Self Publishing

Who Hires a Book Editor?

“Who hires a book editor?” was my question when I joined Yellow Bird and another online editing company in 2014. I had spent 23 years writing and editing for large, traditional publishing companies before getting into the online, edit-for-anybody business.

Many authors in search of an editor are aspiring novelists, and the quality of their writing varies dramatically. Some are professional level. Others are great storytellers but their grammar is a disaster—or vice versa. I’m amazed by the number of fantasy and sci-fi submissions. Some of these books are in excess of 200,000 words, with the author often asserting that his or her initial book is the first of a trilogy. I edited one author who penned a 130,000-word fantasy novel and said it was the first book of a three-trilogy set! What’s 9 x 130,000?

I have edited both fiction and nonfiction over the last two years, and I’ve been blown away by the variety of the subject matter. These are some of the online nonfiction submissions I’ve edited:

  • Brennan, a special-ops soldier, wrote about his experiences in Iraq—about his desire to kill and how fellow soldiers exploded into pink mist before his eyes. Derek, a jaded platoon medic, told Brennan: “That’s why we’re dying. People want training and the military to be all soft and cuddly but then wonder why their overweight, television-addicted little pussy got his arms blown off because he wasn’t looking around properly because he has the attention span of a hummingbird.”
  • Jeff, a former Hollywood prostitute and Colt Studios model, wrote about the famous gay men he slept with, including Elton John!
  • Keena grew up in the African bush as the daughter of paleontologists. Her diaries discussed her life-and-death adventures with lions, hippos, and crazy baboons…and the scariest creatures of all: junior high girls when she returned to suburban Philadelphia.
  • Rex penned a biography of fellow Vietnam War veteran Ace Cozzalio, an eccentric, heroic helicopter pilot who always wore an 1800s cavalry uniform, complete with white hat and saber.
  • Tina was raised by a coldhearted mother who adopted (basically stole) Tina’s two children and prevented her from seeing them for 15 years.
  • Author Damon reminded me of a black Forest Gump. He was confined to juvenile detention simply because his father wanted him to be more disciplined; was unjustifiably bullied by cops on the streets of L.A.; lived through the Watts riot of 1965; and explored drugs in Vietnam, which caused him to attack his officer.
  • David, who created the live play-by-play technology that you see on MLB.com and ESPN.com, described his court battles with Major League Baseball, which tried to use its legal muscle to invalidate his patents.
  • Tana was looking for a roommate after her divorce. She found a seemingly nice fellow who owned a house in Florida who agreed to rent her a room…then turned psycho and wouldn’t let her leave the house!

What’s your story?

How to Sell 10,000 Copies of a Book

  Brennan Morton published DYING FOR STRANGERS only on Amazon, and despite zero publicity sold 30 books a day over the first several months.

Brennan Morton published DYING FOR STRANGERS only on Amazon, and despite zero publicity sold 30 books a day over the first several months.

In my 20 years at Publications International, I edited books that generated more than $15 million in revenue. They never made the literary circles, but they did stack high on tables at Costco and Sam’s Club—and to a lesser extent they lined the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble. We were in the “bargain book business”; i.e., we published attractive coffee table books on subjects with wide popularity—Players of Cooperstown,America’s Lighthouses—and sold them for a relatively low price. They often made nice gifts for Junior on his birthday or Grandpa on Father’s Day. We’d easily sell 10,000 copies of a book, and sometimes we’d sell in the hundreds of thousands. My book The Love of Baseball sold close to 300,000 copies.

Unfortunately for Publications International, people don’t buy bargain books anymore. They’ve lost their wow factor in this era of smartphones, tablets, and online videos. Every publisher struggles to sell books nowadays, and 10,000 copies is usually an unreachable goal.

But it can be done, and you don’t need to be an established author to pull it off.

One way is to choose a subject that’s immensely popular and strike when the time is right. Triumph Books, which specializes in sports, struck gold with books on New Direction, which hit stores just as the boy band was rising up the charts and girls’ hormones were raging. These books were by far Triumph’s biggest sellers in recent years.

Another example is Derek Jeter #2: Thanks for the Memories, authored by my colleague David Fischer. David understood that a tribute book on the legendary shortstop would sell like hot dogs at a Yankees game if it came out around his retirement. Yankees fans would want a keepsake of their hero, and—since he would retire in the fall—it would make a perfect Christmas gift. Fischer pitched the idea to publishers about a year in advance of DJ’s retirement, and Skyhorse bought it. The advance was low but the royalties were high, because the book sold more than 10,000 copies from October 2014 to January 2015.

