Thursday, 24 September 2020

A review of The Duchess, by Danielle Steel: indie authors can do better than this

I rarely bother to write negative reviews, because typically I won't stick with a bad book. But this... This is just beyond anything. The ridiculous contrived plot, sloppy editing, and endless exposition are everything indie authors are often warned against. 

This is not some obscure indie author, though. This is Danielle Steel, a prolific bestselling novelist with an extensive readership and a major publisher behind her. I haven't read other books by this author, but if they are anything like this one, I have to wonder how they are able to captivate and sustain a fan base. 

Warning: spoilers ahead! 

Let's start with the plot. Angelique Latham's father gives her 25,000 pounds before he dies. The interest of this sum, in Regency era England, would be enough to support Miss Latham in the rank of a gentlewoman for her entire life. A capital of 10,000 pounds was considered a respectable independent fortune - remember Mr. Elton in Jane Austen's Emma? "He did not throw himself away - he gained a woman of ten thousand pounds, or thereabouts". 

It makes absolutely zero sense for her to be making a living as a nanny - but her next move, opening a brothel in Paris without any moral scruples, is even more implausible in the absence of some cataclysmic event (such as losing her fortune and being left destitute). 

The characters are cardboard cartoons. The love interest is a boring afterthought that pops up in the last section of the book. There are ridiculous errors, like repeatedly stating "the estate was entailed TO him", rather than "ON him". And the writing?

"Her name was Ambre, and she had worn a very elegant dress to the meeting, which showed that she knew how to dress well" (What an astounding conclusion!)

"She spent a huge amount on their clothes and her own. But the house had become extremely profitable" (Why the contradiction?)

"Related to kings in two countries, and daughter of a duke, banished by her brother, she was reduced to working as a domestic, and at the mercy of anyone who would hire her"

This goes on and on. Rambling sentences. Misplaced commas. Faulty logical sequences.

Guys, I'm an editor working directly with authors, and I would never, ever disgrace myself by releasing a book to a client in this state. It just boggles my mind that a MAJOR PUBLISHER with a serious budget has THIS quality of editing. 

But you know what? As an indie author, I'm also glad. If this is the level traditional publishing settles for these days, we can do better.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

The Berserkers: Frozen World 5 is out!


I've been quiet lately, but guess what I have been working on? That's right - The Berserkers, book 5 in the Frozen World series, is out now, featuring genetic engineering, giant reptiles, and villains you'll love to hate. 

"A society of ruthless genetically modified people seeking to recreate a Viking-like culture.

A formidable leader looking for the perfect bride to found a new, supreme race. 
And a girl who has the misfortune to catch his eye thanks to her unique genetic combination."

Does this sound like the beginning of a romance novel? Hahaha, this could be if anyone else were the author!

I am humbled and incredulous when I step back and observe the journey I've undergone with Frozen World, which started over two years ago and was supposed to be a standalone novel. I hope both new readers and existing fans of the series enjoy this latest installment. I was going to say final - but I am hesitant to use that word, because following feedback from early readers, I tend to think I will need to add another volume to really and truly wrap the series up.

And guess what else? To celebrate this new addition to my bookshelf, I'm making The Last Outpost, the first volume in the series, free until September 2, so people who are new to the series take this chance to jump in. Grab your copy today!

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

An Altered World

Lately, I have found myself putting things off: a visit to the bank, the doctor, the post office… “I don’t have to do it today. There’s time. Maybe in a week or two…”
Then I caught myself: why? What is going to happen in a week or two? Will the coronavirus go away? Will it be safer to go out and about?
Not likely. The you-know-what has hit the fan and is now flying in all directions. I’m afraid the world as we used to know it is no more.
A few days ago, we had a huge local demonstration of small business owners—restaurant owners, tour guides, dance instructors—who were all hit hard by COVID and now demand that the government give them a financial boost to keep their businesses afloat.
I understand their plight, I really do. I know what it’s like to be financially desperate. However, I believe that no amount of handouts will enable businesses to operate if they don’t adapt to the new situation (Zoom lessons, takeout instead of sit-down meals, etc). And it often sounds like that: people don’t want to adapt. They want things to go back to normal, refusing to admit that normal has flown out of the window.
Even if we are lucky and the coronavirus disappears (which doesn’t seem likely), the impact of the past months has already hurled the world into a deep recession with a wide ripple effect. To get through it, we must be resilient, resourceful, and flexible.
In the meantime, there’s writing, yarn, gardening, coffee, and any reasonable and effective means of de-stressing. Oh, and good stories. I'm always up for a good story. Dystopian is fine; just don't let it feature a pandemic.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Some Great Self-Editing Tips

Proofreading vs. Line Editing vs. Developmental Editing ...

