Exquisite Month, Unfolding Year

Golden light washed over St. George Island on my first morning here. I am on St. George now and we just completed the second morning of workshops at the Fiction Among Friends women’s writing retreat. This is my ninth year attending. A sacred week for me, this is the one time of year when ALL I focus on are my own words, my writing. I am fortunate to have editing and coaching clients who understand and support me in this.

This week’s retreat is the beginning of an exquisite month for me. I have the luxury of staying at the beachfront retreat house for most of January. This first week, I am writer/participant, working on my novel Dancing at The Orange Peel. In week two, I’m a sort of “house mother” for retreaters who want to continue writing on their own. Week three, we welcome another group of writers to the house for whom I’ll play co-host, supporting our fabulous retreat organizer, Perky Granger. Week four, I step into the role of organizer/facilitator for Content Creation Camp, a three-day/four-night women’s retreat for non-fiction writers. If it is true that the way we begin our year sets the stage for the way the year will unfold then I am one happy gal and a satisfied author!

Since this month is so far out-of-routine for me, I want to let you know what’s in store for you at Around the Writer’s Table. My novel awaits, so I’ll be brief.

First, due to poor internet and cell service at our retreat location (for which I’m actually quite grateful), there will be no CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table call in January. I’ll resume the calls in February and intend to continue them monthly in 2017. If you have a guest to suggest or a topic you want us to explore on the calls, please send me an email.

Lined up for February and March are guests Licia Berry and Heather Whitaker. Licia will discuss creative voice and Heather, a return guest, will go deeper into an earlier discussion we began last fall on point of view. More details are coming soon, so put the third Wednesday of each month at 7pm Eastern on your calendar now!

In lieu of this month’s call and given the theme of my current activities, I will do a series of blog posts about writer events that can help us improve our craft. Workshops, conferences, and retreats offer fantastic learning experiences and opportunities to engage with other like-minded authors. I’ll focus on one of these in each of the next three posts.

A final note to women readers/writers: a few spaces are still available in the fiction retreat (January 15 to 22) and the non-fiction retreat (January 25 to 29). If you want to jump start your writing for 2017, please join us! You can get more details here: Fiction Among Friends/St. George Writer’s Retreat and here Content Creation Camp.

Thanks to each of you who responded to my New Year’s email. I’d still love to hear from the rest of you about your writing plans for 2017 and how writing helps you make meaning in your life.

As always, in gratitude and service,

Writing as an Instrument for Meaning-Making

Last week, I wrote about how we must write, no matter what, in the middle of things, despite circumstances . . . that we must make time to write. I was resolute in my instruction, adamant in my advice.

Then the unthinkable happened.

I am still numb from the loss on Christmas Eve of my second father, the man who became my stepdad when I was five and has been a rock in my life ever since. For almost 28 months, he fought the cancer battle, so a turn, at some point, was inevitable. But we have a way, sometimes, of vehemently denying what we know to be unequivocal truth.

Unthinkable—yes. Unexpected—well, no.

I was prepared to write during this visit home, every day, just as I advised you to do. My laptop, notebooks, and favorite pencils were loaded into my backpack. Of course, I would write. No matter what.

And then I didn’t.

Trauma sends me inward in a sheltered, reclusive, and self-protective way that does not allow for writing. At least not at first.

I process loss and grief in much the same way that I learn. I soak up everything. I experience and live into all the bits and pieces. Then I step back and parse, embracing the useful, helpful fragments until they become part of me, and then I release the remaining shards. Only then can I write about it in a meaningful way.

Others writers literally write through their pain, putting words to the page in the midst of their still unfolding, raw, and ragged grief.

Both ways are right.

Both ways lead down a meandering and sometimes lengthy path of getting our questions answered, grasping for the purpose of things, seeking to explain, longing to understand, exploring the unthinkable in ways that make it bearable.

Writing is a significant instrument for making meaning in this world, a mighty hammer in our human toolkit which we too often dismiss or diminish in its importance for that purpose. I hold that all writers, no matter their genre, write to make sense of their lives and of this greater existence that we all share.

