Editors Are Your Friends

Yikes

Yikes!

Alas! I’ve written the last word and my story is complete! My friends and family are singing my praises. All I need now is to hit the publish button on Amazon. I don’t need an editor. He or she will only end up trashing it. My baby is perfect as is!

Ha! I had a lot to learn! Arguably, writers view editors as the bane of their creative existence. They dissect your thoughts, converting them into mere shells of themselves. Your prose is utterly fucked by the time they’re done marking it to hell and back. Right? Nope. Wrong! Editors are your friends. Don’t believe me?  I’m sure the lady above who made that mistake regrets not having someone edit her work, or at least this sentence! No matter how strong your writing skills are you still need to have someone professionally edit your work. Trust me, I’ve learned that the hard way.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t get totally slammed for the initial rendition of Twisted by Amazon reviewers. But, I’m sure I would not have received that 2 star rating had I consulted with an editor prior to releasing Twisted the first time around. Aside from editors correcting spelling, syntax, and other miscellaneous grammatical mishaps, here are 3 more reasons why you should invest in an editor before releasing your baby to the world:

Editors help you to streamline your manuscript. Your protagonist has just found a skeleton key to the creepy mysterious door in the basement of her house. Throughout the story, she’s been hearing strange noises coming from behind the door. However, she can’t open it because it’s locked and the key is missing. She’s searched all story long to find a key that unlocks it. Finally, she finds it! She slowly creeps to the door. Her heart rate is elevated. Her palms are sweaty. She’s quivering as she places the key into the hole. Right as she turns the key to unlock it, she then says, “Oh forget this, I’m going for a swim.” Wow! Does that make sense in the overall scheme of the story? She’s at the moment of confronting whatever is making that noise behind the door. Why in the hell would she go swimming? Maybe in your mind it flows since you are the creator of it (I was guilty of this). But, an editor can point out this plot mistake and help you see the error of your ways.

Editors help improve your writing skills. Would your character really be so subdued if he found out his wife became pregnant by his best friend? Doubtful. He would probably be a little more pissed off and heads would be rolling. An editor can highlight places within your narrative that seem unrealistic, thus strengthening the story.

Another error I committed in the initial draft was revealing  information via exposition (aka info dump) rather through action. Let’s use the previous scenario as an illustration of what I mean:

Bob was pissed at his wife, Lisa,  for getting knocked up by his best friend, Don. For a while now, Bob suspected something was going on between his wife and his friend, but he never would have guessed Lisa would tell him she was expecting Don’s child. That was why Bob pressed the shotgun into Don’s chest and pulled the trigger.

Pause. So we know that Lisa is Bob’s wife, and that Lisa has been sleeping with Don, Bob’s best friend. She is carrying Don’s child. Apparently, that was reason enough for Bob to blow a big ol’ hole in Don’s chest. Ok. That’s interesting. Now, imagine how much more interesting that scene would have been if acted out on the pages. Let’s take another look:

Bob leveled the barrel of the shotgun at Don’s chest. Don’s arms sprang in the air. “Don’t do this Bob! I know I fucked up and I’m sorry man! For the love of God! Please, put the gun down!”

Lisa, hearing the commotion outside, ran to the front door. Seeing her husband aiming the gun square at her lover’s chest, she swung the door open and raced down the stairs of the porch. “Stop Bob!” She shouted as she positioned herself between her husband and her lover. “You’re not thinking straight. I know you’re upset but we can talk about this calmly,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring voice. She carefully eyed his expression as she spoke, praying that the she was making some headway.

Bob was having none of that. He eyed his wife’s stomach. Just thinking about that bastard growing inside her made him burn with rage. He shoved his wife aside. “I’ll deal with you later,” he muttered.

Lisa fell to the ground. Instinctually, she clutched her belly. 

Bob cocked the gun. With one final press of his index finger, he watched his former best friend fly through the air before making his final landing…

See. It’s a little more interesting seeing it rather than hearing about it. That probably needs some editing but you catch my drift.

Editors constructively critique your story, not criticize it or you. One of my biggest fears in finding an editor was that he or she was going to tell me my story sucks, I am a horrible writer, and I should just throw in the towel before I even get started. I think most newbie authors feel that way. Editors know this. A good one will never discourage you, but rather show you ways to hone your craft. If you find one that does discourage you, fire them ASAP.

For all those teetering on the fence about whether or not to hire an editor, I hope the aforementioned reasons are compelling enough to persuade you to do so. If you are looking for one, I highly suggest giving my editor, Lindsey Alexander, a try. She proved to be an invaluable mentor and asset for me during the rewriting process of Twisted. (Boy did I learn the importance of story logic and character motivations!) Being able to converse with her and bounce ideas back and forth was extremely helpful in flushing out plot holes and addressing other plot related intricacies.

