FAQ: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

When I first considered publishing, I didn’t have much guidance. I was basically told, “Hey, just Google it.” Well, Google is indeed a wonderful tool, but sometimes, you need something a little more direct to give you the answers you want and need. From my experience interacting with various writer groups as well as indie author communities, I’ve learned that one of the most common sources of confusion is in regards to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Now, I’ve covered these two aspects in a previous blog post, but I figured people don’t want to read a long, drawn-out explanation of the differences, so I’ve decided to create this easy-to-digest FAQ section to give indie writers a better resource on which direction to take in terms of publishing. Please remember that this is mostly based off my experiences and the experiences of several other authors friends, both traditional and self. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which path is best for your wants and needs, but I hope that this FAQ will at least help you with the decision-making process.

What is the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing?

Traditional publishing is when you have a literary agent sign on to represent you, and when they find you a publisher who will publish your book. Self-publishing is when you take the reins for yourself and publish your book on your own, just as the name implies. Simple enough, right?

Which is better: self-publishing or traditional publishing?

Unfortunately, this question can’t be answered in just three or four sentences. In all honesty, there’s no real answer. One is not “better” than the other, and anyone who tells you different is wrong. Most often, you may hear people say traditional publishing is superior and that self-publishing is “the easy way out.” While self-publishing is much more accommodating, that’s not to say that it’s in any way inferior to traditional. Don’t ever let someone try to shame you for taking the self-publishing route.

How do I get traditionally published?

In order to be traditionally published, 99% of the time, you need a literary agent. Some smaller presses and publishers let you query directly to them, but ultimately, big publishers will only accept manuscripts from literary agents representing writers.

How do I find a literary agent?

QueryTracker is just one of many fabulous resources for writers seeking literary agents. Look for agents that represent your specific genre: fantasy, historical, drama, thriller, etc. When you’ve narrowed down a list based on your genre, you want to look at their submissions page. Some may indicate that they are no longer accepting submissions while others are more than happy to get them. Read over the submission guidelines carefully and make sure you follow them exactly. Agents get tons of submissions each day. They won’t hesitate to toss a manuscript from an author who doesn’t bother to read or respect the guidelines. I’ve covered how to write a proper query letter in a previous blog post.

Will a literary agent represent a self-published book?

This is entirely dependent on the agent. Some will represent a previously self-published book, while others will explicitly state on their submissions page that they won’t read them. Your best bet: submit a new project. In a majority of cases, agents will only represent a previously self-published story if you can prove it has successful sales numbers.

How much does a literary agent cost?

A reputable literary agent will NEVER ask you for upfront fees. Agents are in the business to get you represented by publishers, who will pay them based on sales. If an agent asks for some type of payment to represent you, turn around and run away. Learn more about vanity publishers here.

How many literary agents can I query at once?

Unless they clearly state that they do not allow writers to submit to multiple agents at once, literary agents, for the most part, don’t care how many submissions you send out. Go nuts. Send your query to a dozen agents a week. Just remember that if you get accepted by multiple agents at once, you need to be prepared to reject the agents you don’t choose. Also, you can’t use a generic query letter template for every agent. Every agent has their own preferences when it comes to submissions. Also, a lot of agents are close friends, even if they work for different agencies. If an agent says, “don’t submit to other agents when you submit with us,” then follow those warnings. Agents talk to one another, and word spreads quickly.

What do I do if I’m rejected by an agent?

If you want to be traditionally published, you have to be ready for a lot of rejection. It is very unlikely that you’ll get accepted by the first agent you query. Rejection will be your best friend during the querying process. Don’t let them discourage you. If an agent rejects you, just move on to the next one. Do NOT talk badly about them on social media (it’s unbelievable how many people do this when they’re rejected). Also, I learned from a recent Q&A with a literary agency that you don’t need to send anything after the rejection. Previously, I would send a “thanks anyway,” type of note, and I will continue to do so, but you don’t have to feel like this is mandatory. As the agent said, it’s not necessary nor expected.

How do I self-publish a book?

There are numerous platforms for writers who want to self-publish. I personally used KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing, which I found to be very user-friendly. I’ve heard good things about other similar companies such as IngramSpark, Lulu, and BookBaby, but since I never used them myself, I can’t personally recommend them.

Do I need an editor?

Yes. No matter which path you choose, you need an editor. At the very least, you want someone else to look over your manuscript, even as a beta reader. When we read our writing, we tend to overlook certain spelling or grammatical errors out of habit. I recommend having someone else giving your manuscript a look-through, even just as a casual reader. You never know what they may catch that you missed. If you want to catch the eye of a traditional publisher/literary agent, then finding an actual editor is a MUST. One spelling mistake can cost you representation. When you self-publish, you still want an editor because you want your book to be polished to absolute perfection. The main point I’m trying to get at here is: hire an editor, no matter how great of a writer you think you may be.

Do I need an illustrator?

This is where things get a little tricky. If you want to be traditionally published, you don’t have to worry about an illustrator. Your publisher will find an illustrator to take care of it, except in very specific cases. If you self-publish, you will need to pick one of two options: you illustrate the book yourself or you hire an outside illustrator. I’ve hired illustrators to do my covers and interior illustrations, and I’ve paid for KDP to do my cover illustrations. Overall, I recommend hiring a third-party illustrator. Make sure you clarify the details with your illustrator. Many will take an upfront payment, while others will want an upfront payment in addition to a portion of royalties. Either way, you need to understand that you will be paying a hefty sum for a decent illustrator, and I can assure you that they will be worth every penny. Illustrators help bring your book to life, so you can’t expect to get far trying to pay someone with just “exposure” or a fee that’s well below what they deserve.

Which type of publishing will make me rich and famous?

Sorry, but the chances of you becoming rich and famous as an author are very slim, whether you go the self-publishing or traditional publishing route. There have been some self-publishers who have lucked out and have become financially successful (E.L. James and Andy Weir), and then there are some traditionally published authors who produced one book and then fizzled into obscurity (not going to call them out here). Regardless, if you want to become a rich and famous author, no matter which path you take, you need to put a lot of work into your authorship.

How do I market my books?

When you’re traditionally published, you have an agent who can assist with the marketing aspect for your book – although, this is a “your mileage may vary” situation where some agents may be significant help with marketing while others will do minimal work. When you self-publish, you need to handle the marketing all on your own, unless you hire a public relations expert to assist you. My advice to self-published and indie authors is to capitalize on social media, and to take advantage of local book festivals and craft fairs (especially around holiday time).

How do I get paid?

Here’s a question that many writers have in regards to publishing: how do I make money? If you’re traditionally published, you get a cut of the book sales (a portion needs to go to your agent and publisher). Your publisher may also give you an advance payment. It’s vital that, prior to signing a contract, you have a legal representative carefully inspect it to ensure you’re not being swindled out of your hard-earned money. Unfortunately, there are many “agents” out there who like to take advantage of naive writers. With self-publishing, at least via KDP, you’re paid royalties each month, which are a percentage of your book sales. I recommend setting up a separate bank account for these royalties to help you with your year-end taxes.