Every one of us asks, at some point, “What is the meaning of life, of this life, of my life?” We often talk about seeking meaning, finding meaning, looking for meaning. The idea of making meaning in life is far more appealing to me, though. The former posit that meaning is external to us, not of our own doing, completely outside our purview, that we must search outwardly to discover it. The philosophy that we make, i.e., create, the meaning in our lives is empowering and, at once, exciting and soothing to me. It gives me the sense that this is up to me—a huge responsibility, for sure, but also a satisfying understanding that I have some measurable control here.

Using writing as a tool for making meaning in life is a theme I am committed to exploring in 2017. I want to dive deeply into 12 keys that I feel are essential for meaning-making and how writing fits into that endeavor. I hope you will join me on this journey, much of which will unfold here on this blog.

As 2016 comes to a close, I extend my deepest thanks to all of you who have supported me and Around the Writer’s Table this year. Our tagline is “Training, Resources, Connections” and that last part—the connections—that is the truly enriching piece for me. 2016 has been filled with rich, new, rewarding relationships and I am grateful beyond measure for every single one of you.

Yours in gratitude and service,

Tuesday Tip: Make Time to Write . . . No Matter What

Looking for only the perfect time to create? Forget about it! You are always in the middle of something so it is right in the middle of things that your creating must also happen.

Never is there a moment when we aren’t “in the middle of something.” And that holds especially true during the holiday season. Over the next few weeks, your commitment to your writing will be tested in countless ways–likely, already has been.

woman-1733881_1920There is only one solution: regardless of what’s going on in the rest of your world, you simply must write.

It sounds so simple! But you know it isn’t.

Do it anyway.

Plan it, if only for fifteen or twenty minutes a day. Do it consistently, no matter what else is going on around you. Get up a few minutes early, stay up a few minutes late, or steal a quarter-hour away from the holiday hoopla for a date with your notepad and pen.

Use a closet if you have to.

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

Reaffirm your commitment to writing and publishing by listening in to the next CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, a free monthly education series for authors. This month’s topic is “How to Plan Effective Author Events on a Shoestring.” Learn more HERE.

5 Secrets to Getting Indie Books into Bookstores

By Patti Brassard Jefferson

Having the advantage of being both an independent author and a bookstore owner, I am lucky to be able to see the challenges between authors and booksellers from both sides. Prepare yourself for the breaking news: It is a myth that independent bookstores (or the big box stores for that matter) will not deal with self-published authors.

Then where did the false narrative start?

banner-1090830_1280It could have been from a flood of self-published authors who went to the internet, downloaded lists of bookstores, and sent out mass emails and then got very little response. Or it may have begun with authors who sent out dozens of packages to bookstores that included books and marketing materials and then never heard back from the stores. Clearly, these authors did not know the following five secrets.

Secret #1

Booksellers do not respond well to unsolicited press releases of books by authors they are unfamiliar with—especially if those books do not fit into their niche. The survival of small bookstores is, and has always been, based on creating a niche within their community and, as an author, you should spend time doing your due diligence to see if the bookstore you are reaching out to is a good fit for your genre. A good source for this information is the bookstore’s website or Facebook page. Sending your new book release information to a vintage or used bookstore is a waste of your time as well as the bookseller’s. A children’s bookstore probably will not be interested in your steamy romance and could declare you a thoughtless, lazy businessperson. Often, this first impression of you cannot be easily undone.

Secret #2

books-985954_1920Do you know what is also usually on the bookstore’s website? Submission instructions for authors! Seriously. You are not the only author interested in getting your book on their shelves, so to save time, many booksellers have created a place that outlines their policies.

Read their information and if it makes sense to you and seems appropriate for you to carry on to the next step, do so. Make sure you follow directions even if they are a challenge for you.

By the way, this is also true for Barnes and Noble. Really. Check out their website.

Secret #3

Your local bookseller is your best ally. They are part of the creative community, just as you are. They are also small business owners, just like you are. You can and should form relationships with them and support each other.

By definition, a relationship is a two-way street and this often is where authors falter. Selling a few copies of your book does not keep the bookstore doors open, so every now and then, go buy a book from them. Attend an event that is not yours. Do you think the bookstore staff is more likely to hand-sell the books of an author who is also a customer? Why, yes. Yes, they are. Aren’t relationships grand?!

