The Importance of an Editor and Beta Readers for Independent Authors

My blog this week focuses on the importance of using an editor and enlisting beta readers if you are an independent author.

Let’s start by comparing/contrasting independent and traditional publishing. In traditional publishing, an author receives an advance (if he or she is lucky). This advance is usually a fairly small amount. The author may then receive royalties for books sold after a certain number. The royalties can vary from pennies per book to dollars if you are a bestselling author. In exchange for allowing the traditional publisher to publish your work, you receive editing, formatting, publicity, and marketing services. The quality and effectiveness of these services can vary depending on how much the publishing company believes it can make from your book. In the end, very few published authors make a living wage from traditionally published books.

Independent authors know that their world is a different one. All of the services mentioned for traditional publishers are either do-it-yourself or individually purchased from the many service providers out there. Future blogs will talk about which of these services make sense for independent authors, but I want to focus on the two that I believe are the most important and what you should look for in each.

The first, and perhaps most important, service that an independent author should look for is editing. What is editing with respect to a book? There is no simple answer to this. I suppose that editing, in its purest form, is checking your work for punctuation, spelling, usage, and grammar errors. These things are important. You may think, as an author, that you are an expert on these things. You may very well be very proficient in these areas, but over the course of a 70,000 word manuscript consisting of your own work, you are going to miss something. Having a fresh set of eyes with some expertise can help save you embarrassing typos and spelling mistakes.

I am very fortunate. My editor is a dear friend, but not the type of friend that will tell me something is good when it is not. I mentioned before that, in my opinion, editing services can vary. The qualities that set my editor apart is that she is an avid reader and has writing ability of her own. She spots weak story elements and plot inconsistencies and is excellent at documenting them.

If you are using a friend, or anyone, as an editor, you must be able to take criticism and be willing to implement the suggested changes. It is rare that I disregard or disagree with the changes my editor suggests. Your mindset should be that your editor is the first reader of a particular work. If they have issues with elements of your work, this will be multiplied exponentially once you publish your work if you do not change them. You need to trust your editor and develop a working chemistry with him or her to be effective in producing quality work.

Finding an editor can be a challenge. There are, however, various services out there such as eLance and Fiverr. I have provided services on eLance and they do have a decent screening process where you can vet potential editors. I have used services on Fiverr, most notably for my cover art and trailers. Services on Fiverr are inexpensive, but you have to carefully vet your service provider or you might get what you pay for. Of course, I am always willing to share my editor. She is very good at what she does and has bandwidth to take on other clients.

The second focus of this blog is the use of beta readers. Beta readers are early previewers of your book that read through it after the editing process is complete. They look for story element inconsistencies and other elements of your book from the perspective as a fan and a reader. It’s a good idea to pick a couple of readers that are big fans of your writing, but are not afraid to give suggestions.  This process is like having a focus group or preview audience for your product that gives their opinion to you on a small scale before you release it to the relentless general public. Beta readers will spot things in your book that you and your editor missed such as inconsistencies in character traits, likability of your characters, and other intangibles. This is especially importance if your characters span more than one book in a series. You don’t want to publish a book in a series that has continuity issues with previous books.

One famous example of this, and he actually points this out in the forward of his second book of the series, is from David Morrell’s Rambo series. In the first Rambo book, John Rambo dies. When the book was made into the Sylvester Stallone movie, the studio had the dollar signs associated with sequels in their eyes. Since zombies weren’t in fashion back then, Rambo’s fate had to be changed in the movie. The interesting thing is that Morrell had the novelization rights for the sequel and had to right the second book in the series despite having killed off his main character in the first book. In his forward, he tells this story and basically says that he ignored Rambo’s death in the first book and just wrote the sequel. Of course, Stallone went on to make other sequels and Rambo eventually turned into a parody of the original character.

You might ask why, as an independent author, I am focusing on editors and beta readers. To answer that question, download some works from your fellow authors and look at the quality. There are some books of excellent quality in the world of independent publishing. And then there are some that are…not so much. Independent authors have a stigma, mostly perpetuated by traditional publishing, that the quality is lacking in their work. Those authors, such as Hugh Howey, that have survived and thrived in independent publishing have debunked this perception. In my work, I am trying to publish work of high-quality as well. I personally don’t believe this is possible without strong editing and beta readers.

