Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Taste of Honey Beta Reader Request

I'm currently looking for beta readers for my second novel, A Taste of Honey.

If you're not familiar with the beta reading process, don't worry. Beta readers act as a focus group for books. They help the publisher predict audience reaction to a story by getting feedback from a small segment of the market (See On Using and Being a Beta Reader)

If you enjoy crime thrillers or spy stories, consider this premise:

A Taste of Honey
Nikki Siriene is a spy who uses seduction as her main tool of deceit. Her latest target is a shipping magnate suspected of running a huge weapons smuggling operation in Argentina.

Tempting a man is easy for Nikki. Dealing with his paranoid business partner and mysterious wife will make her assignment harder. Sabotage within her own team makes the mission dangerous. But it’s her divided loyalties and emotional vulnerability that could kill her.

If you're interested in being a beta reader for A Taste of Honey, please send an e-mail to and I'll give you all the dirty details.

Thanks for playing.

Have fun.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dreams, Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Four Stages of Novel Development

Since this is my 100th post on this blog, I think it makes sense for me to take a step back from the minutiae of independent publishing and look at my overall process from beginning to end. Hopefully, you'll find something here to steal for your own work, or at least look at your creative process a different way.

Like everything else I've done, this process isn't original. I've borrowed some elements from my days working at a Japanese animation studio and some ideas came from watching the creative process unfold when I worked at Marvel Comics. The workflow I use could be valid for creating all types of commercial entertainment, but I don't have enough experience to confirm that.

The Four Stages

Novel development at Nightlife Publishing has four phases: pre-production, production, post-production and launch. I'll try to describe each one in order and link to other relevant articles that I have posted.

Stage 1: Pre-Production (The Dreaming Stage)

This is where we think up stories. We gather ideas, follow inspiration and collect research for our half dreamed masterpiece. For those of us who plot, this is where the building blocks of the story are laid out. For those of us who don't plot, the writing might begin at the first spark of an idea. All of us see a work of art taking shape in the fog of our imagination.

Related articles:

Stage 2: Production (The Sweat Stage)

This is where the fantasy of ideas meets the reality of writing. Here, we wrestle with setting, characters, pace, plot, conflict, dialogue, language and the gap between expectations and results. Some of us produce a steady word count every day in a dedicated writing space. Others squeeze chapters out on our smartphones during our morning commute. This is the first major obstacle for a novel. Anyone can get an idea for a story. Fewer people have the stamina and willpower to forge an idea into a manuscript.

Related articles:

Stage 3: Post-Production (The Blood Stage)

The rough shaped gem we've mined from the depths of our subconscious needs to be honed before it will be a jewel that sits alongside other best-sellers. Self-editing, beta testing, professional editing, formatting and other quality control measures give our books a professional polish.

This can be a painful stage for two reasons. First, many of our cherished dialogue, characters and concepts might not survive this stage. Second, this is where the book transforms from a low cost creative expression to a project that costs money.

(Ouch. That's why I refer to it as the blood phase.)

Related articles:
Stage 4: Launch (The Tears Stage)

At a certain point, our creation needs to leave the protective nest of our computer and rise or fall as a published work. We can help it along with marketing, advertising and social media, but at some point your readers will be alone with your work to measure it on its own merits.

This stage can produce two types of tears. You might experience tears of joy when you get good reviews, positive feedback, sales, fame, fortune and immortality. You might simply cry tears of pain because people reject your book, regardless of how much work you put into it. In my experience, both types of tears come with every book.

Related articles:

Manipulating the Process

The main reason I created a process for publishing my work is to improve efficiency. Each stage of the process requires a different level of time, energy and money. By spreading my work out across each stage, I can increase my library of titles without using up any one resource.

For instance, I currently have one novel that was recently released (launch stage), one novel that is going out to beta readers this week (post production), one that I'm 20% done with the first manuscript (production) and three books that are in various stage of development (pre-production). When time and circumstances permit, I flow back and forth from one project to another. Everything works out, as long as I'm always doing something but not trying to do everything at once.

Stealing a Good Idea

This process won't work for everyone. Some people won't have the time. Others might feel it is too industrial and counter to the way their creativity works. There's no problem with that. I put together something that works for me. If you'd like to steal it, be my guest. If not, I still make the same amount of money from posting this (i.e. nothing).

If you'd like to share your own publishing process, I'd like to hear it. I'm not above stealing a good idea.