This week, Joanna Penn brings us a great interview with writer and editor Kris Spisak, and it's just packed with invaluable tips on bringing your novel writing up to the next level. I know I link to quite a lot of Joanna's stuff, but she just brings in so much high-quality content that's too good not to highlight. Plus, as someone who is both an author and an editor, I had a particular interest in this post.

"When you're talking about editing, I like to look at it in terms of three different levels. You have your macro edit where you're really looking at your entire story structure. Does your entire plots make sense? Does your story begin in the correct place? Does it end in the right place? Are your characters fleshed out as much as they need to be?"

Of course, we all deviate from these rules a bit. For example, I find myself almost incapable of doing a first big read-through while leaving punctuation and sentence structure alone. Authors who have worked with me know I'm obsessed with grammar, commas, and overused words, and get so distracted by any typo I see that I must fix it at once. But this doesn't mean I'm missing the big picture. When I see something that doesn't work at the core level, I suggest that the author does some revisions (or, in case I'm working on my own novel, I go and do some rewrites myself).

Joanna and Kris also speak in detail about the importance of having more pairs of eyes on your work. It is absolutely invaluable. I remember when I worked on my first draft of Wild Children, I sent it to my priceless friend and alpha reader, Anna Mantovani. She said she is missing a detailed and fleshed-out villain in the novel - which propelled me to create the character of Alexander Dahl and, later, his daughter Priscilla, who became a core character of the two sequels. None of that would have been possible without an insightful reader who gave me her honest opinion.

And also this:

"So many times people think, ‘Oh, it's a talented writer. He was born that way, she was born that way,' but here's the big secret. No one is born an amazing writer. Everybody has to learn. Everybody has to practice. Everybody has to put in that time."

Certainly, writing is a form of art. But it's also a craft. Nothing is just born out of thin air; every talented and successful person, in every field, has had to put in the work. Without it, without growth and improvement, there's stagnation. I hope it never happens to me. I love learning, and I love working with authors who are ready to learn and improve as well.

Just make sure you don't miss this fantastic interview. It might well be the best thing you've read this year.

Monday, 25 May 2020

How much should you work?

How to work less and get more done - MarketWatch

Recently, I had the chance to stumble upon this great article, which confirmed something I have been thinking for quite a while. 

"We are not here to work to work to work to die.

We aren’t.

There was a stage in building my business where I hustled and built connections with publications that had large followings and an audience so that when my work went viral, said audience followed me which now leads to revenue with cultural influencer jobs, clients, public speaking opportunities etc. etc. however, I truly believe that I chose to struggle unnecessarily for a few years of that.

I chose that because I grew up wired to believe that good people couldn’t have lots of money, and that artists had to starve and work a second job."

I actually found this article while Googling "tired of hustling"... and for good reason, it seems. I think this lady is insanely lucky, and things certainly don't work this way for everyone, but there is still a lot of truth in what she says. 
I work as a freelance editor, proofreader, and copywriter, besides authoring and publishing my own books. When I first started freelancing, I was unfamiliar with the platforms, didn’t know anybody, had no experience, and had to hunt and hustle for every project. Thankfully, I am not in that place anymore, and usually have more incoming work than I can reasonably commit to, so I have to be choosy and know when and how to say no. 
It isn’t always easy when a client asks specifically for you and you value that professional relationship, but I do have one principle to guide me: I chose to freelance and work from home, rather than opt for more traditional employment, because I wanted the freedom and flexibility to be with my children. I wanted to be there to teach them, take care of them when they are sick or need me for other reasons, and to have a flexible schedule that would enable me to set work aside for a while and just go out to enjoy the sunshine on a nice day.
The problem is, when you are an independent entrepreneur, you don’t have set hours. You don’t just punch a card and you’re done for the day. There are always new projects to check out, books to work on, clients to communicate with, emails to send, research to do… And it’s quite easy to get caught in all that, so that you get annoyed with life for getting in the way of work – which is not very reasonable.
My top tips for maintaining a healthy balance are as follows:
1. Know and accept you will never be able to do it all or to please everyone. There will always be projects and clients you miss – but the good news is, life is dynamic, and there will also be new ones.
2. Be realistic. How many hours a day can you reasonably commit to? Without overworking and compromising the quality of your work? Without snapping at your children? Without pulling half- or all-nighters?
3. Be your own boss, but as if you were the boss of someone else. I mean it this way: if you were employing someone, and that someone had no time for lunch break or recreation or adequate sleep hours, would you consider yourself a very good employer? Would you expect high productivity and quality work from a harassed, overwhelmed employee? You see my point. Treat your body and mind with kindness and respect, and you will enjoy a routine that is both more peaceful and more productive.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Can editors be affordable?