I want to see independent publishing evolve into a force that overtakes traditional publishing. I don’t think that a group of corporate publishing wonks in an ivory tower in New York should decide what books should and should not be published. The recording industry has gone in the independent direction, and movies and television are following. Let’s work together as authors to make our quality stand up against the traditionally published work. Editing and the use of beta readers are a big step in that direction. If you use them wisely, you will recoup and exceed every dollar that you invest in your writing.

If you have questions about these topics or you want to be put in touch with my editor, please let me know at don@donmassenzio.com

Thanks again for making this blog a success. The viewership increases each week and I am happy to keep helping my fellow authors by publishing it.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Advertisements

Keeping Track of Your Characters – Who is Who and What Have They Done?

This week’s blog is another opportunity for me to share a technique that works very well for me during my writing process.  Throughout my personal and professional life, I have been horrible remembering names. I can remember phone numbers, addresses, and useless facts that make me desirable on any trivia team. The writing process has revealed my one memory flaw to be a challenge for me as well when it comes to remembering character names, physical descriptions, life events, and ages.

When I hand wrote my first novel in a series of notebooks, I found myself having to write character names and characteristics in the back of one of the notebooks so that I could flip back and forth whenever I needed to figure out who did what and where they came from.

When I switched to using Scrivener along with my laptop, desktop, and tablet (depending on where I was doing my writing), I tried to come up with a better way to organize my characters and their back story. Let me first say that I don’t like to plot out every detail of my characters’ back stories. I would rather have details revealed to me as they occur or are needed during the story. That being said, failing to keep key details about your characters could come back to bite you. You’ll want to keep track of their marriages, children, illnesses, education, and other things that might end up feed plot elements down the road.

So, how do I do this? I actually have two techniques that have helped me keep things straight. The first is a picture. I create charts, or what I call ‘character maps‘ that are like mini organizational charts for my characters showing who they are and how they relate to each other.

I’ve included one of these charts that I used for my second book as the cover image for this blog. The chart shows groups within some of the key families within the book and how the members relate to each other. In the view of the chart that I included, there are members of three families shown. One of the characters happens to be the murder victim within the book and her designated box is x’ed out to show that she is dead.

I keep the charts related to my current project along with the mind map (see last week’s blog) on a bulletin board near my desk at home. I also have an electronic version of each that I can bring up as needed when I’m writing on my computer while traveling.

Another tool that I use if I need more information on my characters is a matrix showing deeper details about the characters.  I use a row for each character and the columns are used for such details as the character name, what books they’ve appeared in, their physical appearance, etc.

Shown below is an example of the matrix for some of my characters in my Frank Rozzani detective series books:

Character Table

This matrix gives me a quick view of who the characters are, when they first appeared in my work, what their personality traits are, and what significant events shaped who they are. It has been extremely helpful to me and helps me to overcome my memory gaps. It also helps to cut down on inaccuracies that can plague authors when they are writing a series of books featuring the same characters . It may seem like a lot of work, but it can be helpful and actually save time in the long run.

I have seen other suggestions around organizing characters. There are those that espouse writing complete and detailed biographies for your characters. This may work for some authors. I have always been a person that prefers to work smarter and not harder. The information in the character map and the character matrix that I have shared have been enough for me to provide continuity to my work without locking me in to biographical details that might change the characters’ evolution.

I hope that this has been helpful to you as authors.  I believe that as an independent author, with some measure of success, sharing tips with you is the right thing to do. There are plenty of readers out there and if these tips help you to create a better product so that you can entice readers to your work, then I welcome you to use them.

I also wanted to thank those of you that have been reading my blog. Last week, I doubled my best  ‘viewership’ of this blog. As I continue to drum up ideas for a weekly blog, your suggestions are welcome. If there are questions that you have about writing or suggestions for some aspect of writing for which you’d like to see a blog, please let me know and I’ll be happy to entertain them.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

To Outline or Not to Outline – Or is There a Third Choice?

