the last decade or so, I have published 8 electronic books under my own name and written nearly two dozen others for clients to publish in their names.  These books have varied in length from 20 pages to well over 100 pages of pure content (not including graphics, formatting and so on).  I can honestly say that with every book I have written myself, published myself, and attempted to market myself, I’ve failed to make more than the equivalent of a dollar an hour after factoring in the effort to write, edit, format, etc. the book.  So I’m not an expert at self-publishing on a successful level.

I have, however, met and known many who are and have had many discussions and read many articles from people who are bonafied experts at self-publishing success.  Enough that when time permits, I will again enter the arena with another attempt, I think.

There are a few things that seem consistent in these discussions of self-publishing:

  1. It’s not easy – you can’t just throw together any old material, make a cover graphic for it, and put it on Amazon or B&N and strike it rich.  You still have to let the world know that you have a book, and that requires marketing and effort.
  2. Publishing crap work is possible and can even be successful.. for a short while, but it will eventually backfire.
  3. Putting all of your eggs into one venue for distribution is just asking for a dirty omelet.  Diversify.

These three things seem to be pretty universal.  Marketing is the hardest part of self-publishing for most good authors (it comes easy to those who ignore rule 2).  Another difficult part is dealing with all of the various formats – if you want to distribute your book on Amazon (avoid KDP Select, it includes an exclusivity contract), you have to format it for the Kindle.  For Barnes & Noble, the Nook.  For others, it may be in PDF or some other format they prefer.  If you do each of these yourself, you’ll be spending as much time formatting as you did writing and editing.  If you hire others to do it for you, your profits will probably disappear quickly.

Luckily, with the rise of self-publishing and the number of authors willing to use it as a way to sell their work, there has come a slew of options for taking care of the technical bits and some of the marketing too.  One of the better ones, I think, is Lulu.

Basic services at Lulu are free – you can do your own formatting and publishing your book for free, actually.  For those on a tight budget or who prefer the DIY approach, that’s awesome.  For everyone else, Lulu has services.  At the very least, no matter how great your writing, I would suggest you have a professional editor go through it.  You can do this outside of Lulu, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but whatever you do, get it edited.

The point is: self-publishing is now easier than it’s ever been and is open to anyone who wants to put their words out into the world and let others read them.  There are fewer and fewer excuses for not getting your words into print (virtually or no).  Services like Lulu can make it happen for you.

10/20/2011 (10:28 pm)

Grammatically Destroying Credibility

Filed under: Writing Basics |

I’ve taken on three jobs lately that have involved editing work written by someone else who’s an expert in the subject.  It’s been enlightening because these three pieces involved two different people writing on a single subject.  My task was to take these pieces, edit them for grammar and clarity, then combine them into one large electronic book for distribution.  The subject was medical and one of the writers is a medical doctor (MD) while the other is a nurse practitioner.

Despite both of these people being well educated and having higher learning under their belt, they both made the same basic mistakes on a regular basis.  Mistakes that, if not corrected, will surely torpedo any credibility they might have.  Here’s an example:

“The conventional treatment method would be too conduct digital surveys of the patient’s affected region and compare it’s current state to the norm.”

Now, reading this, it conveys the meaning and has no errors that are likely to trigger the common person’s radar.  The two small and very common errors in this sentence, however, will compound with similar errors throughout to sink the credibility ship for these medical experts.

These mistakes are common and I see them regularly in my travels online, especially when reading amateur websites (meaning sites not associated with a business, like a personal blog or a Facebook profile).  I see them often in semi-professional communications as well (meaning those “professional” communiques that have little credibility to begin with).

Words like “to,” “too,” and sometimes “two” are phonetically the same, but are very different words in use.  Another word from our example above was “it’s,” which can be “its” as well.  With the apostrophe, the word is short for “it is” and without, it’s a possessive.  That’s a common mistake, since most people associate the ” ‘s” in a word as being possessive, but this is one of those fun exceptions in the English language.

In fact, there are a lot of phonetically similar words with different meanings and usage that often get interposed simply because the spell checker in your word processor won’t see the difference.  Words like “rain” and “peer” can become “reign” and “pier” without triggering the red underline of bad spelling.

But they’ll be noted by some in the reading audience.  Sprinkle half a dozen such mistakes in a 500-word piece and most of the people reading will notice at least one.  Personally, I’m willing to write off one or two as typos in a piece like that, but if I see several, I may discount the author altogether.

So whether you’re self-editing or editing someone else’s work, be aware of these common juxtapositions and remedy them.

05/17/2011 (12:20 pm)

The Editor’s Perspective

Filed under: Writing Basics |

I’ve done three issues of the Health Freedom Network Newsletter so far and, while this isn’t my first stint as an editor, it has been eye opening.  I’ve always prided myself on delivering top quality material that requires little or no editing.  I’ve talked about that more than once in this blog.  Most professional writers are the same – it’s what makes them professional.

After only three months of involvement in this newsletter, what I’ve learned is that a popular publication that receives a lot of submissions (and in this case, letters to the editor), gets a lot of material that is, well, sub-par I guess is the nicest way to put it.  Some is to be expected: LTEs are not exactly coming from writing pros, so the occasional use of a street term or text message garble is to be expected.  After all, teachers in high school and college are complaining bitterly about the “txt spch” their students often write in.

I’ve also learned that some experts who do a lot of writing you might read in various publications are actually horrible writers whose prowess with words is almost entirely thanks to editors.  I should have known this, of course, because I happen to ghost write for a couple of experts who are not particularly good writers themselves – which makes me wonder why these others aren’t being advised to do the same; hire a ghost to do the writing.

This post wasn’t meant as a complaint rant, though reading through it I can see that this might be the impression you’re getting.  The whole point is to show you that editors appreciate professional writing.  That means well-written, error-free writing that is to specification.

Here’s two examples, again from the Health Freedom Network Newsletter.

Our first example is an expert in her field.  She has been published numerous times around the Web, has a blog and website that features her writing on a regular basis, and has appeared in print in a handful of publications nationally.  Yet, this sentence was included in her submission to me (and ultimately re-written by myself, as she could not send me a revision before print):

In this field we seen a lot of controversy over the mis-use of the way that advertising and marketing or labeling is done to harm the over all industry by giving false proclaimations and fraudulent claims.

Not only does the sentence have misspelled words and typos, but it’s a long run-on as well.  This was a regular feature of her submission.

On the same token, another expert submitted work that the only beef I had with was that it was 40 words over the 500 word limit for 1 page.  He gladly did some cutting to make it fit and, amazingly enough, cut most of that out of his own byline rather than the article itself.  This shows he was more interested in getting the information out there than he was in self-promotion, a sure sign of integrity.  In return, I restored his byline to its original length and shrunk the font and his photo by 1.5 points so that it would still fit without crowding.

These two examples are typical, I think, of the kind of thing editors likely deal with almost daily.  It should make writers appreciate not only what editor’s do, but also what they like to see and will reward.

Good writing is always rewarded, even if the rejection for the publication is just written personally or with a nicer tone.  Quite often, I’ve received submissions that weren’t a fit topically for the newsletter and have referred the writer, since the information was very well presented, to other publications as suggested venues for it.

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