Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

Formatting For the Fun of It!

As an indie author, I find myself trying to save money where I can. Realistically, it could take years to make back what an editor and cover designer can cost. Still, I have zero regrets about reaching out to experts to help get my project polished!

Back with the first novel, I found myself looking for tasks that I could do myself. There are many professionals out there who can format the interior of your book fit you and I am sure it would go much smoother than doing it yourself. But I was willing to learn and so, like with most things, I found a class and jumped in with both feet.

The timing was perfect for the formatting class on WANA International. I had just come off the high of an online writers’ conference put on by then, and I was itching to learn all the ins and outs.

I was shocked that I was the only person signed up for it. Talk about one-on-one instruction! The teacher went through every step of formatting for both print and various ebooks.

For those of you who are thinking about formatting your own book let me say it is very doable. It is tedious and a little scary and you will end up with about a million versions saved just in case, but it is manageable.

the first thing you do is strip out all the things you direct formatted while typing and editing. Say goodbye to centering, spacing, italics, bold, all the times you hit return to space things vertically. Everything you do while you type without even thinking about must be removed before you can format your book for publishing.

The Smashwords formatting guide refers to this as the “nuclear method,” and urges you to hug a loved one when it’s over. 😊I would suggest a glass of wine as well.

My teacher walked me through this method and then walked me methodically through formatting a document in Word using styles. Styles are those lovely things in the top ribbon that I have never paid any attention to! They can make you cry, but when you finally figure them out, you will be saying “how cool!”

I found it easier to go through and create all my own styles for various sections – title page, dedication, about the author, chapter headings, body of text, first paragraphs etc. By creating my own styles, I removed the element of surprise and could manipulate the interior exactly as I wanted.

Once you have gone through and tweaked and assigned every little bit of your novel to a style, you will find that adjusting things like your chapter headings is a piece of cake. Adjust the style and every single chapter heading in your novel is adjusted instantly.

I did learn that there are some differences between formatting in Word 2010, 2013 and 2016, as well as formatting in Word for PC vs Mac. For the most part, I was able to come up with a work around by googling the issue and geeking out for hours on end.

One of my issues was resolved by saving my novel as an older version .doc a opposed to the more recent .docx that came out in 2013. However, this can be an issue for some ebook formatting if the program or distributor requires you to use .docx.

Formatting is still a challenge for me, though it I still getting easier. It just isn’t something I play with in my normal day-to-day life. But I found that I enjoy it and if I can save $1500-2000 by handling it myself, it is time well spent.

I don’t remember how long it took me to format my first book. I think I have blocked it for fear that I would never do it again if I remembered the experience. But the second book took one morning and a few extra cups of coffee to produce my print version. The ebook versions gave me a little headache, but even that didn’t scare me off.

For those of you ready to take the plunge, you must get the FREE Smashwords guide even if you some not plan on publishing there. It walks you through every step! Check it out here. Using Styles may not be spelled out for every situation, but once you know the basics, you can play with it one section at a time to see what look works for your book.




Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

Wrap It Up With a Bow

Book covers are the wrapping on your book. A cover is the first thing about your book that a potential reader will see, and it can make or break their decision to choose your novel over another.

Designing a cover is an art form in and of itself. It takes a special person to be able to translate your story into a single image.

When I was looking for a cover for my first novel, I didn’t know where to turn. Some fellow writers at an online conference suggested that I try Fivrr, a freelance marketplace that allows you to get bids, often very low bids, from freelance artists. I did get some inexpensive bids for my project, but the artists’ styles didn’t match with my vision.

I then attempted to google premade covers and see what I could find. There a LOT of premade covers out there. And if you happen upon one that speaks to you, go for it. But I found that a lot of them used realistic photos and again, this just didn’t match what I was envisioning for my cover.

I finally found an art student at our local university who wanted to work on my project. She was very talented and we agreed on a design. Then she dropped off the face of the earth and stopped returning texts and emails. Apparently, my novel cover was not as important to her as it was to me. 😔Thankfully no money had exchanged hands.

I was starting to feel as though my novel would never make its debut. The cover was the last remaining piece. Months had passed and I was getting frustrated.

And then a miracle happened…

I was talking to a friend of mine about my cover ideas and how I wanted a minimalist feel to it. I showed her some minimalist Disney posters I had found online and fallen in love with. Her response?

“You don’t need a fine artist. You need a graphic artist.”

And lo and behold, her son is a graphic artist. I reached out to him and he agreed to work on my project for a very fair price. A few weeks later, we had my cover! I was thrilled.

This second time around was much easier. I had my team in place.

