This blog will touch on the experiences I have as a writer (not to be mistaken for my experience as a writer, i.e. how many books I've written, etc); the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the grief, the satisfaction and the frustration, the magic and the reality - have I left anything out, oh yeah, the rejection, rejection and more rejection, the humiliation and the embarrassment, the jealousy and the resentment - that pretty much covers it, except for why I do it which perhaps I'll realize along the way. Are you totally confused? Good, let's begin.
Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen is a story about New Yorkers, though not necessarily those native to the city, but those who have become successful and thrive on its energy and eccentricities.
Nora Nolan and her husband, Charlie, are two of those people as are their neighbours, a privileged few who live on a street that is unique in that it is short and a dead end, allowing limited access and maximum exclusivity.
What makes this book so entertaining is Quindlen’s excellent characterization and authentic dialogue. Indeed, this book has very little plot at all with the inciting incident not even arriving until nearly halfway through the book.
The event that starts this cliquish neighbourhood unravelling is when one of the neighbours brutally assaults Ricky, the handyman for the entire enclave, with a golf club because he blocked the entrance to the exclusive neighbourhood parking lot.
Though the reader might expect dramatic revelations there aren’t any, everything is resolved in a civilized manner, as befitting these very civilized people.
The worst that Quindlen can evoke is the falling out between some neighbours re-enforcing in this reader that you’re often better off not getting to know people too well.
The ending has some uninspired musing by the protagonist about the road untaken. I had the impression the author hoped an appropriate ending would present itself and it didn’t, or it did, and she didn’t have the courage to write it.
I'm not sure if Alternate Side was an entertaining story about nothing or a story about everything, but nothing specific.
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This year I decided to spend some of my paltry marketing budget entering my novels in a few of the many contests offered on the internet.
I may as well have flushed the funds down the toilet for all the good it did. Most contests hastily cashed my cheque and then didn’t even bother spamming me to advise that I didn't win, place or show.
These for sure are cash grabs for financially beleaguered writing sites, festivals, literary publications or outright scam artists.
The exception so far has been the Writer's Digest Self Published Book Awards that provided a brief commentary from an anonymous judge.
So here are Judge Number 54 comments regarding my submission to The 26th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Not a bad review, but then it did cost $116.45 ($99.49 entry fee + $10.30 postage + $6.66 for the price of the book and shipping)
Entry Title: Abandoned Dreams
Author: Rod Raglin
Judge Number: 54
Entry Category: Mainstream/Literary Fiction
* Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”.
Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4
Production Quality and Cover Design: 4
Plot and Story Appeal: 4
Character Appeal and Development: 4
Voice and Writing Style: 4
This novel uses a distinctive succession of first-person sections that combine to offer an incisive perspective on the loves and fortunes of several characters whose lives intersect in tortured relationships. Musings and actions by the characters as the story progresses create a running succession of candid revelations. Along the way, readers get intimate understandings of what motivates the characters, who cross a wide age range, as they seek to reach their social and artistic goals. Literary and artistic matters including the drive for fame and creativity, as well as cutting criticism, are refreshingly realistic and provide illuminating insights into the minds of writers and artists. How the past and present link up and influence their current lives and activities is skillfully portrayed. Generational aspects, including a visit to an ashram in the U.S., are woven into the multiple relationships and ambitions that stir the narrative.
Overall, the dreams of the past blend into the aspirations of the present as the force of character persists.
More suspense in what will happen, especially as the past is recalled, would enhance the book’s drive. More chapters should end on a suspenseful note to make readers wonder what will happen next. The dialogue is snappy with good use of interior monologue while showing the mind-sets of the characters.
The title is intriguing and spurs interest. The first two lines of the subtitle work, but the third one raises the question of who the “they” is. Perhaps “life” could be used instead. The cover image is interesting, but consider placing an easel between the chairs and a manuscript on one chair to better reflect the contents and themes of the novel.
You can purchase Abandoned Dreams from my Amazon Author's Page at
Stay Calm, Be Brave, Watch for the Signs
One of the reasons I write is to explore contemporary issues through different perspectives. For example, in Book 3 of the Mattie Saunders Series (yet untitled), I’m researching the #MeToo movement and the issue of sexual harassment through the eyes of Mattie, my protagonist.
This investigation that included watching Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and hearing the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford made me reflect on my own behaviour. Did I ever cross the line, that line being the use of force or intimidation to have sex with a woman?
The answer is an emphatic no. Why am I so convinced? To understand, you need some context.
