Apr 172014

One in an occasional series

I am one of those editors who likes to support my clients even if what they need help with is beyond the range of editing. Because of this, I’ve now started such services as offering help writing book descriptions, a While You Write service where you cough up cash and I’m available seven days a week for brainstorming plot wrinkles and other problems, and more. I’ve even brought some e-book formatters into the fold, but more about that another day.

The Book Description and While You Write services are available only to my editing clients.

One other thing I like to do is talk about your options for publication. A number of you like to explore your options, and that’s great. I’m totally supportive of that. And… a lot of you have found small presses who’ve been interested in publishing your books. Sometimes, that makes me sad because it means you’re moving on to a new editor (and when that editor’s not as good as me, well, double sad!) — but that sadness is also tempered with excitement for you. I want only the best for my clients.

But sometimes, you find yourself someone who is well intentioned but … maybe isn’t ready for a writer of my clients’ caliber (do I think highly of you guys, or what?). And you ask me about this publisher.

I came across one of these small presses the other day. When I find them, I crawl all over their website, looking for certain criteria:
1. Is the site well written? Seems like a silly thing to look for, but if a publisher’s website is riddled with grammar errors, what will your book look like? (and yes, I do wish I had the cojones to send them a letter, offering my non-fiction department’s services!)

2. What can you offer my author that s/he can’t do by him/herself? The latest was a publisher who said they were working on a relationship that would get them into brick-and-mortar stores. Sounds great, but … they weren’t there yet. What could they offer my client NOW?

3. What do they publish, and how does your book fit into their list? One publisher I came across had both erotic lit and a book about Jesus on their front page. I’d be surprised if people aren’t offended by that one!

There’s a reason niche publishers do well, folks: they break into one market and do it well.

4. What’s the background of the principals involved? Even if it’s not a publishing background, I’m sorry, but someone with an MFA in painting and a partner with a PhD in history just doesn’t make me confident that you know how to run a business — even though I’ve learned that running a business isn’t rocket science. But I want to see that you’ve got a clue what you’re doing before I’ll express confidence in your business.

(Before you ask about my lack of business background, I spent 2013 enrolled in a year-long business class and worked with a fabulous mentor. Like I said, running a business isn’t rocket science.)

5. How excited by your book is this publisher? I thought this was a no-brainer, but when a client forwarded a mail that said, “I skimmed your book and think it’d be a good fit…” I realized that the siren’s song of “it’d be a good fit” drowned out the red flag. This acquiring editor SKIMMED the book? The book he’s worked on for years and years? Sweat, blood, tears, marriage, friends, and an editor are all in that book and this acquiring editor admitted to SKIMMING it?

To paraphrase uber agent Janet Reid: You want someone behind your book who’s as passionate as you are.

Yes, we all want to have a publisher’s name behind us (okay, not all of us anymore!) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let desire overrule your natural caution. I’ve seen too many small presses go under, heard too many stories about authors who have to go to court to have their rights reversed, seen what happens when expectations are crushed.

Don’t be that author.

But do be the author who is smart enough to reach out to people who can look past the emotional high of the offer and help you weigh your options with a clear mind. This is your business. It’s not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be smart in the choices you make.

Apr 162014

Yes, boys and girls, after being full for months on end, right now, there’s no one in the queue for the Featured New Book Spotlight. Why not? I see books being published every day. I see free promotion right here at West of Mars. And I see the e-mails I get from readers, telling me they’ve bought a book they’ve seen in the spotlight and I was right: it’s worth a read.

Tell your friends. Take advantage yourself. Remember, it’s free if you’re willing to take the next open date (and only $5 to reserve the date you want).

Why are you still holding out? Flood my inbox today!

Apr 032014

One in an occasional series

Today’s post was inspired by my own good intentions, intentions that have come back to haunt me.

One of the things I struggle most with is names, especially names for minor characters. Throwaway people, who I expect to use once and never see again. There have been many in all the Trevolution writings, people who crossed paths with the band for one reason or another. And you can always tell who the characters who intrigue me are: they mostly have intriguing names. Lyric. Boomer. Chelle. And yes, even Pam the exercise instructor who tries to use Trevor to get to Mitchell.