This week’s blog focuses on the topic of whether or not it is better to outline your book or short story before you dive in and write. When I wrote my first book, it was in the days before airplanes allowed tablet devices to be used during that down time before the flight took off. I fly through Atlanta from Jacksonville, FL every week and usually the time waiting to take off exceeds the actual flight time. During those dark ages when ALL electronic devices had to be off and stowed, I wrote my first novel completely in longhand in notebooks. It was an interesting exercise that was very time consuming. I not only had to type everything I wrote later on, but, being a left-handed refugee from Catholic school, my handwriting is pretty horrible and I often had to guess at what I had written.

Needless to say, I did not outline this first book. While it flowed fairly well, it did take a longer period of time to figure out what my characters would do next. I didn’t have an ending in mind and the middle of the book was a struggle.

When I sat down to write my second book, Let Me Be Frank, I had just read a book on how to outline novels. The book extolled the virtues of meticulously outlining the book and writing full character biographies. As I began to perform these tasks, I found that it felt to much like work. I wanted to write, not outline. It was slow going and eventually I abandoned the process and started to go back to my stream-of-consciousness ways.

One Saturday morning, however, a light bulb went on (it was the light in my office). After it was light enough to see my computer, I started pondering different ways to create a road map for my novel without the tedious and limiting exercise of outlining. Then it dawned on me. I had used a technique to lay out complex documents and presentations. I also used this technique to lay out my doctoral dissertation. It is called mind-mapping. Mind-mapping is a visual technique for laying out the things you want to include in your work and then sequence them.

Usually, when I lay out a work-related document or presentation, I know all of the components that need to be included, but I don’t always know the order. Mind-mapping works well for this. The issue in translating this technique to a novel is that you may not know all of the components at the beginning. What I found was that this technique allowed me to think through the story and set up those components at a high level. This helped me avoid the dreaded “muddle in the middle” syndrome where you have the beginning and end of the story set, but the journey to get from one to the other is not clear.

So, what is mind-mapping and how does it work?

It all starts with a white board or a piece of paper. The format is a hub and wheel type configuration. The hub is the title of the book, or if you don’t have one, some working title. You can put it in a circle or other shape right in the middle of whatever you’re drawing on. Then, if you know how your book is going to start, draw some shapes for those early chapters and put a one sentence description in each chapter. For instance, you might have someone getting kidnapped in your book. The first shape might say, “Chapter 1: Susie Gets Kidnapped.” The next shape might read, “Chapter 2: Susie’s Boyfriend Discovers Her Missing.” This continues as far as you can go. If you get stuck in the middle, go to shapes at the end of your map. Maybe the last shape will read “Chapter X: Susie is Found.” You don’t have to number these later chapters until you know how many you’re going to end up with.

Once you have set up the starting and ending chapters, think about how you are going to get from one to the other. It really pays off to take the time to think this through. Remember, you can always change your mind map easily if your characters take you off in a new direction.

This truly is a road map. I would compare your mind map to mapping out a route in an app like Google Maps. You know where you’re starting, you know where your destination is. You are presented with options for your route. You can pick the route that you think will work best, but, if you run into traffic or an accident along the way, you can change your route to get around it. Also, if you want to get off of your route to do some site seeing, you can do so easily and then rely on your app to get you back on your route. The process of mind mapping is just like this. You can change it along the way to suit your needs.

Mind mapping also translates easily into whatever tool you might be using to write your novel or short story. I use Scrivener, which is a very popular writing application. Scrivener actually has a cork board within the app where you can set up “index cards” with short descriptions of your chapters and scenes within those chapters. You can take the descriptions from the shapes in your mind map and put them directly into these index cards and you have a pseudo outline for your work that can easily be changed or rearranged.

Once you have your mind map created, keep it with you as you write so that you can move from chapter to chapter easily. Don’t be afraid, however, to make changes. Your writing should not be fenced in if new and exciting detours emerge during your creative process.

