There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and many offer great advice. However, most of the ones I’ve seen are geared toward nonfiction writers. As novel writers, we have different goals and needs. We’re storytellers. We write to entertain.
This blog is about helping you write a better novel as I pass along what I’ve learned about this crazy business. So please, pull up a chair and make yourselves comfortable. And if you see something you like, please be sure to post a comment.
Once upon a time, there were two book distributing services in the United States. Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. Baker & Taylor distributes to schools and libraries. Ingram distributes to book sellers.
Then the book publishing industry began changing in the early 21st century. Personal computers were becoming more sophisticated and more affordable. At the same time, new software was allowing people to publish from home. It even had a name. Desktop publishing.
So along came Lightning Source
Ingram created subsidiary called Lightning Source. I’m not exactly sure when this came about. However, I first heard of Lightning Source in 2003, after I wrote my first Luke and Jenny novel. My original publisher used Lightning Source for their distribution.
I began working with Lightning Source directly in 2011, when I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. At the time, they were a fantastic company to work with. They were there to help you succeed. If you had any question or concerns, or if you just needed a little help uploading a file, they were only a phone call away.
Then came Ingram Spark
A new subsidiary, Ingram Spark, came along a few years later. It worked with independent, or self-published authors, so I migrated to the new site. Same company, same great customer service. I had a long and happy business relationship with both subsidiaries for over a decade
Unfortunately, times have changed, and I’m afraid it hasn’t been for the better. It all started when I was having some serious log in issues with my account. No matter what I did, nothing would fix it. It’s a rather long, complicated story, so I’ll sum it up by saying that after much frustration and emails back and forth, I was told the problem was fixed. Only it wasn’t fixed. The issue still persisted.
All I can tell you is Ingram Spark is longer the helpful company I signed on with back in 2011. They have discontinued telephone support. Tech support is only available by email only. Unfortunately, the more complicated the issue, the more difficult it is to resolve it by email alone.
In my case, the response to the emails I sent usually asked me for more information, which I had already included in the original email. Each response also came from a different sender, who had obviously never read the prior response. Needless to say, this only made matters worse, and the issue was never resolved. Sometimes you need to communicate in person, but I no longer have that option. There came a point when it finally became a deal breaker. Thankfully, there are now some alternatives.
Kindle Direct Publishing
All we all know, the Amazon Kindle has been a game changer. I started publishing my ebook editions directly with Amazon shortly after the Kindle came on the market. The platform easy to use, and I could upload my files for free. However, I just wasn’t sure about using it for publishing my printed books.
I recently learned that one of my author friends has never used Ingram Spark. This came as a big surprise. He’s been writing books longer than I have, and he has built himself a good following.
He distributes his books through Amazon Extended Distribution and SmashWords. SmashWords also distributes his books to Barnes & Noble. This includes his printed books as well as his ebooks. Unfortunately, SmashWords has had its share of controversies, so I don’t use them myself. I have, however, used Barnes & Noble press in the past to distribute some of my ebook editions. So, I’m now changing course. I will no longer be distributing my print editions through Ingram Spark.
Unlike Ingram Spark, Amazon does not charge you a fee to upload your files. You can upload them for free. So why spend money when you don’t have to?
I was also concerned about the printing quality, but after receiving my first author’s copies, I can find no difference between KDP and Ingram. Both companies produce good quality print books.
Amazon has outstanding customer service. You can contact them by phone, email or chat. I’ve found their phone support to be friendly and helpful. No long waits on hold either. You enter your phone number, and they will call you back. They will also work with you until the problem is fixed.
To the best of my knowledge, KDP does not distribute to Barnes & Noble. However, Barnes & Noble does also their offer self-publishing services through Barnes & Noble Press, and I already have an account with them.
Ingram Spark is by far the winner when it comes to the most thorough book distribution. Unfortunately, because of all the grief they have caused me, they simply aren’t worth headache in order for me to sell that one book through an obscure book seller. I can only hope that they will take whatever steps are necessary to improve their customer service.
Once upon a time, I offered publishing services to other authors. It was an interesting experience, and I met some very nice people. I also learned about the misconceptions authors sometimes have about the services publishers provide.
What publishers do
Publishing services, sometimes called partnership publishing, print and distribute your book. Some may offer other services, such as typesetting and cover design, while others may not. I was a graphic designer before I became an author, so I offered typesetting and cover design. The only services I didn’t offer were illustrating and editing.