What has your experience been like working with an editor? Pleasant? Awful? Pleasantly awful? Share your comments here or find me on social media!

 

 

Character Development

Twisted Greens 600x1200 promo baner

What makes an interesting story? Is it the plot? The characters? I think it’s a little bit of both. After all, could you truly have a dynamic story if the plot is banging, but the characters suck or vice versa? While in the process of writing Twisted, I stumbled upon a writing exercise that I found pretty helpful in flushing out who my characters are. This entailed getting to know their mannerisms, how they speak, and how they think. I documented all of these observations into an “interview.” Before I knew it, I discovered more about my characters than I thought I would. I’ve posted AJ’s “interview” below. If you’re interested in other character interviews they’re under the Twisted Greens tab. How do you dig deeper into your characters? As always, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or find me on social media:

Alistair Davis Jameson (AJ) Q&A:

The tall young man walked into the room wearing a pair of basketball shorts, an old shirt, and a pair of sneakers covered in bits of grass and mud. He slouched down in the metal chair across the table and sighed. He ran his fingers through his shaggy dark brown hair in an effort to clear his line of vision. His hazel eyes briefly glanced around the room before turning their attention to the interviewer. His expression was blank, fingers interlaced as his hands rested on the table. He shook his leg as he waited to see if the interviewer would speak first. The young man and the interviewer stared at each other as each second ticked by. Finally, the young man folded his arms in front of his chest. He took a deep breath. “I heard you have some questions for me,” he said. “I kind of need to speed this up. I have an errand to run.”

Interviewer: Who are you?

AJ: Is this a real question dude? [He huffed] You know who I am. You’re the one who called me in here.

Interviewer: For the record please.

AJ: [He rolled his eyes] Fine. My name is AJ, but I’m sure you’d like my entire legal name, right? It’s Alistair Davis Jameson Jr.

Interviewer: Thank you AJ. Now, What do you want more than anything?

AJ: Wow. [He smirked] That’s a loaded question. Are you looking for generic answers like world peace or do you want a real answer?

Interviewer: You tell me AJ.

AJ: [He paused for a moment while briefly glancing at the ceiling] It can only be one thing?

Interviewer: Yes.

AJ: [He scratched his chin] Well shit, if it’s just one thing, I’d have to say success earned by my own two hands.

Interviewer: Care to elaborate?

AJ: [He grinned] Come on! You know me! You know who I am and who my parents are. [He leaned across the table] I think you know what I mean. [He smiled as he shook his head while waiting for the interviewer to respond. He leaned back, one arm propped on the back of the chair] Seriously? [He asked after a moment of silence] Damn, this must be how Dr. Alice’s patients feel in a session with her. [He stopped smiling. He quickly shook his hair out of his eyes] I want to build my own successes without help from my parents. I don’t want their kind of success. There, are you happy?

Interviewer: What do you mean by “their kind of success?”

AJ: [He smirked] I’ll just say that the success they achieved didn’t make them happy or better people.

 Interviewer: How far would you go to be successful?

 AJ: [He smiled] Damn near anything, but I don’t want my parents’ assistance. I want to learn and figure shit out on my own and in my own way.

Interviewer: Why is success so important to you?

AJ: Dude, I don’t think anyone walks around wanting to be a failure. I’m no exception. I just don’t want my parents involved.

Interviewer: You keep saying you don’t want your parents’ help, yet your mother is a pretty successful psychiatrist and your father had a successful business.

AJ: Yeah, well, professional success isn’t everything and my father’s business didn’t turn out too well.

Interview: Ok. Your answer leads into the next question; how do you feel about the people in your life?

AJ: [He threw his hands in the air before running them through his hair] Jesus dude! Did Dr. Alice hire you to ask all this? I mean is she trying to covertly figure out what I’m thinking, where my head is? [He sat up straighter and took a deep breath before returning is hands to the table] Everyone is cool. Ok? I’ve got a great girlfriend. I’ve got a cool friend. My dad is trying to get back on his feet. My mother is successful, as you pointed out, and my sister is doing just peachy in law school. [He counted his fingers as he listed the people in his life] I think that covers all the important people.

Interviewer: That doesn’t answer the question. How do you feel about all those people you just named?

AJ: [Indistinct mumbling as he leaned forward in his chair. He stared icily into the interviewers eyes] What is the point of all these questions?

Interviewer: Answer the question please. The quicker you answer the quicker you can leave.

