Archive | August, 2010

Self-publisher, anyone?

25 Aug


Managing Editor

Acquiring Editor

Copy Editor




Cover Artist

Blurb Writer


I’m probably not far wrong if I say these are the most important categories of people who work for a publisher. Of course there are others: accountant, sales, and probably others, too, but this is most likely the major list.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, should you decide to self-publish, chances are excellent that you’ll get to be all or most of them! What fun. Sort of.

Actually, you’ll probably not be the publisher, but you can and probably should be the others on the list, including accountant and sales. Lots of sales work, believe me.

Some of these positions may be unfamiliar to you. If you’d had your eye on being an author, you might know a few of them. So, just in case, here’s a short primer.

Managing Editor: An author will almost never meet this person, except perhaps at a conference, when there is a special publisher/author get-together. This editor supervises all the other editors and components of bringing the manuscript to book form and thus, to market.

Acquiring editor: This is the editor with whom an author usually has the most contact.  ‘My editor’ in other words. They actively seek out new authors and/or new manuscripts for their particular line, although they may also work across several lines or genres. Authors frequently stay with their original editor through changes within the company, and sometimes even if the editor changes houses. An acquiring editor may actually be any of the other editors, but not all of the other editors willl necessarily be of the acquiring kind. This is an important distinction!

Copy editor: This editor needs to be almost a walking encyclopedia, or at least a walking style book. There are certainly more than one per house that has more than a handful of authors. They have the final say (over line editors and authors) as to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. All the myriad pains-taking details, in fact, which can make or break your book.

Proof-reader: Almost a dying art, but not quite, thank goodness! Time was when a single miniscule typo could prompt a re-print! Sadly, this is no longer the case, but a lot of readers become very irritated by the presence of such boo-boos! One goof is, I think, acceptable although regrettable. More than that is not a good thing.

Designer: Oh, wow! Look at a book – any book. The way the words are on the page, including chapter designations, headers, footers, page numbers, where on the page the chapter starts, or if there’s a blank page in between chapters – the font used for everything other than the actual words in the book – all this is the work of the Designer. It can be a lot of fun, but it is exceedingly pains-taking work! The prettiest book I’ve seen (style-wise) in recent years is Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive from Harper. It’s also a crackling good mystery, and this author has quickly jumped to my favorite author list. But, while reading it, I kept drooling over the physical beauty of the book itself. A lot of care and attention went into the design and layout, and I highly commend the designer involved.

Typesetter: We’ve come a long way, baby, since the days of actual type-setting, which is probably almost never done any more. Computers are doing everything, and  it’s much easier and faster these days, but far be it from me to say it’s better. The best part of those older typesetting machines was the lack of a ‘delete’ key, which allows you to accidentally trash days or even months of work in the blink of an eye!

Cover Artist:  Oh, boy! Is this a hot topic or what? Actually, the poor artist usually catches all the flak, when it’s the marketing gurus who decide what will catch the reader’s eye and what won’t. The Author generally has very little, if anything, to say about what ends up on the cover – even though they are encouraged to fill out a form with their desired cover content, including descriptions of the characters and what clothes they are (or aren’t) wearing, plus background scenery – the whole thing. That’s also why you used to see a lot of readers with books wrapped in plain brown paper! Now that romance as a genre has become (mostly) respectable, covers just ‘hang out’ these days.

Blurb Writer: Believe it or not, this is not an easy thing to manage. Try describing your book in 50-75 SENSIBLE yet catchy words. There’s a definite trick to it – one most authors do not have.

So, what if you want to self-publish, but don’t think you can handle all these tasks? There are a vast number of folks out there in the world who’ll be only too happy to help you with any of these aspects. For pay, of course! (As I noted early on in this blog, I am one of them.) Select carefully, ask for samples or references before committing to anyone. It’s possible to do it all on-line these days, but if you’re fortunate enough to find someone locally with whom you can occasionally meet – so much the better! This should not be a painful process, although it will most definitely be aggravating on more than one occasion. Just hang in there and eventually you’ll have a book!

Once it’s out there, no one can ever take that accomplishment away from you.  Be proud of yourself and your accomplishment – you will have done what most people only dream of doing! Good luck and — Happy Writing!

As always, if you have questions about any of this or any other aspect of writing, please write to me –   Also, please do feel free to pass this along to anyone you know who might be intersted. The more the merrier, I always say!

P. S.  My baby (he’s now 6’7″) turns 48 today, August 25. My dear friend Ty is a bit older, if I recall, but he also has one tomorrow. And my cousin in Germany celebrates a wedding anniversary! Happy, happy, happy to all of you!