How do taxes work for an author?

Let me begin by saying that I am not a tax specialist, so my advice should not be taken as professional counsel. This is purely based on my experience. I created a business entity for my authorship (it was necessary for me to sell my books at an event in Philadelphia). When I take my taxes to my accountant, she helps me file everything accordingly, and tells me what expenses I can deduct. I have been able to deduct table costs, marketing materials, writing-related supplies, and more, because they are all business expenses. I highly recommend consulting with a tax professional to see what you can do in terms of deductions come tax time.

Do I need a pen name?

A pen name is more or less an alternative author identity. For whatever reason, many authors will use a pen name when publishing books. I advise you to use a pen name if you have a speciality in one genre and you want to disassociate another genre. For example, I use my real author name and identity for my children and young adult novels, but if I ever decide to write a murder mystery, I will want to use a pen name. Other authors may use a pen name if they want to keep their writing a secret from friends and family. It doesn’t matter the reason for your pen name, but just make sure you stay consistent.

These are all the most commonly asked questions in terms of publishing. If you have any more questions, feel free to email me at realewrites@gmail.com, or contact me on social media.

Taking a Big Risk: How I Started My Career in Writing

This isn’t one of my usual blog posts where I offer my sage advice (although, you may learn a thing or two by the end of it). This is going to be a more personal post where I discuss how exactly I dove into the world of writing, both personally and professionally. I briefly discussed some tips and tricks on how to make a career in writing in a previous post, but I didn’t go in-depth on my own personal journey into the industry, and I feel like I owe it to my readers (all four of you) to explain myself. After all, if you’re going to take writing advice from a stranger on the Internet, you want to at least know their experience, right?

I graduated from Temple University in 2011 with my Bachelor’s in English. Up until my final year, I had planned to become a high school English teacher. Those dreams were destroyed (or at least put on hold) when I realized just how difficult the world of teaching is and how I wasn’t right for it. While I may not be cut out for shaping students’ minds in the classroom, I thought there was still a way to pursue a career revolving around literature and writing. Therefore, I dropped my Secondary Education program and focused only on English.

The problem is that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my English degree. I knew I couldn’t just find a job as an English major. I needed a focus. Did I want to work for a publisher? Did I want to be a journalist? Did I want to be an editor? There were plenty of opportunities, but I knew I wanted to do something involving actual writing. My main problem was that I didn’t have much experience. Sure, I wrote some articles for  newsletters and circulars and whatnot, and I had just finished the first draft of Dodger’s Doorway, but I didn’t have much on my resume that would make recruiters scramble to hire me. I was in the middle of a lake with no paddle.

Then I had some… unusual… luck.

Monster.com has changed a lot in the past few years. Back in 2011, you were able to filter jobs based on sectors and industries. I narrowed my search to look for jobs in “printing and publishing.” I thought, “Well, if I can work for a printer or publisher, that’d be a good way to get my foot in the door, right?”

About a week after I graduated, I got a call from one of the places where I applied. I won’t name-drop, but it had “printing” in the name, and me being the naive recent college graduate, I thought maybe I scored a decent opportunity. We discussed my resume, set up an interview, etc.

When I went in for an interview, I was met with an interesting surprise. You see, the printing place was contracted by a technician business, which was in charge of servicing machines in various convenience stores around the state. I was interviewing for a service technician job… when I thought I’d be working in some printing or publishing company. That’s like applying to be a police officer and instead getting a job as a car salesman. Needless to say, I was a bit confused. But I needed a full-time job, so I took the offer.

For several months, I worked as a technician, and I’m proud to say that I was good at it. It wasn’t the best job in the world, what with the long hours and less-than-stellar pay, but it was helping me pay back my student loans and allowed me to put money toward self-publishing Dodger’s Doorway. I was just living my life one day at a time, not a care in the world.

Later that year, I received a call from a major insurance company that found my resume online and wanted to see if I was interested in a change. This would be a completely different position where I would just be sitting in call center with a headset on for eight hours a day. This is going to sound strange, but when I was in college, I knew that if I wasn’t going to be a teacher, I would’ve been perfectly content working in an office with my own little cubicle. I didn’t mind being an office drone as long as it was a steady paycheck with health insurance. I jumped at the opportunity and took the job. Better pay, better benefits, vacation time, etc. Maybe I had found my “career.”

The glory lasted for about six months.

The job was pretty great during the initial ramp-up period. I liked my co-workers and I felt like I was actually an adult with a “big-boy” job. Then things started going down-hill. I won’t get into details, but it was like everything that could go wrong DID go wrong. I wanted to stick it out and keep at it because I thought that this was going to be my career that could set me up for life, but I was not happy. My days would drag on and on, and I would find any excuse to get away from the office. I would wait to come into work until the absolute last second, and I would leave the second my shift ended, I would take a bathroom break whenever I could – I even began using up all my vacation days so I wouldn’t have to spend an entire week in the office. It was Hell.

Then I woke up one morning and it just clicked. I needed to do something. If I wanted to be a working writer, I needed to pursue it. It wasn’t just going to fall into my lap. Unfortunately, having been out of college so long and having no real work experience besides customer service, I knew I was in for a challenge. I needed to start from scratch, which meant completely revamping my resume.

Here is where things get interesting. I received a call from a company after I had submitted my resume and spoke with the managers about the position. This was when I was first introduced into the world of SEO and copywriting. I had never really thought about it all that much before. It seemed like the way to get into writing as a career was to think about it in a marketing sense. Looking back, I wish I had double-majored in marketing (a lesson for anyone currently in college and looking for a way to possibly turn writing into a career!).

If you’re taking notes, this next piece will be worth highlighting. This writing job was a great opportunity, but I was leaving well-paying, secure office job at a major corporation, to go to a small business for less pay and no health benefits. It was a MAJOR risk, especially since I had to go through a three-month trial period before I was “officially” brought on. I’ll never forget this moment: the owner of the company called to offer me the job and I told her I’d have to think about it over the weekend. I went back to my cubicle and took a call from a customer. It was a rude woman who yelled at me because she didn’t understand how a spacebar works (I’m barely exaggerating). I was so infuriated after the call and realized that I did not want to do this any longer. I called the owner back and accepted the job.

I was officially an employed writer!

This isn’t the end of my story, though. Remember: I didn’t have much professional writing experience. I wrote essays and research papers in school, and I also wrote Dodger’s Doorway (and if you’ve read the first edition of that book, you’d be… less than impressed). I hate to say it, but it didn’t fully prepare me for writing as a career. It was a rough start for me. I was terrified of being fired from my job in the first few months because I didn’t think I was performing as well as I should’ve been. Not only was I going to lose a job that I actually really, really liked, but I was starting to realize that maybe I wasn’t good at writing?