"How are indie authors supposed to be able to afford editors?" - this is a question I have encountered numerous times on social media lately, sometimes accompanied by "I have a budget of 300$ for this. Is it enough?" And someone somewhere in the comments usually suggests, "there are plenty of affordable editors out there".

As both an indie author on a budget and an editor doing my best to offer my clients quality service and fair prices, I understand both sides of the equation, and I will look at them both here. First, let's try to do some math and figure out whether editors are overpriced and what a reasonable fee would be.

While editing, I put in close to one hour per 2,000 words, on average. Does that sound too long? Consider that this includes corrections, comments and suggestions for the author, and often revision. How long would it take you to revise your own book? An editor would likely spend more time on it because they would see more stuff that needs to be addressed.

So that comes up to 50 hours of work per a 100,000-word novel.

How much would you say an editor should earn per hour?

If I charge a 1,000$ for the editing of a 100K book, I earn roughly 20$ per hour. It is modest but something I can live upon. Many people, however, expect to have their epic novel edited for 500$, or worse. That would mean the editor earns 10$ per hour or less.

You won't find someone experienced for 10$ an hour, because people who charge so little don't tend to stay in the field. They are unable to support themselves and their families. They quit in burnout and frustration and go flipping burgers, because it's more financially rewarding.

So that's the editor's side of the story.

Authors, on the other hand, are often told, "Save up for self-publishing. Don't even think of releasing a book before you have a 2,000$ budget for editing, cover design, and marketing."

The sad truth, however, is that many self-published books will never make enough to pay off a 2000$ launch budget. Even if they are well-written, well-edited, and have a great cover. Many wonderful books just don't make it, and it's really hard to predict which ones will.

For an author who is struggling financially, pouring that much money into a single project can be devastating. They can literally discover they had taken food out of their children's mouths for nothing. I understand perfectly well that authors aren't simply being cheap. People are struggling to put food on the table.

Sometimes you get lucky and can find an editor who's really good but just starting out, and they'll work on your book for 500$. Or maybe you happen to be a brilliant cover designer and can arrange for an exchange of favors with an author-editor who needs cover design. But otherwise, yeah, when you say that you can't afford an editor, I hear you. I couldn't have afforded me if I had to pay myself to work on my own books.

There are no easy answers to this conundrum, that's for sure.

So what I suggest might sound harsh, but if you can't afford an editor, you can't. Revise the heck out of your book, invest in programs like ProWritingAid, and arrange for swap reads with other authors. Try your best and save up what you make from this book for editing the next one. It is not an ideal solution, but it's better and fairer than trying to find someone who will work for 5$ an hour.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Covid-19 and the future of the indie book industry

Well, it happened. The world has, quite simply, done a backflip on us. What is going on right now could very well belong in a dystopian novel - whole countries on lockdown, health care systems collapsing, stocks plummeting, countless people losing their jobs.

Indie writers, editors, and other people who work from home have been lucky in many ways. We have never been tied to an office, so we didn't have to worry about it closing, or about social distancing at work. We can work from our laptop anywhere.

Of course, this doesn't mean we haven't been affected by what is happening in the world. Social media is full of posts and memes by writers who lament that they aren't as productive as they thought they would be - and that's even without children suddenly being home 24/7. Even for home educating families, it's quite an adjustment. It means no visits to Grandma, no help from anyone outside the house, no play dates. Each nuclear family is isolated and, as we are deprived of our usual means of recreation and social connection, it's no wonder our productivity has taken a nosedive.

Another question is how the book industry in general, and indie authors in particular, are going to be affected by the inevitable economic shifts that we'll be stuck with long after the acute stage of the crisis is over. Now, the following is just my opinion, so you are welcome to take it or leave it.

One immediate factor is that while people are at home so much more, they have more time to read. So apparently that's good news for us. But authors have been reporting a significant reduction in sales, and that's understandable when you think about it. While people are losing either their jobs or their financial security, their disposable income - real or perceived - takes a cut. People will naturally buy less things they don't need, and this includes books. I can tell you that I, personally, think twice nowadays before spending 2.99$ on an ebook. It's sad but true.

Another aspect is that authors who have relied on face-to-face meetings with readers, book fairs, etc - for example authors of illustrated children's books, who still receive a large part of their income from selling paperbacks - have suffered due to cancelled book fairs and book tours. Those authors have undoubtedly taken a harder hit than those of us who are used to making most of our sales from ebooks.

So are we going to be hit by the upcoming recession as well? Probably, but humankind has survived a lot worse - and storytelling, in some shape or form, has always been around. So I believe that there will always be a market for a good story. I look forward to exchange of ideas within the #WritingCommunity as we all pitch in towards helping each other get through this unexpected crisis wave.