I learned a valuable lesson during the process though. Find someone who will hear what you are describing and be able to condense it into a single image. I know a lot of talented artists, but finding someone who can take what you say and translate it into a working design is key. My friend was right. A fine artist could create images of my scenes and characters, but that wouldn’t necessarily translate to a compelling cover.

A cover designer must also be able to manipulate those images and tweak the cover layout. Most importantly, he needs to be able to mate the front, spine and back covers to create the correct files for various formats.

Your cover designer should also have the patience of a saint. 😊Thankfully, mine does! Multiple proofs and interior changes require resizing the cover files. Different interior paper also effects the cover file size. Who knew!?

Many people over the last few years have loved the covers that Evan designed for me. I don’t doubt for a minute that if my books were to appear on a shelf in a store, the covers would draw readers to them. The images are stunning and convey the atmosphere in my books perfectly.

Do yourself and your novel a favor. Do not skimp on your cover. Don’t buy a premade cover that isn’t perfectly suited to your story just to be done with the process and get your book out sooner. The perfect cover is out there. You just have to find the right person to make it happen!

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

So Then What?

Ok, so you manage to get a first draft completed. Now what?

Well, first of all, hug a loved one and pour a glass of wine! The world is full of some-day-writers. As in “some day I’ll write a novel.” Very few of us ever actually sit down and do it. So celebrate this great accomplishment! Give yourself a prize, a treat, and a day off from writing. You have earned it.

Once you have come back down to earth, you are left poking at your draft and wondering where you go from here. I am here to tell you my process. It is not the ONLY process. Everyone has their own methods and they can tell you what has worked and not worked for them.

For me, the first thing I do is pop it in a drawer and let it age a bit. For a few months or years. Seriously. I find that when I first finish a book, I am too close to it to look at it with any objectivity. I either feel love for it as in this-is-my-baby-how-dare-you-insult-it-by-implying-it-is-not-perfect, or I loathe it and can’t wait to get as far away from it as fast as possible.

Once it has fermented a bit, and I have nearly forgotten all the plot twists and character nuances that I spilled onto the page, I take it back out and read it. I do this very slowly and ponder the plot line, side plots, characters, conflicts. The big picture is all I am analyzing at this point.

Does it make sense?
Do my characters have personalities?
Do they do things that make sense and move the plot forward?
Is there a conflict? A problem they need to solve?
Who is the villain?
Does the story flow? Or do scenes need to be moved around to make more sense?

Once I get the overall plot worked out and plug all the plot holes I have no doubt left behind in my fervor to get the words on the page, then I go back through it again. This time I am checking dialogue, description, setting, anything that fills out the story.

Do they make sense?
Do my characters sound like they should?
Does the dialogue flow or does it read like one of those old Dick and Jane primers?
Does my setting fit the story?
Do I use too much description or not enough?

Once these things are fixed, I read through it again. Slowly. With a red pen in hand. I slash flat content that does nothing to move the story along. I look for words I repeat too often in a paragraph or on a page. I rewrite dialogue. I try to remove every passive sentence I can find. I try to kill my adverbs.

Then I repeat the process another time or two.

Only then am I asking a few trusted beta readers to read through it and be ruthless in their feedback. I read through any comments they give me and make any changes necessary.

Now it’s time to reach out to my wonderful editor and get on her schedule.

Hiring a professional editor is the biggest expense that I have on my self publishing journey. It may take years to recoup in book sales, but I would never leave out this step. If you want to be taken seriously, or just have people enjoy your story, you need an editor. You need someone who can nitpick your story and be a second set of eyes. You are too close to your project to be completely objective, and you will never find every typo, extra word, confusing sentence, and so on.

You can hire someone to do developmental editing, copy and line editing, or both. Developmental editing looks at the big picture – plot, character consistency, structure, organization, and so on. Copy and line editing looks more at grammar, sentence structure, word usage and the like. Working with an editor does not mean that the editor tells you what you have to write. They may make suggestions, but it is up to you, the writer, to follow them or not. An editor may question your logic in one area, and help you to rework it to make more sense. It is a collaboration, and I have learned so much from the process. I can only hope that with each book I write, I can turn in a cleaner and more well-written manuscript to my editor.

When I was ready to edit my first novel, I was terrified. Where do you even begin to find an editor? What if they read your work in progress and return it saying it is too big a mess to fix? I was very lucky in finding Candace. I had attended an online writers’ conference and had reached out for some recommendations. I emailed back and forth with her and liked what she said about her process. Really, it came down to just jumping off the ledge and taking a chance. The wonderful thing is that when it came time to edit book 2, I had my team in place!

