Challenges for Writers: Slip-Sliding Down The Rabbit Hole

In his book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, author Lewis Carroll was kind enough to provide the perfect metaphor for us as writers.

If you are like me, it can sometimes feel that we are tumbling head-over-heels down a Rabbit Hole in the pursuit of our chosen profession.  The casual reader (along with your family and friends) has a skewed sense of what it actually means to be a writer. They see folks like James Patterson, J.D. Robb and Lee Child and think that we all fall into that category, but that’s like comparing someone who plays for the New York Yankees with a Double A player on the Trenton Thunder.

The harsh reality is that the role of an indie author is much more complicated.

As an up & coming author, you need to realize that your ‘work’ does not end with the final draft of your book. In fact, it is only the beginning and there will come a point in time when you look back fondly on the writing phase as being the fun part.  As of this post, I have authored a total of ten books, along with two novellas, and I am currently working on my latest work-in-progress. You would think that I would have a firm grasp of the publishing process, but you’d be wrong.  I learn new things pretty much on a daily basis; which I guess is a lot better than not learning.

For someone just starting out you need to face the fact that, unlike the authors listed above, you probably do not have access to publishing resources, meaning: Tag, You’re it. When addressing this issue, you have two choices: 1) Pay someone to do it, or 2) Do it yourself. Personally, I opted for the latter, because I have always been a hands-on person, but that does not mean it will always work. You have to know your limitations.

Your first concern, upon completing what you believe is the final draft of your book, is to get it edited. I know, I know, you’re sitting there going: “I took AP English, I’m good.”  - No, you’re not.

There is a lot more that goes into the editing process than just grammar. Authors wear one hat, editors wear a different one. We create stories in our mind, which we think we translate well onto paper, but sometimes we forget to add some of the details. An editor will go through and pick that up, because they don’t have the backstory floating around in their heads. If they have questions then the reader will be left with questions, and that only works in cliff-hangers, not the middle of your story. If you do not know someone who can help, then this might be an area where you want to pay, but be prepared for sticker shock: Grammar Nazis are not cheap.

Beyond the text, one of the critical parts of a book, that is often underappreciated, is formatting it. Simply put, people expect your book to look like any other book produced by a legacy publishing house.  Take the time to learn how to format correctly. If you want to be a professional writer, your book has to look like it was professionally written. Go to your library (ever writer should have one in their home) and peruse the interiors.  Make sure you learn how to emulate what you see. If you want to be the next James Patterson, ensure that your book is on the same level as his.

Consider the writing process like mowing the grass. Most anyone can take a patch of rich soil, sprinkle some seeds on it, water it and grow a pretty nice, grassy field. But if you don’t maintain it, it will end up looking like crap. The more upkeep you do, the better it looks and the more it will be appreciated.

Cover Art is another critical area that is often overlooked. There is an old saying that goes, “You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression.” You could have someone create an amazing cover, but when you shrink it down to thumbnail size, which is what most of your potential readers are going to see, it looks like an undefined blob. Conversely, I have seen some folks who grab the first ‘clip-art’ image they can get, slap it on the cover and think, “I’m done.” – Well, in a way you’re right and so is your book.

There are several critical things to consider:

1.       Is it appealing looking to the audience?

2.       Does it correspond to the plot of your book?

3.       Can you see the title clearly?

4.       Can you see your name clearly?

5.       Does it look cartoonish?

 Whether you agree or not, the truth is that people do judge a book by its cover. You could have written the next Hunt for Red October, but if your cover looks like it was put together by an 8th grader for art class, the odds are pretty good that a potential reader is not going to be willing to plunk down their hard earned cash just to give you a chance. You have to make them want to buy your book instead of that best-selling author’s book.

Remember, you’re a combatant in the ‘thumbnail wars’ so fight accordingly.

When I wrote my first book, Perfect Pawn, I thought I had nailed it on the first go-round, but as time went on I began to rethink that. Over the years I had grown in experience; so I went back and made alterations to not only the text, but to the cover as well.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate things from time to time.

Coming Up Next: REVIEWS.

That is, after all, what we should be focusing on after we launch our books. If you are not driven to be a best-selling author, then ignore everything you have just read, because it really doesn’t matter. Write your book, publish it, and walk away. But, if you are like me, and do want your book to appear on the NY Times Best-Selling List, then you have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting.

Next week I will be discussing some of the things you can do to boost your sales.

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