Self Publishing

The Book Designer Has the Answer

Self publishing is hard.  Not only do you have to write the dang book, you have to do everything else involved in getting it ready for public consumption. And then you have to navigate the labyrinths of marketing and distribution. Just figuring out where to begin can be daunting.  But being a self published author does not mean you have to figure it all on your own. There’s a website out there that can help. was created by Joel Friedlander, who literally grew up in the world of printing and publishing. His knowledge on the subject is exhaustive. I first discovered his website when I was looking for Microsoft Word formatting tips and shortcuts. His blog turned me on to the versatility and power of the “find and replace” tool. Now is my fist stop when I’m looking for advice on solving any sort of formatting issue. The only problem I’ve found with the site so far is that it’s so darned big and full of information that it kind of sucks you in. I’ve gone there looking for one piece of information, only to spend several hours wandering through its seemingly endless cache of knowledge.

But don’t worry, Friedlander has done an admirable job of organizing what could be an overwhelming amount of information. Check it out for yourself. Even if your not a self-publisher, I’m willing to bet you learn something useful.

Save Me, Save the Cat: Part Two

We left our hypothetical hero on the horns of a massive dilemma.  [If you’re confused, I’m showing how easily Chapter Four of Blake Snyder’s screenwriting manualSave the Cat can be made to work as a novel outlining template. Read Part One.]  Let’s see what happens with our three act hero next:

6. Break into Two (25):  This is what we’ve been building to.  This is the cataclysmic moment that pushes the hero to decide, once and for all, to undertake the quest, to leave all that he or she knows behind.  Note that the hero does the deciding.

7. B Story (30):  Snyder describes this part as a small breather for the audience.  The B story often covers the hero’s love interest.  But it can also be an aside with a mentor or a trickster that attacks the novel’s hero on a spiritual level.  It’s a good place for the writer to explore the themes of the story.

8. Fun and Games (30-55):  This is tough section of the novel for me.  It’s the muddle in the middle where I always despair.  Snyder says to give the audience a little something of what they came to see, a scene that might not have a lot to do with the main story line but that completes “the promise of the premise.” (Snyder 81)  The book’s cover art may very well come from this section of the book.

9. Midpoint (55):  This is where the hero either hits what feels like their highpoint (but it turns out to be a lie), or the moment that his or her world collapses.  Everything changes for the hero and nothing can ever be the same. Snyder’s very clear about this happening dead center in a screenplay.  As I said in Part One, I don’t know that a novelist needs to be so rigid with the order and size of each Beat.

10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75):  Trusted allies turn out to be traitors in this part.  The enemy “regroups” (Snyder 85).  Things may still appear okay, but the veneer is cracking.

11. All Is Lost (75): “All aspects of the hero’s life are in a shambles.  Wreckage abounds.  No hope.” (Snyder 86) If any of the hero’s allies are going to die they’ll do it in this part of the story.

12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85):  The hero digs down deep and finds a way to press on.  He or she miraculously digs up out of the despair that the audience has seen almost kill them.

13. Break into Three (85):  A and B stories meet and join up.  The B story proves to have been a useful classroom or laboratory for the hero. In both story lines he or she has learned what’s needed to win.  It’s time to apply that knowledge.

14. Finale (85-110):  This is the plot of every first-person-shooter video game, ever.  The hero takes out the bad guys “in ascending order” (Snyder 90) of difficulty until he or she beats the big boss.  All is saved, the hero has changed in a fundamental way directly related to the ordeals he or she just went through.

15. Final Image (110):  This “is the opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.” (Snyder 90)

These excerpts and notes only touch on small part of Snyder’s book.  No matter what kind of story you’re telling, he’s got an insight into how to do it in a more appealing and satisfying way.  Is it a formula? Maybe.  Or maybe it’s a useful framework for getting out of a hole.  Either way, it’s just one chapter in one book.  If Snyder could read what I’ve done here, he would probably say I’m wrong, you can’t skip or rearrange any of these steps or interpret them as broadly as I have.  Of course he’d probably also point out that he wrote his book for screenwriters, not novelists.  Not to hypothetically speak ill of the dead, but I think he’d be mistaken if said either of those things.  Storytelling is storytelling, no matter how you choose to do it.  The basic rules don’t change. Even when I ignore them they remain.

