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Improving, Publishing and Promoting Your Writing
by: Michael LaRocca

In this article I'll tell you everything I know about improving your writing, publishing it electronically and in print, and promoting it after the sale.

Sometimes a story idea just comes to me out of nowhere and refuses to leave me alone until I write it. So, I do.

And, whenever I read a book that really fires me up, I find myself thinking, "I wish I could write like that." So, I just keep trying. I'll never write the best, but I'll always write my best. And get better every time. That's the "secret" of the writing "business," same as any other business. Always deliver the goods.

I read voraciously, a habit I recommend to any author who doesn't already have it. You'll subconsciously pick up on what does and doesn't work. Characterization, dialogue, pacing, plot, story, setting, description, etc. But more importantly, someone who doesn't enjoy reading will never write something that someone else will enjoy reading.

I don't write "for the market." I know I can't, so I just write for me and then try to find readers who like what I like. I'm not trying to whip up the next bestseller and get rich. Not that I'd complain. Nope, I have to write what's in my heart, then go find a market later. It makes marketing a challenge at times, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

When you write, be a dreamer. Go nuts. Know that you're writing pure gold. That fire is why we write.

An author who I truly admire, Kurt Vonnegut, sweats out each individual sentence. He writes it, rewrites it, and doesn't leave it alone until it's perfect. Then when he's done, he's done.

I doubt most of write like that. I don't. I let it fly as fast as my fingers can move across the paper or keyboard, rushing to capture my ideas before they get away. Later, I change and shuffle and slice.

James Michener claims that he writes the last sentence first, then has his goal before him as he writes his way to it.

Then there's me. No outline whatsoever. I create characters and conflict, spending days and weeks on that task, until the first chapter really leaves me wondering "How will this end?" Then my characters take over, and I'm as surprised as the reader when I finish my story.

Some authors set aside a certain number of hours every day for writing, or a certain number of words. In short, a writing schedule.

Then there's me. No writing for three or six months, then a flurry of activity where I forget to eat, sleep, bathe, change the cat's litter... I'm a walking stereotype. To assuage the guilt, I tell myself that my unconscious is hard at work. As Hemingway would say, long periods of thinking and short periods of writing.

I've shown you the extremes in writing styles. I think most authors fall in the middle somewhere. But my point is, find out what works for you. You can read about how other writers do it, and if that works for you, great. But in the end, find your own way. That's what writers do.

Just don't do it halfway.

If you're doing what I do, writing a story that entertains and moves you, then you will find readers who share your tastes. For some of us that means a niche market and for others it means regular appearances on the bestseller list.

Writing is a calling, but publishing is a business. Remember that after you've written your manuscript. Not during.

I've told you how I write. For me.

The next step is self-editing. Fixing all the mistakes I made, that I can identify, in my rush to write it before my Muse took a holiday. Several rewrites. Running through it repeatedly with a fine-toothed comb.

Then what?

There are stories that get rejected because the potential publisher hates them, but far more are shot down for other reasons. Stilted dialogue. Boring descriptions. Weak characters. Underdeveloped story. Unbelievable or inconsistent plot. Sloppy writing.

That's what you have to fix.

I don't know how far along you are in your writing, but if you've never used a writing workshop, you should consider one.

Your goal when you self-edit is to get your book as close to "ready to read" as you possibly can. You want your editor to find what you overlooked, not what you didn't know about.

Your story is your story. You write it from your heart, and when it looks like something you'd enjoy reading, you set out to find a publisher who shares your tastes. What you don't want is for that first reader to lose sight of what makes your story special because you've bogged it down with silly mistakes.

Authors don't pay to be published. They are paid for publication. Always. It's just that simple. And later, I'll tell you where to get some free editing.

But there's a limit to how much editing you can get without paying for it. Do you need more than that? I don't know because I've never seen your writing. But if you evaluate it honestly, I Think you'll know the answer.

As an editor, I've worked with some authors who simply couldn't self-edit. A non-native English speaker, a guy who slept through English class, whatever. To them, maybe paying for editing was an option. This isn't paying for publication. This is paying for a service, training. Just like paying to take a Creative Writing class at the local community college.

By the way, I don't believe creativity can be taught. Writing, certainly. I took my Creative Writing class in high school, free, and treasure it. But I already had the creativity, or else it would've been a waste of the teacher's time and mine.

If you hire an editor worthy of the name, you should learn from that editor how to self-edit in the future. In my case it took two tries, because the first editor was a rip-off artist charging over ten times market value for incomplete advice.

If you choose to hire an editor, check price and reputation. And consider that you might never make enough selling your books to get back what you pay that editor. Do you care? That's your decision.

The first, most important step on the road to publication is to make your writing the best it can be.

