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Writing and Publishing

Call Yourself a Writer

I remember it well.

Alone, I sit in my home office. I should be working. I’m not. I’m distracted. In my windowless basement room, I swing the door shut and dim the lights. I know what I must do, but I don’t want to.

I’ve been writing and publishing for years, but I’ve never owned this reality. Now I must. It’s a seminal moment, of that I’m quite sure. If I don’t do it today, it might never happen. My gut rumbles. I inhale deeply and close my eyes as if eyelids will afford me protection from what I’m about to do.

Pulse racing, my lips move, but no sound comes out. On my third attempt, an audible rasp oozes forth, a murmur I can barely hear. Almost indiscernible, I think I just mumbled, “I am a writer.”

I try again. Eventually, my volume rises to a normal speaking level, but my words still lack confidence. A few months later I try this in front of another person. It emerges as a most pitiful attempt. It takes a couple of years before I can confidently tell someone that I am a writer. 

That was years ago. Now saying “I am a writer” flows forth without effort and no self-doubt—because it’s true.

At writing conferences, I occasionally teach a workshop for newer writers. I often lead my class in saying this phrase out loud: “I am a writer.” Their first effort is cautious, timid. But by their third attempt, they grin with confidence. We need to first call ourselves writers if others are to believe it.

I am a writer and so are you. That’s why you’re reading this book.

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Writing and Publishing

The Future of Books: What are the Prospects for Book Publishing?

Now is a great time to publish a book and don’t let anyone tell you differently

What is your perception of the future of books? Is interest in increasing, maintaining, or shrinking? The media would have us believe the end is near, at least as far as the book business, especially print books, is concerned.

  • Eighteen to 29-year olds buy the most books, but those 30 to 44 are right behind them.
  • When combining age ranges, those 13 to 17, 18 to 29, and 30 to 44 buy more books collectively than those 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and over 65.
  • People over 65 buy the least number of books. I would have suspected the opposite, but I would have been wrong,

So, younger people are buying more books than older people. Who would have guessed?

Given this, there is much for writers and publishers of books to be excited about, despite the media’s dire pronouncements to the contrary—and if this trend continues, the future of books will be even brighter still.

So now is a great time to write and publish a book. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The future of books is looking up.

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Writing and Publishing

Is Writing Worth All the Hassle?

Most definitely!

First, if writing were easy, everyone would do it. Though anyone who knows how to read can write, few people can write well. That’s what being a writer is: exercising our ability to string words together with excellence. 

As with any worthwhile endeavor, it takes time to develop skill as a writer. As writers, we’re always learning and always growing. Each piece we write has the potential to be better than the piece before it. And each year our ability can surpass last year. Writing is a journey of discovery that lasts a lifetime.

Second, if you have a passion to write, then pursue it with full-out abandon. Don’t dismiss writing for a more profitable pursuit. If you do, you’ll always regret it. But that doesn’t mean being a full-time writer. Most authors write and do something else. They may have a full-time job and write on the side. Or they may focus on writing but have a “side hustle” or two to help pay the bills.

Writing is art, and it is science. Embrace both. Pursue both. Merge both to produce words that sing or words that sell. What joy we realize as we learn to write like that.

Third, writing is a smart way to avoid job obsolescence. In the ever-evolving job market—which changes faster every year—the career most people start with is seldom the career they end with. Writing, along with a few other skills, sidesteps the threat of obsolescence. Yes, the form of our publication will change—it already has and will continue to do so—but the skill to arrange the underlying words will persist.

People who have mastered the art of writing will always have something to do—even if we can’t now imagine what that might look like.

Fourth, writing embraces a new way to earn a living. As forty-hour-a-week jobs become less available and less desirable, twenty-first-century workers piece together a variety of pursuits to produce income, achieve better work-life balance, and find vocational fulfillment. 

This approach includes freelancing, contract work, and subcontracting, with many writers leading the charge in these areas. With this mindset to guide us, today’s writers can forge ahead to produce a life with variety, purpose, and fulfillment. And you can join them in this quest.

How amazing is that?

Yes, without a doubt, pursuing a career in writing is worth the effort.

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Writing and Publishing

Where Did It Go?