Secret #4

Once your titles are in your local bookstore, be professional and friendly. If you do an event there, make sure you work with the store to promote it and drive traffic. Bring snacks for the staff. Send a hand-written “thank you” note afterward.

thank-you-515514_1280Why take these extra steps?

Because booksellers know other booksellers! If you are a great author to work with and have good sales or a successful event, you can approach other bookstores and use your local storeowner as a reference to get a foot through the skeptical door. Of course, keep in mind that if you are dismissive of the staff, arrive late or unprepared for your event, or call excessively, bookstore owners will warn their contemporaries and that skeptical door will remain closed to you. Again, that is often hard to undo.

Secret #5

Think outside the bookstore. Many non-bookstore venues may be willing to sell your books as well and often at a more beneficial split of the sale. Defining your actual target market (and no, “everyone” is NOT the correct response) will lead you to alternative options. Children’s books are often accepted at children’s boutiques, and your local garden center might be interested in your book about caring for orchids. Of course, any venue willing to take a chance on selling your book for you will thrive with the building of the relationship and your unwavering professionalism.

Oh and, as a reminder, keep good records! Happy bookselling!

pbjonbooxPatti will be the next featured guest on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table on December 21, 2016, at 7pm. Patti and Gina Hogan Edwards will discuss “How to Plan Effective Author Events on a Shoestring.

This is a FREE call in the Author Education Series and you can receive reminders and the call-in details by signing up HERE.

Patti Brassard Jefferson is an award-winning authorpreneur, illustrator, multi-medium artist, bubble-blower, amateur tiara model, and bookstore owner. She owns exactly zero pairs of socks, daydreams about tropical bike paths, and lives with her two rescued mutts and one rescued husband. You can contact Patti via:

Author Links

Website: www.pjauthor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pbjauthor
Twitter: @pbjauthor
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/pbjauthor

Bookstore Links

Website: www.pjboox.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pjboox
Twitter: @pjboox
Instagram: www.instagram.com/pjboox

Tuesday Tip: Material measurement of a final product does not equal your creative worth.

tape-measure-145397_1280It is easy to fall into a trap of human material measurement when it comes to our creative work and worth. How much did that painting sell for? How many of my books were shipped out to readers today? What is my ranking on the Amazon best seller list? The real trap comes when we apply these metrics to our worth as human beings.

Recently, I had the honor to support, in her book-publishing efforts, someone I greatly admire. I was not her editor nor her creativity coach. In fact, I started out knowing her as a fan of sorts. Melissa Dinwiddie has a marvelous podcast about creativity, Live Creative Now! Her joy around creativity is contagious, so I love to listen to her. When she put out a call for volunteers to be on her book launch team (an awesome concept that I hope to share more about with you), I jumped at the chance to serve as one of her Ambassadors.

Since August, in the final stages of birthing her book, the Ambassadors have supported her in a myriad of ways. Melissa shared with us, through emails and a private Facebook book, as well as her podcast, all of her decisions, her successes, and her angst. We advised, shared opinions, offered encouragement. It was a beautiful process of creative people uplifting one of our own.


Shortly after her book release, I awoke one morning with Melissa heavily on my mind. I thought about all that she had done to get that book written and to assure the promotion process came off gracefully and successfully. Honestly, it was exhausting to watch the way she had navigated the process, but she did it so adeptly, so expertly. It was so detailed and thought-out that, frankly, it blew my mind. But her efforts were not what troubled me that morning. What concerned me was the person of Melissa, the artist, the creative spirit.

I was driven to reach out to her that day and share what was on my mind in hopes it would further support her in the way all her Ambassadors had committed to do. I didn’t expect what happened next.

Melissa asked me if she could use my letter as the centerpiece of her final podcast on the subject of her book release. I’m sharing this with you here because the overriding message of my words was in my reminder to her not to apply our human ways of material measurement to her value as a cultural creative. Nor should any of us who offer to this world our words, our paintings, our sculptures, our dances, our music, our creative hearts and souls.