To see what a mind map looks like, I’ve set the image for this blog to be the mind map that I set up for my book, Let Me Be Frank. If you want more information on mind mapping, please be sure to post your questions or you can contact me through my web site and I’ll be glad to share what I have learned about them.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Instead of Worrying About First Person vs. Third Person, How About the “Right” Person?

My blog this week stems from my recent reading. As you know, besides writing books and short stories and recording my audio book, I am an avid reader consuming 3-4 books per month. My reading genre is mostly fiction with some non-fiction mixed in. Lately, I have been reading the work of some noted authors that have jumped on the young adult fiction bandwagon and some that have written for characters that are opposite their gender. The results, in my humble opinion, are mixed.

Let’s start with those that have been able to write effectively from a perspective that is quite opposite their own. Most notable is J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter series and, to some extent, The Casual Vacancy, were very effectively written from the point of view of 10 year old children through young adults. She represented their emotions, actions, and reactions quite accurately and demonstrated how, over the course of time, they learned from their experiences. Because of her abilities, she was able to cross over to adult readers in a big way making her an international sensation who at one point had more accumulated wealth than the Queen of England.

Moving on to American authors, a trio of women rise to the top in terms of success. Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games Trilogy, and Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, have all logged huge best-sellers with their angst-ridden cast of teen protagonists. Of these series, I enjoyed The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins was able to write a compelling saga. The first book was a sizzling page turner. The second book, however, reminded me of the movie, Back to the Future II. It was just a vehicle to compel the reader to read the third book. The third book was very significant in terms of character development. These books, in particular, depicted the main character, Katniss Everdeen, as a flawed individual that doesn’t always do things perfectly and make the right decisions. This makes Katniss compelling as a main character.

I gave a try at reading the Twilight series. I found the characters too depressing and angst-ridden for my taste. They were downright depressing. I was surprised at my reaction due to the success of the series and the movies. I sate with my teenage daughter to watch the first Twilight movie and experienced the same reaction. I am, however, far removed from being a teenager myself. My reaction was a burning desire to kick these teens in the seat of their pants and tell them to comb their hair and get a job. I must be getting old.

As for Divergent, I have gone to see the movie with my daughter. My first impression was that it was as if Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had a baby. The story was a good one. I have the first book on my “to read” list. The characters definitely had some depth in the movie.

Now on to male authors that write as characters that differ from themselves and do it well. The first is Stephen King. In the Shining and, to a much greater extent, in It, King writes very believably as a child. At no point did I find his writing not believable as he took on the point of view of children. They make fun of each other and form a bond that only childhood friends can do. In The Shining, this bond comes between Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran is due to their psychic ability, in part, but there is also a mentor/mentee relationship. In It, King is able to write as several different adolescents and give each a distinct and memorable personality.

The second author that has written effectively from a young female perspective is Hugh Howey. Howey is the hero of independent writers who has turned his dystopian Wool series into a huge bestseller without the benefit of a major publisher. Wool and his earlier Molly Fyde series are written from the perspective of young women. Howey does this effectively and is able to realistically depict their actions and emotions.

Now for those writers who have not done this effectively. The first author, who has been running hot and cold with his work recently, is Harlan Coben. I recently read Missing You which Coben wrote from the perspective of a female New York City detective. I was disappointed in this work. His female character was both unrealistic and not likable. He was inconsistent with the way she reacted to situations. Coben has also created a young adult series based on Mickey Bolitar, nephew to his frequent protagonist Myron Bolitar. The stories within the Mickey Bolitar books make them worth reading. The main character, however, is not a realistic teen. His points of reference are not contemporary, but are those of a 40-something year old man in terms of music and other cultural aspects. He makes a lot of wrong decisions in terms of hiding things from adults. I’m not sure that most teens would push things to the limits that he does without seeking help.

