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While every writer would like to think her books spring directly from her creative loins, a font that also births unicorns, witty comebacks, and the ability to parallel park, the truth is that it takes a village to make a book.
For me, that village is more like a small town.
Types of People Required to Finish a Book
This list could get very long. So I’m going to ignore those people who inspire characters, who say things that spark ideas for plot points, strangers in the news who cause me to pick up my pen, or people who earn enough of my wrath to die on paper.
(Current death count=2)
There are also writing teachers who will help you write better and faster. I’ve taken helpful classes in storytelling from Sarah Kathleen Peck and various courses on tension, character development, and revision from classes at Romance Writers of America. Yes, it is worth the membership cost just for the classes – all taught by bestselling authors.
(You’ve already seen my favorite book recommendations on writing and publishing in previous posts.)
Aside from the dozens of people who inspire my work, there are the dozens of people who do the necessary work to bring a book to life.
If you want to write books, and especially if you plan to be an indie publisher like me, these are the people you need.
This person tells you all the ways you are screwing up in ways you did not know you were screwing up. She also tells you things you never even knew were things, like what kind of book needs the word “clit” and what kind of book needs the phrase “center of her being.”
A good mentor in your chosen genre is worth her weight in chocolate.
You should do everything possible to honor her time constraints and make helping you as easy as possible, because what she has to offer cannot be found elsewhere.
Do not abuse your mentor. Do not be lazy with your mentor. And always do your homework before you approach her, no matter how well you know her, because she is likely taking time away from writing four times as many books as you to answer your questions. Make it count for both of you.
I won’t name my main mentor, who happens to be a best-selling romance author, but I will tell you that romance writers are a more helpful bunch than most other genres. Join a group of romance writers online and you’ll see.
And when you gain a little bit of your own success? Pay it back, Jack. Reach a hand down and pull someone else up a rung.
For the love of all that is chocolate, do not design your own book cover unless you are an award-winning book cover designer. And then, think twice. Even if you have design skills, you know TOO MUCH about your book. You will try to convey all the nuances of your words onto the cover, and it will be atrocious.
I have done it both ways, and hiring a designer is better. A well-designed cover of a mediocre book will give you more sales than a crappy cover of a masterpiece.
People judge books by their covers, no matter what your grandma said.
I used 99Designs to find a designer for all five books in The Late Bloomers Series, and I commissioned all five covers from a designer I liked before I even finished the first book. You’ll need print covers, 3D covers, flat covers, and a few banner ad formats to promote your books. Establishing a relationship with the same designer will give your entire body of work a cohesive look and feel.
Someone will have to put your book together in ebook and print formats, with all the right pages at the beginning and the end, plus a table of contents and inserting the right cover. There are services who do this. You can also teach yourself to do this if you have the patience.
I exchange sexual favors with my husband so he’ll format books for me. But if you ask him, he’ll charge you.
Don’t skimp on the formatting, because a book that is hard to read will not be read. Simple as that.
Test it in every format, and then test it again. Compare it to other books on your shelf or on your Kindle/iPad/Nook/Kobo and make sure it is as good-looking as any other book out there, because readers will notice if it isn’t.
The largest neighborhood in my book village is Beta Readerville. The people who volunteer to read my early drafts and provide detailed feedback are the lifeblood of my work. They call me out on problems (“she would never do that!”) and highlight what’s working (“I tried out that sex scene to make sure it was possible – and it is!”).
This living lab of story testers keeps me honest. I have used over fifty beta readers in each of my last two books, and it takes a spreadsheet to keep the feedback together.
How do you get beta readers? I ask my email list and Facebook page for volunteers. I know of most of my beta readers via social media, but I only know a few of them personally. This is better than asking friends because people who know you unconsciously fill in the gaps of your work that future readers won’t be able to. They “know what you mean” in a way that future readers will not.
(Though a few good writer friends are incredibly valuable.)
Below are the questions I ask beta readers, and then I copy each person’s answer to each question into a spreadsheet. It becomes obvious where the problems are when you do this, and you can develop a strategy to improve your book if you’re the least bit organized (and I am only the least bit organized).