If you’re a fan of The Office like I am, then you’ll remember the Michael Scott Paper Company story arc (if you don’t watch the show, you may want to skip to the next paragraph). Remember how at the beginning of the arc Michael and Pam were worried that they had given up their perfect jobs only to fail at their new startup? Then Michael explained how he thrived on the pressure of failure. And then their company started to do better? I like to think I embody that same notion.

When there is pressure on me, I seem to do my best. If I’m on the brink of failing, I make a hell of a comeback. Sure, I’d like to avoid getting to that point in the first place, but I know that no matter how close I get to that edge, I will always find my footing and push back. And that’s exactly what I did. I found my footing. Things turned around and I started doing better. My writing was becoming more polished and refined. I wasn’t just an employed writer; I was an employed, competent writer!

It’s hard to believe that was about five years ago. I’ve since moved on and pursued other jobs (still in the same field), and my writing has only gotten better. Looking back, I do not have one single regret about my decision. Taking that big risk and following a writing career has had significant impacts on both my professional life and my personal life. It’s what prompted me to release a second (well-written) edition of Dodger’s Doorway and allowed me to continue my passion. Had I not taken that leap, I’d probably still be slaving away in that call center, taking call after call and sinking further into depression while my laptop gathered dust and my ideas went unwritten.

If you’re going to take away anything from this story, it’s this: take a risk if you want to pursue something that will make you happy, but be smart about it. When I took my first job as a writer, I was still living with my parents. I wasn’t worried about supporting a family or having to pay a mortgage. It can be harder to take risks later on in life when you have more responsibilities and less of a safety net. I encourage you to take risks if it can make your life better, but be wise about it. And remember that opportunities won’t just fall into your lap; you have to go out and get them.

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Do you often find yourself writing page after page, and then going back and deleting all your work? Do you refuse to let anyone read your writing because you’re afraid of a negative reaction? Do you just think you’re a bad writer overall?

You’re not alone.

It’s perfectly normal to be critical of your own work. Almost everyone feels the same way. We constantly criticize ourselves, whether it’s about things we do, how we look, how we act, or just how we are in general. It’s a natural human trait to be critical of ourselves, but some of us have mastered the ability to suppress such doubts. When you’re able to do that, you won’t be afraid to show the world what you can do.

I’m critical of my own abilities. Every time I write, I think, “Wow, this is garbage.” I spend countless hours going back and rereading and editing my pieces to ensure they’re perfect. I keep thinking, “This could’ve been worded better,” or “This doesn’t make any sense.” I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading this blog post a dozen times after I publish it, thinking that it’s pure crap. But despite all that, I am still able to say, “The world needs to read this.” My self-doubt might be strong, but my desire to create is much stronger.

Why is it that most of us are so insecure about our writing (or any type of creative expression)? There could be plenty of reasons. Maybe you’ve had experiences in the past where someone had a negative reaction to something you wrote. Maybe you’re just naturally inclined to view you and your abilities in a bad light. At the end of the day, you need to realize something: your self-judgment is most likely off.

When it comes to the arts, we can’t properly judge ourselves. That is because there is no right or wrong in the world of art. What some people consider bad, others consider a masterpiece.

Go to a local art museum and check out a painting of a blue square on a gray background. To you or me, it might look like a doodle that someone made in first grade art class. For art collectors and connoisseurs, it could be an excellent drawing worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Watch Transformers: Age of Extinction. For film buffs and even most average movie-goers, it’s a piece of trash and a disgrace to cinema. For others, it could be a fun, action-packed thrill ride worthy of countless viewings.

50 Shades of Grey. To me, it’s a heap of trash that promotes sexual violence and unhealthy relationship goals. To others, well, you can guess where I’m going with this.

The beauty of art is that it’s subjective. What one person hates, others may adore. As I mentioned before, there is no right or wrong in the world of art. So no matter what you create, you can relish in the fact that somebody, somewhere out there, may think you’ve created something spectacular.

So how exactly do you overcome self-doubt? I mean, it’d be awesome if you could just flick a switch and turn off that part of your brain that harbors negative feelings, but life doesn’t work that way (but it’d be awesome if it did; then I probably wouldn’t still be so sour about the last season of The Walking Dead.)

I can sit here and write “believe in yourself” in five or six different ways, but that’s not going to work unless you actually take action. The only way to beat the self-doubt is to take the leap of faith. Submit your writing to a contest, enter your painting into an art show, try auditioning for a play – do SOMETHING that will get your art seen by other people. At that point, one of two things will happen: you’ll find out if it’s good, or you’ll find out of it’s bad. If it’s good, then great! You had nothing to worry about! If it’s bad, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone being hurt for creating a bad piece of art (if that were the case, then a lot of Hollywood directors would be in trouble).

“But what if they don’t like it?”

News flash: you cannot please everybody. You’re most likely going to experience some negativity in your creative journey. That comes with the territory. I said it before: art is subjective. What one person loves, others may hate. The first few negative comments will sting, but you will develop a thick skin. Even I’ve managed to shrug off some horrible things people have said about my writing, and I’m an emotional dumpster fire.

Despite whatever negativity comes your way, you can still stand up and say, “I did it. I let the world see my art.” You deserve to give yourself credit. There are way too many people who are afraid of leaving their comfort zone, which prevents them from achieving their true potential. Don’t let that happen to you. It may be daunting, but once you take that leap of faith and start to share your work, you’ll find yourself much more comfortable with your abilities.

Your self-doubt is just a small roadblock on your path to greatness. And how do you get over a roadblock? By leaping over it.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

 

What I’ve Been Up To

Sorry, folks. This post is going to be a bit more personal. I thought I’d update my fans, followers, and friends on what’s been going on with my life and why I haven’t been as active with my blog. On the bright side: this will give some insight on my current and future projects, so you’ll know what to expect from me in the near future.

First off, as I mentioned a few times before, I got a new job back at the end of August. After working from home for three years, it was odd getting back into the groove of having to go into an office, interacting with people face to face, and having to wear pants on a daily basis. By the time I get home at the end of the day, I’m so beat that I can barely get off the couch, let alone boot up my laptop and pen a new blog.

I also got my own apartment. I moved in about two months ago but I’m still in the process of getting settled. Yes, it’s bad. My desk is a total mess, and I feel a twinge of disappointment in myself every time I look at it. One day it’ll be clean and organized. One day…

I also published my second book, Return to Storyworld, which is the sequel to Dodger’s Doorway. You can purchase it on Amazon, and I’m slowly working on getting it on digital platforms as well. I’ll admit that I’ve been dragging my feet a bit here. My biggest problem is the fact that I’m so overwhelmed by so many things to do that I’m at a loss as to where to start. I need a day to settle down and get my ducks in a row, but it’s much easier said than done.

