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Month: February 2017

My First Draft Is Done! What’s Next? A Manuscript Guide for Indie Authors

When you finish the first draft of your book, you might feel lost. What are the next steps? How long it will be before you can publish it? Here is a handy guide to getting your book polished and ready for publication.*

    1. Let it rest. Really. Put the manuscript away for a while. Maybe you can start a new project or work on a different one. Get some distance so that when you come back to it, you won’t be blind to your own mistakes. Six or eight weeks should do the trick.
    2. Self-edit. Now you can start self-editing and rewriting. The self-editing process varies for everyone. As great guides to this process, I recommend the books Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Manuscript Makeover.
    3. Breathe. When you’re done, take a few days to breathe. Make sure you’re really finished with the second draft. It’s easy to get impatient and throw your manuscript at people the second it’s done. Your patience will pay off in the end.
      first draft, breathe, manuscript, indie author, editor, writer, writing, editing
    4. Send it to beta readers. Send your manuscript to several beta readers. Beta readers can be friends and family. However, the best ones are people who read regularly in your genre and who like to talk about it. Get more beta readers than you need. Reading and commenting on a whole book is a big commitment. Some readers will never finish. You can find free beta readers through critique groups or social media groups. You can also pay for professional beta readers. Paid readers have a good incentive to complete the job! Self-editing and using beta readers will also save you money at editing time. Editors charge on the basis of how much work is needed on your manuscript. (For more details, see my blog series on Saving Money on Editing.) If you are thorough and willing to learn as you go, you may be able to skip structural editing and lower your copyediting costs. In any case, your book will be better off for it! Don’t skip these steps! beta reader; first draft
    5. Revise again. Take your beta readers’ suggestions into careful consideration, but feel free to ignore some of them. Pay special attention to issues that have been flagged by multiple readers! If most of your readers are telling you the same thing, it would be unwise to ignore it. Repeat steps 2 through 5 as needed until you feel that you can’t do anything more with your manuscript on your own.
    6. Consult a professional editor. Many editors offer a free sample edit. During this time, the editor will go through a sample of your manuscript and make a recommendation about what kind of editing it needs. Feel free to get several sample edits. Go with the editor who is the right combination of fit and affordability for you. You will often pay more for a better editor, but get that sample edit to be sure that your editor is worth her price. (See my post on vetting editors.)
    7. Get developmental editing/make revisions. At this stage, you will be working with your editor on big-picture issues such as plot, theme, character, and structure. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation just yet. Don’t need developmental editing? Hurray! Skip ahead to step 8!
    8. Get copyediting/make revisions. Time to fix all the grammar and spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. Time to improve the flow of your sentences. Just as with beta readers, you can and should choose which edits you keep and which edits you toss. Just be thoughtful. Ask questions. Your editor should want your book to shine as much as you do, and it will make you a better writer.
      red pencil, editing, first draft, editor, editing, writer, writing, indie author, author
    9. Lay out your book. Hire a book formatter or design and lay out your book yourself if you know how. Don’t forget to add front matter and a table of contents (a linked one for ebooks)!
    10. Get a cover designed. You can start this step earlier if you’d like. However, if you are self-publishing a paperback or hardcover version of your book, your cover designer will need to know the final page count to determine the spine width for the design. Yes, you can design your cover yourself. However, I only recommend this if you have graphic design experience and really know what you are doing. The cover is the first thing that a potential reader sees. Investing in a good cover designer will boost those original sales before reviews start to come in.
    11. Write your back cover copy and get publicity blurbs. While your cover is being designed, write and edit your back cover copy and use your formatted manuscript to solicit blurbs (good quotes!) for your back cover. If you’re not selling hard copies of your book, you still need good descriptive copy for your book’s sales page, so don’t skip this step.
    12. Get proofreading. You can complete this stage during cover design. Once your pages are laid out, have a proofreader check them to catch typos that might have slipped through or been introduced during corrections (yes, this happens). This is not the time for big changes or rewrites. They will only cause you to have to redo or fix the formatting. Get each format (ebook and hardcopy) proofread because there can be minor differences.
      proofreading, first draft
    13. Publish. Upload your files and publish at the vendor of your choice! There are many more choices and steps during this stage, but I’ll leave that for another post!

This post is a slightly more detailed update to an infographic I posted earlier.

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Using Track Changes to View Edits

I use Track Changes every time I edit for indie author clients so that they know exactly what I have changed on their manuscripts and so that they can easily revert those changes if they don’t agree with them.

However, not everyone is familiar with how Track Changes works, and it can be very confusing. The mess that often results from a screen full of strikeouts, deletions, and comment bubbles can be overwhelming and impossible to deal with. I wanted to make that easier for my clients and anyone else looking for a little help with this process.

confused, track changesI love YouTube and watching videos to learn new things. So, instead of writing up a guide, this time, I made a video. It’s good for anyone who needs to get to know Track Changes, not just editing clients. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for future videos!