Melissa is living her passion and is thereby filling many other creatives with joy and the courage to do their art. That is immeasurable worth. As she says in her podcast, when you create, “not only will you feel more alive, it’s how YOU WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.” Thank goodness for all of us that Melissa is sharing this message and that she lives it herself!

Please, listen to Melissa’s podcast, and then GO CREATE! Listen here: http://melissadinwiddie.com/podcast/lcn084/

Effective Use of Beta Readers to Improve Your Manuscript

By Mark Wayne Adams

booksBeta readers are non-professional readers who can provide useful feedback and suggestions for your book before you hit publish or submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher. They read a pre-release manuscript or sample book to find and improve items such as grammar, character development, plot or information gaps, or to assist in fact-checking.

Using beta readers is no substitute for editing or proofreading, though. In fact, paired with your self-edits, feedback you get from beta readers can raise the quality of your manuscript beyond what you can do entirely on your own. Let’s take a look at what it takes to make effective use of beta readers on your next manuscript.

Who should your beta readers be?

Asking your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, or closest friends to be beta readers is not a good idea. Because of their inherent biases or desire to see you do well, using family and friends isn’t likely to yield valuable feedback that can help you improve your craft.

The best beta reader groups are a mix of individuals who represent your ideal reader or target audience and other readers who know something about the craft of writing. Of course, you will want to pick readers of the right age for your work. For example, if you write middle grade fiction or young adult, recruit readers in the age you are targeting.

Beta ReaderAbove all, your readers should have the following three qualities:

  • an interest in your genre – you don’t want to ask someone who hates history to read your historical romance, or someone who has never picked up an urban fantasy in their life to try giving feedback on yours
  • honesty – someone who will be open, respectful, and forthright in delivering their feedback
  • reliability – a reader who will follow through with what they agree to do for you

Where can beta readers be found?

Seek out local or regional writing groups for members who might want to exchange assistance: they read your manuscript and you read theirs. If you do use another author, select someone who isn’t familiar with your work yet. Teachers and librarians are often willing to support writers too.

If you are a blogger or have a website set up to gather email addresses of individuals interested in your work, then reach out to them. Readers are often flattered to be asked and are willing to support someone whose work they admire already. The same applies if you have developed a social media platform and have Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or LinkedIn connections. Reach out to those people, too.

How many readers are needed and how much time do you give them?

The number of beta readers needed can depend on the length of the manuscript. A children’s chapter book or young adult novel may not need as many readers as a mainstream adult novel. New writers might want to use more readers, especially if they have not workshopped their book or never shared it in a small critique group.

ReaderAs a general guide, you may not get enough feedback to make significant improvements in your story with any fewer than three beta readers. Any more than eight could result in an overwhelming number of comments to sift through.

How much time you allow your beta readers also depends on the manuscript length, as well as the depth of the questions you ask and feedback you expect. Be reasonable and as flexible as you can within your timeline goals and be respectful of their other obligations, but also be firm about the deadline you set.

What types of questions should you ask your beta readers?

Beta readers’ time is valuable. Asking specific questions will gain you more detailed and actionable feedback. Ask not only about the negative aspects of the book, but also items that are strong. This helps you build on the weak sections and recognize your writing strengths.

Of course, gather the reader’s name, profession or title, full address so you can mail them a complimentary book or personal thank you, and their email address for future contact with them.

The questions you ask will depend on your genre and on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If you are aware that you have challenges around character development then ask your readers to pay particular attention to that. As an illustrator, I like to get feedback on the book’s design as well as the content.

Here are examples of some of the questions I ask:

  1. Would you like to receive a complimentary book upon release?
  2. Would you like to provide an endorsement quote for this book?
  3. [If your book is part of a series] Would you like to participate in future beta reads for this book series?
  4. Rate each of the following areas from 1 to 10 (10 being excellent). Please provide any suggestions or accolades regarding each section.

Beta Reader Notes___ Timely/Interesting: is this book’s topic timely or interesting?