I’ve definitely failed on the whole “keeping the blog updated once a week” aspect that I was originally aiming for. As I’ve explained, I’m super busy, but that’s not much of an excuse. At this point, I’m just trying to provide some sort of updates as much as possible. I have an editorial calendar all set up with post ideas – now I just need to execute them. Hopefully things will slow down enough for me that I’ll be able to be more consistent with my posts. In the meantime, here are a few topics that I’ll be discussing in the future:

  • Handling “Haters” – How do to deal with people who mock you or don’t believe in your writing goals
  • Finding inspiration and ideas for your writing
  • How to gain reviews for your newly published book
  • Crafting a powerful author social media presence
  • Reading your own work and why you need a second pair of eyes to do your edits
  • Finding your genre/knowing what you want to write about
  • Networking and working with other writers

I’m also going to be reviewing more books from independent writers. I have a whole shelf full of them, but I’ve barely had time to sit down and read anything due to my busy work life. It’ll happen eventually, I promise!

Besides this blog, I’m also working on multiple writing projects, including the following:

  • The third installment of The Storyworld Saga
  • A horror/thriller story along the lines of Dante’s Inferno
  • A thriller series in the same vein as Hannibal Lector meets Castle
  • An educational series revolving around various historical artifacts – think Legends of the Hidden Temple meets Battle Royale
  • An action/adventure story about various mythological gods duking it out with one another
  • Possibly several movie scripts and a comic idea as well, but those are at the bottom of the stack for now…

Anyway, that’s a basic overview of what’s been going on with me. If you have any topics you’d like for me to discuss, or if you are curious about anything regarding writing, editing, marketing your book, self-publishing, etc., please feel free to reach out to me. I am always willing to help out.

 

It’s Been Done Before: Being Original When Writing

First off: my apologies for taking so long to pen a new blog post. I’m pretty embarrassed about waiting almost four months to write again. To be honest, it’s been a hectic couple of months. I’ve been tied up with the new job, I’ve finally published the sequel to Dodger’s Doorway, Return to Storyworld, and I’m moving into a new apartment tomorrow. It’s a crazy time for me. But that’s not much of an excuse. I set up this blog to help out fellow writers who needed advice, and although only a small handful of people actually read these posts, I still think it’s my duty to maintain a steady stream of blog posts. Now that my life has somewhat calmed down, I’m ready to kick off the New Year with a fresh batch of advice!

This week, we’re discussing a heavy topic that hits close to home for me: originality in writing.

Story time!

When I first started writing Dodger’s Doorway, I was so proud of myself. I thought I had created an incredibly original story the likes of which have never been read before. Admittedly, I was borrowing some elements from books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the video game Kingdom Hearts. But other than that, I thought it was pretty original. Who’s ever read a book about a young man going into a fantasy world and interacting with fairy tale characters? My book would be a real game-changer.

Then I started to get worried.

In 2011, a few months before I published Dodger’s Doorway, I started seeing previews for an upcoming television show called Once Upon a Time. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a fantasy series revolving around various fairy tale/Disney characters who are plucked from their own world and thrown into ours. Snow White, Pinocchio, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin – all of their stories are woven together into quite the epic modern fairy tale. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In the beginning, I thought, “Well, so what if Once Upon a Time is similar to my book? Not a big deal.” Then a “friend” told me that my book was basically a rip-off of a comic series called Fables. I haven’t read it yet (though it is on my to-read list), but from what I gathered, it’s extremely similar to Once Upon a Time, in which fairy tale creatures co-exist in their own private community in our world. Okay, still no big deal. That’s just two other stories that are similar to my book.

Then, over the past few years, I started finding out about more book series with a similar premise. I was surprised at how ubiquitous this concept was in fantasy literature. It seems there’s a whole sub-genre featuring fairy tale and literary characters crossing over with one another. I was getting frustrated. And it didn’t help when I tried promoting my book on social media and someone basically deconstructed the premise and told me that it’s been done countless times before. At one point, I seriously considered just saying, “Screw it. I’m done with this series.”

I don’t think anyone can blame me for being mad. I wasn’t so much upset about people being jerks, but the fact that I had this story I had been working on for years and it turns out that it’s been done already. I was so proud of what I thought was an original concept, and then reality hits me with the cold, hard fact that it’s just another run-of-the-mill crossover story. It sucked at first, but it was one of those necessary reality checks that every writer should go through at some point in their life.

I’m going to be blunt: It’s extremely difficult to come up with a 100% original concept nowadays. You could think up the most outrageously unique idea ever for a story, and chances are, there might be something similar out there already.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for originality. I’m sure you could come up with a unique concept, given enough concentration and brainstorming. But the point I’m trying to make is, you shouldn’t forgo your passion out of fear of people saying it’s not original. Want to write about boy wizards? Go for it. Want to write about elves and dwarves fighting? Do it up. Want to write about vampires and werewolves? Write it! Who cares if the concept has been seen before? Put your own spin on it and make it your own.

Even though my book is similar to Once Upon a Time, I still managed to infuse my own ideas into it so that it distinguished itself. You should do the same with your own writing. If your story is good enough, people will look past the similarities and instead appreciate the originality. Don’t believe me? Consider this: have you ever realized how Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings are all essentially modernized versions of the legend of King Arthur? You think most people realize that off the bat? Nope. They’re too busy appreciating the epic tales that are told. Three of the most recognized and beloved series on the planet aren’t as original as you think – that should mean something.

If you think you’ve struck gold with an original idea, go for it. Even if you find out that it shares some similarities to other stories, stick with it anyway. Complete originality isn’t crucial for a good story, but you must add some form of your own personal touch. That is what will distinguish your tale from the rest.

 

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Contacting Literary Agents: How to Write a Query Letter

I speak a lot about self-publishing because that’s the route I decided to take for my own writing. However, while I found to be self-publishing to be much easier and better suited for my tastes, I don’t think you should count out traditional publishing for your own work. After all, traditional publishing is the big leagues. 99% of the books you find on bookstore shelves are from established publishing houses. Why not take that leap and see if you can make it? Do you think you have what it takes to get published?

But before you can get published, you need to find a literary agent. And how do you go about getting an agent? You need a query letter.

Imagine you’re looking for a job. You have years and years of experience and you just know that you’d be a major asset to a company. But how are recruiters supposed to know you’re out there unless you submit a cover letter and resume? And if you don’t have a great cover letter and resume, you can’t expect them to start knocking down your door to get you to work for them.

Finding a literary agent and publisher is a lot like looking for a job. A query letter is little more than a glorified cover letter. It’s what gets your foot in the door. Without a decent query letter, you’re going to have a hard time getting agents to read your work. It might seem intimidating trying to sell yourself and your book to a complete stranger in just a few words, but it’s necessary if you want to be published. Luckily, writing a convincing query letter isn’t that difficult.

Most literary agents describe what they want in a query letter right on their website. They usually ask for two main details: your writing history and a basic overview of your synopsis. Every agent is different, and you’re bound to encounter the occasional agent who will ask you a curveball. In some instances, I’ve seen agents ask submitters to explain why they think their manuscript would be a good fit for the agent. I even had one agent ask me to list my influences and whose writing I emulated in my manuscript.

