Writing and Publishing

Finding a Writing Mentor

Many Writers Wish They Had a Mentor

The problem is that those who are most qualified to be a mentor are also the busiest, and the people who have time are usually not as experienced.

If you find someone who would make a great mentor, just ask them, but leave them room to say, “No,” because they likely will. As an option, offer to provide them something of value in return.

It could be money, but more valuable might be a service that you could offer in exchange for mentoring. If you’re flexible and willing to give them something in return, the answer might just be “Yes!”

Consider Co-Mentoring

Another possibility is to find someone to co-mentor. If you’re both at the same place in your writing journey but have different strengths and weaknesses, then you can help each other grow as writers. This may be a more viable option.

Mentoring from Afar

Last, someone can mentor you from afar. I read blogs and especially listen to podcasts about writing and publishing. I consider these people as my mentors. I’ve never met them and most of them don’t know who I am, but they do mentor me from a distance and help me write better and publish more effectively.

Writing and Publishing

Pen Names

Authors use pen names for assorted reasons. Here are some that come to mind.

To Hide Their Identity

Sometimes an author needs to not identify themselves to protect them and their loved ones. This might be because they write about a highly volatile topic or a significantly personal one.

A pen name protects them and keeps them safe.

To Experiment

Some established authors want to try a different genre without it having any possible negative impact on the sales of their existing books. A pen name accomplishes this.

To Avoid Embarrassment

Sometimes authors grab a pen name to separate them from their genre.

One example of this might be someone publishing erotica but who doesn’t want anyone to know. Of course, there are other situations as well, such as the soccer mom and PTA president writing graphic horror or the gruff construction worker writing romance.

To Not Confuse Readers

A fourth reason to use a pen name is to avoid confusing readers. For example, an author of Amish romance might use a pen name for their sci-fi books.

This isn’t to imply that some readers wouldn’t enjoy both genres, but most won’t—and might stop reading the author altogether. Yes, the book cover should identify the genre, but some readers will still miss that.

In addition to readers, genre hopping can also confuse the Amazon algorithms and start suggesting the wrong books to the wrong readers.

My Take on Pen Names

My recommendation is to avoid pen names whenever possible. It quickly becomes too complex and is too time consuming to manage.

Yet, I’ve gone this route—sort of—with a quasi-pen name.

Most of my writing is biblical Christianity for the Christian market. I publish those books using Peter DeHaan.

Yet I also write for the business market, including my book about writing and publishing, using my full name, Peter Lyle DeHaan.


I don’t want to confuse readers (or Amazon), so I need to make a delineation, but I can’t use a real pen name because I have two PhDs, one relevant to each area. It’s hard to claim PhD status on a pen name.

When I’m ready to publish fiction, I plan to do so under a third name: P D Haan, which when you say it, sounds like my real name. I don’t anticipate much reader overlap between these three areas, so I’ll minimize confusion by using three somewhat different names.

My three pen names are not a secret, but I think using them does make marketing sense.

Pen Names Conclusion

When it comes to pen names, do as I say, not as I do.

Writing and Publishing

Balancing the Indie Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing Debate

Here are the pros and cons of indie publishing versus going with a traditional publisher:

Traditional Publishing Pros and Cons: In most cases, traditional publishing requires less of the author, should result in more book sales over a wider distribution, and carries the prestige of a publisher selecting your book for publication. The negatives include the effort to find a publisher, the length of time to publish the book, and earning much less per copy sold—if anything at all.

Indie Publishing Pros and Cons: If you’re self-disciplined, indie publishing allows you to get your book to market faster. You also maintain full control over the final product and make more on each sale. The downside is that you must view publishing as a business and cover all the costs of producing the book yourself. 

A commonly-cited reason to not indie publishing is the requirement to market and promote our books. While it’s true that if we indie publishes we must market our books if we hope to sell any, traditional publishers also expect us to help promote, market and sell our books. If you can’t or won’t do that, the publisher is apt to pass on publishing your book. In short, they want authors who can move product.

Conclusion: There is no right answer to the issue of indie publishing versus pursuing a traditional book deal. It depends on the goals and priorities of each author. Also, some authors do both, depending on the book. They’re hybrid authors, going with traditional publishers for some books and indie publishing others.

Writing and Publishing

How Much Does It Cost to Indie Publish a Book?

The price to indie publish a book varies greatly. The answer depends on your skills, budget, and book-length.