Between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, I tried to have sex with every woman I dated. It was just what you did, and, it seemed the girls I dated expected me to, not that they were all cooperative.
It was a game we played in the backseats of cars and in dark rec rooms.
The necking would start, and hands would search out clasps to undo, pants to slide down or dresses to slip up. There were three inevitable outcomes. The girl would get up and go home, the girl would break off go to the washroom, come back and re-engage only to break off, etc., the girl would go all the way.
Despite the outcome, I didn’t feel different about the girl, though the ones who walked out never dated me again.
I don’t think I was too different, or indifferent than most guys my age at that time, except for me when it came to sex it wasn’t so much the destination, but rather the journey.
Women had to want to have sex with me, that was whole the point. It was all about being cool, attractive and desirable. If I got turned down, and I did, a lot, I told myself it was their loss. I may not have been a nice guy, but I wasn’t a misogynist.
The idea of using anything but charm, appearance and style combined with a confident, cavalier attitude was unimaginable. In fact, intimidation, coercion or force were the antipathies to what was trying to be achieved.
The times have changed dramatically in fifty years, I’ve matured, and my attitude regarding many things has undergone a paradigm shift. What hasn’t changed is my view that using force to achieve your goals is the way of idiots and cowards, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish.
Not surprisingly, Mattie feels the same way.
Keep calm, be brave, watch for the signs
Author's Amazon Page for the Mattie Saunders Books 1 & 2, The Rocker and the Bird Girl and Cold-Blooded
Residential schools operated in Canada for a hundred years and about one hundred and fifty thousand First Nations children were forcibly removed from their parents and their communities and sent to them. The philosophy of these institutions was to kill the Indian in the child so they could better assimilate into white society.
It’s been well documented, indeed even Prime Minister Trudeau has apologized for the physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse these children endured for the ten years they were enrolled.
What isn’t understood is that as well as losing a normal childhood they also lost coping mechanisms, trust, a sense of safety and belonging and future parenting skills. For generations there was a cycle of remove children from their family, culture and support systems; shame, punish and abuse them; and then return them to parents who had undergone the same treatment.
If you don’t have this information, and other information about the cultural genocide perpetrated by the Canadian government, supported at least indirectly by the Canadian people than you cannot begin to understand the struggle of First Nations people in Canada.
I didn’t and now I do, thanks to Lynda Gray’s book, First Nations 101.
In a readable and dispassionate voice, Gray, a member of the Tsimshian Nation and Executive Director of the Urban Native Youth Assoc. in Vancouver, Canada, lays it all out and it’s horrific, unjustifiable and unresolved.
Chapters include identity, social control, community issues, fairness and justice, taxation, health and wellness and arts.
Apologies and commissions aside, First Nations still struggle with poverty and discrimination which are born out by statistics including Indigenous adults representing 4.1 percent of the of the total Canadian adult population — but 26 percent of adults in federal custody.
As they begin to recover from the effects of our assimilation policies and decades of intergenerational trauma all they ask is that they receive justice and fairness and for us to get out of their way so they can get on with the healing and rebuilding of their culture.
At the end of the book, Gray describes what needs to be done by the Canadian government and Canadians individually, and First Nations themselves if both sides are really interested in truth and reconciliation.
Reading First Nations 101 is a good first step.
I want to thank Artsy Ally for pointing out a typo on page 15 in my new release East Van Saturday Night - Four Short Stories and a Novella (EVSN). It has since been corrected on all digital platforms and in paperback. Unfortunately, if you purchased the book in either form before September 28, 2018, you’ve got one with the error in it and maybe a few others that have yet to be discovered.
Artsy Ally, a.k.a. Ally Robertson, is content producer and social media director of Access Television, a non-profit organization that airs “community stories from Vancouver, BC, with a focus on marginalized voices. Produced by volunteers and neighbours.”
I reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in reviewing the above mentioned new release.
The response was interesting.
Robertson asked for a digital copy and said she would “hand it off to someone who may read and review it. If they decide to do a review, we will have you come into the studio for a short interview.”
That sounded encouraging, and I sent an e-pub version immediately. The following day I received her response.
She began by saying “Your stories have merit and I enjoyed the memories they stirred in me. I really enjoyed the chapters with Chris’s attempt at crossing Canada. ... I found East Van Saturday Night to be more like a one story novella with chapters, as the stories are of the same character.”
