Budget Basics

June 25, 2013

When I edit books, I ask the author about his or her publishing plans. Ninety percent plan to self-publish. Self-publishing requires investing in oneself, and it also means creating a publishing plan, including a budget. Here are some budget basics.

  • Budgets are plans that set out expected revenues (income) and expenditures (outgo) for a specific period of time or project.
  • Budgets rely on a set of assumptions, usually based on some past activity.
  • Deviation from the plan is expected since some assumptions will not always be accurate (printing costs can go up, sales aren’t as high in a given period, etc.).

Budgeting is the process by which you relate spending with project progress. Simplistically speaking, if you budget $5000.00 for your self-publishing project and you spend $2,000.00 on the cover design and interior layout and $1,500.00 on editing, you have $1,500.00 remaining in your budget for printing. That leaves you nothing for marketing, however, in your project.

You may want to revisit your budget total for each activity in your budget. But if you skimp on the wrong thing, you could assure your book will fail in the marketplace. Therefore, you’ll need to make some hard decisions. For example, can you attract investors for your book and pay them back through sales revenues? The cover design’s job is to attract the reader, so can you find a less expensive designer to accomplish that task? The book industry standard is the Chicago Manual of Style and you want your book edited to that standard. When you find an editor, be sure you find one who meets that criteria.You want every aspect of your book to look professional, so hire professionals who work in book publishing.

When you keep in mind that publishing is business, not dream fulfillment, you increase your chances of success. Part of that success comes from realistically estimating your expenditures and revenues based on assumptions. Budgeting may not be the most fun part of writing, but it’s an important step if you want your book to at least break even.

Happy writing!

Do You Really Consider Yourself a Writer?

June 20, 2013

If you tell someone you’re a writer, you probably get two questions.

  1. What do you write?
  2. Have you been published?

The second question implies that you need to be published to call yourself a writer. Not so. I guarantee that you cannot be published unless you’re a writer first.

Obviously being published helps validate your writing, but how many stories are there about manuscripts that were discovered and published after a writer’s death? Would you claim the writer wasn’t a writer in his/her lifetime? I think not.

So, what can you do to consider yourself a writer? Here are some thoughts.

  • Write every day. Schedule the time to write if you must, but spend some time every day on your writing.
  • Define what counts as writing. Writers do research, for example. Research involves actually doing a task, then using that experience in a scene; interviewing people; reading; web searches; observation; taking a class; etc. If, in all honesty, you’re doing research connected to your writing, count it as part of your writing process.
  • Give yourself credit for having your own writing style. Too many new writers stop trying because they think they need to write like Hemingway or Stephen King or Danielle Steele. Avoid the trap of thinking you have to match another writer’s technical ability or style to consider yourself a writer.
  • Be persistent. An old joke says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Response: “Practice, practice, practice.” Or, as I tell my writing students, “For the most part, he who practices doesn’t get worse.” Practice requires persistence.
  • Keep writing issues in perspective. Some good writers won’t give themselves a break because they think they don’t have enough education or can’t spell or don’t know grammar well. But writing is both art and skill. Art comes naturally and skill can be learned and practiced. If you need more education, go get it. If you can’t spell or don’t know grammar well, your word processor will help with its built-in tools and you can always hire an editor.
  • Take yourself seriously as a writer. If you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect others to?

I hope these ideas help you become your own biggest fan as you continue your writing journey.

Happy writing!

Write Something Inspirational

June 18, 2013

People are always looking for something inspirational, so why not try your hand at inspirational writing?

What is inspirational writing? It’s anything that makes the reader feel better about himself or herself. To inspire is to breathe life into. Inspiration lets the reader know there is hope. It moves the reader from thinking “I think I can” to “Yes, I can!”

Here are some tips to get you started writing something inspirational.

  • Begin by wanting to do something of value. The money will follow as you search the marketplace for editors with the same goal and need your writing to help them reach that goal.
  • Think about what you’ve already got and what you can do with it. For example, take a story out of scripture and write about it.
  • Read the newspaper avidly and look for stories you can clip and use for ideas. Use those stories to create a small awareness that can inspire your reader to something bigger.
  • Give yourself permission to feel emotion. It’s okay to talk about emotional issues and cry or to see the humor in life and laugh. These are things greeting cards and scripts are made of.
  • Embrace the ideas God gives you and know that He expects you to do what it takes to bring them out to your readers. People want to believe that despite all the problems in life, there is hope that something better lies ahead.
  • Watch your timing instead of following trends. And, if you’re writing an inspirational book, keep in mind it takes time to publish your book–even if you do it yourself.
  • Know something about the beliefs of a denomination if you want to write for a religious press.
  • Consider various forms and let the form flow from your idea. Share inspiration in the form of a poem, a story, an essay, or a devotion. In our publishing company, we published a hardcover daily devotional for working women that was very successful, but the author worked hard to write 365 scripture-based devotionals that included a work-related story.
  • Remember that inspirational writing always ends up a win (never a loss nor a tie).
  • Read inspirational authors and analyze why they’re successful. Then examine your own writing and determine what you need to do to become a success as well.

Genre writers write to formula, and here’s the formula for inspirational writing.

  1. State a problem.
  2. Address the problem in some way.
  3. Resolve the problem.

I hope this post inspires you to look at your writing possibilities with new eyes so you can share your good insights with others.

Happy writing!

Have You Considered Offering Photos with Your Articles?

June 12, 2013

Sometimes you can add to your freelance income by offering photos to accompany your articles when you query. Offering an editor a complete package might make a difference in getting the sale. Here are some tips on offering photos with articles.