I’ve heard people explain how you can publish a book for under one hundred dollars. While their advice is accurate, the results won’t produce a professional-looking book that will get people’s attention and earn good reviews. I suggest not trying to publish a book on the cheap.

There are also people who outsource much of the work and pay several thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars to publish a book. If you have a lot of money, that may be the option to choose.

For myself, I budget $1000-$1500 per book. Here are my typical expenses:

Developmental Edit: $100 to $800 (though you can spend much more)

Copy edit/Proofread: $300 to $600, depending on the book-length

Cover Design: $300 to $500

Interior Layout: under $100 and up

I do everything else myself, so the only cost there is my time.

For the developmental edit and copy edit/proofread many editors charge by the word. Others charge by the page or by the hour. I prefer the per-word fee because I know what my cost will be. Though you can find people offshore who will do this service for much less, be careful. They may not speak English as their primary language or even if they do, their editing work may fail to meet the expectations of native English readers. Also, with any type of editing work, the longer the book, the more it will cost.

For the cover design and interior layout, you can save money by going offshore and still get a professional result. I’ve worked with cover designers in several countries and have gotten good quality artwork. I’ve only worked with one interior layout designer, and she did a great job.

Writing and Publishing

It’s Hard to Land a Publishing Deal

It’s harder now than ever to land a traditional publishing deal. Publishers are risk-averse and generally require that you have a platform to promote and sell books.

Most traditional publishers won’t work directly with authors. They require you to have an agent. An agent only makes money if they land a publishing deal for their client. This means they only take on a client if they think they can sell their work.

Again, having a large platform to sell books is key. Agents are also interested in authors who will likely write many books.

Though it’s never been harder to land a traditional publishing deal, there’s never been more opportunities for self-publishing/indie-publishing.

Writing and Publishing

The Indie Book Publishing Checklist

Here are the key steps to write and indie publish a book.

  1. Develop your initial concept and vision. This step includes market research into competitive titles to gauge the book’s marketability. 
  2. Write the first draft for the entire book.
  3. Do your first edits. Continue to fine-tune until you feel you’re ready for feedback.
  4. Run spell and grammar check.
  5. Get feedback from beta readers or critique groups and fine-tune your book, though this step can also happen after step eight.
  6. Run spell and grammar check, again.
  7. Get a developmental edit. Some people call this edit a book critique, while others call it a substantial edit. But these labels can also refer to different services. What you want is big-picture feedback. At this stage, you need someone to give you an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of your book. They should address how it flows, its overall arc, and identify anything that’s out of place, missing, or not needed. You also want someone to point out shortcomings in your writing style—we all have them, but we can’t see them until someone tells us.
  8. Incorporate the feedback of your developmental edit, as appropriate, into your book. Evaluate every recommendation, but don’t feel you need to accept each one. When you feel you’ve implemented all the relevant changes, proceed to the next step.
  9. Run spell and grammar check, a third time.
  10. Have someone copy edit your book. This edit looks at writing at the sentence level.
  11. Again, discerning what advice to follow and what to dismiss, make the needed changes.
  12. Do a fourth spell and grammar check.
  13. Have someone proofread your book. This edit addresses grammar and punctuation. It focuses on details. Though many authors separate copy editing and proofreading into two steps, most of the editors I work with do both at the same time. This saves money and shaves weeks off the publishing timeline.
  14. Make a final read through the book yourself and do a final spell and grammar check. Since you’ve already had professionals review your book, make changes with great care at this point. If in doubt, leave it as is.
  15. Format your book for mobi and epub (the formats needed for e-books). I do this formatting myself using a free online tool from Draft2Digital. If you use Scrivener, it can also format e-books. 
  16. Once you’ve formatted your e-book, verify that everything looks the way you want it to.
  17. Concurrent to the copy edit and proofread phases, design your book cover. Unless you have graphic software and the skill to produce a cover equal to or better than traditional publishers, hire a cover designer.
  18. Upload your e-book to your publisher or publishing aggregator or both. Though an incomplete list, these are the publishing outlets I use:
    • Amazon, to reach the US audience, you must be on Amazon
    • Kobo, which is great for other countries, such as Canada
    • Draft2Digital, a publishing aggregator, which can also do Amazon
    • Publish Drive, a publishing aggregator, which can also do Amazon
    • StreetLib, a newer publishing aggregator, with a wide reach
  19. If you want to also do a paperback version, which I recommend, hire someone to do the interior layout. Yes, you can do this step yourself, but it’s tedious and frustrating. (I have spent over twenty hours trying to do the internal formatting myself. So now I pay someone else to do it.) They will provide a PDF file of your book. Note that Amazon and IngramSpark have different file expectations, so you need two files, one for each publisher.
  20. Verify that everything in your PDF is correct.
  21. Upload your paperback version to your publisher or publishers.
    • Amazon
    • IngramSpark
  22. Now it’s time to launch and market your book. Marketing gives us a whole new topic to deal with.