Robertson then proceeded to tell me she too was a self-published author “at the moment,” and she would “highly recommend you have people proofread your work before you publish. I am trying not to be highly critical, but as a former book publisher who published over 60 authors, I have some experienced suggestions for you. I found there were some issues with the book I just couldn’t overlook.”
Robertson said the book contained “plenty of grammatical errors” as well as “simple spelling mistakes.” Other issues she “just couldn’t overlook” included “un-announced dialogue switching” and “proper scene changes” which the book “desperately needs.”
Her suggestion was to have “a good proofreader go over it and you re-edit.”
I have an incredibly thick skin. I look at constructive criticism as a way to improve my writing. Accordingly, I sent the following response to Artsy.
No offence taken, in fact, thank you for your suggestions.
Scene changes can also be indicated by adding an additional blank line space, which I prefer over asterisks. However, I realize this style works better in print than in digital as the formatting may diminish it or eliminate the space altogether. I plan to take your suggestion and revise the manuscript inserting asterisks to indicate scene changes.
When errors are pointed out, I fix them and upload the corrected manuscript to all my digital and print publishing platforms. New readers will find one less mistake, though unfortunately, that doesn’t help those who have purchased my book with the typo.
When I write, I have two computer programs (Grammarly and ProWritingAid) filter the work. After a minimum of three revisions, I send the manuscript to three beta readers. Despite this rather thorough process errors are still overlooked.
Excuses and expenses aside, I will endeavour to do better.
Robertson replied saying I might be able to “find a student willing to do it (proofread) for $1.00 per page.” She was lucky enough to have her novel, Epic Crazy Love “go through 3 editors and a proofreader long before I re-published it myself.”
So now that you’ve got context let’s draw some conclusions.
Apparently, Robertson doesn’t think three beta readers, two computer editing/grammar programs and the author have the editing prowess of a student paid a dollar a page. Maybe she’s right.
More importantly, though, I’m interested in how well her novel is doing considering it went “through 3 editors and a proofreader” before it was self-published.
Epic Crazy Love was published in April 2017. Here’s the blurb accompanying the book.
Can two reunited soul mates conquer deceit, begrudged malice, extortion, multiple mental and physical traumas and maintain an intense, lasting, abiding love?
To date, Epic Crazy Love has one, five-star review. Here are its rankings on Amazon.
“I did love the story (East Van Saturday Night) itself,” Robertson writes, “but reading it, it was difficult to overlook all of the little things that threw me off as a reader. Paying someone to proofread will really kick it up a notch and make your work great.”
Or maybe not.
But here’s the kicker, Artsy Ally, didn’t pass along my book to the reviewer saying, “Due to the adult content I don’t think it’s a good match for us to review for you, I don’t think it would be something Susan would enjoy reading so I won’t pass it along.”
Add censor to Robertson’s list of accomplishments.
Stay calm. Be brave. Watch for the signs.
Access Television https://www.facebook.com/ACCESSCOMMUNITYTV/
Epic Crazy Love
Author Amazon Page https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU
JJ Carlisle is the worst kind of spoiled; a grown adult with a sense of entitlement and a family that indulges it. Surprisingly, he’s done well or did well. Computer savvy, he hooked up with a tech startup and scored big only to lose it all in the economic crash.
Of course, the downturn in the economy is not his fault; neither is the fact that he never saved a penny of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he made. Now he’s broke, angry and looking for someone to blame.
Participation in Occupy Oakland is the perfect outlet, and during a demonstration, he’s arrested for assault.
Set it Off by Myanne Shelley sounds like it could be an interesting story with contemporary issues, action and politics. It isn’t and here’s why.
Rather than start the story with an action-filled inciting incident - the demonstration and the arrest, Shelley chooses to begin with JJ being bailed out by his sister, Jackie, and step-sister, Karen.
The next few chapters flash back to the three character’s childhoods. It’s backstory and not very interesting at that, though there’s a bit of character development and the reader gets a sense of the relationship between the three.
Then we’re back to the present, and everyone is gathering for their father’s eightieth birthday. There’s lots of reflection but no drama; not even a family feud.
Occasionally, JJ meets up with his pals from the Occupy Oakland movement, but they’re hardly radical and more philosophical than violent.
I kept anticipating something would happen, but nothing does. The story just peters out.
Shelley writes well. Her dialogue is authentic, and her characters are well-drawn, the problem is they’re unsympathetic. Besides being boringly normal, they’re timid and whiney.
But what makes Set if Off so lacklustre a read is the fundamentals of storytelling are missing: Goal, Motivation and Conflict.