- Does the story hold your interest all the way through? If not, why?
- Could you relate to the main characters? Feel their pain/excitement? Do you care about them?
- Is there anything that confuses or frustrates you?
- Where did you get bored?
- What characters need more development or focus?
- What parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?
- Was the opening compelling? At what point did you first put the book down?
- Was the ending satisfying or believable?
I make a second sheet on my spreadsheet to document the changes I want to make in the revision so I don’t forget anything. Then I highlight each item in green after I complete it.
Don’t forget to thank your beta readers by giving them a free copy of the finished book and mentioning them in the acknowledgements. Always be effusive with praise for people who help you bring your creative ideas to life, because without them it wouldn’t be nearly as good.
I trust my beta readers more than I trust some of my family members. One of them even has a key to my house.
Yes, you need one. Someone trained in the ways of storytelling, style, and readability. Someone who can see what you’re trying to say and show you how to get it out of your head and onto paper.
When you work with an editor, you’ll learn why what you’ve written is not as good as what you have in your head and how to match it up. Especially when starting out, a roadmap editor can put you on the right path. She’ll read your book, offer constructive criticism to make your story clearer and sharper than it is at present, and give you ideas to finish it like a champ.
A good editor won’t try to change your vision or rewrite your story. She will simply help you chip your story out of the marble. And you’ll learn a ton about yourself and your craft from working with a good editor.
This is your last line of defense, and in Wild Rose I didn’t use one. I thought I could do it myself after the editor returned the final copy. Wrong! Don’t proof your own book. Like with the cover, you are too close to it. You’ll bridge gaps without thinking because you know the story so well.
Every book needs multiple rounds of proofing. I start with Grammarly, which I mentioned in the last post. This gives as clean a copy as possible to the editors so they can find the smallest problems possible. For English Ivy, I hired four proofreaders to work independently using the Track Changes feature on my final draft, then combined their drafts into one final monster draft. This is what becomes the final book.
An author always has the right to accept or deny the proposed changes by an editor or proofreader. Don’t just “accept all” and assume it is correct. You’ll want to go through it yourself, to learn what you’ve been doing wrong, and to make sure the changes reflect what you want.
You’ll also want to read it one last time to make sure it is okay before publication.
If you’re a savvy author, you know audiobooks are a growing market. To get your book narrated, you’ll have to A) do it yourself, B) hire a professional narrator upfront, or C) arrange to split the sales of your audiobooks with your narrator.
Most authors aren’t capable of narrating their books and they shouldn’t. I’m a professional podcaster and narrator with a small studio in my basement, so I’m doing my own. But don’t overlook this as something too advanced for you. If your book is good to read, it will be good aloud, and you’ll capture a completely different market.
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy hosting the Quickie Romance Podcast so much. Hearing a book aloud is a completely different way of enjoying it, and many people prefer it to reading for a lot of different reasons. Don’t limit the reach of your book by ignoring audiobooks.
To find the right people to create your audiobook, check out this useful guide from Simon Whistler (which will help you do it yourself or find a professional narrator.)
Who’s In Your Village?
I’m fortunate in that I cowrote and published for nonfiction books before I started writing romance. I knew a lot of this going in, and it made the transition to fiction and romance writing a little bit easier. But it is still a collaborative process, and anyone who thinks writing books is a solitary activity needs a reality check.
Books may be written by you, but they won’t make it to the stands without some heavy lifting by your designer, formatter, beta readers, editor, proofreaders, and an army of fans and marketers to help you sell.
If you work in a vacuum, your work will suck.
(Those are professional, writerly words, there.)
There are some people we haven’t covered yet: the people who help you promote and sell your book. There are publicists, photographers, book marketers, book reviewers, podcasters, other authors, friends, services, tour/event organizers, and online and brick and mortar bookstores. We’ll cover those people in the next edition of How I Became a Romance Writer.
Until then, you can preorder English Ivy right now on Amazon, read a free short story featuring The Late Bloomers by signing up for my email list, or listen to the Quickie Romance Podcast to see how other authors go about creatively promoting their books.