Why do you want to write a book, anyway?

18 Aug

We’re all friends here, right? So, then, may I ask an impertinent question?

Why do you want to write a book, anyway?

What do you hope to accomplish by writing this (or any) book?

These are tricky questions, to be sure. But truly, if you answer honestly, the answers might surprise even you.  There are probably as many reasons for this particular project as there are people. But you might find it helpful to know exactly what it is you wish to accomplish. Let’s examine a few reasons.

1.  It’s the sense of accomplishment!

2.  I think I have something to say.

3.  Doesn’t everyone want to write a book about something?

4.  I’d like to tell my family’s history for my grandchildren – before I forget everything and there won’t be anyone else who’ll remember, either.

5.  People tell me I’m a born story-teller, so why shouldn’t I?

6.  I have all these ideas tumbling around in my head, so I think I need to put some of them on paper.

7.  I’ve had a fabulous life – did all kinds of things people said I couldn’t do, but I did them anyway, and I’d like to use my life story to encourage other people to do their thing.

Okay. You get the idea. You’ll notice that nowhere here is listed – to make money. Forget that idea right now. You might make a few dollars,  but it’s really, really hard to make that happen. You really cannot do anything else much in your life except write, write, write – and hope that enough other people like what you do to want to gather all your books to their collective bosoms and make you a millionaire.

Oh! I forgot one!

8.  To have my book be one of Oprah’s Book Club. (You have to write gloomy to qualify, but maybe you can do that!)

A good friend of many years ago (a fabulous editor and proof-reader she was, too) told me once upon a time—rather casually—that  she had written several books.  I was astonished by this news, as she’d never previously even hinted at such a thing.

“Have they been published?” I asked.

“No,” she said, rather sadly, with a shake of her silver curls. “They’re here, in the drawer.”  “Did you submit them to any publishers?” I asked.


“But whyever not?” I asked again. “You’re such a good editor, I’m sure you’re a good writer.”

“Oh, I am,” she stated matter-of-factly. “But I couldn’t let anyone change anything, and editors always want to change something.”

Well, that’s true. To a point. They do. That’s what editors do, and if you luck into a good editor, he or she will make your writing better and stronger: more cohesive and coherent in the process. I should clarify that and say, ‘that’s what editors used to do.’ Some of them still do. A good editor will never try to re-write your book. That’s what’s called ‘editorial intrusion’ and you don’t need to allow it. Of course, you may end up not being published, in that instance, but it’s your choice whether to allow such interference. Generally, you may appeal to a higher authority within the publishing firm, or you can ask for your contract to be cancelled.

Another friend, who is multi-published, once told me that sending your manuscript off to the publisher (even if it isn’t your first time) is very akin to parading around Public Square (in downtown Cleveland) during lunch hour. Naked.  I laughed when he told me that, but it’s fabulous description of exactly how you feel when you do drop that envelope in the mailbox. It’s a bit like sending your kid off to school for the first time. And guess what? It NEVER gets any easier!

No matter how long the relationship has been in existence, or how much your editor adores your style, or how much you’ve discussed this project during it’s gestation, it’s still a traumatic thing to actually put it out there.

But truly, not every book that’s written needs to be published for a mass-audience.  Families are so spread out these days, stories and family history can all too easily get lost or forgotten. It’s really important for someone to be the family scribe, and in that case, a spiral-bound photocopied book might end up being a family’s greatest treasure.

Whatever your reason for writing, just keep on doing it! Don’t worry about the reasons why,  just write! Figuring out what to do with it once it’s done can happen at a later date. But nothing will ever happen unless you write something first. No matter what it is, it has to be written down before anyone can ever read it. And let’s face it, typed words are infinitely easier to read than hand-written ones. With one exception – love notes. They’re treasured forever,  just as they are!

So, here’s the commercial. You knew there would be one sooner or later, didn’t you?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been struggling with trying to get my first published book re-issued in a POD version – regular and large print, plus Kindle. One of these weeks, I’ll tell you all the lessons I learned while doing this. But finally, tonight, I’m pleased to advise you that the regular print version of Secret Shores is now available here: I hope you like it!  It will soon be available at all the sites (internationally, as well as domestic) along with the Kindle version, and, a week or so after that, the large-print version!

So — don’t just sit there, write something!  Someday, you may send folks to the web to find your book!

There oughta be a Friend’s Day!

10 Aug

Really. There should be one special day, when we say ‘hello, my friend—who is so special to me’ to those in our lives who make everything more meaningful than most we encounter while traveling along life’s byways. Friends are the folks who stay constant, and whose voice on the phone after an absence of ten or so years will be greeted with a smile and an impromptu conversation lasting hours. Do we treasure these folks enough? I’m not sure.