The goals of the three main characters are so vague as to be non-existent. Without goals there’s no conflict. How can there be conflict when everyone is more or less satisfied with their situation, or at least too unmotivated to do anything about it?
Add to that Shelley’s passive writing style - the author prefers to have the characters explain what happens than have them actively engage in the events.
These deficiencies represent lack of craft - beginner’s mistakes. They would have been easily identified by peer writing groups or instructors in writing courses. Reading books on how to write fiction can also be helpful though nothing takes the place of an honest, constructive critique by a writing professional.
To date, Shelley has published six books (all free except one at http://www.smashwords.com). Set if Off was one of her earlier works published in 2013.
I’ve certainly improved as a writer since I published my first novel, Saving Spirit Bear. I wondered if Shelley had? I decided to find out.
Already Gone is Shelley’s most recent work published in November 2017.
Glen and Rachel Voight, a married couple in their fifties, are on a brief vacation to New York City. After a day of sightseeing, Rachel has returned to the hotel to gather her energy while her husband continues to sightsee.
She’s waiting for him to return when she learns of a terrorist attack at a nearby nightclub. A man entered the club, sprayed the room with bullets, doused it with gasoline and then ignited it by blowing himself up.
When Glen doesn’t return to the hotel, Rachel’s anxiety mounts. When survivors identify her husband as being present at the time of the attack, and a surveillance camera backs it up, Rachel fears her worst nightmare is a reality. His jacket, found at the scene, confirms it. Because many of the bodies are burned beyond recognition her husband’s death is assumed, though never actually confirmed*.
Weeks after the attack, Nick, Glen’s brother, finds evidence Glen’s laptop has been used after it was assumed destroyed along with Glen in the fire. Was it stolen from the crime scene before the attack? When further anomalies are discovered including links to secret accounts, Rachel is left to wonder if Glen is dead or has just used the opportunity to disappear?
Author Myanne Shelley realistically portrays the emotions of someone thrust into these tragic circumstances while at the same time gradually sowing seeds of suspicion. But her unfolding of the plot takes too long, and in the end, nothing is resolved.
As in the previous novel I reviewed, Shelley does not include any dramatic action scenes; she seems to avoid them, preferring to spend the majority of time in her protagonist’s head replaying the events. Though this may be what traumatized individuals actually do, it doesn’t make for exciting reading.
Shelley writes well with good dialogue, characterization and realistic relationships between her characters, but her story lacks intensity. The other problem that becomes more glaring as the narrative unfolds with the absence of any startling revelations is the lack of motivation.
Why would Glen choose to disappear in such a dramatic way? Why would he inflict such pain on his family and sever ties forever with those he loved? There is no crushing debt, no illegal manipulations of client accounts; no harridan of a wife, nothing that is inescapable.
Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier in every way just to walk away from the relationship? People do it all the time.
After reading two of Shelley's novels written five years apart, I’d say Shelley’s writing has not improved in that time.
Not too long ago I read and reviewed Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maas (you can still find the review in its entirety on this site).
Maas had a few good ideas, but the basic premise was “go big or go home.” Write big stories about larger than life characters in life-altering situations.
Face it, most of us lead mundane lives, at least I do, and when we read a book we want to escape from it and be entertained by charismatic heroes challenged by and intriguing plots. As an author, if you’re not prepared to offer that you’ll have no commercial success, likely no success whatsoever. I’d recommend Shelley read Maas’s book.
But even if she isn't motivated by sales, she should endeavour to learn the fundamentals of storytelling.
Whether she writes to validate her interpretation of the world, seeks the fulfillment of connecting with readers, or simply to appreciate the satisfaction of producing a well-written story, she needs to hone her craft to achieve these goals.
Myanne Shelley has the potential to be a better author and writer; it would be a shame to see it squandered by lack of commitment. Remember what Nietzsche said, “Art is the proper task of life.”
I’d give both Shelley’s books three stars with credit for their evocative covers as well as being professionally produced and edited - error-free.
* Evidently, charred bodies can be confirmed through DNA if there is some idea of who the victim might be so a comparison can be made.
What people are saying about East Van Saturday Night:
"... your writing is fresh, visceral and intuitively captures the rawness of youth and the dark energy of East Van..." and “...chronicles the past so authentically...”
