Indie Catholic Author Devin Rose is presenting a free webinar on how to get published. His journey has included both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Join him on Thursday, December 4 at 4 PM PST. The webinar is hosted by Productive Catholic.
I read a lot of books by self-published authors and author hopefuls. Some of the manuscripts come from other members of Indie Catholic Authors. I co-chair a Catholic nonfiction critique group through the Catholic Writers Guild (CWG). I also evaluate books submitted for the CWG Seal of Approval. And acquaintances and other Catholic authors frequently ask me to review their newly published works.
These works come to me at all stages of the process. Some are excellent. Some just need a little tweaking. Others need a lot of work.
Self-published books have long had a reputation for being second rate. We at Indie Catholic Authors would like to help dispel that notion by providing our readers with great stories and well-written nonfiction.
One problem I see among aspiring authors is moving too quickly from dreaming about being a writer to writing a book. Many writers attempt this too early. They are not ready for it.
Before you can write a good book, you should learn how to write a good blog post. Before you can write a good blog post, you should learn how to write a good paragraph. Before you can write a good paragraph, you should learn how to write a good sentence.
Good sentences are the foundation of good books. An interesting plot and strong characters won’t make up for poorly crafted sentences. And a good sentence takes more than just good grammar.
Here are a few links with tips to help you improve your sentences:
Don’t be afraid to go slowly and hone your writing skills. For most of us, there is no rush. Jot down your ideas in a notebook, then set them aside until you can write great sentences. It takes patience and practice, but your readers will thank you later.
A good novel begins with a great story, a compelling plot, interesting characters. But it doesn’t end there. A good novel also needs to be well written.
I’ve been editing other authors’ novels for two years and writing novels for ten years. What follows are the most common mistakes I see in fiction manuscripts and self-published novels. By finding and fixing these common errors, you can improve your manuscript before it gets to the editor.
1. Overuse of Adverbs
If you’re working on a manuscript right now, do a “find” or “search” for every word that ends with ly. Now remove half of them. Your manuscript is already better. Even without doing a search or find, read each sentence. Are there two adverbs in some sentences? Recent manuscripts I’ve read contain sentences with two or three adverbs.
2. Repetitive Wording
Just, so, very, some. It’s difficult for an author to see his/her own mistakes. Have someone else read through your manuscript to assist you with this. For me, I often can’t see that I often use the same word often in the same sentence (see what I mean?) Or…read your manuscript backwards. This helps to show you areas of repetitive wording and other common errors.
3. Show Don’t Tell
This is a big newbie mistake.
He was sad.
She was amazed.
The look on her face was happy.
Now go through your manuscript and pick out all the times an emotion is simply stated and not described. Instead of writing “He was sad,” try something like “his shoulders slumped” or “his eyes were etched in grief.” Instead of writing “She was amazed,” experiment with different descriptions. One of the most helpful resources I’ve found is The Emotion Thesaurus.
A seasoned reader can spot a badly written, amateur book a mile away and usually within the first two pages. And…it will be more interesting for your reader if you allow them to visualize what’s going on.
4. Too Much Interior Thought
When I presented the initial draft of my first novel to my editor, one of her biggest complaints was “too much interior thinking.” When a character’s italicized thoughts are on every page, twice a page, that’s too much. It’s almost as if the author is lazy and just wants to tell the reader exactly what the character is thinking. Interior thought is fine when used sparingly, but not several times a page. Describe how they’re feeling instead.
5. Comma Errors, Grammar Errors
A great book for helping fix comma errors is:Eats, Shoots and Leaves. As well, search on Amazon for good grammar books. There are many.
6. Exclamation Points!
First-time novelists tend to use too many exclamation points. Do a search and omit most of them (replacing them with descriptions of the tone or face).
7. Too Much Dialogue
My first novel, Emily’s Hope, is 60 percent dialogue and 40 percent narrative. As a beginner, I didn’t know any better. Quality novels tend to use dialogue to serve the narrative, not the other way around. Dialogue can also be a lazy way to show character development. Dialogue is important, but if it’s the mainstay of your book, write a screenplay instead.
8. Underestimating the Intelligence of the Reader (e.g. hitting the reader over the head)
Here’s an example: He was sad. He was depressed. It was hard for him because he seemed so sad. Okay, we get it. He’s sad. Once is enough…and even at that, it’s better to describe what he looks like and feels like.
9. Avoid Descriptive Clichés or Sayings
“She felt like a million bucks”
“Smoother than a baby’s bottom”
Well, you can think of many. Create your own descriptive metaphors and similes instead of using well-known cliches.
10. Point of View
Many first-time novelists tend to use omniscient point of view (POV), that is, in any given scene, the author shows what’s going on in everyone’s mind, even within the same paragraph. This is difficult to do well, even for the experienced, bestselling novelist. And…it can be confusing for the reader. If you want your readers to bond with the characters, try using third person (intimate) POV. For more information, check out my guest post for Savvy Authors.
Eliminating these common errors will improve your manuscript before it even gets to the editor.
Are you working on a fiction manuscript? Do you have any favorite writing books you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment below.
