Friday, November 29, 2013

Lifting the Lid

I review books for Reader's Favorite. The best of them I like to post here as examples of how to write a good self-published book:

Reviewed by Jennifer Reinoehl for Readers' Favorite.

Some people can spend their entire dull lives living inside the box, unfortunately, Trevor isn’t smart enough to do that. When faced with another poor job review, he decides to take the company up on their offer to let him go with severance pay before they can fire him. So what does an idiot with a rather nice bundle of cash and no job do? Buy a broken down camper and head into the wilds of Scotland for a little adventure with plenty of midge spray and an incorrigible dog named Milly. Unfortunately, his tame adventure goes wrong at the drop of a toilet lid and spirals out-of-control from that point forward. His life becomes so crazy that even his own mother wants to put him behind bars. After developing a love-hate relationship with a private investigator working for questionable employers and being chased around Britain by bad guys, good guys, and guys no one knows about, will Trevor finally be able to escape prison time for all crimes he has not committed?
Rob Johnson’s Lifting the Lid will grab you and pull you along for a fun and wild ride. Although written for the British, anyone will find this book entertaining. The story was fast-paced, and the lighthearted style keeps you smiling. The characters are lively and intriguing. They leave you wanting to read more about them and their zany lives. Whenever they think they have it figured out, something new jumps into the road for them to deal with.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Writer with a PhD

I always roll my eyes at writers that advertise themselves as having a PhD. I certainly wouldn't hire them and I think they are being very misleading.

You see, not all majors have a PhD as their terminal degree and writing is one of them. If you want to be a creative writer, you get your Master's degree. What this means is that people who advertise themselves as writers with a PhD, either do not know what they are talking about or have a PhD in something else - such as business or biology - and then let people assume that their PhD is in writing.

You may be thinking - but if I am writing a fiction book like Jurassic Park, wouldn't I want a biologist or paleontologist with a PhD helping me? Uh... no. I have a B.S. in biology - for that degree, I needed to take all of two writing courses at a whopping 6 credit hours. I have read a lot of biology journals - let me tell you, it shows in their writing. I have also taken numerous biology exams where I wished the teacher had taken at least enough writing courses to create coherent questions.

After a biologist gets a Bachelor's Degree, they never have to take another writing course again. They will be doing a lot of writing on their thesis and dissertation, but they can hire someone like me for content editing to help them. In fact, there are many teachers who recommend their graduate students do this because they do not have basic coherent writing skills.

For the record, I have taken more than the required writing courses. I took creative writing, two fiction writing courses and two literary/play analysis courses. But that is why I have two undergraduate degrees with 256 credit hours and no masters degree (sigh). At this point in my life, I would like to get a Master's degree in creative writing, but I have to pay off my college loans first - 256 credit hours is expensive to say the least.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Flat characters are black and white. When we read a story with flat characters, we walk away unsure of what makes that character tick.

The novel I am editing right now actually explains something about each character when we first meet them. We learn a little of their background and what motivates them. I do not agree that everybody should do this, but for this particular novel, it works.

Now, just telling me that your character is motivated to find the pirate's gold, or to marry the woman, or to kill Dr. Michner, is not characterization. To make your characters real, you have to know what they eat (and don't eat), what they read, what they wear. You also need to know why they do the things they do. Are they struggling to be famous? Are they trying to get out of a bad relationship?

You as the author need to know everything about your character. You do not need to tell me everything about him. Unless something interesting happens in the bathroom - I do not need to know about it as a reader. We all have to use it, and for the most part there is very little that can happen that is exciting in there. And if something interesting happens in there, the reader better know why or find out sometime in the book.

In addition to understanding your character, you need to make him or her logical. You can have a good character, who helps little old ladies across the street and rescues puppies but works as a hitman - as long as you justify his behavior. If you don't - if your character is motivated and does things strictly because (a) you're the author and you said so and/or (b) he or she has to do it or it will ruin your plot - the character will be flat. As a reader, I want to know why the guy is a hitman if he is rescuing little old ladies and puppies on the side.