What is a friend?

To be sure, your definition will most likely differ from mine, from someone in the next apartment, or even the next state. Some friends are always there, even when not seen or talked to very often. Sometimes a friend becomes a lover, and that works fine, for a while, but it hardly ever works the other way. Some friends are closer than family. Some friends become your family, especially if you don’t have much family to begin with.

A friend believes in you even though your disbelief in yourself also makes you disbelieve the friend. And when you discover that the friend really did know what he or she was talking about, you start to believe, too. The best part is that your friend never, ever, says “I told you so.”

A friend takes you to the hospital when you can’t take yourself, and waits with you while the doctors figure out what must be done. That true friend then calls what family you have to say where you are, and why.

A friend is a person who, wearing an enigmatic smile, hands you an envelope containing a check for $100, just when you needed that exact amount for the rent.

A friend shares many things with you: books, records, videos, recipes. A friend once suggested I try a salad from a fast-food chain. I did, and haven’t looked back! My eating habits have changed and my health improved. I’ve lost weight (requiring a whole new wardrobe!) and created a bunch of new ‘theme’ salads, all because of that one recommendation!

A friend who replaced his older car with a newer model said, “I want to donate my old car to a charity. Which one do you recommend?” And then, he gave it to me, outright! Just when my own, really ancient, car finally gave up.

A true friend will scold you when you most need it, even if you don’t agree. But if you listen, you’ll know they’re right.

A friend may hold entirely different views from you, about almost everything you hold dear, but you can still be friends. You can bicker without damaging the friendship.

A friend can be any age, color, gender, religion or political persuasion. A friend can be your exact opposite, and still be your friend. You can have just one, or even ten.

So—why don’t we have a “Friend’s Day?” There’s at least one day a year for everything else under the sun, but no one special day to tell that special person how totally you value them and the relationship you share. I’ve looked and looked, but no luck. The ‘Bible’ of days—Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events—doesn’t list such a thing. It just doesn’t exist, which is utterly deplorable.

I cogitated on how to choose that special day/date, and finally put the birthdates of my closest friends in a basket on slips of paper. I drew one. August 10. That’s the date of my long-distance friend in England, with whom I share a raucous, outrageous, totally endearing e-mail (and occasional phone) friendship. Actually, that’s pretty much a good definition of what “Friend’s Day” should celebrate. We’ve only met twice, but we laugh and cry together, commiserate over our respective daughters, cuss our computers, share jokes and confide things we wouldn’t with any other person. What more could one want in a friend?

There. That’s it. I nominate every August 10 as “Friend’s Day”, when you can tell your friend(s) just how much they mean to you, and why you’re so pleased to have them in your life.

I’m going to do it. All in favor, say ‘aye’.

And – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SANDRA!!! You light up my life. Truly, you do!

Pass it on, eh? Thanks! And, as always, if you have questions or comments, please write to me at

Okay. I’m a day early and way off topic today, but there’s a reason for it. As you read on, you’ll understand it. Okay?

Self-publishing 101 – part 2

4 Aug

Well. I promised a look at literary agents this week, and I’ll deliver, but briefly. There is a reason why they would be mentioned at all in an article dealing primarily with self-publishing, and we’ll get to that in a minute or so, as well.

As mentioned last week, agents aren’t new. The first known literary agents appeared in Great Britain in 1875, and have flourished since, wherever the publishing trade exists. Generally speaking, the agent serves as middle-man or buffer between author and publisher. As an author, it’s pretty difficult to tell the publisher ‘I’m a fabulous author, and you really need to publish my book!’ Guess what? That’s exactly why agents were born. Entirely too many new authors did then (and still do!) bombard publishers and editors with exactly those words! Sometimes the letters even threaten – ‘You’ll be really sorry if you don’t publish my book. You’ll lose millions if you pass up this terrific opportunity!’ (I do know this for a fact. During my short stint as publisher, I received this sort of letter almost every day. Usually for some story so far afield from those I published as to be beyond laughable!)

As more and more of these improper (and frequently illiterate) submissions flooded publisher’s offices, the quick and easy solution was this edict: ‘agented submissions only.’ So, publishers just dumped the problem into the agent’s laps! I think they figured that if an agent read it and liked it, there was at least a minimal chance they might like it, too! Plus, that would allow them to get rid of another layer of employee!

Also, it is to be presumed that an agent will be careful to send out submissions to the appropriate editors. An agent can brag about you and/or your book, and it seems reasonable and even believable. If the editor is sincerely interested, the agent will do his or her best to get the very best ‘deal’ possible. Frequently, agents can get more money up front, or a higher percentage of royalties than can the author acting as his or her own agent.