Ellen Gable is a novelist living in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of five books: “Stealing Jenny,” a contemporary thriller about a pregnant woman who is kidnapped; “In Name Only” (Gold Medal, Religious Fiction,2010 IPPY Awards), “Come My Beloved” (non-fiction) and “Emily’s Hope.” The Kindle editions of her novels have been in the top 20 of the Religious Drama category since February, 2012. Ellen is President of the Catholic Writers Guild. She does freelance writing for a variety of websites, and she blogs at “Plot Line and Sinker” http://ellengable.wordpress.com. She and her husband are the creators of the Family Life cartoon which illustrates Catholic family life, a topic she knows much about as the mother of five sons ages 15 to 27. Her new book, “A Subtle Grace,” the sequel to “In Name Only,” has recently been published.This post originally appeared on the Catholic Writers Guild Blog.
This evening I gave a talk at the New Ulm Public Library on A Self-Publishing Journey: How I became a successful indie author and how you can too. I’m posting my slides from the talk, plus the handout of resources with links to sites I mentioned. Please feel free to ask questions if you’d like more details on any point.
I’m trying Kindle Countdown Deals for the first time in preparation for the feast of St. Therese, tomorrow, October 1. Now through 8 AM Pacific on Thursday, Trusting God with St. Therese is only $.99, regularly $3.99. Don’t miss out!
When I began writing my first book, Emily’s Hope, ten years ago, I did so thinking, “If just one person can read my book and feel they’ve learned something, then I’ll have reached my goal.” It never even occurred to me to “make money” with my books. But, eight years and three books later, I am making a nice supplemental income.
The average self-published book will sell fewer than 150 copies (and most of these will be to the author’s family and friends). That isn’t even enough to pay for your printing and/or editing expenses.
Remarkably, self-published novelist Amanda Hocking, has sold 1.5 million Kindle books. And while that is unusual, many self-published authors ARE selling books and making money.
So what is the difference between successful self-published books that sell thousands of copies and ones that only sell a few hundred or less? And what can you do to increase your chances of selling more books?
1) Quality of Writing
There is usually (although not always) a difference between self-published books that sell thousands of copies compared to those that only sell a few hundred and it’s most often in the quality of writing. Please, please, please don’t just accept praise from your friends and relatives telling you that your book is the greatest masterpiece ever written. Give your manuscript to a professional editor, as well as a copy-editor. Humbly consider their advice. Once you’ve finished editing, ask those friends who think your book’s a masterpiece to proofread it for you.
My spiritual director once told me that editing a manuscript is like polishing a diamond. The more you polish a manuscript, the more the brilliance shines through.
It takes a lot of work to write the first draft of a book. However, in my experience, it takes a lot more work to edit, polish, edit some more, polish some more until the book is ready for publication.
2) Eye-Catching Professional Cover
If I had a dollar for every self-published book that had a poorly designed or downright bad cover, I’d be able to take my family out to dinner weekly for the next month.
A book’s cover is the first image a perspective buyer/reader sees, whether it’s in print or on Kindle. The cover MUST be professionally produced, aesthetically pleasing and tell the story of a book with one glance. Learn more about making a good cover from my post on covers entitled “Discover Your Cover.”
3) Extensive marketing versus minimal marketing
This is the one thing that can make or break a book, in my humble opinion. There are many, many outstanding (even brilliant) self-published books out there that are going virtually unnoticed because the authors have done little or no marketing.
Writing the book is only a small part of the success of a book. In my talk at the Catholic Writers Conference Live last year in Philadelphia, I spoke about the importance of marketing: blogging, social networking (Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Linked In), blog tours, Kindle e-books. Marketing takes 90 percent of my time. But then again, I’m a social person. I like connecting with people on Twitter or Facebook. I enjoy a lively conversation on my blog. I enjoy commenting on other bloggers’ posts. If an author is not willing or doesn’t have the time to market, this will show in sales.
4) Target Audience is Too Small
Sometimes an author will write a book directed to a smaller target audience. This has definitely been an issue with my first book, Emily’s Hope, which some people have coined as “NFP Fiction.” Since NFP-users probably make up a very small percentage of women who read, my target audience for that book is decidedly small. Most readers don’t even know what NFP is, so it’s not a book they would normally pick up.
My second novel, In Name Only, is very different from my first book. Although the characters are Catholic, it’s not as genre specific. It’s an historical romance, which makes it more appealing to the female population. It’s not as religiously thick, so secular readers can enjoy it as much as Christian readers. It has been my most popular book thus far, selling hundreds of e-books a week on Amazon Kindle, often attaining the #1 position in Religious Drama.
Most self-published books sell an average of 150 books. You can increase your odds of selling more than that by considering the following factors: quality of writing, eye-catching cover, good marketing and a wide target audience.
Keep these things in mind for a successful self-publishing experience.
copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach, reposted with permission
Ellen Gable is a novelist living in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of five books: “Stealing Jenny,” a contemporary thriller about a pregnant woman who is kidnapped; “In Name Only” (Gold Medal, Religious Fiction,2010 IPPY Awards), “Come My Beloved” (non-fiction) and “Emily’s Hope.” The Kindle editions of her novels have been in the top 20 of the Religious Drama category since February, 2012. Ellen is President of the Catholic Writers Guild. She does freelance writing for a variety of websites, and she blogs at “Plot Line and Sinker” http://ellengable.wordpress.com. She and her husband are the creators of the Family Life cartoon which illustrates Catholic family life, a topic she knows much about as the mother of five sons ages 15 to 27. Her new book, “A Subtle Grace,” the sequel to “In Name Only,” has recently been published.