  • When you query a profile, offer a photo of the person you’re profiling. I queried a profile about  a woman who won the state championship for her apple pie, including a photo of her in the kitchen. I sold both the article and the photo. I did the same thing when profiling a couple who dressed in period dress and drove their Model T in community parades.
  • If you’re offering a recreation article, suggest photos of the activity/action, especially if the recreation is unusual.
  • If you’re a bit camera shy, consider taking a photography class or joining a camera club.
  • If you’re really camera shy, find a photographer to team up with.
  • You can’t sell what you can’t find, so organize your photos so you can retrieve the one(s) you want when you need them.
  • If you’re covering an event and simply cannot get photos of everything you want, ask contacts at the event for pictures (but be aware of copyright and be sure you get written permission to use the photos). If the photos are not your own, get releases that indicate photo credit and payment information. Also, out of professional courtesy, return the photos (if the owner wants them back) with a copy of the published article.
  • When sending your query, include clips of photos you’ve already had published so the editor sees the quality of your work.
  • Finally, consider offering other visuals that may help sell your article–maps, illustrations, drawings, book covers in case of book reviews, etc. Just make sure you have the right to sell what you’re offering.

Offering photos with your articles can benefit both you and the editor and put a  little extra in your freelance paycheck.

Happy writing!

A Potpourri of Writing Wisdom

June 10, 2013

I’ve gathered a lot of wisdom through reading, talking with other writers, and my own experience over the years, so I decided to start this week off by sharing some of that insight with you.  Use what you can and leave the rest.

  • There are three rules to becoming a successful writer–but no one knows what those rules are.
  • You can’t learn passion for writing. You can’t learn talent for writing. Thus, formal education isn’t as important as constant education is.
  • Success comes when you figure out what you need to do, then do it.
  • The key to writer’s block is to lower your standards.
  • Have a writing place and go there so the muse can find you.
  • When you stop the writing session you’re in, stop at a place where you know what happens next so you know where to start writing again.
  • Creative writing is filled with exceptions, so don’t get hung up on rules–instead, focus on reader needs and expectations.
  • To be a good writer, READ, READ, READ!
  • When submitting a query, follow the rules explicitly or your letter will get tossed. Editors are constantly looking for easy ways to whittle down the query pile.
  • Queries and story submissions must be limited to one page.
  • In query writing, don’t overkill. Instead, focus on “Here it is. See if you like it.”
  • In query writing, self-deprecation is as bad as boasting, so don’t do either one.
  • Always remember that a query letter is a sales pitch and write it with that in mind.
  • Enter contests to stretch yourself as a writer–you might become an award-winning writer!

The best writing wisdom I can offer, however, is be sure to write something every day. You’ll get in the writing habit and, as with any skill, your writing will improve with practice.

Happy writing!


What’s the Difference Between Romance and Women’s Fiction?

June 6, 2013

Some suggest romance is the same as women’s fiction. I suggest that’s inaccurate and here’s why.

Romance Primer

  • Reader expects love conquers all.
  • Plot focus is between hero and heroine.
  • The two main characters are vividly portrayed–including their faults.
  • The protagonist takes center stage and stays there throughout the book.
  • Book length tends to be shorter than general women’s fiction.
  • Story pace tends to be quicker because book is designed to be read in a sitting or two.
  • Story’s purpose is solely to be entertaining.

Women’s Fiction Primer

  • Reader expects a satisfying read.
  • Plot can be complicated, even to the point of including subplots that impact the main character(s).
  • Story tends to include more characters to move along the more complicated plot.
  • Story can span years, which can increase the book’s length.
  • Resolution of issues can take longer, which can slow down the story’s pace.
  • Story can examine (and thus cause reader to examine) hard issues that make reader think about moral choices.
  • Story’s purpose is more than entertainment–it causes reader to think.

So, if those are the differences, what are the similarities that make people think romance and women’s fiction are one and the same?

  • Both have characters the reader cares about.
  • Both open with some action that disrupts the protagonist’s life.
  • Both have characters who change for some reason in the book.
  • Both have characters who feel emotions the reader can understand.

As you ruminate over your next novel, you get to decide whether you’re writing romance or women’s fiction. There is a difference. (By the way, men and women alike are excellent at writing both.)

Happy writing!

Short Fiction Primer

June 4, 2013

Readers expect to read short fiction in one sitting. When you write short fiction, think of the story as a dream that shouldn’t be broken in the middle.

And, when you write short fiction, write with integrity. Draw on your own experiences, observations, and imagination as you create your scenes and infiltrate your characters’ heads. Feel what you’re writing rather than judge it. An important part of fiction is conflict, so allow the good and bad to pull at each other. Why? Nobody cares much about fiction unless there’s conflict followed by resolution.

It’s okay to have a happy ending or have the story end “as it should be.” But make sure your short fiction is all about unity (one thing only). More complicated works become novels.

Here are some things you might want to try to improve your short fiction writing.

  • Read literature with an eye to what the writer is doing with his/her writing. Most readers just absorb and enjoy what they read, but you, as a writer, need to go deeper so your own writing grows and gets better.
  • Read genre short stories critically so you understand how the writer stays true to the  genre. Readers expect certain things from romance, mystery, sci-fi, etc. and you don’t want to disappoint your readers.
  • Pick a classic short story and go through it three times. The first time read it as any reader would (for pleasure). The second time read it as if you had written it (and mark up areas you would have done differently). The third time read your version and compare with the original for flow, inconsistencies, flaws, improvements, etc. Be honest about which version has the better potential for reaching the reader’s soul–the classic version or your new one.
  • Place some action in the beginning of your short fiction.
  • Move action through the story.
  • Bring the action back to closure.

Every writer can cite an example of popular fiction that isn’t well written, but people seem to like it. How does that happen? Popular fiction gives readers what they want. The only way you can give your readers what they want  is to research the markets, work constantly, finish your projects, and send them out. Your readers are waiting.

Happy writing!