AJ: [He sighed as he leaned back into the chair. He shifted his weight and repositioned is hands into the pockets of his shorts] I love Savannah, my girlfriend, a lot. I’d do anything for her. I also love my parents. By far I’m closer to my dad than my mother. I feel that’s he’s a more genuine person than my mother could ever be. He’s very vulnerable; especially in light of this Owen Chandler shit. At the same time, I feel as though my dad can be a bit weak at times, even before shit hit the fan. He’s definitely dramatic, which I think clouds his judgment and ability to see things through. [He paused as he stared into the distance]  I don’t want to ever be weak like him. [He looked down at the table. A slow grin spread across his face] Now where my father lacks in personality, my mother more than makes up for it. I mean fuck! Talk about overbearing! [He laughed] My sister, Sage, is cool. We don’t talk as much since she moved away for law school. She’s my mother ‘s perfect child. Ethan, my friend is cool too. He kind of reminds me of my dad at times. I mean, with the theatrics and all. He can be pretty damn dramatic at times.

Interviewer: Do you not get along with your mother?

AJ: It’s complicated, you’d understand if you really knew her. I hope you ask her all this shit you’ve asked me. [He paused and shrugged] Lets just say she wanted me to play tennis and I wanted to do karate.

Interviewer: Care to elaborate?

AJ: [He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his left thumb and forefinger] Again, it’s complicated. [He sighed] I’m just not the son she could mold into the masculine version of herself. I don’t do everything she tells me to do, like Sage. I don’t want to be a lawyer, or any other bullshit professional for that matter. I don’t want to go into real estate with my father. I didn’t want to play tennis, golf, or lacrosse. I don’t dress the way she wants me to dress. I don’t date the girls she approves. The list goes on. [He rubbed his forehead before placing is hands flat against the table] I just want to be my own man and she can’t stand that.

Interviewer: One last question, how do you feel about yourself?

 AJ: [He sat back in the chair, folding his arms confidently across his chest. A sly grin spread across his face] I think I’m one smart, cool ass dude. I’ll get what I want on my own terms. [He paused] Are we done now? I really need to go.

Discovering An Audience

If only my audience waited for me like this...

If only my audience was waiting like this!

When I began the self-publishing journey in March of this year, I greatly underestimated the importance of having an audience (or platform). As I continue on my trek, I’ve learned that finding your target audience is critical. After all, most people write to be heard, I’m no exception. In my naiveté, I thought if I wrote a good story and threw it on Amazon, people would find me. Clearly, that’s not how it works. Discovering who resonates with your story or with what you have to say is tough, especially if you’re naturally shy, and a little reserved (like me!). However, discovering your audience is tantamount to gaining any real success with selling your product, or conveying your message. My own experience of finding my audience has been a somewhat of a trial and error process. I’m still looking for my peeps. I know they’re out there somewhere!

Initially, I thought my story would resonate with people of a certain age group (~18-30), of a certain gender (female) that enjoy reading fast-paced thrillers coupled with family drama. I still think that’s part of my audience. Nonetheless, after reading Gary McLaren’s article about platform building and the importance of marketing to yourself first, I revisited my initial assumption. Maybe I was going about attracting an audience the wrong way? Essentially, the key to discovering my audience begins with me. Who am I and what do I enjoy doing, reading, and watching?

While I’m sure age range and other demographic factors play a role in attracting an audience to your story, I’ve found that actively engaging with others really is one of the most important things that can attract (or repel) a potential audience. As someone once told me on Google+, hard selling on social media is, well… a hard sell. It’s difficult to get people to buy what you’re selling or hear what you’re saying if you don’t connect with them. So, I got down to basics.

I am Stephanie, a married black female who’s from Georgia. I’m at that stage in life where I’ll say farewell to my 20’s this December. I enjoy writing and having good conversations with people over a cocktail, a good meal, or hell, even social media. I also have a dark sense of humor (well more so crude). I love music across all genres (I’m nostalgic for early to mid 90’s alternative in particular). I‘m also eclectic when it comes to reading genres. I don’t really have a set genre that I enjoy because I tend to go through phases. Sometimes I’ll kick my heels up to a good romance, or sometimes I’ll get down with an addictive murder/mystery (right now I’m coming out of a romance spell). I love sci-fi television (e.g. Humans, Doctor Who), thought provoking stuff (Mr. Robot, The Walking Dead, Snowpiercer), as well as some horror (the clown from It still creeps me out) and action packed entertainment (Sons of Anarchy is one of my favorites!). All of that is just for starters! I’m sure someone out there can connect with me just from that little bit of information alone.

The point of me sharing all of that about myself is to emphasize that people like authenticity and getting to know who you are, not just what you’re pushing. Hell, I even go through people’s timelines or posts to see if there are things that I have in common with them, as stalker-ish as that may sound. Furthermore, I actively reach out to people who have said or posted things that are particularly interesting to me, not only by hitting a “like” button, but by commenting. I’m hoping to build my audience by connecting with others based off of things that we mutually enjoy. With all that being said, who would of thought finding an audience is a lot like finding a mate? It’s definitely a reciprocal relationship. For all those seeking (or already found) an audience, I would love to hear any comments about your journey. Leave a comment on the post or find me on social media!

