Author Solutions, authors, Editing, writing

Can outlining make your writing even better? Here are 3 methods to use and find out.

I have to admit I was not a fan of outlining and have heard multiple debates among writers about whether an outline is needed. Some see it as essential before they start the writing process. Others see it as too restrictive and something that limits creativity. I probably would have fallen more in the latter category, but over the last few years, I have come to really see the value of establishing an outline before writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing. 

Having a good outline is like having a good map. GPS on our phones has made maps old school, but not that long ago, having a map was critical before embarking on a journey. For me an outline simply serves as a map. It establishes where you are starting and what your final destination will be and some of the key milestones you will pass on your journey. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a slightly different route once you begin your journey or add a stop or two. It just simply gives you a path to follow as you write. Too often, first time authors, write to get down on paper the essence of what they want to say, but don’t make it easy for others to follow along. An outline can help avoid that problem.

Three options for you to create an outline.  Over the years, three different methods for outlining have become the predominant options for authors. There is no ranking of one, two and three. Rather, they present choices for you to find which method works best for you. The following list will touch on the basics of popular methods.

Classic Outline

This classic outline includes Roman numerals, letters, and numbers for headings and subheadings. It is the most highly organized form of outlining and relies heavily on sequential thinking. It is often uses most for nonfiction works. The goal of the classical outline is to create a blueprint that effectively divides main ideas and subordinating ones, while at the same time coordinating ideas into a cohesive whole. Most of us learned this method in school at some point

Summary Outline

In a summary outline, you start by sequentially listing plot events. Then write a short summary of each chapter. Clearly define goals for each chapter and discuss the characters, settings, and chapter timelines. This kind of outline is linear in nature. It can be used in conjunction with a classic outline to create an even more detailed blueprint for your book. It is also most often used for a fiction book.

Storyboarding

This form of outlining is popular because it allows for constant reorganization of ideas. It is a great technique for when you

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

want to get all your ideas down and then begin to play with options for how the book or story could flow.  You can use index cards or sticky notes and write down all the key events or points you want to make. Then on a wall or table, begin to layout the order you want the ideas or events to appear. This method is really helpful if you are a visual person and need to see the flow. It also helps you see where you may have holes in the story or a weak transition.

Have you used a outline when you write? If so, what method? Have you found it helpful. Use the comment section to let me know what you think.

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Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 helpful tips on how to work with a ghostwriter

Not too long ago I featured two guest posts from Kathy Ide. Kathy is a ghostwriter, editor/mentor, writers’ conference speaker and author of a must-have book, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors  She also founded and is the coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network(www.TheChristianPEN.com) and the Christian Editor Connection(www.ChristianEditor.com).

Her previous posts LET’S EAT GRANDMA: The Importance of Proofreading and 5 ways that mistakes in your manuscript can hurt your reputation as an author were very well-received so I thought I would offer some additional insights from her.

I had the privilege of interviewing Kathy at the West Coast Writer’s Conference on the topic of ghostwriting. She had some helpful tips if that is something you are considering.

Don’t just rely on interviews

When people think of ghostwriting, they often think they will just dictate the whole story. That may be because they don’t have the time, confidence or skills to write a manuscript.  Kathy suggests even though a ghostwriter will do interviews, it is very helpful for you to write down your thoughts. It could be key stories or people, but it will help the interviews be more productive.

Create a chronological outline

Along with writing down significant moments in preparation for the interviews, it is also very helpful to create a chronological outline of the story. Again it will help create order and make the interviews even more productive. In fact, you should probably provide it to the ghostwriter prior to the interview.

Be clear on your audience

This is a key no matter what book you are writing or publishing. I have written about this extensively, but it is perhaps the most important thing for any writer to keep in mind when they are publishing.

If you would like to hear Kathy elaborate on these topics, here interview is available below.

 

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, helpful hints, Publishing, self publishing, writing

6 tips to make sure you fulfill your New Year’s resolution to publish your book!

These tips will you get from manuscript to published author this year.

These tips will you get from manuscript to published author this year.

This is the time when people set goals and make resolutions for the coming year.  If publish a book is on your list, here are some suggestions to help you make sure 2015 is the year you become a published author.

Set a date when you want to hold a copy of your book.  In all the years I have worked with self-published authors, I have found that picking a date for when you want your book available is absolutely critical. If an author works with a traditional publisher, there is always a release date set by the publisher. That determines when the manuscript needs to be finished by.  When you self-publish, you need to set your own “release date”. Otherwise I find too many other distractions get in the way of actually finishing the manuscript. Now this date can be an actual event such as a speaking engagement or a book signing or you can just pick a day. But without a day circled on the calendar, it is likely you will never get to your goal.