For the most part, my authors were pleased with my work. I would send them the proofs. Once the author approved them, I would publish their book. Then came the problems. Now that they had their printed copy in hand, they found typos and misspellings. And why hadn’t I caught those errors and fixed them before I published their book?
Because it wasn’t my job.
What publishers don’t do
When it comes to independent publishing, or self publishing, it is oftentimes the author, and not the publisher, who is responsible for editing and proofreading their manuscripts. This is why you need to carefully review the contract before you sign it.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, It Takes a Team to Write a Book, there is a lot involved in writing and publishing a book. Editors and proofreaders are also needed. They are the people who catch your errors before the book goes to the publisher.
As human beings, it’s difficult for us to see our own mistakes. This is why we need a fresh pair of eyes to go over our manuscripts. I use both an editor and a proofreader before publishing my work. The editor does most of the heavy lifting. He or she looks for spelling errors, grammatical errors, continuity errors, and to insure the author is using the proper syntax. The proofreader comes in later to catch any errors the editor may have missed. Even so, we’re all human, and there will always be those few mistakes we all missed. The goal is to catch as many as we can.
Of course, if I happened to catch an error, I would fix it and let the author know. However, typesetters simply don’t have time to read the text. They’re only concerned about how the text appears on the page, so please, don’t count on these people to look for typos and other mistakes. They’re not proofreaders.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered that it simply wasn’t profitable for me to publish books for other authors, so I no longer offer this service. However, it was still a good learning experience, so I have no regrets.
One of the things I love the most about writing fiction is the dialog. The dialog is what brings the characters to life. However, like any other kind of writing, there is a technique for writing effective dialog. In fact, there are entire books about how to write dialog. If you’re new to writing fiction I highly recommend reading them. In the meantime, I’m going to cover some of the basics, and the way I go about writing dialog.
What is the purpose of dialog?
As most of you already know, fiction writing is all about the conflict. The conflict is what drives the storyline, and the dialog helps build the tension. For example, the more a character talks about their big plans, and how they made everything foolproof, the more we know something is about to go terribly wrong.
Dialog also defines the character’s personality. A character who has a PhD will undoubtably have a different speech pattern than a character who’s a high school dropout. Here in the United States, different regions of the country have their own dialects. A character from Boston will speak differently than a character from New Orleans. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set your story in a location where you are familiar with the local lingo.
Dialog and Grammar
People don’t use perfect grammar when they are speaking. We tend to shorten words. We’ll say, “gonna,” instead of, “going to.” We speak in incomplete sentences as well as comma spliced sentences. Therefore, none of my characters speak perfect, grammatically correct English. Fortunately, my editor gets this. She’s a fiction writer herself. However, it’s been an issue with some of the proofreaders I’ve worked with.
Gloria, who proofread many of my earlier Marina Martindale romance novels, passed away a few years ago. She was a dear friend who I will always miss, and she also loved my books. While not a writer herself, she had once been a proofreader for a newspaper. Trust me, nothing got past her watchful eye. She also understood the difference between narrative and dialog.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky with the proofreaders for my next two novels. One was a retired English teacher who not only corrected all the grammar in my dialog, she also argued with me when I pointed out, more than once, that real people do not speak perfect, grammatically correct English. My most recent proofreader was someone who had learned English as a second language. To her credit, she was very fluent in English, and she had also written a few nonfiction books. However, when it came to the dialog, she didn’t always understand slang words and common idioms, which caused some confusion.
The Use of Grammar in First and Third Person Narratives
I write in the third person narrative. When my characters aren’t speaking I use proper grammar and punctuation in my narrative as I describe the events from an anonymous and detached point of view. However, the rules may vary when using the first person narrative. Since your character is telling the entire story from start to finish, you need to let the character speak in his or her own voice. The same is true when writing dialog in the third person narrative. Let your characters have their own distinctive voice.
Someone I follow on YouTube recently posted a video about why he finally left Twitter. He made some interesting points. Twitter has an unusual dynamic. While most Twitter users are well educated people, he noticed they all seem to behave like middle school kids.
I use Twitter to promote my books and photography. However, I don’t engage as much on Twitter as I do on other social media platforms. I’ve always found their platform odd. Twitter used to call their tweets, “mini blogs.” When I first signed up posts were limited to 140 characters, which I thought was pretty limiting. I’m a writer. I want to express myself. They’re since doubled it to 280 characters, but it’s still pretty limiting. Therefore, I mostly use Twitter to post links to my blogs and websites.