Some agents will suggest corrections to your manuscript. It’s up to you to decide if you want to follow this advice, but generally, the agent is better informed and is sincere in wanting to get you into print. The agent is not usually paid anything until a sale is made, and an advance check issued. An agent who is a member of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives) will not charge you a reading fee or any upfront expenses, but will only be paid on a commission basis. Obviously, no sale equals no commission for anyone, especially the agent.

Many agents specialize – they handle only certain types of books. Perhaps the specialty is non-fiction. Or maybe only mystery or thriller type novels. It is as important for you to find the right agent as it is for the agent to submit your work to the right publisher.

Most important of all, though is for the agent to LOVE your work! If the agent has any wishy-washy feelings about your work, success will be even more elusive for both of you. Conversely, an agent who does truly love your writing and story-telling ability cannot guarantee success. My agent professed to love what I did, although recognizing that what I wrote did not always fit any certain slot very well. Sure enough, she never did sell anything for me, but not for lack of trying! She religiously sent me the rejection letters she received on my behalf: almost always they parrotted each other. “I love the writing style, but the story just doesn’t fit our requirements.” This was clearly my fault, no one else’s. So, I turned to doing something else—for a while.

The notion of POD (Print on Demand) developed around the turn of the century – 2000 or so. There were a very few such publishers before then, but the quality was just not there. It takes time to get the bugs out of any new technology, and now, ten years later, I believe it to be a very viable technology. And not just to save the millions of trees who labor to see their by-products filling up landfills!

(I promise not to get started on the old self-publishing concept of having a garage full of boxes of books – and not knowing where or how to start getting them into the hands of booksellers and/or librarians.) Distribution has become the 9000-pound gorilla in the room. And that’s also a topic for another time.

To be very honest, not every book published needs to be on the Best Seller List. Heresy, I know, but it’s true. If we all liked exactly the same things, what a boring world we’d inhabit! It truly is variety that makes the world go around. I’d never read a word if the only books available were horror or vampires or werewolves and such. But that’s just me! I just don’t get them. Nowhow. Obviously, I’m greatly outnumbered here, and that’s fine. My personal preference is for the comedy-of-manners type of Regency novel. And cozy mysteries. I’m just simply a wimp when it comes to reading (and movies, for that matter.)

But far be it from me to tell you (or anyone else) what to read. (or see.) So my books don’t appeal to the masses. That’s okay with me. I happen to think that a ‘historical romance’ is fine with having more history than romance, but I know that’s not the standard of the industry. I know there is a nearly insatiable demand for erotica and/or erotic romance. (pun intended.) But I don’t really read a lot of that genre, and try as I might, can’t write it either.

I like writing short stories. So, I’m compiling a collection of them, and will self-publish them next month, I hope. They’ll be in regular print and large print, so that various readers of all ages will hopefully be able to read and appreciate them. (Don’t fret – more info WILL be forth-coming, as it becomes available.)

I know that what I choose to write is not mass-market material, and I’m not going to beat my head against that particular brick wall. This is why I choose to self-publish. Another category that may benefit from this new technology is the family history or memoir, or life story of a most unusual person on a somewhat local basis (not everyone acts on the world stage!), or maybe a volume of poems. Just to have the book in print may be enough satisfaction for the author—monetary rewards may not be of the utmost importance.

Immediacy is another benefit of POD. If you’re any kind of writer, and are reasonably computer literate, you can have a book in print about a month after the manuscript is completed. It is highly adviseable to have someone else read it and proof it for you. (The best readers/proofers in the world are hard-pressed to read/proof their own work, believe me. Your eyes see what the brain means, not necessarily what is really there on the page. Fingers don’t always obey the brain’s commands.) You may also need to hire someone to produce your cover, if you’re not able to do it yourself. Formatting the words properly is also not the easiest trick in the world, but with practice, it does get easier. You’ll be amazed by the myriad small details to which you will need to pay attention. You may in fact, spend up to $1000. for all of this to happen as it should, but if the person you hire knows what he or she is doing, it will be well worth it in the long run.

So, where’s the harm to society by turning this possibility into reality? Darned if I can see it. It gives you a terrific sense of accomplishment – to hold a book in your hands, with your name on the cover as author. It’s a little bit like holding your first child in your arms for the very first time. You look at that little being with awe and wonderment, love—and not a little pride.

Next week’s column might stray a tad off the path I’ve started here. But just for this one week. I think it’ll be an essay I wrote several years ago on another topic. Please come back next week and investigate? If you have questions, please write to me at:  Thanks!