Posts Tagged With: criticism

Should you self-publish?


The short answer: YES

The medium answer: Yes, as long as what you are publishing has been properly vetted and edited.

The longer answer is more complicated. Let’s look at the downsides first.

  • It doesn’t appear as legitimate as traditional publishing.

People tend to regard self-publishers with a wary gaze. This is quickly changing, however, as more and more well-known authors move toward self-publishing. Now readers are looking for those cool, $0.99 hidden gems. The only people who might have a negative opinion about the legitimacy of a self-published book are university hiring committees and your mother.

  • You have to do you own marketing.

Now this is a major downside. If no one knows your masterpiece exists, no one will flock to Amazon and drop $4.99 to read it. And getting people to not only see your book, but also be interesting in reading it, is much harder than you would think. You need an online base to do some word-of-mouth promoting for you, which means working on your social media presence NOW.

This is the number one question I get asked about self-publishing. How do you get people to read this wonderful book? The answer is you need to build a following. If you’re not on social media, get on it. Twitter, Facebook, personal website, Instagram, Goodreads, etc. Make profiles that are specific to you as an author, away from your personal or private profiles. Then get networking. Make friends who will share and promote your work on their profiles and pages. Unless you want to fork over major dollars to market your work the way a traditional publisher would, you must create a strong online presence. This is not negotiable. And plus, if you do land a publisher or agent, the first thing they’ll want you to do is get online. Not negotiable.

You will also have to do free promotions, giveaways, etc. I’ll get into that in a separate marketing post.

  • If your book is bad, has a lot of mistakes, or is put together poorly, it will not sell and you will have a hard time living it down

The internet is harsh and it’s forever. Don’t put crap out there with your name on it. Get a professional editor or at minimum a proofreader. Invest in manuscript software to take the guesswork out of formatting. My favorite for manuscripts is Scrivener, which is available for Mac or Windows. Make sure people have read your manuscript before you publish. And I don’t mean your sister, or your best friend, or your barista (unless any of those people happen to be paid authors, editors or proofreaders). You must find people who will be honest with you, and then you MUST be able to take their criticism. Writer’s groups are great, but if your group consists of a bunch of hobby writers, this will not count as vetting. Try contests, search for editorial services. Do not be above paying money for this. Believe me, your work will be better in the long run. If you’re self-publishing because you’re a control freak who can’t stand to see anyone reject, criticize or make suggestions on your work, then you are exactly the kind of person who should NOT self-publish.

  • You’ll have to spend some money upfront.

You’ll need someone to do the cover art for you. If you are a graphic designer, this is not a problem. If you’re not, then you’ll have to pay. Cover art is the first thing prospective readers see. It must be eye-catching and intriguing. This is on top of the software, the editing, the proofreading and the hours of time you’ll need to get your book into shape.

Now for the good news.

  • Self-publishing is taking over the traditional publishing business

The stigma of the vanity press is (almost) no more. Good work can stand on it’s own.

  • You will get higher royalties

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing pays up to 70% royalties if you charge over $2.99 for your book. Under $2.99 is 30%. Traditional publishing, you might be lucky to get 10-20%. Now, the marketing thing comes into play. Let’s do some easy math. If a traditional publisher sells 10,000 copies at $8.99 you might see $8,900. To get a similar amount self-publishing a book at $2.99, you’ll have so sell over 4,000 books. But you’ll have to do it all by yourself. If you don’t have 4,000 friends in your contact list willing to drop cash for you, that means you’ll have to find ways to put your book in the hands of strangers who will. Which is not easy.

  • Self-publishing does not mean you book can not be traditionally published at a later date

The fairy-tale is that your book will do so well on it’s own that it will attract a traditional publisher with whom you can negotiate high royalties because the property already has a following. But for every 50 Shades travesty, there’s a million other equally bad books that languish. But it’s happened before, right?

  • As a new writer, traditional publishers will not spend the big money marketing you and your book

You will end up having to do some of your own marketing anyway. Why not keep more of the money?

  • You will have more control over the end product

We already discussed why this can be bad, but it can also be a good thing.

  • You don’t have to wait for the one acceptance in the vast sea of rejections

Everyone loves to trot out rejection letters publishers have sent to now-famous authors or reference JK Rowling’s origin story. It’s true. Rejection is part of every writer’s life. But if all you want is for people to read your work, we now have the ability to cut out the middle man.

The bottom line is: if you have a book that is ready to publish, and you’re willing to put in the work, go for it.

In the next post, I’ll discuss ways to put your book together so it’s ready for action in the digital world.

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The cutting room

“I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
―Truman Capote

I’m doing it.  I’m going to tear apart my favorite script to date.  Don’t be fooled by my bravado, I created a separate file to do all this tearing and cutting because I’m a giant scaredy-cat and have the same inner fear of every writer about to revise that I’m changing my baby for the worse.  Which it totally possible.