Now, a traditional publisher won’t just let any shmoe write their books. Fischer, for example, already had several baseball books under his belt, including tomes on the Yankees. You typically need to be a skilled writer and build a body of work before a publisher will put its faith in you. However, if you have a great idea and a winning proposal, you could consider partnering with an established author. You’ve got the goods; they’ve got the cred.

Through rare, it’s also possible to sell thousands of copies of a self-published book. Recently I edited the raw manuscript of Dying for Strangers: Memoirs of a Special Ops Operator in Iraq. Author Brennan Morton, a highly descriptive writer, provides little-known, fascinating insight into the Iraq War. Here he describes his emotions after a general told his platoon to, for PR and political reasons, release Iraqi aggressors: “Fat tears burned down my cheeks as I gripped the steering wheel so tightly I thought the tiny bones in my hands would finally shatter. I cried so hard that I could hardly see the road. My anger choked me until I gasped and screamed as the men seated around me dealt with the anger in their own way.”

Brennan not only enchants readers with his writing ability and subject matter, he also writes to a large, underserved audience: those searching for unfiltered truth about U.S. military operations. Brennan published the book only on Amazon, and despite zero publicity he was selling about 30 books a day over the first several months. In other words, he was on a 10,000-a-year pace.

Writing skills. Subject Matter. Timing. If you get it all right, you could be on your way to 10,000 copies.

An Introduction to Track Changes

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Track Changes is the language of editors. As a writer, you need to speak it because, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it. This post is an introduction to the Track Changesfeature in Microsoft Word. I am a PC person, so I will be referring to how it works in the Windows operating system. If you’re one of those Mac people, then this post should still be helpful, although you may have to do some translating. (For context, here are links to two Youtube videos by Terence Jorgensen–one for PCone for Mac–that I think you’ll find useful.)

In my version of Word (2010), there’s a row of tabs across the top of the document window. If you click onReview (2nd from the right), you’ll see the editing tool bar appear (replacing whichever one you were in before, probably Home). You’ll also see it’s divided up into sections from left to right (labels along the bottom): ProofingLanguageCommentsTrackingChangesCompare, and Protect. I’ll just be looking at the buttons in the CommentsTracking, and Changes sections.

First off, in the Tracking section, you’ll see a button labelled Track Changes. Hover your cursor over it and you’ll see that either the top or bottom half turns yellow. That’s because it’s a split button: click on the top half (with the page and pencil icon) and you toggle the Track Changes feature on or off for the entire document. If you click on that part, both halves turn yellow signifying that Track Changes is on.

Click on just the bottom half and you get a dropdown menu allowing you to modify the Track Changessettings. The first option on this dropdown menu is merely a duplicate Track Changes toggle switch. Below it is the Change Tracking Options feature. This opens a window where you can customize whatTrack Changes looks like. Feel free to play around here a bit and get to know your options. Jorgensen does a great job explaining this part in his videos, so go there if you want to learn more about that. I mostly just use the default settings because they work fine for me.

 

The third and final choice on the Change Tracking Options menu deals with the user name. This is useful when you have multiple editors or authors working on a document. Or if you use a pen name or alias. To use this feature just enter the appropriate user name and initials in the boxes under Personalize Your Copy of Microsoft Word and click the Okay button at the bottom right. Keep in mind that doing this changes the author name for everything you do in Word from that moment forward. It’s not specific to the document you’re working on. So be sure it’s reset to the appropriate name after you’re done.

Next to the Track Changes button(s) you’ll see a stack of three buttons with little down-pointing arrows next to them: Final: Show MarkupShow Markup, and Reviewing Pane. Click on any of these to get their dropdown menus. Starting at the top, click on Final: Show Markup to see your four choices for viewing your document. These allow you to compare and contrast your original draft with your “final” draft (the one that has the changes in it).

The middle button, Show Markup, allows you to choose what changes, including comments, you see on the screen. Simply check or uncheck the boxes to customize what changes are highlighted. I like to keep them all in view.

And rounding out the bottom comes the Reviewing Pane button. Click on the left side where the words are and you get a list of all the changes that have been made. This can be useful when trying to decipher and navigate a heavily edited page. If you click on the little down-pointing arrow section of the Reviewing Panebutton, you can select a vertical or horizontal layout for your list of changes and comments.

Next, let’s move on to the mechanics of making changes and comments. Again, the videos give a nice visual of what editing and commenting looks like.

To make a comment in the margins of a document (as opposed to an actual change), simply click on the New Comment button in the Comments section of the tool bar (just to the left of the Tracking section). The three buttons to the right of New Comment (DeletePrevious,Next) remain grayed out and unusable until the document actually contains comments. Once you start commenting they “light up” and activate. They’re mostly self-explanatory, except Delete is a split button. Click on the down-pointing arrow and you’ll get a drop down menu that lets you choose to cut the comment you currently have highlighted, all comments shown (I have no idea what this does or even means; it’s always grayed out as far as I can tell), or all the comments in the document.