If I were writing a book like that, my hitman would have been abused alongside of his sister as a child, because he loved his sister, he always stood up for her - hence anything that is weak he helps and cannot kill. However, since he was abused, he is challenged by taking out the capable and competent. I would not tell the reader this in the story, I would show him or her. I would have the hitman talk about his sister in ways that are loving. I would have him get angry whenever he is told what to do, and I would throw in a plot twist right around the climax where he is sent to kill someone and discovers the person is a blind, helpless, female.

When I write, I become my characters. I like to know everything about them and then I write from their perspective. Perhaps this is because I was originally trained to be a method actor before switching my concentration to costuming halfway through my theatre degree.

P.S. The few the number of main characters, the easier it is to know them. Once you get to six characters, you will generally begin to transpose one character on another one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Looking for Inspiration in all the Wrong Ways

Like most writers, I find inspiration at the library. On my latest visit, I was browsing the poetry section and noticed a book entitled People of Walmart. When you see a book like that in the poetry section, you immediately wonder what in the world it is doing in the poetry section (some may also wonder what I was doing in the poetry section since I was researching Hanoverian England and specifically went to the library looking for a book entitled Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking). I could not resist my curiosity and began glancing through the book.

This book is very wrong. One of the lines in the disclaimer states: "We are not responsible if [after reading this book] have the sudden urge to... clean your eyes with bleach..." Yes, it is that wrong.

I began reading this book captivated, telling myself that I in no way could bring this book home where not only would it go on my library record for the NSA to know I checked it out, but I would also have no guarantee that my children would not accidentally pick it up and glance through it themselves. However, it was close to closing time and so, I had to check it out... The librarian agreed with me that (1) the book is just wrong and (2) it is nearly impossible to put down once you open it. I justified my voyeurism into the wrong world of Walmart shoppers by saying I would have to make a blog post about it.

Hey, if pictures and stories about the wrong people who shop at Walmart inspire you to write a better historical romance, this is definitely the book for you... Taste is pretty good too, but there is nothing wrong about that book - except maybe the color picture of the lady skinning a rabbit.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Looking to Publish Your Book - Beware!

I just wanted to take a moment to warn you about the publishing scams. I guess they are not scams per se, but they are definitely on the boarder of scam. First, if you are looking for a traditional publishing company - do not do an Internet search to find one. The only reputable source that I would recommend for finding a traditional publisher is the latest version of The Writer's Market. There are magazines, book publishers, agents, contests and these come in the general version and specific genres. Are there other legit publishing companies not listed? Maybe (I think sometimes agents and publishing companies are so booked they request not being listed, simply because they will be in one year, out one year and in the next year). But why take the chance?

If you are self-publishing, just go to Amazon and figure out how to format for CreateSpace (or have/pay someone do this for you). Most self-publishing companies are a rip off. The Writer's Market doesn't even list them. You pay them big amounts of money to publish your book for you. You may or may not get marketing help and many of them will just go to Amazon and CreateSpace and publish your book there (for free and take most of the royalties). You may or may not be paid royalties you earn (there are several self-publishing companies that have not paid authors even if the book sold well). Are they all scams? - No. Some do provide services similar to what you could hire on Guru or eLance that will give even the poorest authors a good book. But again why take the chance?

It is difficult to build an audience. You want each book you put out to be the best it can be so your audience wants to buy the next book you write. If you dump a bunch of money into marketing your first book and it is awful, you just spent a lot of money reducing the size of your audience by that much.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brutal Honesty

Okay, so if anyone reading this hasn't guessed by now, I am brutally honest in my opinions. I will not lead you on a yellow leash and tell you that what you have is wonderful when it isn't. If you are lucky, I may have my husband read through my comments first to make sure I am saying it as nicely as possible... maybe.

For those who hire me, I give them brutal honesty and when we are finished, they will have a story that is marketable. However, I do not expect many to return unless they are masochistic. I do, however, expect them to leave better authors than what they came to me.