Since I’ve written and published many books, I made my own checklist (on which the above list is based) to make sure I cover everything and don’t miss a step. As more options become available and I learn more about the writing and publishing process, I will continue to fine-tune my list. If you plan on being a multi-book author, I suggest you make your own checklist too.

Writing and Publishing

Assisted Publishing

To self-publish—or indie-publish—you do it yourself. You don’t go through someone else.

To pay someone else is called assisted publishing or subsidy publishing. Some are good, some are not, and some are rip-offs. I’ve heard of rates from several hundred dollars to over ten thousand. And that’s a lot of money to pay for something you can do yourself.

I don’t have any experience using assisted publishing or subsidy publishing, because it’s not the right option for me. If you go that route, check references, ask a lot of questions, and treat it like a business decision—because it is.

Now, regarding my statement that for self-publishing/indie-publishing you do it all yourself, that’s an oversimplification. In truth, you will hire experts to handle various aspects for you. In essence, you’re acting like a general contractor on a building project.

For example, I hire editors, cover designers, and marketing people. I coordinate their work to move toward a finished project: a published book. It’s very much a business process.

Whichever publishing option you pick, I wish you the best.

Writing and Publishing

Book Publishing Options

Writers often wonder if they should I indie publish their book or publish with a traditional publisher. I understand the question, and without sounding like a jerk, let me rephrase this question about publishing options.

The question should be: Should I self-publish it or pursue a traditional publisher?

Traditional Publishing

I reworded it because we have no control over whether a traditional publisher will want to publish our book. What we do have control over is pursuing a traditional publishing deal.

I wouldn’t recommend you try to find a traditional publisher. That left self-publishing sometimes called indie publishing.

Indie Publishing

For indie publishing I recommend the book Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn. Do everything she says, and you’ll be ahead of most people. Expect indie-publishing to cost about $1,000 to $2,000 per book, but it can go much higher. This is mostly for professional cover and editing.

Writing and Publishing

Tips for Ghostwriting Books

I’ve ghostwritten a couple of books and enjoyed doing so. The payment is almost always a fixed rate, paid in installments. The first payment is required to start the work, and the final payment is due when the writer submits the finished product to the author. (The person who hires you is the author—you are the writer).

The number of installments for ghostwriting books is up to you and the author. Two, three, or four are common, but my last book was in ten installments (per the author’s suggestion). Also, try to frontload the installments so that you receive more money in the beginning. That way if things don’t work out, the author changes their mind, or they stop paying, then you have received most of your compensation.

Don’t write on spec or have it contingent on them getting a book deal. Also, avoid a 100 percent revenue share based on books sold.

Though you could negotiate a base fee plus a revenue share unless the author has a large platform and can sell books, assume there will never be any significant revenue for them to share with you. So make your base fee large enough to make the project worthwhile.

Two related items: When it comes to ghostwriting books, always have a contract that states your fee, the installment amounts and dates, and details of what is and isn’t included. A basic “work-for-hire” agreement should work. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.)

The other item is to be aware that you are selling your words and cannot claim them as your own or reuse them for another purpose. (Though a nice author may share the byline with you or acknowledge you were the writer.)

I hope this helps, and I wish you the best.

Writing and Publishing

Third-Person Omniscient Point of View

Third-person omniscient is out of favor. Do you wonder why?

While we could attribute it to a trend, the best explanation I have is that we’re so conditioned to watching TV and movies, which limit us to the camera’s vantage (third-person limited, if you will), that as readers we expect books to do the same thing.

When I began writing back in the dark ages, I preferred the omniscient voice because third-person limited seemed, well, too limiting. Third-person omniscient was also easier to write because it didn’t restrict me to one point-of-view per scene.

However, those days are gone, and few books published today use omniscient point-of-view. I once heard a podcast recording with Jerry Jenkins, and he said third-person omniscient was “archaic.” That convinced me.