John Grisham has also jumped into the YA market with his Theodore Boone series. Theodore Boone is a 13 year old only child of small city attorneys. He is enamored with the law and aspires to be an attorney. He is a straight “A” student and always seems to make the right decisions. He listens to his parents and is the favorite of judges, teachers, and the school principal. All of these adults defend him to the fullest even when it appears that he has done something wrong. While the stories are interesting, Grisham makes Boone too perfect. This 13 year old has the reasoning ability and intellect of an adult. He says all of the right things. This is not to say that a child like Theodore Boone is unrealistic. What is unrealistic is his popularity with other kids. In my recollection, kids like Theodore Boone would have been labeled as nerds or brainiacs in school (I was one) and would also be subject to regular ridicule and pranks. Theodore Boone is not.

Dean Koontz has also written a series of eight books based on his character, Odd Thomas. Odd is a twenty-something short order cook with psychic abilities. In his early Odd Thomas books, Koontz portrayed him as a simple and likable character. Odd was believable and spoke in simple dialog. I just finished the last in the series, Saint Odd, and found Koontz to be portraying his main character in a much more verbose fashion that is similar to his other books. He spends many paragraphs describing the plant life and the architecture. This is contrary to how this character viewed his surroundings in past works. Koontz even tries to justify this by referencing a novelist mentor that Odd has been getting pointers from. This new point of view from this character made the later Odd Thomas books a bit plodding and less genuine.

So, what is the message in all of this? As authors, I think it is important for us to truly understand the perspective of our characters. Don’t write a book as a teenage girl based on the way you see them in sitcoms or reality television shows. Write from this perspective based on real experiences and insight. Your readers will not find sincerity in your work if they find that you are misrepresenting how a character would think, react, and learn in a situation. If your target audience is young adults, you have to appeal to their world.

As a struggling author, I have found that readers resonate most with works where I have written based on what I know. I give my characters attributes that I know a lot about and this comes across as sincere. The private eye/mystery genre that I write in is not the “hot” style right now. Authors of Romance and Young Adult fiction are finding a much higher rate of success. I have avoided writing in these genres, however, because I’m not sure I could write believable stories or create compelling characters.

With all of this being said, do you agree or disagree? Have you had success with writing from the perspective of characters different from yourself? What tips do you have?

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Reacting to Feedback as a Self Published Author

As you dive into the world of self-publishing, one of the biggest fears that you must overcome is the unknown reactions that you will get from those that read your work. For me, I had written a short story and kept it to myself for months before I finally shared it with my wife. I knew I could count on her for honest feedback. I knew she was aware of my writing ability from many of the business and personal documents I had either written or helped her with at home. Also, when I was an independent consultant, she often looked at the documents I produced.

This was different, however. I had invented my own story with characters, settings, and emotions. If she hated it, I would have probably quit going down this path. Luckily, she liked it and I continued on and gradually expanded the circle of people that I let read and comment on my work.

I became very lucky with this path. I have a dear friend who is an avid reader and is very detail-oriented. She agreed to become my editor. In this capacity, she not only caught all of my careless punctuation and grammatical mistakes, she also looked at my story objectively and told me what parts worked and didn’t work. My first two short stories were published by an online literary magazine. My first book, Frankly Speaking, went the independent publishing route through Amazon.

Once the book was published, the iterative process of receiving feedback began. It started with family members that bought the book and posted five star reviews on Amazon. After a couple of those, the initial excitement wore off because they were, after all, family members. The excitement really began when I started to receive reviews from people I didn’t know. Those five star reviews really validated what I had done.

One day, after the first book was out a couple of months, I received a two star review, the first that was less than five stars after about 12 reviews. I quickly looked to see what valuable feedback I had received from this reviewer and there was only a single word in the review, “Boring”. I felt a few different emotions, one of which was anger. I looked to see what other brilliant reviews this person had posted and only found two other book reviews that were just a stellar for gardening books.  My initial reaction to this review was to reply to the reviewer on Amazon. I wanted to ask why they found the book boring and what I could have done to make it better. I also wanted to chastise the person. I had written 70,000 or so words and this only merited a one-word review. I actually went as far as writing a response and then I came to my senses and deleted it. I had seen other independent authors respond to negative reviews and I promised myself I wasn’t going to be “that guy”. After this one word review, several additional four and five star reviews came in and this one bad review became an anomaly.