___ Appropriate: is this book relevant to the target reader?

___ Entertaining/Informative: does this book entertain and/or inform?

___ Complete: does this book cover the subject well or tell a complete story?

___ Content Organization: is this story or information well organized? (This applies to both fiction and nonfiction)

___ Interior Design: is this book’s interior well executed, organized, and easy to read?

___ Font Size: is this book’s font easily of a comfortable height and serif?

Often, I ask about the front and back cover and the spine, too, which means I must design these elements before I begin the beta reader process. From these items, I ask questions such as, are they appropriate and relevant for the target reader? Does the artwork explain the subject well or tell a complete story? Is the font readable?

A few final guidelines

  • Readers NotesNever give your beta readers a draft; finish your book first.
  • Make the process easy for your readers; ask what format they prefer for reading your book—print, or an e-file such as a PDF. Ideally, ask at least one reader to read on their e-reading device.
  • Set a due date and make sure each reader is aware and agrees to it upfront; a tentative reader isn’t likely to follow through.
  • Treat your beta readers well in case you want to use them again.
  • Thank them and return the favor; put them in your acknowledgments.

After you get input from your beta readers, it’s time to act on it. Evaluate each piece of feedback to determine how it might apply to your book and how you might manage the issue they raise. You don’t have to follow everything that a beta reader says, especially if you strongly disagree, but be open-minded enough to recognize that if more than one reader identifies the same issue then you probably need to pay attention to it. If you are unsure what a beta reader means by a comment, never be afraid to ask; follow up with them for clarification.

Finally, remove your ego. Focus on the book and the writing to make it great for your target readers. Beta readers want to help you get better not beat you up.

Join author, illustrator, and publisher Mark Wayne Adams and host Gina Hogan Edwards for a detailed discussion about Beta Readers: Why, When, and How to Use Them on the next CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, Wednesday, November 16, 2016, at 7pm (Eastern).

You can listen to this free author education series from the comfort of your home. Register to listen live or to get the replay. Our 30-minute talk will be followed by 30 minutes of open Q&A.

Register now: www.AroundTheWritersTable.com/CONVERSATIONS

Mark Wayne AdamsMark Wayne Adams is an award-winning illustrator, author, publisher, and owner of Mark Wayne Adams, Inc., an independent book publishing company. He has a Bachelors of Fine Arts, has illustrated fifty books and published fifteen books, working with more than eighteen authors. Adams has nineteen years of experience in graphic design and has worked for companies including Walt Disney World Company, SeaWorld Orlando, and Sprint Print, Commercial Printing. He is also a board member and past-president of Florida Authors and Publishers Association. Mark serves as the international Readers’ Favorite Illustration Awards judge.

Beta Readers: A Bit More

Even after our previous post here about beta readers and the fabulous discussion last week on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table with Mark Wayne Adams, some questions still linger about this topic. I also want to elaborate further on a few points.

light-bulbs-1125016lrOne reader/listener asked about the distinction between critique groups and beta readers. Authors who participate in critique groups get feedback on our work as we write. The feedback is provided by other authors who may or may not be writing in our same genre. The critique group members may have more or less writing skill than the author receiving the critique.

Beta readers provide their feedback on a completed manuscript that, ideally, you have self-edited and cleaned up to the same degree that you would before sending it to an editor, agent, or publisher. Your beta reader group may be made up of any of the following:

  • a member of your target audience or your ideal reader
  • someone who won’t tap dance around your feelings, but will be honest, constructive, and kind in delivering their feedback
  • someone who is reliable and will follow through their commitment to support you

I always recommend that authors avoid selecting family members and friends as their beta readers. On the call, however, Mark told us he uses his kids to get feedback on his children’s books. Often, children provide unadulterated honesty, so it is a point well-taken that my advice might be excepted when applied to books for kids.

measure-1509707-lrOne listener emailed to ask about payment to beta readers. Beta readers should always be volunteers. Paying someone to provide feedback automatically introduces a bias into the process. Some of my clients have provided a thank you in the way of a small gift card, flowers, or some other token after the reading was complete.

Another listener wondered about the applicability of this process for nonfiction books. Most of the same principles and practices for beta readers apply equally for fiction and nonfiction. The differences will come primarily in who you select and the types of questions to be asked.