Like I said, those aren’t the problem children. I don’t know any Lyrics or Boomers or Chelles, and as for Pams… well, not many, anyway. Pam Derbish is her own woman. But… she was never meant to be a one-story flash in the pan.

It’s when I’m sitting around, getting desperate because I know the name doesn’t matter. That the character is nothing more than a vehicle, a catalyst for the story to unfold around, so why am I stressing about a name? And so, I turned to real life, figuring it would be a nice way to pay tribute to friends who meant a lot to me. Maybe that way, the characters would elevate themselves and be more than just a name on a page.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I fell out of touch with most of those friends. One did something I know I ought to find forgiveness for, but I’m not there yet. That one’ll be a long time coming, I think.

Which means that every time I look at those characters’ names, I pause with a note of regret. I miss a bunch of them. I am upset about the choices the other made (and continues to make), knowingly or unknowingly.

Now, it’s a sight better than the woman I once knew who published a collection of short stories in the early ’90s. She apparently didn’t merely use her family members’ names. She fictionalized them, and the fiction wasn’t exactly flattering (“pathetic” was how I characterized the lot of them when I read the book) — in their eyes. I still recall the pain in her eyes and etched into her face when she looked at a stack of wedding invitations from those people. They hadn’t even bothered to open the invitations and send back the RSVP card. Nope. They’d all written REFUSED across the front and had it returned to her.

Don’t be me, and don’t be that woman. Step outside your life and give your characters names that don’t mean a darn thing.

Apr 012014

I got an e-mail out of the blue, inviting me to join in an April Fool’s Blog Exchange. How could I — why would I — say no? The icing on the cake? The City to my Iron? All the bloggers are in my home town of Pittsburgh, a city I’m not nearly visible enough in.

Enough about me. Today’s blog post is brought to us by a fellow April baby and book lover. Could that matchup have been any more heaven-sent?

birthday wish.

Here’s Tiffany Harkleroad, a woman who has actually laid eyes on me and can vouch to the fact that I’m not an orange S on a red background.

I have been a book reviewer for 4 years now. I have been working at a library for 4 months. I have stacks of books in every room. I papered my living room floor with book pages. I think it is safe to call me a book lover. But how did this love of literature begin? I trace it back to my parents.
My parents are both readers, and even though they had little spare time to read while working full time and raising 3 children, books were always a present in our home. My parents always took the time to read to us, and with us, as our reading skills progressed. As I got older, I would beg my parents to take me to bookstores to spend any allowance or birthday money I had saved up. But the thing that I most strongly remember from childhood was my parents taking me to the library.

Trips to the library were not an easy thing for my parents. We lived in a rural, outlying area, so it was about a 20 minute drive to the library, then we could count on being there for at least an hour, plus the drive back. For busy, working parents, this was a sacrifice, yet my parents never complained a bit. As soon as school was out for the summer, my parents would take me to the library, and help me check out a tower of library books. Two weeks later, we would trek back, return them, and get another stack. I firmly believe that my parents’ support of my library adoration set me up to be a reader for life.

So here we are, 30 years later. I still love books, I still love libraries, and I want to share that love with others, the way my parents shared it with me. Since I have no children of my own, the best way for me to accomplish this is to encourage the children in my community to love books the way I love books. But how?

April is my birthday month, and I like to use that as an opportunity to celebrate the things I love best. Seems like the perfect opportunity to celebrate reading, and encourage reading in my community’s children. So here is what I am doing: I am asking folks to help me build a Children’s Literacy Activity Center for the Ford City Public Library (where I work). I have created an Amazon Wish List of items needed to create the center. I am asking friends, family, and fellow book lovers to purchase items from this list in honor of my birthday. The items will be shipped directly to the library. You can find the wish list here.

It is my birthday wish that I can share my love of reading with the children in my community. I hope you will help make my wish come true.
You can visit my personal blog at talltalesfromasmalltown.blogspot.com, or my book review blog at tiffanysbookshelf.blogspot.com

I think Tiffany might have topped me on this one… I usually release a book on my birthday, figuring I’ll get the gift of royalties and you can keep the goods. But this? Takes it to an entirely new level. Wow.

You go, Tiffany!


You can read my post over at Oh, Honestly, Erin.