However, one thing is for sure: if I don’t tear this thing apart, it WILL NOT get better.

I hate revision.  I’m set in my ways and have a hard time seeing around what I’ve already accomplished.  But as Capote would agree, the scissors are just as important as the pencil.  Here are my tips for revision:

1) Give it away

Send you work out for someone else to read.  They will see things you did not and not see things you intended them to.  Either way, it will tell you something about your work.  Feel free to discard the suggestions you don’t think fit, but be open.  If you only believe the good and throw away the bad, your writing WILL NOT get better.

2) Walk away

Unless you have immediate ideas about how to fix things, put the project in a drawer for a while.  Come back to it after a healthy amount of time has passed and try to read it as if it were not your own.  Get some distance to get some perspective.

3) Create a new file

If you save the original work and use a new file to revise, some of the fear of “messing up” will be taken away.  In this new file you can hack, tear, and stitch with abandon.  Plus it’s much easier to move things around if you can just copy and paste from the original.

4) Walk away again

Let it sit for a week or so and then read it again.

5) Give it away again

If your readers will agree to it, have them read the revision.  By the way, when say readers I don’t mean your mother or husband.  Get some writer friends!  They’ll have more knowledge and will hopefully be honest with you.  You know you’ve found good ones when they give you excellent advice but don’t get butt-hurt if you don’t take it.

6) Take all the advice

Just for an exercise, create a new file and revise using every piece of feedback you have even if you don’t agree with it.  See what happens.  It might just open up something for you.  You can throw it away later if not.

7) Know when to stop

I could read everything I’ve written every day until the end of the world and still find something to change each time.  Know when to put your tools down and say done.

8) Proofread!

For the love of god, proofread.  Please.  Use find & replace to fix common mistakes like their/there/they’re and it’s/its, etc.  Nothing screams amateur more than spelling and grammar mistakes.  Proofread.  Seriously.  Proofread.  I’m going to say it one more time, proofread.


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Everyone’s a critic

“Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing.”
―Joyce Carol Oates

It is easy for writers, or anyone really, to get their hackles up at the slightest provocation.  But criticism is part of the job description.  You need thick skin.  Like alligator/armadillo/dragon hide.  Because you are going get butt-hurt at some point, whether you’re trying to be cool or not, you will.  It’s part of being creative.  The real test of your professionalism is how you take it.  The most important thing to know is that if you can’t learn to listen to the criticism, not only will you not grow as a writer, you will also never work as a writer.

A bedtime story for you all:

I was contacted a while back to work on a script adaptation of a self-published book.  The author was highly interested (who wouldn’t be?) in having their book adapted, however they felt the book had been written in such a way that there was no real work to be done; one could simply type the book into screenwriting software and voila! a marketable script.  This is not the case. Ever.  Even the best, most highly regarded best seller are adapted, cut, stitched, changed and generally destroyed in order to make a film.  It’s just the nature of the game (more on adaptations later, that’s a post for another time).  However, this author was having none of it.  I could feel the pushback almost immediately and so wanted to make sure he would be okay with the changes before I did substantial work.  I should note, at the time we did not have the book rights.  That is a huge mistake.  Always get the book rights first then you don’t have to go through what I went through.  So I gently suggested minor changes first, building up to the larger ones.  Nope.  He had really thought these characters, scenes, horrible cliché-ridden plot points through and just couldn’t understand why I would change one word.  After months of back and forth, I bowed out.  His book has not found a publisher and probably won’t be a movie any time soon.  Know why?  Of course you do.  He couldn’t take the criticism.

Fast forward.

I’m contacted to do another adaptation.  First draft goes out and comes back with major revisions.  Know what I did?  Of course you do.  I MADE THE REVISIONS.  Because in the end, in this business, you have to adapt.  Stand your ground for the things that matter and let the other stuff roll off your back.  Take the criticism.


Which brings me to feedback.  Inevitably someone will some day ask you to give them feedback on their writing.  You should do it.  It’s great practice and reading more scripts, any scripts, will improve your own writing as you will start to be able to tell when things are working and when they are not.  Even better, you’ll learn to give notes which will someday help you take them too.  But friendly feedback is different from studio notes, therefore you should not tell your writer how to fix things, but rather give them an impression of how different elements feel and leave the fix up to them.  I.e. the dialogue is wrong vs. the beat felt rushed.  See the difference?

In the end, once you slough off that newbie layer of naivety and ego, you’ll be able to tell the worthwhile criticism from the trash.  They are both out there, and believe me when I tell you, EVERY piece of writing could use some improvement.  Though once you realize that, the trick will become knowing when to stop.

But that’s also a post for another time.


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