Have fun.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Improving on Perfection: Self Editing the Independent Novel

Writing a novel is often a transcendent experience. Words flow from the writer onto the screen of their own free will. The author becomes possessed by their muse. The process itself might be a blur when you reach the last page, because your characters took you someplace that you never intended to go.

Once the dust settles and you regain your sanity, you need to go back and find out if your muse made any damn sense when it was in control. Very few books can go out into the world after the first draft (See Is the Self-Published Book Always Inferior?). I'm working on a self-editing process that will hopefully improve the quality of my work without collapsing into a cycle of endless rewriting. I have four levels of self-editing, each with its’ own form and function.

Step 1: Take a Step Back

The first thing I do after a novel is done is to leave it alone. This idea has been echoed by publishing icons like Stephen King and writing manuals of all types. We wait to give our brains a chance to distance themselves from the text. As soon as the book is done, you know what you wanted to say. If you try to edit too soon, you won't read what is on the page. You will read what you meant to write. This leads to missing all sorts of structural and narrative mistakes.

Other authors recommend rest times of anywhere from a couple days to a couple months. I wait four to six weeks, because that gives me time to put some projects in pre-production (See Building a Better Novel) and other novels in post-production (See Marketing the Independent Novel). By the time I go back to the manuscript, I'm anxious to rediscover the work, like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while.
Step 2: Plugging Holes

When the words are flowing well in the first draft, I hate to interrupt myself to look up a bit of trivia. I also get ideas for events in later chapters that require setups earlier in the narrative. Whenever I reach one of those moments (and it happens quite a bit), I make a parenthetical note and keep going.

The first thing I do when I start to edit is deal with all these notes. I simply do a word search for every "(" and take the time to flesh it out. Sometimes it's something simple like looking up what kind car a character should be driving or what wine she should be drinking. Other times I have to find the proper place to insert a setup that will feel natural when the payoff comes later. When this step is done, the manuscript should have consistent details that help paint the picture in the readers mind.

Step 3: The Audio Review

The third and most important step for me is to read the story from start to finish out loud. I don’t mean silently to myself or mumbling under my breath. I read it out as if I were reading it to a crowd. Unless you are into improvisational theater, you might want to do this step in private.

Reading the story out loud helps in several ways:
  • It reveals what is actually on the page, not what you think you wrote.
  • It helps you see where you are telling instead of showing.
  • It helps you focus on which character perspective you're working with at any given time to ensure you’re not inadvertently mixing them up
  • It helps you hear when sentences are too long, too convoluted or unclear.
  • It helps you identify cases where you use the same word too often or if a particular word breaks the flow of the sentence.
  • It helps you alter dialogue that doesn't sound natural or isn't the right voice for a particular character.
  • It will show you if the story makes sense.

Out of all these steps, I've found this one to be the most helpful. It also takes the most time, so you need to be comfortable with the sound of your own voice. I love to hear myself talk, so this isn't a problem for me.

Step 4: Spell Check

The last major editing stage is a grammar check. At this point, you’ve probably dealt with most of the grammar and spelling issues in the previous stages, but it doesn't hurt to take one more pass. Spell check doesn't catch everything, but again, it doesn't hurt.

No Rewrites

The one editing step that I don't do is a rewrite the story. In my writing method (See Articles on the Craft of Writing) I plot out every beat in every scene before I sit down to write the manuscript. If a story fails (and many of them do) it fails in the pre-production phase, not after I spent months writing. After that, I trust the inspiration of the muse to see where the story goes. I have at least four novels scheduled for release in my publishing plan between 2012 and 2015. I don't have the time or the patience to rewrite an entire novel. The book might get crushed during the beta test (See On Beta Readers), but as a rule I don't second or third guess myself when it comes to the story.

Time Frames

The self-editing method I use takes about twelve weeks assuming a 50,000-75,000 word manuscript:
  • Rest period: 6 weeks
  • Notes: 1 week
  • Audio check: 4-5 weeks (assuming 20-40 pages per writing session)
  • Grammar: <1 week

You might have more steps or different steps, but three months seems to be a reasonable period in an independent publishing program to polish a story before it goes deeper into post production.

Next Steps

Post Production in my company involves several steps after the self-editing:

Each step polishes your novel until it is a work that you are proud to put your name on and release into the world. Self-editing isn’t the only quality check that you do, but it might be the most important because it allows you to solidify your vision before other eyeballs read your work. Only you can fully be sure of what your muse was trying to tell you during your creative trip. Self-editing can ensure you got the message.