On the other side of the Tracking section, you’ll findChanges. This section contains the buttons you’ll use the most as a writer receiving feedback. Again, these are pretty self-explanatory, except to note that both Acceptand Reject are split buttons with tiny dropdown menus giving you more options.

There are two points the videos don’t touch on that I want to close with. First, if you right-click on a change or comment in the body of the document, a small window will pop-up. In there you’ll see Accept and Reject buttons. This is just another way to navigate the changes and comments. And lastly, never forget the Undo button in the very upper left corner next to the floppy disc (Save) icon. You can always hit that and make whatever horrible mistake you just made go away.

Happy revising!

What Kind of Editing Do You Need? Part the Third

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In case you’re just tuning in, this post completes athree part series detailing the various freelance editing services offered by Yellow Bird. I promised to talk about copy editing in this edition. No really, I did. And you seemed okay with that. So here we go.

What is copy editing and how is it different from proofreading? To answer that, let’s start by defining the two levels of copy editing:

Standard copy editing includes corrections for grammar, punctuation, capitalization, verb tense, spelling, sentence structure, awkward phrasing, and word usage errors. Intensive copy editing covers all of the above with an additional focus on style, consistency, clarity, pacing, and dialogue.

So where does proofreading fit into the mix?

Proofreading is essentially the same thing as standard copy editing. However, the distinction is that proofreading is done on a PDF or print-ready file (for example, when getting ready to self-publish a book). In addition to correcting spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc., your editor will also check for visual disruptions in the text layout, such as widows and awkwardly-placed hyphens at the end of a line.

So if you’re just looking to give your manuscript a final once over before submission, then go with proofreading or standard copy editing. An editor will go through and fix only the mechanical things. This is probably the least subjective editing service because it’s all about the rules of writing.

But if you need a little more guidance, a little more spit with your polish, then you might be looking for an intensive copy edit which delves deeper into more subjective questions of style and usage. This slightly more expensive service is perfect for the writer who feels pretty good about the “big picture” but still needs help wrestling with clunky sentences and paragraphs before sending her baby out into the world.

And that’s that. We’ve reached the end of our journey. Now I’m off to a workshop/retreat at Austin’s own Writing Barn where I’ll start revising my own manuscript for a change of pace.

Happy writing!

What Kind of Editing Do You Need?

I had a great time this past weekend at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference. I spent most of it manning the Yellow Bird booth with Sara Kocek. A lot of the writers who dropped by felt unsure about how to move forward editing their manuscripts. In particular, many wanted to know what kind of editing they needed.

First off, if you don’t already have a critique group or a cadre of trusted beta readers, get one. These folks are your best first stop on the editing journey. The feedback a writer gets from these readers is invaluable, and it doesn’t cost money. Start there.

However, that is just the beginning of the rewrite process. I once heard YA author Matt de la Pena put it this way: critique partners look for different things than professional editors. In other words, your critique partners can only take you so far toward perfecting your manuscript.

But pro editors cost money, right?

Yes. We do. Which is why you need to do your homework and find an editor you can trust. Word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to start. Ideally, your editor should come recommended to you by a past client. When that’s not possible, Google the name of your potential editor to learn as much as you can about him or her. Editors often grant interviews, appear as guests on blogs, or publish articles online. Reading these pieces should give you a feel for their editorial sensibilities. Once you’ve made contact with a potential editor, don’t be afraid to ask questions. What kind of works have they edited in the past? Do they have testimonials? Can they provide samples of their editorial work? How long have they been editing? What’s their educational background and editorial training? If a freelance editor balks at answering any of these questions, that’s a red flag.

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The bottom line is: you should feel as comfortable as possible before you write that check and hand over your manuscript.

Okay, so you’ve picked an editor you feel good about. Then what?

The Yellow Bird website breaks down the various types of editing services that are available as well as some of the rates. But how do you choose which service is right for you?

Think of the editing process in terms of an upside-down triangle, and start at the top. In other words, you need to identify and fix the big problems first. Address the major issues like plot and pacing, character arcs, and thematic resonance. Depending on your preferences and your budget, this means developmental and/or content editingis what you should spend your money on first.

It’s only after you’re through with this big picture phase of rewrites that you should move down the triangle, narrowing your focus to word choice, grammar, and spelling. This is the copy editing and proofreading phase of the process, and it should always come last.

Doing your editing in this order (even if you do it on your own without professional help) will save you hours — if not days or weeks — of duplicated effort. It’s hard enough to write a good book; don’t make it any harder by rewriting it in the wrong order.