Publication

My goal is to be published in both mediums, ebook and print. There are some readers who prefer ebooks, and some who prefer print books. The latter group is much larger, but those publishers are harder to sell your writing to. I want both, because I want all the readers I can get.

Thus, I advocate something of a stepping-stone approach. Publish electronically with a quality place, enjoy the benefits of free editing and almost instant gratification regarding publishing time.

Later, if you think you can sell your book to a traditional print publisher, you have a professionally edited manuscript to submit.

Before you epublish, check the contract to be sure you can publish the edited work in print later.

If you know your book just plain won't ever make it into traditional print, print-on-demand (POD) is an option. Some of my books fall into this category. The best epublishers will simultaneously publish your work electronically and in POD format, at no cost to you.

A lot of authors swear by self-publication, but the prospect just plain scares me. All that promo, all that self-editing, maybe driving around the countryside with a back seat full of books. I'm a writer, not a salesman. But, maybe you're different.

I self-published once, in the pre-POD days. Mom handled the sales. I had fun and broke even. With POD, at least it's cheaper to self-publish than it was in 1989.

If you're flying solo, POD can range anywhere from US $99 to over $1000. Don't pay the higher price! Price shop. Also, remember that POD places publish any author who pays, and do no marketing.

Print Publishing vs Electronic Publishing

Promoting Your Published Writing

It doesn't matter how you publish your book. Self-published, epublished, POD, or traditional print publishing from an absolute powerhouse. Marketing falls largely on you, and the same things always work. Book signings, interviews in the local newspapers and on radio.

Look up all the local media outlets in your area that have websites.

If you write to them all, you're a spammer. Plus, it'll take ages. Look for the ones with a legitimate interest and fire away.

If you find a stale URL, and I think you will, look for the name of that media outlet at some place like Google. Spend some time looking for the right press contacts, spend some time writing your press release, and do what you can.

Most of these sites list email, snail mail, and phone calls. Since I live in China, I've only used email.

Book reviews, author interviews, book listing sites, and book contests are something we can all do, regardless of where we live. Again, I'm going to give you some web pages to visit. Pages where I keep my resources, so I don't lose them. Some of the sites I mention do ebooks, and some do not. The POD option can help e-authors here, but balance cost vs. likelihood of gaining enough readers to offset that.

Some are ezines and some are websites. Some are printed newsletters, some are printed magazines, and some are newspapers. This is just a starting point. If you visit them all, and you have time for more promotion, you can find many more.

Internet marketing isn't a replacement for the methods mentioned above, but a complement to them. And by using it, I got you here.

Your goal in marketing is this. There are certainly people in the world who like what you like. And since you like your book, they probably will too.

But you have to find those readers and make them interested, without spamming them and without just "playing the numbers game."

If you're an e-author, let me state the obvious. Nobody buys ebooks who doesn't have Internet access. Do they? So you definitely need a website.

Traditional print authors need websites too. Even blockbuster authors like J.R. Rowling and Stephen King, who I doubt could garner any more name recognition, have websites. So does every long-established inescapable monstro-business like McDonalds and Coke.

Okay, those folks pay web designers. I'm not doing that. I can't generate those kinds of sales figures. And yes, I've formerly been employed as an HTML programmer. But you can write your own website without even learning HTML if you want. It's no harder than writing a manuscript with a word processor.

It won't be super-flashy like the big boys, but it'll communicate the information. Remember, you can communicate. You're an author! And that's what keeps people coming back to a website after the thrill of the flash wears off. Information. Content. Your specialty.

Closing Thoughts

Now let's get back to your writing. That's why you're here.

Here's something you've heard before. When your manuscript is rejected -- and it will be -- remember that you aren't being rejected. Your manuscript is.

One reader took me to task for that statement, claiming he'd never been rejected in his life. I'm very happy for him. But why, if I may be so bold as to ask, would he need advice on How To Get Published? I'd rather he write some advice so I can hang up my "helper guy" hat and learn from a master.

But I digress. You aren't being rejected, I was saying. Your manuscript is.

Did you ever hang up the phone on a telemarketer, delete spam, or close the door in the face of a salesman? Of course, and yet that salesman just moves on to the next potential customer. He knows you're rejecting his product, not him.

Okay, in my case I'm rejecting both, but I'd never do that to an author. Neither will a publisher or an agent. All authors tell other authors not to take rejection personally, and yet we all do. Consider it a target to shoot for, then. Just keep submitting, and just keep writing.

The best way to cope with waiting times is to "submit and forget," writing or editing other stuff while the time passes.

I would wish you luck in your publishing endeavors, but I know there's no luck involved. It's all skill and diligence.




 



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