When you self-publish, you need to set your own “release date”.

Build a timeline to get your goal. Once you have a date when you want to hold a copy of your book in your hand, you then need to build a realistic timeline to get your manuscript to published book.  Start with that date and work backwards with these key milestones in mind.

  • Complete the manuscript.
  • Time for editing.
  • Time for revisions based on editor suggestions.
  • Illustration or image creation if applicable.
  • Cover and page design.
  • Review and approval of cover and galleys.
  • Distribution to online and e-book retailers.

If you are familiar with the publishing process, you can probably build this timeline on your own. If you are not, then you will likely need help from a publishing consultant or supported self publishing company.

Put writing appointments on your calendar.  Most every author I have spoken with confirms there is a best time during the day for them to write. In other words, they are more productive when they write at certain times than others. For you it may be early in the morning or late at night. It doesn’t much matter when, but it does make a difference if you block that time on your calendar and keep it as an appointment.

Blocking time to write when you are most productive is one of the keys to completing your manuscript. (credit: pixgood.com)

Blocking time to write when you are most productive is one of the keys to completing your manuscript. (credit: pixgood.com)

Make yourself accountable. As with most goals in life, support is a key factor to success. Publishing a book is no different. So once you pick a date and build a timeline, make sure others help you stay on track. Share your milestones and ask them to check in and see how you are doing.  You may already have someone in mind who can help you in this way, but you may also want to look for a local writing group or online group.  The Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS) is a great example of a local writers group that can provide excellent support if you live in Southern California. The Author Learning Center is an example place to create an online group.

Make an investment. That in which we invest is usually what grows.  So when it comes to publishing a book, you are going to invest both time and money to get it done. Sometimes putting money toward a project even before the manuscript is done can provide extra incentive to get the job done.

Plan your book launch event.  Many people have ideas for books and even start writing, but it is a rare few who actually become published authors. So when you make it to your goal, you need to celebrate. Throw a book launch party to commemorate your achievement. Be creative. The location does not have to be a book store. I know authors who tie the location to something relevant in their book. It could be a restaurant or a church or a library.  Just put it on the calendar and it will serve as additional motivation.

If you have any other helpful suggestions that keep you motivated, please use the comment section to share those.

Many people have ideas for books and even start writing, but it is a rare few who actually become published authors. So when you make it to your goal, you need to celebrate.

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

5 ways that mistakes in your manuscript can hurt your reputation as an author.

Proofreading Secrets_FrontCoverRecently, I had Kathy Ide write a guest post for this blog titled: LET’S EAT GRANDMA: The importance of proofreading. I interviewed Kathy for the Author Learning Center and found her to be quite insightful on a range of topics. She is a published author/ghostwriter, editor/mentor, and writers’ conference speaker.  Her latest book is Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors is a volume I would recommend to every aspiring author

What follows is a second guest post from Kathy that was originally published with the title, How to Uphold Your Reputation as an Author. As with her first post, I think you will find her points to be very helpful. Enjoy.

The buzz word in publishing is platform. But did you know that having mistakes in your manuscript can affect your reputation and platform?

 

Mechanical errors can give an unprofessional appearance to publishers and readers.

Even if your manuscript has already been accepted by a traditional publishing house, if their in-house editor has to spend all her time fixing your mistakes, she won’t be able to catch the deeper, more subtle nuances of your text. Besides, you won’t be presenting a very polished, professional image to your publisher.

Mechanical errors can be embarrassing.

A friend of mine once picked up a book at a bookstore and noticed a typo on the back cover. When she reported it to our critique group, she didn’t say she’d found a mistake on a book published by “XYZ Publishers.” She said she found the mistake on a “Jane Doe” novel. She didn’t connect the error to the publishing house but to the author.

Mechanical errors may cause readers to take you and your message less seriously.

I once saw a published article with this title: “Crowe Turns Hero to Help Snake Bite Boy.” The story was about actor Russell Crowe helping a boy who’d been bitten by a snake. But by spelling snakebite as two words, this sentence implies that Mr. Crowe helped a snake bite a boy! Now, I got a good laugh out of that. But I sure don’t want those kinds of mistakes showing up in my own writing.

Mechanical errors can affect the sales of your book.