Our process takes a few months to complete. She works on the manuscript for three to four weeks and sends it back for my first pass. We go back and forth for two to three passes each. She makes suggestions, and I change or rewrite sections based on them.

It can be very tedious work to edit a novel. But it can also be fun. Sometimes I look at something my editor has highlighted, and I can’t help but laugh out loud and wonder what brain cramp made me write what I am seeing on the page. Honestly, multiple passes through the manuscript by me and a handful of readers and we still find things that need tweaking.

Usually by the time we are finishing the editing, I am back to either being in love with the story or needing distance again! 🙂

If you are in the market for a great editor, you should check out Candace Johnson at Change It Up Editing. She is great to work with and she is gentle with our fragile new-book egos! Seriously, she really knows how to help writers bring out the best version of their stories. And if you still think you don’t need to hire an editor, check out her post on this very subject here.

The other big expense in self-publishing is cover design. More about that next week!

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

Where to start?

As many of you know, I have been deep into the editing phase of my second novel since January. Over the last week, I completed the formatting phase. 😊

Over the last few years, I have been asked how you do it. How do you start with a blank page and end up with a book?

First, let me say, you do NOT do it alone! It’s important to know your weaknesses and embrace them. Don’t try to cover them up. Find people who can help you in those areas. Also, and equally important, understand that their help is not free. You will need to spend money to self-publish. Understanding what you can do yourself, and what you need to hire others to accomplish, is the key.

There are many tools I have used along the way as well. Each phase of the book making process requires I wear a different hat and approach my project with a different mind-set.

The most important thing to do in the first draft phase is to simply shut up and get out of your own way. I think more dreams die before they even begin because we have a hard time doing this! We let every minor distraction interrupt us, and we let every moment of indecision derail us.

If our inner critic isn’t born with us, it surely is developed during our school days. Maybe it takes after a parent who never hesitated to tell you that you will never amount to anything. Maybe it stems from a teacher who took pleasure in belittling you. Maybe it was a group of other students who made you doubt yourself. Regardless of where your inner critic was born, you need to learn how to sit down and do whatever it is you want to do and just let it jabber away in the background.

“This is stupid.”
“Who would ever want to read or buy this?”
“Who do you think you are?”

Just let it roll off your back.
If it helps, you can occasionally yell, “Shut up! Maybe it will suck, but I am going to do it anyway!”

Go ahead.
Try it.
I’ll wait.

After years of practice at doing it anyway, you will improve. You will learn to quiet that inner critic and get the words down, or the paint on the canvas, or the ________________ (Fill in the blank. This advice works for all dreams.)

My tools for this phase are simple. Cheap notebooks, pens and/or a computer will take you there. I personally love to use my old Alphasmart Neo. Sadly they don’t make them anymore, but this little gem is perfect for spilling words out without getting hung up on rereading what I have written and trying to fix it as I go. They run forever on standard batteries, automatically save your work, have an instant on/off and only show a few lines of text at a time. Best of all, it is not connected to the internet! Distraction free writing! If you see one on EBay, I suggest you grab it!

For those of you who also need to be far from the pleasures of google and Facebook in order to focus, there are programs out there that can accomplish the same environment. Though I don’t have experience using them, I have heard good things about FocusWriter, WriteMonkey and OmmWriter.

I usually get the entire first draft done on my Neo, and then transfer the files into Word for the first rewrite. I am also a huge fan of Scrivener. It is an inexpensive and feature rich program that many writers love. Sadly, the learning curve is steep and I haven’t figured out how to use it to its fullest capacity yet.

When I am in the first draft phase, I bring very few rules to the table. I have found that NaNoWriMo is a great way to get my creative juices working – a monumental but doable goal, a deadline, and the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of other writers are writing at the same time. For those who are new to the game, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, sets us up to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Over the years, NaNo has taught me some valuable lessons.

  1. I can do this. The first year I did NaNo I reworded myself with prizes every 10,000 words to keep me motivated. In the following years though the high of finishing was prize enough.
  2. Before I can do this, I need to quiet that inner critic. She is welcome to return during rewrites and editing as long as she is constructive.
  3. To accomplish the monumental task, I need to make my writing a priority. If I don’t take it seriously, no one else will either. I must prioritize.

Both of my novels, Far Away and Ever After (2015), and the upcoming Magic Key (2018), started as NaNo projects. I’m here to tell you that 30 days may be enough time to get the story lines down. But to get to the point where I feel it is ready for the “publish” button, it takes a LOT more work. It takes different tools, and different hats, and a team.

I will be talking about the rest of the process this summer, so be sure to check back each week!

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