I use third party websites to post my Tweets. One is Hootsuite, the other is Buffer. Both offer free accounts with some nice features, such as shorted URLs for your links. Hootsuite has a nice dashboard where you can see how well your tweet performed. Buffer gives you preselected time slots to schedule your tweets. It too is a nice feature which can save you valuable time. However, both limit how often you can tweet per day. If you want to tweet more then the limit, you’ll have to upgrade to a paying account.
The YouTube vlogger also talked about Twitter “tribes.” Like other social media platforms, Twitter algorithms suggest people for you to follow. It also recommends you to people with a similar interests. Interestingly enough, my tribe is other writers and photographers, so I’m adding new hashtags, such as, “#romancereaders” and “#photographylovers,” to my tweets. Hopefully, this will attract more prospective readers and art buyers.
From time to time I’ll log on to Twitter itself, but certainly not every day. If a major news event is happening, particularly in my local area, Twitter is the best platform for real time updates. My tribe mostly tweets about their writing. So if someone asking a question about their writing, and I think I can help, I’ll send them a reply. I honestly enjoy helping other writers whenever I can.
Even though my tribe is a friendly one, I’m still very cautious about what I say on Twitter. If there is anything which could possibly be perceived as, “controversial,” then rest assured, someone will get pissed off and start screaming and name calling. Hate to say it, but the vlogger was right. A grown man or woman will indeed behave like a middle school kid. This is why Twitter is, unfortunately, a hostile platform. I find it very sad. It has the potential to be a whole lot more.
I sometimes see the stupidest things on social media memes, such as, “Writers are professional liars because they tell stories for a living.”
Oh, please! Go peddle it someplace else. If you can’t tell the difference between a fictional story and “bearing false witness,” you’re beyond hope.
What’s the Difference?
Lying is knowing something to be false and presenting it as fact. It can also be telling a half-truth, or lying by omission. Simply put, you’re withholding pertinent information about something to slant the narrative in your favor. A good example would be a married man who presents himself a single, unattached man. He’s a self-serving individual who intentionally deceives others solely to please himself. I included such an individual in one of my Marina Martindale novels. Interestingly enough, it’s titled, The Deception. I’ll just say it didn’t end well for him.
Fiction writing, or storytelling, is presenting a story about people who never existed. Unlike the liar, whose motives are to mislead or deceive, the storyteller is altruistic. Their goal is to entertain, or educate, or both. For example, I read Aesop’s Fables when I was a child. It’s common knowledge that the stories are make believe. They’re told to teach lessons about morality.
The other purpose for storytelling is to entertain. Life isn’t always easy or fair. We all feel overwhelmed at times, and we need to take a break. We’ll turn on the TV, watch a video, or perhaps read a book. As a novel writer, my purpose it to entertain the reader so he or she can take a break from reality.
So there you have it. I also get it. Some people don’t read fiction, and that’s okay. To each their own. However, I have zero tolerance for people who intentionally insult the integrity and sully the reputations of fiction authors. As stated, our purpose isn’t to deceive. It’s to entertain. There is a difference.
I was on Facebook the other day and came across a post about supporting the arts. It had plenty of likes, but there was a problem. The people creating the posts, and hitting the like button, may have thought they were supporting the arts, but they actually weren’t. Why? Because they weren’t telling their friends to BUY the art!
Hitting the like button doesn’t mean a damn thing
Whenever I post about my books and photography, I always include a link to a website where you can purchase the book or photograph. The posts will always get plenty of likes as well as comments such as, “Nice photo” or “I like really your book cover.” On rare occasions someone may say, “I’ve read her books and she’s great.” That’s the kindof a comment I live for! Sadly, those comments are too few and far between.
Unfortunately, hitting the like button doesn’t help me pay my bills. So if you really want to support my art, (or another artist’s work), please buy a photo or a book.
No, it isn’t a hobby
I’ve never understood why so many people think of the arts as just a hobby. Colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in the arts. Film and television production is a multi-million dollar industry. Does any of this sound like a hobby to you?
Artists, writers and musicians work damn hard, and they spend many years learning their craft. If you ever took music lessons when you were a kid you probably remember just how hard it was, and most of you gave up long before you mastered the instrument. Now think of what it took for a professional musician to reach that skill level. Does that sound like just a hobby to you? Do you really think hitting a like button on social media is all you have to do to “support” this artist? Seriously?
