Here is the Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for 15 JAN 2019:
What is your favorite writing format and why: Jumbo Novel (over 120,000 words); Long Novel (over 80,000 words); Novel (over 40,000 words); Novella (17,500 – 39,999 words); Novelette (7,500 – 17,499 words); Short Story (1000 – 7,499 words); Flash (less than 1,000 words)?
Final Drafts Are Still Pretty Rough
OK, maybe they’re REALLY rough.
No matter how carefully you read your manuscript, there will be errors. Grammar, spelling, syntax, and all of the rest will creep in and entrench the errors so deep that you, as the writer, can’t even see them. Logic and flow errors are even worse.
The reason for this is very simple, and my great grandma summed it up nicely when she said, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”
In other words, you are too close.
Get people to read your manuscript. For grammar, spelling, and other mechanical issues, anyone with a reasonable grasp of high school level English will do. Even family will work.
For logic and flow, for God’s sake do NOT use a family member or close friend! They will ignore problems because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, even if the problem is glaring. Find someone who will be totally honest with you, even if it hurts.
If you have a representative, they will have editors who will help you, and they will be brutally honest with you. Trust me, that’s gonna hurt. And it will leave a mark…a mark that you will remember and help you grow and become a better writer.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter have likely seen me comment over the years about why so many authors (mostly working in the indie or self-published arenas) seem to vanish from social media and other writer forums. As I have also commented, I have had a few ideas as to why this happens, but no real facts to back things up. At least until now…
I took the chance recently to have some of the marketing types in my organization actually look into the apparent phenomena, and I’d like to say that the results were surprising. Sadly, however, they weren’t at all unexpected.
Before we get to the reasons, let me tell you a little about the data used…
My staff looked at historical data from both Twitter and FaceBook taken from a total of just under 500 accounts. These accounts are those held by myself and a number of other authors the company works with that cover a number of pen names as well as accounts of the corporation/staff plus a good number of accounts of other people in the publishing industry who allowed us access. The data went back 45 months from December of 2018. What we looked at were writers who appeared (or were already on) FaceBook and Twitter and then, at some point, more or less vanished. We waded through the posts of these vanishing authors and, when possible, contacted them in order to find out what happened to them. People for whom we could not determine a reason for their dropping away were discarded from the data pool. Overall, we found out what happened to more than 6,000 writers.
Here is a summary of the results:
Still Writing – <1% – Most of the time, these writers changed pen names and simply abandoned their old name. Maybe not the best decision from a business point of view, but it explains what happened to this small group.
Stopped Writing – >99% – The major reasons why they stopped include:
Deceased – <0.5%
Not making enough money to justify the time spent – >70%
Ran out of money (bankrupt in some cases) – >4%
Ran out of story ideas – <8%
Terminal Writer’s Block – >7%
Lack of motivation to continue – >8%
Assorted other issues – >1.5%
In all honesty, in my mind, I tend to roll line-items 4, 5, and 6 into a single group. They are all very closely related and deal with the creative process itself. This larger group accounts for about 24% of the total. If you toss in line-items 1 and 7 as well, you’re at about 25%. I think it’s safe to say that a quarter of the authors who quit writing did so because of failures in the creative process of writing a story.
The troubling part is found in line-items 2 and 3. Again, I think these can be lumped together as they both come down to not making enough money to continue writing. As you can see, about 75% of all authors who stopped writing in the study period did so because it was not profitable to continue.
Sadly, this is the very reason I suspected for the attrition in the ranks of authors. Also sadly, this is something my company and I hear nearly every day from authors looking for a partnership to increase their income.
The pitch from the writer usually goes something like: “I’m putting in every spare minute writing, and I think I’m pretty good. For a typical book, by the time I pay an editor, cover artist, preparation software costs, and the other essentials, I end up going a hundred or more dollars in the hole on the book. For a really good seller where I do make some money, I end up working for about $1 an hour. I just can’t make it this way!”
And they are 100% correct.
Technically, any business can go forever on a break-even basis. You never get ahead that way, but you won’t go bankrupt, either. I suspect there are some writers who are OK with breaking even and just keeping their head above water. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that most writers want to turn at least a little profit. And I’ll equally bet that there is a rather significant percentage of authors who want to actually make a living writing.
The good news is that there are ways to turn a profit. In fact, there are ways to turn a large enough profit to make a full-time living as a writer. There is one thing you need to do in order to reach the level of a full-time, professional author…
Change how you you think. Writing professionally is a business, plain and simple. As soon as you REALLY start thinking of your writing as a business, your entire outlook will change…and it will change in ways that will facilitate your professional growth.