So what editing techniques do you use? Comment below and let me know.

Have fun.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Life of the Independent Publisher

This is my last installment of the new independent publishing page (See: Welcome to the Independent Publishing Page). It collects the articles I've written about the mental, emotional and psychological aspects of going into independent publishing. This isn't always a fun or easy road, but for those who have the passion to write, nothing else will do.

Next week I'll try to go back to original articles and offer something useful for you. Until then

Have fun.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Welcome to the Independent Publishing Page

In the spirit of full disclosure, this isn't a new website. 

I've just decided to focus this blog on the topics that have interested people most over the past year. We're going to talk about independent publishing from the perspectives of the business, the craft and the overall life that we as writers have to navigate. I'll try to share what happens to me as I build my publishing empire and I hope that some of it can be helpful and interesting to you.

As an introduction to the reimagined site, I've put together a list of past articles broken down by subject. Today's list includes the business articles. I'll try and post the craft and life articles later this week.

Keep in mind, I don't claim to be an expert in this industry. I'm just a guy going through the process, creating and learning as I go and sharing what I experience. If anyone has a different idea or opinion about the subjects I cover, please let me know. I'm willing to steal a good idea from anybody.

I've listed the most recent articles first and taken out all my shameless promotions. If there is a topic I've missed or that you'd like to see, please post a comment.

Thanks for reading...and writing.

Have fun.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Overnight Success in Ten Novels or Less

"Life's not a track meet. It's a marathon." Ice Cube

Recently I wrote a piece about marketing my first novel (See Marketing the Independent Novel). Many of the comments on that article fell into three camps; some thanked me for sharing my experience, others pointed out the vague and confusing path to marketing success and many encouraged me to just keep writing. I appreciated all the feedback, but it's the last concept that was the most important to me, because it reinforces a basic concept in independent publishing; success often comes from building your bibliography and your craft, rather than from a single bestseller

The Road to Mastery

Supporters of independent publishing stress the benefits of releasing several titles over time:
  • Barry Eisler and J.A. Kornath talk about the cumulative effect of a growing library in their self-publishing discussion Be the Monkey
  • Hugh Howey highlights the impact of treating publishing as a long term business and not a one of shot in the dark in his Salon article
  • Stephen King refers to paying your dues through both publishing and being rejected in his book On Writing

These specific ideas about long-term, constant improvement go beyond publishing to almost every human occupation or skills set.
  • Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours to perfect a skill.
  • Robert Greene echoes this time frame in his book Mastery, claiming that competence takes about seven to ten years of diligent practice to achieve.

Measuring the Process

One of the problems with the multiple book/ mastery concept is measurement. Just how many books does one need to write? How do you count 10,000 hours of "publishing practice"? The answer is subjective, but I try to look at it by dividing the hours into books.

The basic question is 'How many hours does it take to imagine, plot, write, edit, format, market and release a novel including the website and social media content'? I haven't timed it, but 1,000 hours is about 42 full days. I wouldn't be surprised if publishing a book from first inspiration to marketing online took at least 2,000 hours. At that rate, you could reach 10,000 hours in five or six books. Because my calculations are broad generalizations and because I normally take twice as long to get anything done, I'm thinking that after my tenth book my writing and my publishing skills will be strong enough for me to be an overnight success.

The point is, whether you look at the phenomenon from the number of books or the time it takes to become a great publisher (and not just a great writer) there is very little support for the idea that you can release one book and achieve all of your creative and financial goals.

The Hidden Struggle

One difference between independent publishing and the traditional route is the public nature of your growth. If you spend years submitting work to agents and then more time struggling to secure a publisher, improving your craft all the while in relative obscurity, when you succeed it might appear as if you burst on the scene and took the world by storm. That might have even been the story that is used to market the book. But that's not how it happens for most people. Writers like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Anne Rice could have easily spent their 10,000 hours under the radar, but their success involved just as much work as it will take for you and me. We just didn't get to see it.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that everyone who releases ten books and spends 10,000 hours becoming an independent publisher will have success. There are a lot of writers with more skill than me who have put in their time and not seen the results they wanted. All I'm suggesting is that success after several releases is more viable and realistic than striking gold with your first book. It is also more fun and less stressful. Why fret over the sale of one book when you can take the long view of your publishing empire?

Have fun.