I really, really try to not go back and read what I have already posted.  First of all, it’s not a good use of my time. Secondly, revisiting my work causes me to either be too critical of what I wrote or too generous–neither of which is a healthy consideration. Last, with each re-read, I will inevitably find something that I want to change. I have this propensity towards endless, ongoing improvement—a relentless pursuit of perfection. Sometimes that is good, but usually, it is more akin to “spinning my wheels.”

Having proclaimed all that, I remember that I re-read an old post. In the second paragraph, I discovered a word that I thought I changed. In the fourth paragraph, I found an error that I was sure I had corrected. I thought I was losing my mind—until I discovered that the last two paragraphs were completely missing!

I had thought I know what happened. The program that I used to write my blog was accessed over the Internet. Sometimes it moved much slower than I had the tolerance for. In my impatient mouse-clicking, a preliminary version (I periodically saved my work as I was writing) must have been posted and my completed version somehow lost.

I fixed again the two errors and tried my best to reconstruct the final two paragraphs. To my dismay, I couldn’t remember everything exactly right and I was quite sure that the lost version was much more brilliant than the recreated one. But you’ll need to take my word on that, as the original version was forever and totally lost—only the reconstructed one is available for your consideration.

Have you ever lost work in your computer or permanently deleted an important file? We all have—at one time or another—and I feel your pain!

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Writing and Publishing

Are You a Linear Thinker or 3D?

Effective communication should address both linear and 3D thinkers

Linear thinking people process thoughts and ideas in succession, logically moving from one point to the next

3D thinking people jump from one thought or idea to another, which often seems to have little connection with each other.

Printed material, such as magazines and books, lend themselves to linear thinking. Digital content, such as websites and social media, lend themselves to 3D thinking.

We must learn to communicate with both linear thinkers and 3D thinkers.

To make books accessible to people who process in 3D, we should put content in short, self-contained sections, provide sidebars and ancillary information, offer links, and make content easy for readers to scan.

To make websites and social media accessible to people who process linearly, we should put content in a format allowing sequential access, offer structure to those who seek it and provide indexes or directories.

Our world contains both linear and 3D thinkers. If we only address one group, we ignore half the market.

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Writing and Publishing

What Are the Chief Weakness of Self-Published Books

As I read more and more self-published books, I’m dismayed over a reoccurring theme: many lack robust editing. That’s not to imply these works had no editing at all, most did. It’s just that they lacked full editing.

The first reminder to every writer is we can’t truly edit our own work. True, we must self-edit, but we delude ourselves if we think we’ll catch every error. Traditional publishers subject books to multiple edits before publication. To do our work justice, self-published works deserve the same scrutiny.

Though the names vary and their definitions sometimes overlap or even contradict, I’ll share four types of edits, using generic labels.

Edit Type 1: Fact-Checking

As an author, we need to double-check our facts, especially when we self-publish. It’s possible that someone else may catch our errors, but more likely they’ll just assume what we wrote is correct. One book had the protagonist make a 200-mile drive in 90 minutes. Oops. Another common mistake is relying on memory for historic information. Don’t do that; I always verify, even when I’m sure I’m right.

Edit Type 2: Macro Edit

Sometimes called developmental or substantive editing, whatever name this edit goes by, the intent is to look at the big picture of the book. Is the overall structure sound, the organization good, and the flow understandable? I’m currently reading a memoir and the author’s timeline jumps all over the place, often backward and forwards, several times within each chapter, making the chronology overwhelming to follow. Other considerations are if the right style is used or if the voice matches the genre and supports the story or theme. A “macro edit” addresses all these concerns.

Edit Type 3: Intermediate Edit

The next level, often called copy editing, of edit takes a closer look at the flow and structure, from paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, and thought to thought. Does the writing make sense?

Edit Type 4: Micro Edit

The final edit usually called proofreading, looks at grammar, punctuation, and the technical details. I read one book that had a quality “micro edit” but lacked any other editing—and the work suffered as a result.

Paying others to edit our work when we self-publish is expensive, but our readers deserve no less and our career demands it.

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Writing and Publishing

Social Media Content

For social media, I post an excerpt from my blog posts on social media, with a link pointing back to that post on my website.