One of the biggest changes you will see is the need for help. You will need a person (or company) out there to help you not only place your stories but to help you write them. A traditional literary agent will help somewhat, but a real representative will help even more. Some of you may have tried to hook up with an agent already, so you know how hard that can be. Getting a true representative is several orders of magnitude more difficult. A couple of things to keep in mind: If an agent picks you up, you likely have a lot of promise as a writer; If a representative even CONSIDERS picking you up, you absolutely have a TON of promise as a writer.
The other huge change most writers will need to make is learning to let go. This is particularly true if you hope to sell a story for video production…just as an example, you might spend four pages describing Mary’s office in a book, but the screenplay will say, “Bob walks into Mary’s office.” The point here is that you need to understand that things are not under your total control. And sorry, folks…that almost always ends up making the story better and worth more money.
We are in a world of side-hustles today…people doing two, three, or more jobs, and doing them all fair and none of them well. And writing is no different. I see writers all the time who are working two “real” jobs and writing in their so-called free time. And frankly, this side-hustle mentality shows. Between books I personally read (and I read very fast) and books my staff reads and provide a synopsis (think of a sort of Cliff Note for corporations) to me, I see well over a hundred books a month. On average I would guess that about 97 of them will make your eyes bleed, 2 of them are at least readable, and only 1 is passable. I would guess that I see maybe 1 or 2 books a year that are actually good.
But let’s get to the money shot…
Ask yourself one very simple question: Do you want to make a living as an author?
If the answer is “No”, then just keep going as you are now. Everything will be fine, and besides, what can possibly go wrong?
If, however, the answer is “Yes”, then you need to change how you think about your chosen career.
To make a long story short, get off your ass and do something!!
Don’t Fear The Editors
This Rule is a rough one for most writers, no matter if they are a seasoned professional author with decades in the business or if they are a new writer struggling with their first story. Editors can be intimidating, and that’s a good thing.
It is the editor—at least the good ones—who will push the writer to make the story better. From the line editor looking for grammatical and spelling errors to the content editor looking for continuity and logic in the story, they all have the aim of making your story the best it can be. In order to do that job right, they must be critical and on the offensive all of the time.
Over the years, I’ve come to know that the quality of the editor is directly proportional to the amount of red ink on my manuscript when I get it back. I know I’m not perfect, and I have never written the perfect manuscript. There are always errors, always problems, and the more of those the editor finds and flags the better they did their job.
Many new writers see the relationship between them and the editor as one of an adversarial nature, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a cooperative relationship, one where the writer and editor are a team working towards the common goal of producing a story that will sell. We have the same objective in mind…to entertain the reader and to sell books.
The editor is not there to rewrite the story. They are there to help the writer find mistakes and to make the story clear and concise. And this can lead to a potential problem…
In the print world, editors very rarely write stories at all. They are editors and that is that. In the world of E-Books, editors are often also writers. These people write their own books, and also work editing the stories of other writers to supplement their income.
And the print world has it right…
By and large, editors are terrible writers, and writers are terrible editors. Why is that?
A writer will tend to let their own voice drift into the works of others as they do an edit. It’s not a deliberate thing, it just happens. As a writer edits the work of another, that little voice that all writers hear will keep saying things like, “…I would say it this way instead…” and it all starts to blend together. I have seen this in numerous E-Books…in the middle of a paragraph, someone else takes over the writing for a few lines.
In similar fashion, an editor trying to write will typically end up with something that, while mechanically and technically correct, will sound stiff and stilted. That is to say that their voice ends up sounding like the style manuals and grammar textbooks.
Editors and writers are two different skill sets, both important to the final product.
I suppose it’s possible to have both skill sets in one person, but the danger for crosstalk between the two functions would be high. Of the tens of thousands of writers and thousands of editors I know, there is exactly one person I know can do both tasks. And it isn’t me!
Writers should not be afraid of the editors. They are there to help the writer and in most cases they succeed.
And this is where things come down to the brass tacks…
If the editor suggests a change, really think about it. If the change makes sense and makes the story better IN THE OPINION OF THE WRITER, then make the change. If not, then reject the change. Don’t be afraid to tell the editor “no”.
It is YOUR story, not theirs. It is YOUR voice, not theirs.
See Rule Number Twenty-One as well.