If you really want to support the arts then put your money where your mouth is
If you really want to support a musician then go to their gig and order a meal while you’re there. The venues who hire musicians do so to attract more paying customers. I realize some venues may be pricey, however the appetizers are usually less expensive. Trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of chicken quesadillas at friends’ gigs.
If you really want to support an artist then buy their art. Most authors have their books available for the Amazon Kindle, and you can download a copy for a few dollars. You can also get a Kindle app for free for your phone or tablet. Books make great gifts too, so if their writing genre isn’t your thing, you can still buy a copy for someone else.
You can also share their posts with a click of a mouse. Word of mouth and organic reach really are a thing, and it really does help get the artist’s name out there. Best of all, it only takes a few seconds of your time, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Same goes for visual artists. How hard it is to share a post or click on a website link? You just hit the like button, so you obviously like their art. Visiting their websites helps improve their Google rankings, and many artists have their work reasonably priced.
Can’t afford to buy a framed print? Then you can probably buy the same photo on a coffee mug. You certainly can on my website. It only costs a few dollars, and it really does help support the artist. It will also be very much appreciated. Having someone tell me how much they enjoyed reading my book, or how much they like having a piece of my art in their home, means more to me than you could possibly imagine.
Sometimes well-meaning things people say to writers which really aren’t the best things to say. They’re not doing it to be insensitive. At least I hope they’re not. They simply don’t realize it’s inappropriate.
A few years ago I was going through a difficult time. I’d ended a friendship with someone who had been my best friend for ten years because it had become toxic. Ending a relationship with a close friend is similar to ending a romantic relationship. It’s a painful experience to go through.
What anyone in my position wants to hear are words of support. Unfortunately, because I’m a novel writer, what I got instead was, “Gee, you should write a book about this.”
I’m sure everyone who said it thought it was well meaning, or even cool for them to say. However, it wasn’t cool at at all. It was insensitive, and it came across as glib.
Writers are people too. We experience the same disappointments everyone else experiences, and when bad things happen, we feel the same pain everyone else feels. What we need are the same words of support others get. I don’t know of any writer, myself included, who goes out and deliberately creates drama in their life just so they can write a book about it.
How we handle this would depend on the situation and the individuals involved. However, we are certainly within our rights if we choose to speak up about it. When bad things happen, we deserve the same dignity, respect and compassion, as anyone else.
Years ago, a fellow writer contacted me about including me in a book she was writing. I’d met her at a few events where I was promoting my Luke and Jenny book series. Her book was about honoring people who helped to preserve the history or promote the culture of the old west. It would feature many prominent Arizonans, as well as a few Hollywood actors.
Needless to say, I felt both honored and excited to be included in this very distinguished group. One member had been the host of a kid’s TV show in Phoenix which ran for over thirty-five years. He may not have been as famous as the Hollywood actors, but I grew up watching him on TV. I was especially excited to be in the same group as him, and I really looked forward to reading her book once it was published.
A few years went by. I checked her website from time to time. There was no new information, but I wasn’t concerned. Writing a book doesn’t happen overnight, so this was not uncommon.
It’s now been more than a decade since she first contacted me, and her website has since been taken down. It wasn’t a good sign, so I wondered if something might have happened to her. A number of people she included in her book have since passed away, including the kid’s TV show host. Then the other day I saw one of her posts on Facebook. It was the first I’d seen or heard of her in years.
I commented on her post and asked how she was doing. I also asked her about her book. Her response was totally unexpected. She had changed her mind and wasn’t going to do her book after all. It was too much work and she just didn’t have the time. Seriously?
We’ve all had ideas for books which we may have started, but, for whatever reason, were unable to finish. The issue is her having contacted and interviewed people before she changed her mind. At the very least, she should have reached out us, along with the families of those who had passed away, to thank us for our time and apologize for not being able to complete the book. It would have also been nice if she had returned whatever materials I may have sent to her. Where I come from this is called common courtesy.
Things happen, but it never ends well when you don’t deliver on the promises you make. I honestly feel like I’ve been duped, and whatever respect I may have had for her evaporated the minute I read her comment. I take my profession seriously. I’ve worked hard to build a good reputation. If something beyond my control comes up and prevents me from keeping a promise, I let the other party know, as soon as I possibly can. Not only is it common courtesy, it’s also good karma.