No matter what I tell you in the rest of the blog post, you must always consider the agent’s submission rules above all else. There are agents who will immediately trash your manuscript if they see that you didn’t listen to their rules, and they have every right to do so. They read hundreds of letters each day; they don’t have time to waste on people who won’t bother reading their submission requirements. That is why I advise you to ALWAYS adhere the submission guidelines on an agent’s site thoroughly. If you fail to do that, not only do you risk them tossing your manuscript without a second glance, but you might also tarnish your own name with that agent and any of their partners. Don’t create a negative reputation for yourself because you didn’t take a couple minutes to read the rules.

In the case where an agent doesn’t specify what exactly they want in the query letter, there is an easy-to-follow formula to help you along the way.

At the top of the letter, you should list your full name, phone number, email, and address. This is a no-brainer. How do you expect the agent to get in touch with you without any contact information?

Some authors (including myself) have social media profiles based around their writing. Personally, I don’t recommend adding them to your query letter. Your letter needs to stay within one page, and adding small details like social media handles can eat away at your space. Only add social media links if the agent specifically asks for it.

Now onto the actual letter itself. First off, you should thank the agent for taking the time to read your query. Like I mentioned earlier, they can get hundreds of letters a day. They’re taking the time to open your email or letter, so the least you can do is thank them for their time. Those few words can make a world of difference.

In that same first paragraph, let them know that you are asking for their representation for your manuscript. Tell them your title, the genre, and the approximate word count. For example, a good opening line for a query letter would be:

Dear Ms. Jane Doe

Thank you for taking the time to read my submission. I hope you will consider representing my novel, John Smith Goes to Space, a 60,000-word science-fiction novel about a man who travels to space on an epic adventure.

Right away, the agent can get an idea of whether they want to consider the book or not. Is it within their preferred genre? Does the title sound appealing?

After the introduction, you will want to give a basic synopsis of the story. This is where you REALLY have to sell your manuscript. You want the reader to see the synopsis and think, “Wow! I need to know what’s going to happen!” It’s like when you watch a teaser trailer for a movie. After it’s over, do you want to know more? Or did the trailer give away too much? Or even too little?

Here’s an example of giving away too little:

John Smith was the first man to travel to the deepest recesses of space. Little did he know, he wasn’t alone.

Here’s an example of giving too much:

John Smith is a 42-year-old insurance salesman who loved his wife, Margaret, and his two daughters, Lana and Janet. While he was content with his life, he still felt like he needed some excitement to spice things up. How could he get over his mid-life crisis?

One night, two mysterious agents in black suits, Bob and Steve, come to his door and tell him that he’s been “randomly selected”. John has no idea what they mean until they drive him to a top-secret research laboratory in the middle of the desert and tell him that he’s going to be traveling to the furthest ends of space. His mission is to collect data on a species of aliens that have been discovered on a planet similar to Earth.

Weeks later, John is sent off in a prototype rocket with the power to travel hundreds of lightyears in mere hours. He arrives at the planet and makes first contact with the aliens. While they initially seem friendly and accommodating, he soon discovers that they’re actually carnivorous beasts with a taste for humans.

John escapes their clutches, but he’s miles away from his ship. He has to navigate his way through a perilous jungle, across a raging ocean, and over miles of scorching desert, all filled with flora and fauna that shares the aliens’ appetite for human flesh. John Smith may have started out as an Average Joe with an encyclopedic knowledge of every insurance policy known to man, but he eventually becomes a survivalist who will do anything to survive.

Here’s an example of a great summary:

John Smith was your average guy. He worked in an office, he had a wife and kids, and he hated rush hour traffic. He wanted to do something more with his life. Luckily, things were about to change.

One night, two mysterious agents come to John’s door and tell him that he’s been randomly selected for a top-secret mission: a trip to the edge of space.

The next thing he knows, John is being blasted off in a prototype rocket into the deepest parts of the known universe. He soon lands on a strange planet, where he discovers a whole race of an unusual alien species; a species with a taste for human flesh . John forgets his mission objective as he desperately tries to survive in an unknown alien world where literally everything is trying to eat him.

Will John Smith ever make it home?

The first summary is just too short for a query letter. It’s a logline. It’s the type of line you give when you want to pitch your book to a random person you met on an elevator. You might encounter an agent who wants a very, very brief summary of your work, in which case a logline works, but for the most part, a one-sentence summary is not right for a query.

The second summary adds a lot of unnecessary detail. We don’t need to know individual names except for the main protagonist. We don’t need a play-by-play of certain scenes. The second summary definitely lets the reader know what the story will entail, but it’s got a lot of excess fat.

The third summary has it all. You’ve got your protagonist, you’ve got a conflict, and you’ve got a hook. It tells you what you need to know. That’s what agents usually want to see in a query letter. Keep in mind, though, that there will be agents who will ask for a one- to two-page synopsis of your story. At that point, you can go crazy with the summarizing, but know which details deserve to be in your synopsis and which don’t.

Next, you’ll want to add a little author bio. You don’t need to explain every single essay or short story you’ve ever written. You should talk about the writing that has shaped you into the author you are today. When did you start writing? Where did this interest come from? What made you want to write this particular manuscript? Who are your favorite authors, and who have you tried to emulate? You were selling your story in the previous paragraphs; now it’s time to sell yourself.

In the next paragraph, you can brag a little. Talk about any awards or accommodations you’ve won. This is also the place where you should talk about whether you’ve been published before.

When I submitted Dodger’s Doorway to several agents, I made sure to notify them that I previously self-published. This is a very important detail since many agents do not accept previously published (self and traditional) work. DO NOT LIE about whether you’ve been previously published! The agent will find out, and you do not want to get yourself into that situation.

The closing paragraph of the query letter is the easiest. Thank the agent once again for taking the time to read your letter, and let them know that they can contact you if any additional information is needed.

Before you go and hit that submit button, you must proofread, proofread, proofread! Do not let one spelling or grammar mistake slip through the cracks. Do you think an agent will want to read your manuscript if you don’t even bother editing your own query letter? It takes an extra minute or two to proofread; don’t be lazy.

Once you submit the query letter, it’s a waiting game. You’ll get the agents who respond months later, and then you’ll get the ones who don’t respond at all. Don’t take it personally. You’re just one of thousands of applicants. That may seem daunting, but you have nothing to lose by submitting your manuscript. For all you know, you might get lucky and actually impress an agent enough to spark some interest. Once you get that foot in the door, the real work begins!

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Finding the Motivation to Write

Remember in high school when you found it so hard to start that long essay, so you kept on procrastinating? Then, once you actually started writing, it became much easier? Guess what? That feeling doesn’t end with high school.