Keeping in mind the five purposes of nonfiction (respond, instruct, inform, persuade, or narrate), your beta group will be most helpful if it includes someone who has knowledge of your topic. Someone with a penchant for fact-checking would be helpful if your manuscript includes data, citations to other works, and the like. Important note: this in no way relieves you of the task of making sure everything is accurate before giving the book to your readers.

If your book is self-help or instructional, including someone who has a burning need for the process or the methods discussed in your book, as well as someone who has overcome, successfully implemented, or moved beyond or through the topic you write about would be incredibly helpful. Both of these types of readers can provide insights on whether your process, steps, or methods are explained clearly and completely, or if they are sufficiently persuaded, depending on the purpose and approach of your book.

GemsFinally, enter into the beta reader process knowing that after your readers finish, you will need time to absorb, filter, and incorporate their feedback. I have seen authors initiate this process then wholly dismiss all the responses they received. What you do with the feedback is, in the end, entirely up to you and it isn’t necessary to heed every suggestion, but be respectful of your beta readers. If you engage in this step in the writing and publishing process, whether you act on every single comment, suggestion, and insight you receive or not, fully honor and acknowledge the time and energy your beta readers have gifted to you.

I am so grateful to all of you who have called in to listen to our Author Education Series, CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer's Table. For those of you who haven't heard yet, this is a free series that you can sign up to participate in anytime. We provide you with a phone number and the time of the live call (it occurs once monthly). Then you call in to listen to the discussion about a writing or publishing topic and participate (optional) in the Q&A session. 

If you would like to sign up or if find this resource valuable already, please share this link: AroundTheWritersTable.com/Conversations. Information about our next guest, Patti Brassard Jefferson of PJ Boox Bookstore, will be available soon.

~ Gina Hogan Edwards

Tuesday Tip: Read, Read, Read. . . . Then Read Some More.

“Read” seems like obvious advice to give writers, but I am surprised (is appalled too strong a word?) at how many individuals who claim they want to write say they do not read.

Reading is muscle-building.

We don’t expect a bodybuilder to win, or even to enter, a competition without going to the workout room daily. For correlations in the arts, we don’t expect a ballet dancer to become the prima ballerina without having watched and emulated the ballerinas who came before her, and we don’t expect painters and sculptors to create works of art without intensive study of the masters.

So how can we expect to be good writers if we do not read?

Here are just a few of the benefits writers gain from reading.

read-1593523_1280Ideas for what to write.

  • Everything a writer mentally consumes becomes fodder for their writing. Reading breeds ideas by triggering memories and conjuring our imagination.

Motivation to engage in the physical act of writing, that is, putting our butts in our chairs.

  • We read something and say, “Well, I can do that,” and then we sit and write. Or we read something else and say, “Well, I can do better than that,” and then we sit and write. Or we read a masterpiece and say, “Oh, I really want to do that,” and then we sit and write.

Expert knowledge of our genre.

  • Whether you write for magazines, are working on a sci-fi or historical novel, are creating short stories, or are writing a self-help book—whatever your market or genre—there are certain expectations for each. Reading can educate us about both the craft requirements and the business aspects of it.

To absorb language, improve vocabulary, and to witness how writing is done well (and not so well).

  • When an author looks at how other writers use the language, which words they pick, how they position the words and flow the phrases, and then experiments with them herself, she eventually finds her own voice and style.

glasses-272399_1280Learning and honing skills.

  • This may sound the same as the reason above, but rather, this is deliberate reading about the craft of writing. Many great books are available on both fiction and nonfiction writing. James Scott Bell has several exceptional books on craft for fiction authors, and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well is the definitive guide on nonfiction. These are just a couple that come to mind; there are many others (perhaps a topic for another post).

A distraction.

  • Or, in a more positive light, as recreation, a sometimes needed, necessary break from the efforts of writing.

Those of you taking in this article likely don’t need much excuse to read and probably have far more reasons of your own for doing it. I’d love for you to share them in the comments below, specifically addressing how reading informs your writing. If you’d like to offer a suggestion for a book on craft, that would be lovely too!