I also publish a newsletter and I correspond with readers via email. One of my readers, a former English teacher, wrote me to let me know that she thoroughly enjoyed my book but she had found some additional typos, grammatical issues, etc. in the book and would I be insulted if she sent them to me. Part of the flexibility in independent publishing is being able to go back and improve upon your product once it’s published. I could have left it alone, but I felt that future readers deserved the best product possible. I corrected the book and I then proceeded to enlist this person as a beta reader on my future books. This is definitely a suggestion that I would make to my fellow authors. Find those detail-oriented, voracious readers out there and let them preview your books. They will find things that you and your editors missed and it will make your book a better product.

So, what is the bottom line of reacting to feedback. Take it all in. Qualify it. Use what is useful and discard what is not. In the end, you will have a better product and if you publish a better product, that improves the playing field for all self-published authors. There is a stigma in some circles regarding self-publishing. The quality of the product is viewed as less than that of published works. In some cases, this is true. There are self-published authors that self-edit or don’t bother to edit at all and their product is lacking. Don’t be one of those. Treat your self-published work as something you wish to be proud of. Don’t be afraid of feedback. Qualify both the positive and the negative feedback so that you can find the useful stuff and discard what is not going to help you.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independent Authors, How Do You Market Your Book and Still Find Time to Write?

This week, I want to address and issue that is a difficult one for me and, I suspect, for many other independent authors. Let me first define what I mean by the term “independent author”. An independent author is one that is not using a literary agent, has not signed a deal with a traditional publisher, and is responsible for the editing, marketing, and promoting of their book.

If this sounds like you, then you fall into this category. Now, given the choice between writing, and the other peripheral activities I mentioned, I would prefer to only write and not worry about the other activities. The reality for most of us is, unless you have unlimited funds, is that some or all of these tasks fall on our shoulders.

The difficulty with this for me is that I hate self-promotion, self-marketing, and blowing my own horn. The fact that I have to promote something that I created (and may be insecure about) is counter-intuitive. I just want to sit in a room, come up with ideas, and write about them. I do want to share my work with readers, but I don’t want to do the dirty work.

When I wrote my first book, I did what a lot of you have done or will do. I sent out query letters to countless literary agents and publishing houses. After weeks of waiting, I received either negative or no replies. I read about other authors that struggled for years through rejection after rejection and finally signed a first book for a minimal advance and received minimal marketing. I had three problems with this. The first is that I was 51 years old and I didn’t have years and years to see if this venture was going to work out. Second, I’m not very patient. I had that burning desire to see my book in print and share it with others. Third, I had little respect for what agents and publishers thought of as marketable. I had read many traditionally published books that were of dubious quality. I didn’t want to put my future as a writer in the hands of a few ivory tower-based snobs that would look at a 51 year old first time author and turn away without reading my work.

This is when I began to look at the world of independent publishing. Outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have lent credibility and attention to self-publishing. As I researched this outlet, I read books about independent publishing. I also looked for other authors to model myself after. One of the most successful and forthcoming examples is the Author, Hugh Howey.  His Sand and Wool series of books went from short stories to New York Times Best Sellers. He is a strong advocate for self-publishing and independent authors and shares a great deal of his knowledge.

My first book was published in April. Like the books advised, I set up keywords on Amazon, I set up a Facebook page and a web site. I then began the arduous task of trying to get the word out. I started with friends and family. A few copies sold and then, one of the most powerful marketing tools, word of mouth, kicked in. I tried other tactics like free book days on Amazon, Facebook ads, and other advertising outlets. I then began to join as many book and author Facebook groups as possible. I also concentrated on Twitter by seeking out book groups and authors, following them, and tweeting them directly with news of my book. I sent out press releases to every newspaper that I could find. Over 100 press releases yielded a two sentence blurb in my hometown newspaper. I saw that as a success.

I soon found myself posting in Facebook groups and sending tweets for 2-3 hours per day when I could spare the time. Remember, I have a 50-60 hour per week day job, so the weekends, a time when I like to be with my family, started with posting to social media. Eventually, however, a light went off in my head regarding two aspects of the promotional predicament.