Lack of motivation is the ugly cousin of writer’s block. With writer’s block, you feel like you could sit down and write for hours on end, but you’re stumped as to what to write about. On the other hand, lack of motivation is when you have a ton of ideas bouncing around in your mind, but you just can’t find yourself sitting down and putting them to paper. Like many other writers before me, I’ve suffered through both of these plagues, and if you’re serious about writing, you’re bound to face the same obstacles.

It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? If you’re a writer, you’re obviously very passionate about bringing your ideas to life. But if that’s the case, why is it often so hard to crack open the laptop and begin writing out of the blue? Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your passion. It’s still there. You’re just experiencing a terrible yet common illness: being human.

No matter how much you enjoy a hobby, there may come a time when you struggle to find motivation. It can happen for a variety of reasons: stress, boredom, lack of support, lack of ideas, etc. We’re not machines; we can’t work non-stop. We need motivation in our lives to keep us going. Eventually, you might start to lose that motivation, but if you’re lucky, it will only be temporary. You just need to know the right tricks to get you back on track.

This may seem like the most obvious solution, but one of the best ways to get motivated is to completely distance from all distractions. We live in an age of Netflix, smartphones, social media, and countless other forms of distraction, so it’s understandable that your mind wanders when you’re supposed to be writing. I remember once trying to write an article at my old job but I couldn’t get those first couple of words out because I had The Office playing on my TV, my iTunes playlist going at full volume, and my phone constantly buzzing with texts from friends trying to plan a bar trip for that night. My mind was in multiple places at once, but it wasn’t where it needed to be: on the writing itself.

If you’re like me and you have a compulsory need to keep the TV on at all times, then your best bet is to change your location. I found that I was able to focus on my writing when I distanced myself from all the tech in my room. Nowadays, I spend most of my time writing at the coffee shop, the library, or even outside on the porch. I also turn off my phone, plug my headphones into my laptop, throw on some soothing instrumental music, and begin typing away. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make for your motivation when you get up and move somewhere with less distractions.

Another distraction for me is the Internet itself. I don’t need to tell you how easy it is to get lost in the depths of the Web, especially when trying to finish an essay or article. The worst is when I have to look up information about something pertaining to my writing, and the next thing I know, I’m on the Wikipedia page for the second season of Lost or I’m watching a funny animal fail videos on YouTube. It’s even worse when I get sucked into the voids of social media and news stories. Why does it seem like all the interesting stuff happens when I’m busy?

Anyway, it’s easy to get distracted by the Internet, and what’s worse is that you can’t exactly get away from it because you might need it for writing research. That’s why I recommend a temporary site blocker, such as StayFocusd or SelfControl. With these apps, you can create and customize a special blacklist of sites, and then you can block those sites for a set length of time. My blacklist includes all the time-wasters like social media, gaming sites, and comic forums, and it’s done wonders for my productivity and motivation so far. It may take time getting used to the blocking, but once you condition yourself not to check these sites every five minutes, you should notice an increase in your focus.

So we’ve covered the obvious causes for lack of motivation. Let’s look at the deeper factors for this phenomenon. After all, it’s not just about distractions; it’s also about your attitude and your overall outlook.

When you’re passionate about your work, it’s easy to dive into a new project. You tell me to write a five-hundred-word essay on hedge funds, and I’ll be dragging my feet the entire time. If you tell me to write a thousand-word analysis of Fight Club, I’ll churn it out in a half-hour with double the word count.

You should never force yourself to write about something you don’t find interesting. Do you think all those successful authors out there are writing about things that aren’t appealing to them? No. They’re writing about what they find intriguing, and because of that, they’re motivated to create pieces that are insightful, entertaining, and successful with the public.

You don’t have to force yourself down a narrow route and write stories based solely on what’s popular or what will sell. If it’s not your taste, don’t write it. You’re tired of all these dystopian teen novels like Hunger Games and Divergent? Write a spy thriller action story. Hate A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings? Write a romantic comedy. Do what you want to do. Don’t try to force yourself to write something out of your zone. Not only will it be extremely difficult to stay motivated, but the lack of interest will also show in the writing itself.

There may come a time when you hit a slump in your writing and start to lose motivation. Don’t assume that this means you’ve lost your passion. Instead, take a break to clear your head. Go for a run. Watch a movie. Read a book. Hang out with friends. Do something to jumpstart your motivation. In due time, you’ll find yourself ready to write once again

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Marketing & Selling Your Book 101

I’m going to be honest with you: no matter how great your book is, it won’t mean jack if you don’t know how to market it. You could literally write the next Great American Novel on par with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Catcher in the Rye, and it could end up gathering dust on the library shelves for years to come. In the world of authorship, writing is only half the battle. The real work is getting your book into the hands of readers. But how do you do that?

Marketing in this day and age is infinitely easier than it was even ten years ago thanks to the Internet. It’s 2016 – the age of information, where we’re able to share data across the planet in an instant. That means that there are numerous ways to market your book to a worldwide audience. However, that doesn’t mean that your book is going to be flying off the shelves right from the get-go. You need to know the what, where, when, and hows of marketing if you want to succeed.

First, we’ll go with the basics. You know the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? As great as it sounds, it’s not like everyone follows this message (at least, in a literal sense). While browsing through the bookstore shelves, it’s very unlikely that someone will  be interested in a book with a Plain Jane cover that simply states the book title and the author. You need a vibrant and entrancing cover that will catch people’s eyes and make them go, “Whoa, what’s this about?!” Choose a cover that really POPS from the bookshelves and that will make people do a double-take when they pass by. Your cover is the bait on the end of a long fishing line. But you won’t catch any fish if you don’t have a strong hook.

You have two ways to hook readers. First, you can include a brief blurb on the back cover or inside flap that briefly summarizes the synopsis. Don’t reveal too much of the story. Write a basic overview that will give people a good idea of what kind of book it is, and then leave them craving for more. For example:

John Smith enjoys the finer things in life. He likes to ride his bike, play catch with his friends, and watch TV. One day, a mysterious object falls from the sky and lands in his backyard. What he finds inside is going to change his life forever…

Granted, that’s a very hastily put-together statement that I just whipped up in five minutes, but you will notice how it has the elements of a proper book blurb. It draws you in and makes you wonder. What is the object? What did John find inside? How will it change his life? You want people to ask questions that can only be answered by reading the book.

The other way to truly hook a reader is to have a solid opening page. I remember my old creative writing teacher telling me how, when she goes book shopping, she’ll read the first page of a book to see if it piques her interest. No enticing first page, no sale. Onto the next book!

All these points I’ve stated so far are ways to market your book while you’re still writing and publishing it. What about after you’ve completed the publishing process? How do you market your book then? What’s the next step?

Two words: social media.

Social media has become one of the best marketing tools of the past couple of years. Virtually everyone is on some form of social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or more. These sites are all about being social (duh!). Instead of using your social media to post selfies from Bermuda or to share the latest article about Donald Trump, why not take advantage of it for promoting your writing?