Beezus Kiddo

Crank Crank Revolution

D&T In the Burgh

Don’t Forget to Eat

Downtown Living

Emily Levenson

everybody loves you…

jelly jars

‘lil Burgers

Ngewo’s World

Oh Honestly, Erin

Orange Chair Blog

PGH Happy Hour

Radio Chumps

Red Pen Mama

Sean’s Ramblings

Small Town Dad

Sole for the Soul


The Firecracker Blog

The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog

The Steel Trap

West of Mars

Ya Jagoff

Yinz R Readin


Yum Yum PGH

Mar 192014

One in an occasional series

When I came out of retirement a few years ago, my mentor told me to avoid working for publishers who paid royalties. It was the equivalent of doing the work and then tossing dice when it came time to be paid. As someone who needed to support myself, working for a royalty-paying publisher wasn’t the best idea. I’d be fine if a book sold a million copies (but really, how many do that?) but … well, most don’t. And since most publishers pay freelance editors scant amounts even compared to my posted rates (which are only a third of what my mentor charges!), I was basically looking at giving a lot of work away for free.

She, of course, was right on the money. This is why she’s my mentor, after all.

One thing she didn’t mention to me — maybe it wasn’t an issue then — was a new practice that is struggling (thankfully) to take hold: independent authors who offer to pay their editors a royalty.

Maybe she was silent because from where I sit, surrounded by red pens, this is a no-brainer. There’s no way I could ever consent to do this.

Here’s why:
1. Finances. Everyone knows how rough it is out there for authors or all ilk. I have edited some outstanding books, books that deserve to be in everyone’s libraries, yet my authors struggle. I don’t know their exact numbers — I tend to ask, “How’re sales?” and get an equally vague response — but I do know that it’s the rare author these days who can break through the chatter and sell hundreds of books a month. And those who sell thousands? They are charmed.

2. I am a hired gun. That’s right: You hire me to do a job. I do my job and while I develop a relationship with my favorite clients that often has me going above and beyond the strict rules of being an editor, at the end of the day, I walk away and leave your book in your hands. YOUR book. YOUR hands. Not our. Your.

3. Your book is your baby. No one is more vested in your book than you are. This ties into the above reason, absolutely. Even if you hire me to hold your hand while you write and help brainstorm as words hit the page, it’s still YOUR book, not mine. I’m here to help make it the best ever, but when I’m done with your book, I’m moving on to the next. I’m not helping market it or trying to find reviewers. I’m editing the next book in the queue. Sometimes, a client will come back to me a few weeks or even months after I’ve worked on their book and I’ll have to reopen the file and refresh my brain. About YOUR baby.

3. Honesty. While I don’t walk into relationships with my authors expecting them to take advantage of me, if I am going to walk into a royalty-based situation, I need to be 100% sure that there won’t be any funny math happening. If a Hollywood movie can gross millions and net nothing, what’s to say this accounting won’t trickle down to an author or two? Or ten.

4. More work for me: I would have to carefully monitor every statement that comes in to make sure I’m being paid. Or better yet, I’d have to hire someone to do that because, hey, I don’t run an accounting business over here. I run an editing and author services company. Authors want me to edit for them, and they are willing to pay me to do the job. They don’t want to hear I’m unavailable a certain week of the month because I have to double-check royalty statements for books I didn’t write. (And, hey, where’s MY income for that week?)

5. Plenty of other authors want me. Why should I take work on spec when I have a stable full of writers who have no issues with my Pay Up Front policy? And believe me when I say the fear of having to face an unhappy client who wants his or her money back is in the back of my mind, spurring me on to be an ever-better editor.

I get it. Believe me, I do. Editing is expensive, and when I run my own work past a professional editor, it’s my mentor I turn to. Go back to the start of this post, where I mention her rates are triple what mine are. Think about the ramifications of that statement for a minute.

I know it’s tempting. Your success is my success. Accepting a royalty structure makes me more motivated to help you sell books. And you don’t have to shell out money up front.

But from where I sit… it’s a gamble. I have a roof to keep over our heads over here, bills to pay. I can’t risk that in the hopes that you are the next author to break out of the mainstream, even if when you do, I’ll make millions, too. Because what happens, then, when the publisher wants you to pull your book from the market, break our contract, and then reissues it themselves? What happens to my vested interest in YOUR book then?

I can’t be left out in the cold. Literally or figuratively.

No royalty-based finances here, thank you.