GinaFeel free to email me anytime with topic ideas for this weekly tip or a suggestion for a guest to be on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, our free monthly Author Education Series. You can reach me by going to the “Contact” button near the top of this page.

Now, go write!

Gina Hogan Edwards, Editor, Author, Creativity Coach

Tuesday Tip: Focus Your Creative Light

Who knows how many writers fail because the light that shines through them is refracted in a thousand directions and not concentrated in a single beam? Pick projects and complete them! It is not really possible to work on a thousand things at once.

This is one of my favorite tips from Dr. Eric Maisel and one that I come back to again and again in my business and my personal life, as well as in my writing life.

SunsetHow is it that some of us find ourselves working on too many projects at once?

  • We sometimes overcommit to ourselves and others, often spreading ourselves “thin” in hopes of getting “a lot” done. Even if we finish some, this has consequences in how well we do them.
  • We may give up on the challenging projects. A once-exciting one can lose its initial luster when it starts to feel difficult. It is much easier to let it go than to complete it (even though we know that the mining of the hard stuff brings forth the gems).
  • We often start a project with enthusiasm and then the shininess of a second (or third or fourth) one distracts us from finishing. It can be difficult for a smart, curious mind to ignore the tug of another enticing idea.

We overcommit. We lose passion for stimulating projects because they feel hard. We allow ourselves to be distracted by shiny objects. This is how we can end up with a never-ending list of projects in progress yet never completed.

How many writing projects that deserved to be finished can you pull up on your computer or find in a drawer? What might have come forth in these unfinished projects if you had stuck with them? What brilliance have you—in leaving any one of them incomplete—concealed away and kept from being shared with all the world to appreciate?

Can you pick one now and resolve to complete it?

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

The Emergence of the “Author-Publisher”

This month’s guest post touches on the new author-centric environment within the publishing world. Author-publisher Rob Price shares his wisdom about making smart choices at each phase of the self-publishing process.

The Emergence of the “Author-Publisher”

by Rob Price

GateThere has never been a better time to be an author. For decades (centuries actually), all-powerful Gatekeepers ruled the landscape, determining who would be published and who would not. Unless you were one of the lucky few, your chances of being seen were minuscule and your costs insufferable. Then things changed.

First came Amazon and the introduction of the online bookstore. Then came the fall of Borders and other brick-and-mortar outlets. Recent years have brought the proliferation of e-books and the ubiquity of e-readers. Advancements in print-on-demand technology now allow authors to affordably print as few as one book at a time and avoid tying up thousands of dollars in inventory. As the barriers to entering the publishing industry have crumbled, “author-publishers” have popped up.

TeamWith the right choices and a compelling manuscript, a first-time author can place her book on the same playing field as an author chosen by one of the still-existing Gatekeepers. I know because I’ve done it myself and I’ve seen it done by many of the authors I work with. The most important thing an author-publisher can do, outside of writing a compelling manuscript, is hiring the right people for the right jobs. Below are tips for going through the publishing process and hiring the right people along the way.

1. Editorial

It should go without saying that things like typos, inaccurate grammar, and usage mistakes can destroy a book’s chances for success. Unfortunately, it needs to be said. Always have your manuscript professionally edited! I have seen first-hand the effect of negative reviews relating to preventable oversights and it is not pretty. Not only do you need someone with an eye for things like punctuation and syntax, but you will also want someone to review the content and quality of your manuscript, addressing organization, transitions, tone, voice, complexity, character development, etc. When seeking a professional editor, ask for qualifications and references and have them to do a sample edit for you. Find out how many rounds of revisions are included and make certain to nail them down on price.

2. Production

Cover Design

People judge books by their covers. Even an untrained eye can spot the differences between a high-quality, professional cover and one that is amateurishly done. A talented and professional cover designer will not only know how to capture a book’s essence, but also what to do to make a book as marketable as possible. A good designer can use her professional discretion to take your ideas and run with them as needed. When hiring a designer, ask for their portfolio and make sure their terms are clear. Will they provide graphics or will you? Who is responsible for their cost? What happens if you are unhappy with their work? Will they create only one design or several? Is their price for the front cover only or is it inclusive of the back cover and spine? What is their turnaround time?