Readers who find a lot of mistakes in your book will not be as likely to recommend that book to their friends. And who knows? You may have a high school English teacher reading your book, and she just might recommend it to her students . . . unless there are a lot of mistakes in it.

Mechanical errors can give you a poor reputation.

If you self-publish, or work with a small, independent publisher that doesn’t proofread carefully, your book may go out to the public with several typos, inconsistencies, or PUGS (punctuation, usage, or grammar) errors. Readers who catch those mistakes may consider you an amateur.

For a lot of avid readers, typos practically jump off the page. And many are familiar with the rules of punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling. If your reader knows the rules and you don’t, that’s not going to make you look very good.

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authors, Editing, helpful hints, Publishing, self publishing, writing

Treat Your Book Like a Start-up: How Beta-Readers Can Help You Launch Your Book Successfully

BookCountry-logoLucy Silag, community and engagement manager at Book Country, has written a very helpful whitepaper outlining the benefits of including beta-readers in your writing process. Book Country is an online writing and publishing community that is a division of Penguin Random House. Lucy is a graduate of the fiction program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is also the author of the Beautiful Americans novels for young adults (Penguin/Razorbill) and has written nonfiction for magazines and blogs. What follows is an excerpt from her whitepaper, which you can obtain when you register on the Book Country site.

 What Is a “Beta-Reader”?

The idea of a “beta-reader” comes from the parlance of start-up companies. Before a company launches a new website, they will ask web-savvy “beta-users” to use their site and give feedback on it. The company then has a chance to improve their site before they make it widely available to the public, which helps them to make a better product and avoid bad publicity.

A “beta-reader,” then, is someone who reads your book and gives you feedback on it before you begin the publishing process. This helps you to see how readers would react to your book if you tried to sell your current version to them.

How do beta-readers help writers?

Beta-readers help writers to figure out which parts of their books are working and which parts need to be revised. Often, writers can’t see what’s not working in a manuscript unless someone points it out to them.  Additionally, a beta-reader can make suggestions for how to improve your book’s cover, marketing copy, and even your author bio.

Get a copy of this helpful whitepaper at BookCountry.com

Get a copy of this helpful whitepaper at BookCountry.com

Who Is the Right Beta-Reader for You?

Here are a few things to look for in your ideal beta-readers:

  • Do they read a lot of books, especially contemporary books? Are they aware of current publishing trends and bestselling writers?
  • Are they well-read in the genre that you are writing in? For example, if you are writing romance, you’ll want a beta-reader who has read many romance novels. They’ll be able to tell you how your book measures up against other writers of the genre.
  • Do they write too? A writer will be able to analyze your book in a way that goes beyond what the average reader will offer in terms of feedback. A beta-reader who is also a writer can tell you not just where you have made typos or copyediting mistakes but can also offer suggestions for how to improve voice, character development, plot, setting, and pacing.

Finding Beta-Readers through Online Workshopping

Online workshopping has become a convenient, low-risk, and free way for writers to get feedback on their work. Often called “online writing communities,” these sites are like social networks for writers and no-commitment writing classes all in one. Simply join the online writing community and exchange feedback with writers from the comfort of your own home.

What should you look for in an online writing community?

  • The community should have a fair system for making sure that members are actually reviewing one another, rather than just posting their own books for review.
  • Make sure the community has writers in your genre.
  • Writers reviewing manuscripts in a community should be exchanging detailed, honest feedback, and offering suggestions on how to make your book better.
  • You should be able to post new drafts of your book and archive previous versions of the manuscript so that you can access them as you revise.
  • The community should have credible ties to the publishing industry, so that you can trust the opinions and advice of the site’s content.
  • The community should be open to traditional publishing and self-publishing.
  • The community should be focused on helping one another.

What Kind of Feedback Makes Your Book Better?

A writer needs honest, detailed feedback about these writing issues:

  • plot
  • setting
  • character development
  • voice
  • continuity
  • setting
  • point of view
  • pacing
  • dialogue
  • clarity in specific lines or passages of the prose

Since so much of finding an audience and selling a book is about how a book is positioned in the marketplace, it’s also important to get feedback about how your book compares to other books in its genre, and whether the way it’s presented (for example, the book’s cover and title) makes sense to a reader. A writer should get feedback on his or her synopsis too.

Workshopping your book with beta-readers can be the difference between a great idea and a great book. Follow the example of successful start-up companies, and find beta-readers to help you launch your book successfully.

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

When six words are enough to tell a good story.