Meet My New Friend BOB

UT Austin’s in-house press, known as Forty Acres Press, has the ideal resource for your small, self-publishing needs.  It’s called the Burnt Orange Book Machine (BOB).  BOB makes paperback books from PDF files.  You can even make a pretty, four color cover.  But the pages can only be in black and white; so all you picture book authors and illustrators won’t find BOB very useful.  Also, if you’re thinking of a printing a large run, then this isn’t the machine for you.  But, according to the very helpful Forty Acres staffer I met with, it’s perfect for smaller jobs of up to a hundred or so copies.  So, if you’re looking to generate some ARCs, or just want to do a ‘vanity’ printing of your latest work, it might be worth your time to look into using BOB.  The website has an easy to understand introduction to how the machine works along with pricing schedules.  And, like I said, the staff is friendly and helpful.  They even gave this Yellow Bird member a BOB manual for free.

Want to be a good editor? Be a stupid reader.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve done all the things my fourth grade teacher told me not to do. I skim. I skip over boring parts. I speed up, rather than slow down, when I’m confused. And when I see a word I don’t understand, I most definitely don’t stop to look it up in the dictionary. In short, I’m a fourth-grade failure.

So how did I wind up here, editing novels and memoirs for a living? The truth is quite simple. Over the years, I’ve learned that my bad reading behaviors are actually some of the same attributes that make me a good editor.

Below are three rules of thumb for editing fiction—whether your own, or a friend’s. You might just be surprised.

1. Be impatient

If you read a manuscript too slowly, you can actually fool yourself into thinking it’s good. The real test is whether it will hold up in the face of a quick-read, which is how potential literary agents and editors (and their assistants and interns) will approach it, given the sheer volume of material they consider every day.

So when you read a manuscript for the first time, don’t stop to analyze every sentence. Don’t pause to parse each densely packed paragraph. Don’t pore over the imagery, waiting for hidden symbolism to manifest itself. Instead, read hungrily, like you’re devouring a slice of chocolate cake. The inedible pieces will quickly become apparent.

2. Be unforgiving

Inevitably, you will stumble upon something in the manuscript that doesn’t make sense. Let’s call this a “huh?” moment. In the face of a “huh?” moment, you might be tempted to re-read the confusing passage multiple times until you experience an “ah-ha!” moment. Once you have that “ah-ha!” moment, you might think, “OK, it makes sense after all. I was just being stupid.”

But, no! You weren’t. It was the manuscript that was confusing. And if you were confused, chances are someone else will be, too. In order to be a good editor, you must be unforgiving. You must not tolerate even a single ounce of confusion.

3. Be stupid

Authors are tricky people. I know because I am one. We sometimes try to sneak in clever metaphors, literary allusions, witty analogies, and other little nuggets that don’t quite fit with the story but are simply too brilliant not to use.

When you take off your writer’s hat and put on your editor’s hat, you can go ahead and forget about all that so-called brilliance. Instead, be as stupid as you can allow yourself to be. Do you still follow the metaphor? Still get the joke? Then it can stay.

Who Are We?

We are a team of authors, editors, and writing coaches based in Austin, Texas. With over thirty years of combined freelance experience, we formed Yellow Bird to pool our expertise and offer a range of professional editorial services for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.

When you hire a Yellow Bird editor or writing coach, you get all the convenience, attention, and flexibility of working directly with a freelancer—plus peace of mind. All our editors and coaches are vetted professionals who will treat you and your work with the respect you deserve.

As published authors, industry professionals, and former employees at major publishing houses, we have our fingers on the pulse of today’s market and what sells. From memoirs to sci-fi novels, from picture books to biographies, we can help you polish your manuscript and guide you along the path to publication.

Perhaps most importantly, we are writers ourselves. We understand the nail-biting, hair-pulling frustration. We know what it’s like to face rejection and keep striving against the odds. We have felt first-hand the power of kind encouragement and unexpected praise. Books are big, messy, complicated creatures, and they require a lot of TLC. At the end of the day, we are more than editors. We are teachers, mentors, motivators, and lovers of words.