Open book on a red tableclothInterior Layout/Formatting

Much like a cover designer, your interior layout artist needs to have creative talent. I can promise you that readers will know within the first few pages of your book whether your book was done by a professional or whether it was self-published. First and foremost, most books follow general standards when it comes to things like front matter, back matter, running headers, etc. Does your book contain a half-title page or title page? Is the copyright page formatted correctly? Should your Acknowledgments page appear at the beginning of your book or the end? Not only can a professional layout artist attractively format every page in your book, but she also knows the answers to all of these questions and more. When surveying the field for an artist, make sure to see portfolios, ask for a sample layout, and find out whether they use a standardized template or give customized attention to each book. What do they do if you aren’t thrilled with their work? Do they charge for content changes after they’ve completed their design?

E-book Creation

e-bookE-book creation is as much art as it is science. Although often referred to as “conversion,” which implies a certain passivity, the creation of a properly formatted ePub or Mobi file is a highly technical process that can make most people’s heads spin. When hiring an eBook technician, make sure they do their work by hand and line-by-line to ensure no formatting errors. If your book is image-heavy like a children’s book or graphic novel, make sure the person you hire knows how to create a “fixed-layout” file (as opposed to “flowing text”). Obtain assurance that the file created for you is compatible with all eReading devices and across all retail platforms. If you want your eBook to contain embedded audio or video files, make sure the person you hire can handle these specific needs.


Finding the right printer is as important as any other factor. You can have a beautiful cover and a professional interior, but if it’s printed on poor stock or is bound improperly, all will be for naught. When talking with printers, find out what paper stocks they use, how fast their turnaround times are, and, if needed, whether they offer unique options like spiral-bound printing, cover embossing, or DVD-affixing. Ask to see samples if you aren’t familiar with the different options available and make sure you’re aware of their minimum printing quantities. If you go the print-on-demand option (which is generally recommended unless you know for certain you will sell at least 500 to 1,000 copies within your first year of publication), some printers can print one or two books at a time, while others set their minimums at 25 copies.

Bookshelf3. Distribution

There are more distribution options for author-publishers today than there ever before. If you have the time, a number of the larger retail outlets (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) allow you to set up and manage accounts directly with them. If not, you may want to work with a distribution aggregator. Some will take a percentage of your sales and some will ask for payment upfront. If you go with an aggregator, make sure they provide you with regular sales reports that are broken down by venue and understand whether they are acting in an exclusive or non-exclusive capacity. Lastly, make sure you are not signing away any ownership rights to your book unless that is what you want.

4. Marketing

Marketing PuzzleMaking a book available, in itself, is not enough to ensure success. If no one knows it’s there, it may as well not be there at all. Making a book known and discoverable to readers is the trickiest part of publishing and, more so than any of the other aspects, the onus falls most directly on the author’s shoulders. Even the big publishing houses, more and more, are shifting this duty onto their authors.

This area is the one most fraught with lecherous snake-oil salesmen. Be wary of anyone who guarantees results; always read the fine print of any contract to see exactly what is being offered. What does social media coordination mean? What good is guaranteeing fifty phone calls to media outlets if the whole idea is futile from the beginning? As much as any other aspect of publishing, references here are a must.

In conclusion, when transitioning from author to author-publisher, keep in mind that you’re the boss. Do your research and make service providers sell themselves to you. Armed with the right information, you can take advantage of this brave new author-centric world and give yourself the best opportunity for success.

Join author-publisher Rob Price and host Gina Hogan Edwards for a detailed discussion about the phases of self-publishing, including a comparison to traditional publishing, and the basics of creating print and e-books.

You can listen to CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, a free author education series, from the comfort of your home, on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, at 7pm (Eastern). This 30-minute talk will be followed by 30 minutes of open Q&A. Register to listen live or to get the replay.

Register now: www.AroundTheWritersTable.com/CONVERSATIONS

Rob PriceROB PRICE began as a self-published fitness author at the age of 19 and subsequently founded Price World Publishing. He now works with hundreds of aspiring authors and publishers through www.GatekeeperPress.com.

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