I would like to take this time to return to a post I wrote several weeks ago about the woman who hired me to edit her novel. I was the most expensive freelancer and I have a morality clause - I don't work on things that I deem to be ethically or morally wrong - that's right MY definition. Now, she had SEVERAL freelancers turn it down because of the raunchy sex in it, but she insisted it was not being published as erotica. So, I took the job.

Hmmm.... how do I say it... it was raunchy. But, it actually had a decent plot considering it is her first urban novel (she has written one other book - a memoir). Now, we have taken several weeks to tear apart this book. I worked on it, then I sent it to her and she worked on it and it went back and forth like this. Yes, I told her what she had done wrong, but as an editor, I gave her the choice to fix it or not. And most of the time, she fixed it (there are still a few raunchy scenes, but they are much better written) and she did a good job of it. I don't know if she will ever want to go through the process with me again, but I have confidence that she has a product that is marketable and she has learned things about writing.

So, I try to help people, but I reached out to one of the old school freelancers who was grumping about not getting enough money. After reading my suggestions for him to spend more time marketing himself, he called me a "troll." Okay, I 'm a big girl... I can take it. People inherently resist change of any kind even if it is for the better (which is why it surprises me than none of the people who have hired me have called me a troll or worse yet). However, in response, to ensure I was not some evil new Internet scumbag, I found this lovely blog that lays it out for you:
Occasionally, I am an A - if I deem there is nothing I say that will get through to you. But for the most part I am B. I do not eat people or goats... well, at least not raw.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Freelancers Unite! So we can make millions of dollars! - NOT!

I'm sick of freelancers posting that we should be earning more money and whining because people underbid them on jobs. One said we shouldn't charge less than 0.50 per word! Regardless of the project! Really? None of the people who posted to this discussion and agreed with this silly rate had famous names like Stephen King or Ray Bradbury. Yet these people think the $0.02 per word (that I charge) is slave labor, and I am giving it away free. Yes, my writing/translating rates are about to increase to $0.03 - $0.05. I also charge based on a sliding scale depending on the job (Editing is $2-$4 per page) and if I have an established relationship with the employer or not (The longer I have known you the more flexible I will be in my pricing).

Let me put what these overpriced freelancers are asking in perspective:

I just wrote a book (in about three months – I do not freelance full time) of 70,000 words that I am planning on submitting for traditional publication or if that fails, self-publishing. Either way, I will put time and effort into promoting/marketing this book, and I will, of course, assume some or all of the risk – my income from it will depend upon sales. All in all, I expect to make about $25,000 off of this book over time. (This book is different from the children's book I am self-publishing in a few weeks.)
By their standard flat rate of 50 cents per word, if an employer hired me for this book, gave me the idea of what to write about, and then assumed ALL the risk for it, I, a no name freelancer who will assume none of the risk nor spend any time promoting it, should charge him $35,000 to write it. The freelance editor should then charge him another $35,000 to edit it (times however many editors he likes to use, I prefer three). The proofreader should charge $35,000, as well. So, those who support this outrageous rate are saying that freelancers, who once again assume none of the risk and frequently are not famous or even known, should charge more for a book than what someone who is an outright author should earn.

The bottom line is that people buying books will only pay so much. That means the people hiring you are only going to get so much for it. If I write an awesome, award winning novel and charge $50 per paperback book copy – I am not going to sell very many books no matter how much I promote it. If I am an awesome science fiction author, I may sell millions of books, but I am limited by the number of people who like to read science fiction. If I write articles for a magazine, I am limited in what I can charge by the number of people who subscribe to the magazine and the number of authors submitting their articles to it.

If you want to be a freelancer, my advice is to research the market and find out what other freelancers are charging - regardless of where they live (please note: NOT in discussion boards where you can say you earn tons of money- look at their profiles and look at the projects and how much they actually earned). That is why I like Guru. I can see what others charge, and I can look at their posted work samples, so I can charge competitively with others who produce the same quality of work. However, when you are just beginning, don't expect to make the same that someone who has a proven track record makes.