Book lovers peruse new titles at the Author Solutions gallery at the Miami Book Fair

Book lovers peruse new titles at the Author Solutions gallery at the Miami Book Fair

One of my favorite events of the year is always the Miami Book Fair, which is held the week before Thanksgiving. It is one of the premier venues where authors and book lovers gather to meet, mingle and discover new books.  Along with the usual schedule of activities and outstanding street fair, this year included an interesting community event called #6wordsmiami. The premise was really simple.  People submit a six-word Miami-influenced story and the Fair published the best from among the 4,000+ entries.

Six words does not sound like a lot, but as the list below shows, a writer can express significant meaning in a mere half-dozen words.  Here are some of my favorites.

  • You: Category 5 hurricane. Me: shutters
  • Tie that mattress down good, bro
  • Without Castro, there is no me
  • T’was a dark and stormy party
  • Liquor smell. Like home. Like Dad.
  • He came. He saw. Date over.

Now why is something like #6wordsmiami helpful for writers to know about? Three reasons immediately come to mind.

  1. Sometimes you can say more by actually saying less.
  2. The right words, even if only a few, can create a powerful image that engages all the senses
  3. It is a reminder of  how important it is for writers to choose their words carefully

So as you write and rewrite and rewrite again, ask your self these two questions.

  1. Could I say what I just said with fewer words?
  2. Could I use a different word or sentence structure to create a more powerful image for the reader?
Story time at the Miami Book Fair in the Author Solutions book gallery

Story time at the Miami Book Fair in the Author Solutions book gallery

Chances are if you take an honest appraisal of your work, you will find places where you can improve it by simply remembering to use fewer words or using an even better word than the one you have chosen so far.

Remember no one buys a book based on the number of words or page count. They buy it because it is good writing that impacts them.

 

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authors, Editing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

LET’S EAT GRANDMA: The Importance of Proofreading

kathyideOne of the things I enjoy most about my current role is the opportunity to meet and interact with some amazingly creative and professional people. A few weeks ago when I gave the key note address at the West Coast Writers Conference Indie Author Conference, I had the opportunity to meet Kathy Ide.  Kathy is a published author/ghostwriter, editor/mentor, and writers’ conference speaker.  Her latest book is Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors is a must read for every aspiring authorShe is also the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network (www.TheChristianPEN.com) and the Christian Editor Connection (www.ChristianEditor.com).  

I asked her to share some of her wisdom and experience with my readers through a blog post. Her post is what follows and I think you will find it to be very helpful.

 

LET’S EAT GRANDMA: The Importance of Proofreading

Have you seen the plaques and T-shirts that say:

Let’s Eat Grandma.

Let’s Eat, Grandma.

                        Commas Save Lives.

I love that! It shows how one tiny bit of punctuation can change the entire meaning and tone of a sentence.

You may think that as long as you’ve got life-changing content in your nonfiction manuscript, or an intriguing story with lots of conflict and interesting characters in your fiction manuscript, that should be enough. And yes, content and story are extremely important. But no matter how good those things are, you’ll be running some pretty big risks if you don’t bother proofreading your manuscript carefully for typos, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies … and learning the industry-standard rules regarding punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling.

OK, you won’t be putting your grandmother’s life on the line or joining a tribe of cannibals. But tiny mistakes in your writing can have disastrous consequences. Here are my top ten:

 

  1. Mechanical errors can decrease your chance of acceptance by a traditional publisher.
  1. Mechanical errors can cause miscommunication.
  1. Mechanical errors can cause confusion.
  1. Mechanical errors can give an unprofessional appearance to publishers and readers.
  1. Mechanical errors can be embarrassing.
  1. Mechanical errors may cause readers to take you and your message less seriously.
  1. Mechanical errors can affect the sales of your book.
  1. Mechanical errors could cost you money.
  1. Mechanical errors can be distracting
  2. Mechanical errors can give you a poor reputation.

 

Professionalism Is Key

Proofreading Secrets_FrontCoverIf you’re writing just for family and friends, it may not matter so much whether every comma is in exactly the right place or if you have a few typos here and there. But if you want to get your book published in today’s highly competitive commercial market, you need every edge you can get. If you expect people to buy what you write, you need to take the time to do it right.

If you have a hard time finding typos, inconsistencies, and “PUGS” errors in your writing, consider hiring a professional proofreader. If you go to http://www.ChristianEditor.com and fill out the form for Authors Seeking Editors, you’ll be connected with established, professional editors who can make your manuscript shine.

A comma may not save Grandma’s life. But a careful proofread might make a life-or-death difference for your manuscript.

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