– Stephanie

 

Marketing: The Biggest Pain in the Ass for this Indie Author

You’ve done it! You’ve created a body of work that you’re proud of and now you want to share it with the world! Great! Where to start? One of the biggest struggles of any independent author is marketing. It’s something that I think is harder than beginning and completing any manuscript. I’ve scoured the catacombs of the Internet in search of tips on how to market an e-book to readers who would be interested in the story I’m telling. The most consistent advice that I’ve stumbled upon so far is “you need to build a platform.”

Now, if you’re a brand new indie author like I am and have no idea what the hell a platform is, well, join the club. You’re not alone. I’ve always understood a platform to be either (1) an elevated bed, (2) something elevated that you stand on, or (3) what beliefs you are for or against (e.g. a political party’s platform). Then, I stumbled upon this nifty little article by Gary McLaren who succinctly breaks down what a platform is and how/why it’s in important. Basically, if you’re promoting something, you have to connect with like-minded people and tell them what you’re about and why they should give your product (book) a chance.

If you’re looking for a more in depth explanation on platform building, here’s a more comprehensive article by Christina Katz from Writer’s Digest. She discusses 3 things one should do: have a body of expertise, create or discover a niche market, and finally, have organic connections with your audience (don’t just hit that “like” or “retweet” button!). Katz then provides 10 different ways to connect with you audience and how performing these steps will help elevate you and your book to the next level. The most interesting step provided was volunteering. Katz provided an example of how a young adult author volunteered to shuttle guests to a writing conference from the airport. This resulted in a chance meeting with an editor who previously rejected her work. After speaking with the editor, she learned why her work was rejected and what she could do to improve it. After gaining the inside knowledge and tweaking some things, she wound up having a great career in writing.

So, put yourself in opportunistic ventures! You never know what may happen. What have your self-promotional experiences been? Has cultivating a platform from scratch been difficult or, do you find it easy? Leave your comments or contact me on social media!

-Stephanie

How Did I Wind Up Here?

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I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was a little girl, I’d have loads of notebooks that told a never-ending story, mostly about how I envisioned high school to be. Back in the early to mid 90’s, most of my imagination was shaped by what I read in the Sweet Valley High series or what I saw on TV. I’d share my story with friends and they all seemed to enjoy it, providing girlhood critiques or asking questions about the plot or characters. Somewhere along the line, my zest for writing fizzled. (I think the middle school years zapped my enthusiasm. It’s not really cool to tell your peers that you enjoy writing and reading during those transitional years.) It wasn’t until I was fresh out of grad school and working at a crappy job that I rediscovered my love of writing.

I was living in Nashville, TN and just finished my Master’s in the winter of 2012. I was fresh out of school, broke, and with a shitload of student loans to repay. I had no desire to do anything with my degree. In fact, I didn’t know what I was going to do. However, I did know that I REALLY didn’t want to move back home to Atlanta, at least not just yet. I’d been dating a great guy (now my husband) and I liked living away from home, therefore, I did what anyone else in my position would do; I scrambled to find a job. Fortunately, I found one working for the Feds.

Fast forward to spring of 2013 and I was OVER my Fed job. Listening to people complain day in and day out was not my idea of a rewarding and fulfilling job. I’m sure that if you’ve ever worked in customer service, you could relate! Out of boredom on my breaks at work, I started writing “what if” scenarios, some loosely based off what people complained about over the phone. Before I knew it, those scenarios snowballed into short stories and…Voila! I rediscovered my love for writing!

When I first picked up the pen, I realized that I was shy, and self-conscious about every little thing I wrote. Every self-deprecating thought crossed my mind. What if people hate it? What if people think my premise sucks? What if people don’t like what I have to say? Etc. However, the more I let my ideas flow, the more confident and comfortable I became. Eventually, I thought, fuck it. The world is huge and readers are interested in various things. Someone out there (aside from family and friends) is bound to think my story is pretty dope; I just have to find them, or, get them to find me somehow. By the summer of 2013, I had a rough manuscript, Twisted Greens, on my hard drive. But, life got in the way (e.g. furlough, car accident, move back to Atlanta, marriage, etc.) and I tossed the manuscript to the side, until I resurrected it earlier this year.

And now, here I am. Initially I planned on publishing Twisted Greens for shits and giggles. But, the more I started researching on how indie authors actually can make a living doing what they love, the more I decided to take things seriously. I’ll talk more about Twisted Greens in a subsequent post, but for now, I’m interested in hearing from you all.

For all you indie authors out there (and even those who just write for fun) who stumble upon my blog, I’d love to know what your journey has been like.  Please feel free to share your story by clicking on the conversation bubble at the top of the post. You can find me on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook!

Twitter: @twistedgreenz

Facebook: facebook.com/twistedgreens

Google+ : google.com/+SMDahman

– Stephanie