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Book Review: The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey
Joanna Penn
The Creative Penn, Ltd., 2016
Available in ebook, paperback, and audio formats

For Christmas, I received a nice little stack of books from family members. Among them was Joanna Penn’s The Successful Author Mindset, which my ten-year-old daughter had given me. My kids have seen me giving this whole career-author thing a go, with me getting up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. nearly every day for the last several months so that I can get my writing done and still have time for my day job and all the rest.

One of my inspirations on this journey has been Joanna Penn and her author–entrepreneur podcast, The Creative Penn. Penn used to work a corporate job. Years ago, she began writing both fiction (thrillers under the name J. F. Penn) and nonfiction (under Joanna Penn) while still doing her day job. While you might not put her on the same level with Dan Brown or Stephen King yet, she has built her author business up enough that both she and her husband have been able to quit their day jobs to continue to work and expand this business. You can tell from listening her talk about it on the podcast that it is a vocation that brings her joy.

In The Successful Author Mindset, Penn approaches one of the biggest obstacles we authors have on the journey to success: our own minds. Just how does the state of our mind affect our success as writers? In three sections, Penn discusses mindset aspects of creativity and writing, mindset aspects that become relevant after publishing, and tips for managing our long-term journey as authors. In bite-sized pieces, she approaches each problem, for example, imposter syndrome, that icky feeling you get that you’re really a fraud and that you couldn’t possibly know what you’re doing. Penn not only covers about each aspect and how it can affect us as writers but also provides antidotes: ways we can get around the self-doubt, the judgment of others, and our own creative dissatisfaction.

Penn’s style is casual and personal. She includes snippets of her own diary entries along the way, confirming in a book-wide theme that as much as writers often work the craft in isolation, we are not alone in our experiences.

All of us who are writing are bobbing around in this ocean of creativity, going through the same issues.”
—p. 1, The Successful Author Mindset

The Bottom Line

Other writers have gone through what you are going through, and the successful authors are the ones who have changed their mindset and kept writing anyway. Some of Penn’s advice strikes me as simple common sense, but still other bits really hit home on my own journey. I’ve dog-eared the section on fear of judgment to revisit when I find that I’m holding back, reluctant to “let my [genuine] author voice run free.” Reading this book has also reinforced my decision to remain in control of my own career as a writer. For me, that means self-publishing. For another, it might mean renegotiating her contract with her agent or publisher.

I recommend this book for writers at any stage of the journey and on any publishing (or nonpublishing) path. It will be especially helpful for those with long-term author career goals in mind.

Pick up this book, and you may find yourself using it practically or as a repeated source of affirmation as you work toward your writing dreams.

Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
I heard this quote from Joanna Penn one day on her podcast, The Creative Penn. I typed it up and have had it on my office wall as inspiration ever since.
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An Indie Author Guide to Vetting Editors

In this post, I discuss the process of vetting editors. At the end of my previous series on saving money on editing, I mentioned cheap editing and why I am against it. One of the reasons is that self-published authors often get scammed by people who claim that they are editors, even though they have no training or education in editing.

As Cheryl of Ink Slinger Editorial Services puts it, “The hardest thing about finding an editor is that anyone can hang a shingle. Especially someone that says they made As in high school English and loves to read. Editing is a skill. Accept that it’s a skill, and you’ll find a proper editor. And remember that being a writer does not qualify you to be an editor, either.”

So, as a follow-up to my previous series, I want to give you some information on how you can vet your freelance/independent editor and make sure that you get what you pay for and that you get an editor who is a good match for you. If you produce more than one book, this could be a relationship that lasts for years.

Keep in mind that when you are vetting editors, not every editor will hit every point on this list. However, if you examine them all, you will get a good feel for just how professional and experienced your editor is. In many cases, she will already have most of this information available for you on her website or resume.

Alternately, an editor who is lacking in many of these areas might not be your best choice.

Before You Start Vetting

  1. Is the editor available when you need her to be? Many freelance editors are booked months (sometimes years) in advance. As editor Averill Buchanan says, there is not much point in spending valuable time vetting someone who won’t be available on your schedule. For a good editor, however, you might find yourself willing to accept a spot on their editorial calendar that is months away.
  2. Is this person the right kind of editor? There are seemingly a million jobs out there with the title editor, all with different job descriptions. Check the editor’s website or ask her straight out what kind of editor she is and what kind of work she does.

Simply put, if your story needs structural work, you need a developmental editor. If it needs the grammar checked, you need a copyeditor or line editor. If you need someone to check your final, formatted pages for errors, you need a proofreader.

Some editors do provide all of these services plus others, such as consulting or cover design. Diversification can be a savvy business practice in today’s market.

vetting editorsEducation

  1. Degree or Certificate: Does the editor have a relevant degree or certificate in publishing or editing? This shows you that the person has spent some time learning the craft. However, many editors do not have an editing degree or a certificate because they got their start in publishing houses, where they received on-the-job training.
  2. Continuing Education: There are many courses available to editors through the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and and from other sources. Has your prospective editor taken advantage of one or more of these courses to keep her skills up to date or perhaps to expand her editing skill set into a new area?