Though social media platforms prefer you don’t do this, because they want to keep you on their site, I want to get people to my site. That’s what is most important to me. That’s why I tease the post on social media and send them to my site to read the full piece.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to repeat the whole post on social media, and it’s too time-consuming to write a new post just for social media.

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Writing and Publishing

Identifying Speakers in Dialogue

How to Identify Speakers in Dialogue

Here are some options to identify speakers in dialogue.

1. Tag your dialogue with any descriptive word other than said, such as exclaimed, interjected, sputtered, yelled, and so forth. I learned this in Middle School and followed it for many years. Now the recommendation is to avoid doing this, as it singles lazy writing. I prefer to show the speaker’s emotion instead of stating it. For example:

Bruce narrowed his gaze and pursed his lips. “I can’t believe you did that,” he said.

I far prefer that to “I can’t believe you did that,” Bruce snarled.

I only use a descriptive tag if I feel it will make the passage stronger.

2. Only use said. While we need to identify the speaker, most readers skip the connecting word—or so I hear. Some people feel that using anything other than said is an annoying speed bump. Some people even recommend doing this for questions, as in: Then Gene said, “How long will you be gone?”

I generally use said when I need a dialogue tag, but I still use asked for questions.

3. My preference, however, is to use context to identify the speaker. In this way I minimize the use of dialogue tags and let the surrounding text show who the reader is, as in this exchange:

Ben stared at the book in his trembling hands. “You mean I get to keep this?”

Sue’s eyes danced. “Yes, it’s a gift.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“How about thank you?”

“I so appreciate this.” Ben blinked three times, fighting to hold back tears. “Thank you. This is wonderful.”

In this passage, there are no dialogue tags at all, but the context shows us Ben is the first speaker and Sue, the second. Since this is a rapid exchange, readers understand that Ben then replies to Sue, and she responds in the fourth line. Then to make sure readers don’t get confused, the fifth line confirms Ben is talking.

This takes more work to write, but it seems this is the current trend and strikes me as powerful writing.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Why Accuracy in Writing is Important

Last week I experienced the importance of accuracy.

With anticipation I opened an article submission. The topic was relevant and novel.

My excitement, however, waned as I read his opening sentence. The author stated the earth’s population was 6.2 million. I thought there are over seven billion people on our planet, so I sought confirmation. Indeed we surpassed the seven billion mark a couple years ago. His number was wrong, out dated. That’s when I realized his second error, a typo: million instead of billion.

Spotting two factual errors in the first dozen words caused me to question the accuracy of the entire piece. I almost rejected the submission at that point, but I continued reading.

Then the author wrote that Mandarin is a lesser-known language. I questioned that as well. An online search confirmed my suspicion. Around a billion people speak Mandarin, more than English and Spanish combined.

I became angry over the article and mad at the author. Surely the writer had accuracy issues or just threw something together without much thought. I knew if I wanted to run this piece, I’d need to carefully scrutinize every sentence and check each assertion. I didn’t have time for that.

Had I not caught his errors, running the article as submitted, the author would have lost credibility and my magazine would look sloppy. This would turn off readers and damage our reputations.

But what if this wasn’t an article and instead related to a book?

  • If egregious errors exist in a query letter, an agent or publisher will not ask for the proposal.
  • If mistakes pop up in a proposal, the full manuscript will never be requested.
  • And if the book opens with the blunders I encountered in this article, the work would risk dismissal before the reader reached page two.

When you invest time and energy in writing a book, don’t let sloppy errors torpedo your efforts. Although I persisted with this article despite glaring mistakes, had they occurred in a book query, proposal, or manuscript I’d have summarily dismissed the entire project.

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Writing and Publishing

Ghostwriting Rates

I didn’t know what I was doing for the first book I ghostwrote and charged in the mid-four figures. But it was an easy project, so my compensation worked out okay.

My second ghostwriting experience was much more involved, and I charged twice as much. The fees for that book turned out okay, as well.

I understand that the minimum going rate for an experienced ghostwriter is $15,000, with established ghostwriters in the $25 to $35,000 range. (And I’ve heard of much higher numbers too.)

As a means of comparison, Book In A Box, now called Scribe, is a business that offers a turnkey solution to authors. Scribe will ghostwrite, edit, and publish a nonfiction book for $36,000. They may effectively be your competition.