Why? I give you this example - When I hired 5 freelancers for one job, 2 were old pros. They completed the job quickly, kept up good communication throughout it, and provided me with quality work. Three of the freelancers were new and had not made over $1000. Of them, one was close to making $1000. He completed the work like an old pro. The other two neither communicated with me, nor completed the work. When an employer hires a new freelancer, he or she is taking on more of a risk with a newer person than an older one. One of the old pros was asking a higher rate and the up and coming one was asking the same (I negotiated a lower rate with the up and coming one). The other old pro was asking the same amount as one of the bad newbies. The third (also bad) newbie was asking a little less than all the others.

My point is, if you are new, you are a risk. I will not even hire people with no feedback as a general rule. But, if you have a service I need, are low priced, and I have time to hire someone else if you fail, I consider it. Regardless of how good you are - being new means more risk to your employer. The way to get them to take that risk is to show them good samples and offer an introductory rate. Start out asking 50 cents per word, and I guarantee I will have made more in my first year of freelancing than what you will make during yours.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

So you want to be an author?

So you have a "good idea" for a book? So people keep telling you that you should write a book? So your friends LOVED your manuscript?

Until recently, I believed that everyone could be an author especially with support services like those found on Guru. Now, I'm sorry, I don't believe this any longer.

Why? Because it has recently come to my attention that some people (self-proclaimed authors) do not know their limitations and are surrounded by people who will not point them out to them. Not everyone can author a book. The End.

Now, for those of you who feel the limitations of your craft and who seek out people to increase their knowledge and refine their craft - yes, you can all be authors. If you have never read a book and failed Freshman English (the second one applies to me - it's a long story) but you have a really good idea for a book and want to pay someone to ghostwrite it for you (who is qualified) than you will make an excellent author.

You don't have to follow the "rules" to write a book, but you have to know all the rules so you know when and where to break them. I do not expect every book I read to be excellent or even good. I understand that your first novel will probably not be your favorite. But please, if you are writing a book, get objective help.

I loved The Princess Bride. That book breaks the rules. The author knew exactly when to insert a "meaningless" excerpt from his life to build tension and show how his life (or a fictionalized version) was a mess compared to the happily ever after in the book. Genius.

However, the reason I am writing this is because I have read a published book by someone who did not know how to write a book, who submitted it and published it through a publisher who knew nothing about the trade, and who made a bestseller list with reviews that were by people who either didn't finish the book or were paid.

Imagine if I gave you a book to read about a two trolls who needed to be together to save the world. They were together in the beginning of the book then one decided to leave and fight in a troll war. During the troll war he was captured by lizardmen. [Imagine an image of my family geneology is inserted here.] Ryan and his family lived in Australia with his favorite dog. One day his dog got lost and Ryan travelled down my family tree to find it. At the bottom was an inter-dimensional tear to the troll world. He went through the tear and help the troll escape, but the other troll had already come looking for the captured troll. Ryan died, but the lizard woman he married there was carrying his child. The lizardwoman and the captured troll travelled to the trolls home and met the first troll along the way. The end.

Sadly, this story that I just made up is better than the book I just read. This is why you need objective feedback. I asked my husband, who loves me dearly and thinks I am a good writer, his honest opinion of the story I wrote. His first words were "What do you mean?" After much prompting, he finally said, "It's short" (nervously). I had to tell him he would not get in trouble with me no matter what he said before he finally admitted, "It's terrible." If you think your loved ones are telling you the truth about your work, write something really awful (make it short - they are your loved ones after all) and see what they say. If they are still saying you should be an author and it's wonderful, you might want to find a new source of objectivity. Please.

It doesn't take much to be a good author. Even those without writing skills can write wonderful stories with objective, constructive criticism (or a good ghostwriter). But you have to be humble enough to ask for help from the right people.