Make a dedicated authorship page for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, and even Pinterest and YouTube. There are countless ways to leverage each of these sites to promote your writing. Make sure you add a link to these pages in your email signature, and don’t forget to include the URLs on your business cards!

But a word of advice: don’t make these pages solely to promote your book. If all you’re doing on your author social media pages is telling people to buy your book, you’re not going to build a solid following. You should vary your posts. Talk about the writing process, discuss big topics in the writing world, share your thoughts about your favorite genres, post funny memes – have fun with it! Give people a reason to follow you, and make sure you’re not ONLY selling your book.

Let’s step away from the digital realm for now. How else can you get your book out there? Well, the good ol’ fashioned way is to get in touch with local small businesses and ask if they’d be willing to stock your title. Most big chains such as Barnes & Noble have strict guidelines with stocking self-published works, so it’s best to try the smaller, indie locations such as cafes and bookstores.

Recently, I started placing copies of my book in Little Free Library booths around the area. These tiny kiosks are all over my neighborhood, and if you check out their official site, you’re bound to find some in your own town. Drop off a copy every month or two. You’d be surprised at how quickly they’ll fly off the shelf. Don’t forget to add a business card along with the book so that people will know to follow you!

Also, ask your readers to leave a review online, whether it’s on your Facebook page, the book’s Amazon page, or Goodreads. Before buying a book, many readers will check out the online reviews to see if it’s up their alley. Therefore, the more reviews under your title, the better!

It takes about a minute to leave feedback on Amazon or Goodreads, and it can do wonders for increasing your book’s credibility. What’s there to lose? Just tell people, “Hey, once you’re done reading, do you mind leaving a little feedback on one of these sites?” The worst that can happen is if they say, “No”.

Finally, a great way to market and sell your book is to attend major events. Book-signings, conventions, book fairs, etc. – these are all fantastic ways to reach a wider audience. With a little bit of Googling, you’re bound to find several local events where you can pitch your book to new readers and interact with other indie authors. These events are fun ways to break into the world of authorship, and it’s always fun to meet people in a similar position as you. The last event I attended was a comic convention in Philadelphia, and although I didn’t make a huge amount of sales, I did get to talk to other amazing authors who shared their own insight on the writing and publishing process.

There is no golden ticket to selling your work. You can’t just write a book and expect it to start selling on its own. As with any business venture, it takes a little bit of luck, and A LOT of effort before you reach success.

Also, while none of these tips are guaranteed to instantly turn you into a best-selling author, they WILL show you how to network with people and build up a fan-base. If you find out that one idea doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged. No author ever became an overnight success. They all just kept pushing and pushing until they eventually struck the sweet spot.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

The Importance of Editing

If there’s one piece of advice that I will always pass on to writers, it’s this:

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

Did you read that correctly? Here it is again…

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

That should get my point across, right? If not, I advise you to print those words out and keep them close to your writing station… just like I do. It may sound redundant that I’m hollering about editing your writing when it seems like common sense, but you don’t understand how many writers (including myself) tend to neglect this simple task. In my opinion, editing is almost as important as actually creating a story, and if you refuse to properly edit your manuscript, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I’ve always been pretty shoddy when it comes to editing and proofreading my work. I remember one particular instance back in college where I wrote an entire 10-page paper about Edgar Allan Poe and didn’t even proofread it.

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I’ll never forget my professor’s response when I went to get my grade. His exact response, “Man, you need to proofread your work! Holy God!” Thankfully, I still got a B + on the paper, but that look of exasperation on my professor’s face will forever haunt me.

Later on in life, when I landed my first full-time writing job, I had a nasty tendency to hastily skim my work before submitting it. Needless to say, I had a few conversations with my managers and editors who told me that my writing was pretty sloppy. Afterwards, I made it a habit to at least double-check all of my articles before submitting them. Basically, my rule was that if I could read the article without having to make a correction, then I could submit it. If I saw even one misspelled word, I’d do a full edit of the entire article. It was tedious at times, but let me tell you, it was so worth it. It was the life lesson that I needed.

In my last blog post, I talked about releasing a second edition of my book. The main reason for the re-release was because I was fairly careless with editing the first edition. I was so excited to get my book out there that I didn’t give it the proper attention it deserved before officially releasing it. I probably skimmed it once or twice before officially putting it on the market. To this day, I still regret jumping the gun and shoving out “Dodger’s Doorway” when it clearly wasn’t ready. At least the second edition rectified most of the mistakes.

The point I’m trying to make is, even if you find editing to be the most boring, tedious task on the planet, you still have to do it. For a lot of people, it’s a chore – an important but annoying task that you wish could just be done at the flick of the wand. Trust me – you’re not alone in this sense. I’d rather scrub down my entire bathroom than have to re-read “Dodger’s Doorway” for the 1000th time in an attempt to find any spelling or grammar errors. Unfortunately, it HAS to be done. You can’t skimp on the editing, especially if you ever hope to become a successful writer one day. Not editing your book can cost you in several ways.

First, your readers won’t be happy. I personally get frustrated if I come across a sentence or paragraph that doesn’t make sense because of the way it’s written. I think to myself, “Wow, this could’ve been easily avoided if someone edited it!” Now imagine encountering this situation page after page. It looks sloppy, careless, and unprofessional, and readers will start to think, “Does this writer even care?” If the writer doesn’t seem to care about their work, why should the readers? If they’re willing to support you, the least you can do is edit your work so it’s not riddled with errors.

You might start to think, “Well, who cares what readers think?!” Uh, you should. Granted, you can’t make everyone happy, but that doesn’t mean you should make everyone UNHAPPY. It’s disrespectful to the people who bought your book and expected a coherent, well-written story, and instead received a hastily-written, poorly formatted story that looked like it was written by a first-grader.

In addition to this, those readers can have major control of your writing reputation. Do you think a poorly written/edited book will get stellar reviews on Amazon or Goodreads? Highly doubtful. Negative reviews are a nuisance, but they can have a huge impact on your reputation as an author. A lot of people look past the negative feedback because they understand that everyone has different tastes. What one person calls terrible, another will find stellar, and vice versa. But if there is a negative review because of all the misspelled words and poorly structured sentences, then you have a problem. That’s not a matter of opinion at that point; it’s a fact. It’s not like you’ll have someone say, “Oh, I actually prefer my books to be badly written and edited.” If you know anyone like that, please give them my information. I’m sure they’d love a first edition of “Dodger’s Doorway”.

One more thing: don’t just edit your manuscript by yourself. Ask a close friend to look it over. Also, don’t be afraid to dish out a little extra money for a professional editor (professional editors can be costly, but in my opinion, they’re totally worth it).

Before I submitted the second edition of my book, I sent the manuscript to an editor to review it from cover to cover. Then, I had my friend look over it. Sometimes, another pair of eyes can pick up things that you’ve missed. It happens all the time. You’d be surprised at how the most glaring mistakes can slip past you, only to be picked up by another editor.