Relevant Experience

Relevant experience not only complements education but is probably even more important.

As Susan Wenger of Cover to Cover says, “Ask your prospective editor about relevant experience. If the only thing they tell you is that they have an English degree, or they teach English/literature, run. These things can be helpful, but they’re not sufficient.”

  1. General Editing Experience: How long has the editor been working professionally? Has she worked in house for a legitimate publisher? How much time per week does she spend editing?
  2. Specific Editing Experience: Does the editor have experience working in your field? This can be as broad as fiction versus nonfiction but can reach all the way down to a specific genre, such as paranormal romance. Ask for a list of books in your area that she has worked on.

You might also ask about the editor’s favorite books in your genre. A love of a certain type of book obviously doesn’t stand in for editing skill. However, when an editor brings years of editing experience to the table plus a deep knowledge of your genre, she will be able help you create a more marketable manuscript.

If the editor does not have a lot of experience in your genre or niche but has a lot of general experience and you feel good about your communication so far, look to her continuing education, author testimonials, and sample edit to determine her competence.


Find out how the editor works and how she likes to communicate. Finding someone compatible can save you lots of frustration down the line.

  • Does she edit in a program that is compatible with your own (usually Word)?
  • Does she use Track Changes or an equivalent tool that makes it easy for you to see edits?
  • How many passes does each round of editing entail?
  • Does your prospective editor prefer Skype, phone, or email to communicate?
  • Does she include in her fee a reasonable amount of time for you to respond or ask questions about the editing after it is complete?


Through your initial communication and research, find out if the editor behaves in a professional manner.

  • Does she respond to you in a timely manner?
  • Does she respond professionally to a reasonable number of questions?
  • Is she respectful? She should treat you like a professional as well.
  • Does she offer a written contract for her services? If she doesn’t, move on. A contract protects you both.
  • Is she a member of a relevant professional organization such as the Editorial Freelancers Association, Society for Editors and Proofreaders, or Association of Independent Publishing Professionals?

Internet/Social Media Presence

In the process of vetting editors, it is a good idea to check out each editor’s web presence. If an editor is a professional, it is likely that she has established herself on the Internet to increase her discoverability, just as authors should. Check out her various footprints to get an idea about who she is and what services she offers. If you find an editor in a Goodreads forum but nowhere else on the web, there’s a good chance that she hasn’t been editing for long or at all.

  • Does she have a website? Is it professional in appearance, and does it give you answers to many of the questions listed in this post?
  • Is she on social media in a professional capacity (e.g., is her business on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn)? You can get some idea of an editor’s professional interactions through how she presents herself on social media.

Past Clients

When you’re vetting editors for your book, perhaps the most important step is to find out what their previous clients have to say.

  1. Look for testimonials: Like all people, editors like to share when they have received praise for a job well done and will often have testimonials printed on their websites. See if it is possible for you to speak to past clients so you can get an idea of how each editor works and how satisfied her clients have been.
  2. Ask your author friends for recommendations: You may find that your fellow authors can tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly with respect to editors that they have worked with. Take it all with a grain of salt, but don’t dismiss it. If an author has glowing praise for her editor, take a closer look.

Sample the Service

Most editors will offer a free sample edit of some length. Mine is 1250 words, and other editors offer more or less. The sample edit allows both you and the editor to learn a bit about each other’s styles and see if you are a good fit. The editor can also use the sample edit to determine how much work is needed on the manuscript so that she can come up with a proper estimate.

Take advantage of this. When you find a few editors that are serious contenders, get sample edits and estimates from each one. It will be extremely helpful not only for vetting the editors but also for choosing the one that you want to work with most.

A Note About Upfront Payments When Vetting Editors

In this age of constant scams, authors aren’t the only ones who are wary. Editors must also be careful about putting in weeks’ worth of work on a manuscript only to be left high and dry when the work is done. Thus, many editors ask for a deposit up front and the rest of the payment on their services before you get your edited manuscript back.

So, do your research and vet your editors appropriately. Talk to their past clients and make sure that they are legitimate. Keep in mind that no one with experience and an established Internet presence can scam her clients for long without getting numerous public responses. Let the editor’s reputation speak for itself. If it doesn’t, you have to decide if it’s a risk you are willing to take. (Again, this is a great topic to speak with past clients about.)


I had some help from fellow editors so that I could provide you with a thorough list of steps for vetting editors. In that capacity, I’d like to thank Susan Wenger, Averill Buchanan, Cheryl Murphy Lowrance, Janet MacMillan, Julia Ganis, and Dorothy Zemach for their input and insights.


Note: I have used the pronouns she and her to refer to single authors or editors throughout this post. However, this is just for simplicity. There are many fine authors and editors out there who are not female.


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