The first is, once your book is published, it is there for eternity or until you take it down. There is not an urgency to promote it within a certain period of time before it expires. You definitely want to build up as the release approaches and try to secure preorders, but once it’s there, it’s not going away and you can try new tactics periodically.

The second aspect is that there are ways to make the promotion tasks more efficient or outsource them altogether. I have found software packages that help me to post to social media in a semi-automated way that is more natural and will not land me in “Facebook Jail”, which I’m sure some of you are familiar with. I have also found a fantastic editor that I trust and that trusts me. I may not be able to pay her much at all right now, but she knows that if these books take off, she will be pulled along for the ride.

Additionally, I have found a promotion person with a proven track record working with independently published authors. He has taken many authors into the ranks of success and I am hoping that I join them. The best part about using these services is that they are cafeteria style. I can ramp up when I’m releasing a book. My judicious spending has resulted in podcast and radio interviews, reviews, and blog tours. There is also a sense of credibility in having my book promoted by a third party.

At this point, I still do a good bit of promotion on my own, but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog that centered on writing when you have a full-time day job, I organize my time spent on promotion. I dedicate blocks on certain days to post and do other promotional activities. The other designated time is reserved for writing and nothing else.

I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about the tools I use, my editor, or my promotion person, please reach out. I have no problem sharing their information. I’m sure they can help you as much as they have helped me and others.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

If It Sounds Like Writing, Rewrite It

This week’s writing tip comes from a quote by famed western and crime novelist Elmore Leonard. I came across the quote some time ago and it didn’t resonate with me right away. It really hit home, however, when I began reading my first book, Frankly Speaking, as I recorded the audio book. It is amazing what you uncover when you read your work aloud. I found some of the sentences to be clumsy and even difficult to read at times. I had read in another writing tips book to read your work aloud as you rewrite it. I always thought that it was a waste of time, but I am now convinced that it isn’t.

Another tip from Leonard took on additional meaning as I read my book aloud. He says, “take out the parts that people skip.” As I read my book, I found one or two spots where I had some redundancy and maybe some back story items that just didn’t matter in advancing the story. When I used to read books by Tom Clancy, I often found myself skipping all of the minutia of the military operations that he describes in great detail. I found that I could completely skip these sections, that were sometimes 10-20 pages, and not lose any plot points within the story.

My wonderful editor, Catherine Violando, cracked down on me when I was writing my books. I tend to insert a lot of back story because I think the readers want to know what is motivating my characters to do the things they do. I would have big chunks of information about the characters’ childhood and family life. She encouraged me to insert little pieces of this information here and there and not dump it on my readers all at once. I noticed, as I read other writers work, they used this technique as well. Stephen King is famous for giving the reader little tidbits about the character and then leaving them hanging. He might write something like, “John Doe spent the day with his children on a bright, sunny Saturday. He loved to spend the day this way. Too bad this would be his last.” Then he might end the chapter and not tell you what happened to John Doe for another couple of chapters.

It will be interesting, as I continue writing the 3rd book in the Frank Rozzani series and move on to read the 2nd one for audio book publishing, if I’ve learned anything and have improved. What I have learned, and this should be something that every writer realizes, completing your book with no grammatical or punctuation errors is only the beginning. Read your work aloud and take out the things that readers skip.

As I chronologically read the books of Elmore Leonard, I can see that he practiced what he preached and improved from book to book. Was his work perfect? I’m about a third of the way through his books, and no, they are not.  They do, however, show his progression as a writer over time. He wrote novels on a pace of one every 1.5 years or so. I have written two in six months while working full time. Leonard’s slower pace is likely due to the traditional publishing route, which was the only option at that time. I’m sure he had countless professional editors and marketing plans. Self published authors don’t have these same luxuries, but there is no reason that we cannot produce work that is both entertaining and high-quality.  Reading your work aloud and skipping those things that don’t advance the story are two tricks you can use to get there.

I look forward, as always, to your comments and questions.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com