The professional editor caught stuff I never even thought about, such as my tendency to over-explain certain scenes or actions, or an instance where I essentially repeated the same character action twice. My friend caught a pretty glaring plot hole where a character was supposedly in two different places at once. This is the kind of stuff that can sneak past you, and you’ll be thankful for hiring an editor!

I want to clarify something: it’s very difficult to edit something to perfection. You can re-read your manuscript over and over and over until your eyes bleed, and when you finally publish it, you still may find an error here or there. The truth of the matter is that we are not perfect. Small mistakes slip through the cracks. I’ve found errors in prominent series like “A Song of Ice and Fire”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “Harry Potter”. These are all from major authors who actually worked with professional editors to perfect their manuscripts, but there were still minor issues that snuck past them. Some mistakes are unavoidable. If you manage to create a perfect story with literally no errors or mistakes at all, congratulations. If not, don’t beat yourself up too much. I highly doubt misspelling “going” as “gonig” is going to ruin the overall quality of your work.

With all that being said, I’ll leave you with these wise words:

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Releasing a Second Edition of Your Book

As per usual, I’m going to start off this blog post by drawing from personal experience and recounting a short anecdote about my writing adventures.

I wrote and self-published my book in 2011, but after a few years on the market, I decided to take it out of circulation. Why? Frankly, it was a poorly written mess. It wasn’t the book I wanted to be known for. The writing, the structure, the overall execution – just bad. My readers deserved much better. Therefore, I went back and re-wrote it, then re-wrote it again, and then one more time. Then I personally edited it twice, sent it to a professional editor, and had a close friend edit it as well. I ended up re-publishing the story as a second edition a few months ago. Now, if you were to purchase a copy of “Dodger’s Doorway“, you’d be grabbing that second, more “complete” edition, instead of that mess of a first edition. You want a first edition anyway? Sorry, Charlie – you’re out of luck.

When I talk about book editions, I guess I should be more specific. Remember in school when your textbooks would constantly have to be revised year after year to include corrections and updates? In college, I remember taking a psychology course that required the 10th edition of a specific textbook. My friend was going to let me borrow his, but apparently it was only the 9th edition. According to the class syllabus, mine HAD to be 10th edition since the page numbers and chapter orders were changed around or something. Needless to say, it was frustrating. But I digress…

With novels and such, the editions scenario work on a similar principal. To my knowledge, if you’re going to make a significant change to your book, you will need to re-release it as a whole new edition with a new ISBN. Of course, this may entirely depend on the publisher. With Createspace’s self-publishing platform, if you change the title or author name on a book, or if you change the page count or trim size by more than 10%, you’re going to have to get a new ISBN, and thus release a new edition.

So if you’re going back and fixing a typo or two in your manuscript, you most likely don’t have to worry about the new edition. But if you decide to completely overhaul the manuscript and lengthen or shorten the page count by a significant margin, then you’re in for a ride.

In my case, I knew I was going to be needing a new edition. The original copy of my book was about 200-odd pages. The second edition is 280 pages. There is definitely a major difference between the two editions, not only in size, but in writing quality and storytelling. For me, the second edition was worth it. The question is: is it right for you?

First, you’ll want to look back at your work and decide if you’re happy with it. Is it really the best it can be? Do you think you’ve become a better writer since the time it was published? In the several years between my two editions being published, I noticed that I had become a much better writer, so I knew that my book could be better. Remember, your writing talents are like a muscle – the more you work out, the stronger you become. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you notice a major change in your writing abilities over the course of a few years if you’re writing frequently. In this case, you may want to go back and consider doing a second edition for your previous work.

It may not even be an issue of writing quality when you decide to make a new edition. Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien made major revisions to “The Hobbit” after he had written “The Lord of the Rings”? It’s true. He had to essentially re-write some dialogue and re-characterize Gollum to better fit with the overall lore of the rest of the saga. I won’t lie – I did the same thing with my book. I had to revisit (and fix) certain elements because of how they impacted the overall story as well as the future tales. It’s okay to make these kinds of changes if you think it has an overall benefit on how the story is told, but I’d be very wary about making HUGE changes to the entire plot. You have to be considerate of the people who already own the first edition.

Let’s put it this way: let’s say you own an original copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone”, but then J.K. Rowling comes out and announces she’s releasing an entirely new canon edition of the book that completely eliminates a key character, like Hagrid or Professor Quirrell. At that point, it almost becomes a whole new story because the plot changes to accommodate these characters’ absences. You want to avoid pulling such a stunt with your own book if you’ve sold a lot of copies. It can be frustrating for the readers who bought that old edition and then have no idea what’s the canon story anymore. I mean, you’re absolutely allowed to do whatever you want since it’s your book, but you might want to be considerate of your initial readers and how they might handle the situation.

If you’re lucky, you may not have sold a lot of copies of your first edition (ironic, isn’t it?), because this means that you can pretty much change whatever you want and not have to worry about confusing a bunch of your readers. If you’ve sold a few copies here and there to family and friends, then go nuts with the changes. Tell them that this is the updated copy with better writing or new plot points. They can either toss the first edition away, return it back to you, or keep it as memorabilia. For all you know, if you become famous down the road, that first edition copy could end up being worth a lot of money!

On the other hand, if you’ve sold hundreds of copies around the world, you’re going to have some issues with ensuring that everyone gets a second edition.

I lost track of how many copies I sold of my first edition, but I know that a majority went to family and friends. You know what I did when I re-published it? I literally contacted every single person to let them know of the update. I promised everyone a free copy of that second edition. It took a huge chunk of money out of my own pocket, but it was so worth it to ensure that everyone got the book that they deserved. My only regret is that there are some copies of the first edition out there and those readers aren’t aware of the second’s existence. I know one belongs to a former friend of mine who disappeared off the face of the Earth when she moved to Australia. Another copy belongs to an ex-girlfriend… you can guess where this is going. All I can hope is that one day they manage to get their hands on the second edition.

A good idea to spread the word about your new edition is to use the power of social media. Post to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, even YouTube. Tell people what the deal is and how they can get their hands on a copy.

I cannot stress this enough: let them know the difference between a second edition and a sequel. You’re bound to have people asking “So, is this a sequel?”, and you’ll have to break the news and tell them that it is merely just a refined edition of the first book. Same story, different execution. In this case, they might not even care about getting a new copy. Or they might be enthusiastic and proudly ask for a refined edition to add to their collection. Honestly, the worst that can happen is they say “No thanks” to the new edition.

As you can see, it can get very complicated dealing with the second edition of your book. If you are willing to put the time and effort into re-writing and re-distributing it, then go for it. My advice is to avoid this entire scenario by editing, editing, and EDITING your work before even thinking of publishing the first time. However, if you find yourself pin-holed into absolutely having to release the second edition, make sure you cover all your bases.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!