As authors we’ve all been told social media is our best marketing tool, and it is. However, the Internet is always changing. Nowadays, at least by my observation, social media seems to be waning in popularity. My main social media accounts are Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been using both for years. A few months ago I started using Instagram, but so far I’m giving it a big, fat, meh.
I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook. It used to be a lot of fun, and, for a time, Facebook was a popular fad. Everyone was on Facebook. Those who weren’t just weren’t cool. People posted photos of their kids and grandkids and talked about their hobbies and interests. I shared my book covers on Facebook and I’d post about the current book I was writing. I also started a business page under my pen name, Marina Martindale, which has hundreds of followers. So, what changed?
For me, social media started changing when people began posting their politics. It created an us vs them atmosphere, which was both divisive and hostile. As an author and artist, I’ve worked hard to build a following. Therefore, I keep my politics out of social media because I don’t want to alienate any of my fans. Facebook and Twitter, however, added their own fuel to the proverbial fire when they took sides and started censoring people on one side, but not the other. Strange business model. I’ve never understood the concept of pissing off half of your customer base. But hey, that’s just me.
The Covid pandemic has made the one-sidedness, and the censorship, so much worse. Here’s a fun fact for you. Doctors don’t always agree. Remember the old ad jingle about four out of five dentists agree? So where was the fifth dentist? Don’t ask on Facebook or Twitter. They will censor you just for asking. Nowadays Facebook will put you in “Facebook jail,” if you so much as say, “boo!”
We Americans are accustomed to speaking our minds, and everyone has the right to their own opinion. We don’t take kindly to censorship, and many walking away from social media as a result.
By my own observation, I’m seeing fewer posts on Facebook from friends who used to post frequently. Others have closed out their accounts entirely. I’m seeing less traffic on my business pages. I’ve also stopped advertising on Facebook because my ads no longer have the reach they once had. Now in case you’re wondering, I’m not alone. My marketing guru tells me she’s seeing the same issue with other clients. Like any other fad, Facebook, along with other social media platforms, has apparently run its course. What was once new and exciting has become, “Been there, done that, and you can stick your censorship where the sun doesn’t shine.”
Once a customer walks away from a business, they’re gone. They don’t come back. I’m also seeing people forming new social networks, such as Parler, but they’re niche networks. While I make no claims of being a social network expert, I think smaller, niche social networks may become the trend in the future. Yes, Facebook and Twitter will still be around. MySpace is still around. However, I think their popularity has peaked, and I doubt they’ll ever regain the following they had before.
So, where does this leave us as authors? I have no plans for closing out my social media accounts, but I’m now focusing more of my marketing on email newsletters and blogs.
As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, every author, regardless of experience or genre, needs an editor. There are no exceptions. However, finding the right editor for your book may be daunting. This is especially true if you’re a new author working on your first book.
The best way I know to find an editor is to ask for referrals through writers groups, forums and associations. Then, once you have a few names, the next step is to reach out to them and see if they would be a good fit for you.
Your editor is your writing partner, so chances are you’ll be working closely together. He or she will also be working for you. So, as with any job, you’ll need to conduct a job interview. The following questions are a guide to help you determine if your prospective editor would be the best fit for you.
Do you edit books in my genre?
Do you charge be the hour, or by the word count?
How much will you charge?
Do you offer manuscript evaluations?
How long is your turnaround time?
Would you have any issues if my manuscript should contain graphic violence, sexual content, or harsh language?
I found Cynthia, my current editor, at a writer’s association meeting. We were both surprised to see one another there as both of us were, at the time, also performers in Tombstone, Arizona. Because we already knew one another we knew we would be a great fit as we shared other interests besides writing. We also have the same twisted sense of humor. Never underestimate the importance of having a good sense of humor. In fact, I learned the hard way to never drink coffee while I’m reviewing her edits. A few years ago there was an unfortunate incident when I was reading one of her snarky comments in the margin while swallowing my coffee. I of course started laughing, and the coffee nearly went out my nose.
I can’t think of a better example of having a good relationship with your editor. The editing process can sometimes be intense, so being able to crack a joke can relieve the tension. Remember, your editor is there to help you. He or she reviews your manuscript with a fresh pair of eyes to catch the mistakes you may have missed, and, when necessary, make revisions or suggest rewrites. Their goal is to create a positive experience for your readers. And the better the reading experience, the more likely your readers will recommend your book to others.