- Al Forrie of Thistledown Press, an independent Canadian publisher since 1975
“Your stories have merit and I enjoyed the memories they stirred in me. I really enjoyed the chapters with Chris’s attempt at crossing Canada. ... I found East Van Saturday Night to be more like a one story novella with chapters, as the stories are of the same character.”
- Ally Robertson, Content Producer and Social Media director of Access Television
Enter to win one of fifty e-book editions at
Author Amazon Page
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
- Oscar Wilde
East Vancouver has become gentrified and at the same time romanticized. It was neither when I was growing up on East 4th Avenue in ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Indeed, it was the neighbourhood you hoped to get out of rather than move in to.
A low-income, blue-collar neighbourhood, adults spent their evenings and weekends in the Legion while their kids were raised on the street. They left home in the morning, showed up for dinner, and were gone again until “the gun” sounded at 9 p.m. I was one of them.
During the time away adventures were undertaken, friendships were forged, and character was created. East Van Rules was not only meant as a challenge, but also a code to live by.
East Van Saturday Night - Four short stories and novella, highlight coming of age events during that era; a ten-year-old playing for the elementary school softball championship, a teenage tough strutting his stuff at the local dance, a hippie youth hitchhiking across Canada during the Summer of Love.
Watershed moments told from a perspective that explains why you can take the boy out of East Van, but you'll never take East Van out of the boy.
Now available in E-book or Paperback at
Jilly Truitt is a young, ambitious criminal lawyer making a name for herself.
When a wealthy businessman, Vincent Trussardi is accused of murdering his young wife, he reaches out to Truitt to defend him. This will be a high profile case with a significant retainer and Jilly is eager to take it on even though the evidence overwhelmingly suggests her client is guilty.
Full Disclosure is Beverley McLachlin’s first novel after retiring as the longest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada for seventeen years, the first women to hold that position and the longest-serving Chief Justice in Canadian history.
As a jurist, McLachlin is formidable, as an author she’s just a beginner, and it shows.
There are a number of plot points in the book that stretched this reader’s suspension of disbelief nearly to the breaking point, but I hung in there expecting some insights regarding the Canadian legal system, the professionals involved and those they prosecute or defend.
There weren’t any. In fact, the lack of originality had me wondering if I hadn’t read this before. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it. The story takes place in Vancouver, Canada, my hometown and hers, and it was fun recognizing the restaurants, landmarks and neighbourhoods where the scenes unfold.
Unfortunately, as the novel draws to an end, and with many questions still unanswered, the author (out of desperation?) resorts to the old, tired technique of having her protagonist goad a suspect, Perry Mason style, into confessing. Of course, this confession is taped on a recorder hidden in her pocket and is used to exonerate her client. See what I mean about lack of originality.
Though it didn't have any real bearing on the novel, I was surprised and disappointed at the author’s treatment of a First Nation person in her story. Though a very minor character, when this young woman is challenged by isolation and unhappiness her choice is to become a drug addict and support her habit by prostitution.
With so many other positive possibilities out there, why did someone of the McLachlin’s stature and presumed sensibilities choose this clichéd depiction of our Indigenous people?
Despite the efforts of the best editors Simon and Schuster employ, I doubt Full Disclosure would have been published had it not been for the author’s significant profile which, like all books written by celebrities, assures at least some sales.
The real test will be McLachlin’s next novel.
The only way I have been able to sell my books is in person, directly to a potential reader.
When I did the math, I realized that I could order my books, mark them up and sell them cheaper than someone could buy them from Amazon, when you factored in the cost of shipping.
Here’s an example: For me to order a copy of Local Rag costs $4.40 CA, plus $2.43 shipping = $6.83 For anyone else to buy a copy of Local Rag from Amazon Canada costs $13.29, plus $4.98 shipping, plus GST 91¢ = $18.95 The difference is $12.12 (I don’t have to collect the GST because my sales are under $30,000 annually).
If I deduct the $2.86 royalty from my Amazon sale, I'm still ahead $9.26. I can offer a $2.00 discount to the purchaser and make more than $4.00 more than I get from a sale on Amazon.
About a year ago, I started researching venues where I could sell my books in person. I rejected flea markets and other events unrelated to literature and soon found opportunities to participate in public readings and talks. You speak briefly about your book or a related topic and sell your work after the event while mingling with the audience.
I took it a step further and developed mini-seminars in self-publishing and memoir writing which I conducted free. The audience was very sales friendly. This system worked at book fairs as well, but since the table rental had to be taken into consideration, I had to be a little more aggressive.
In sales, it’s essential to engage the customer, so you have to get out from behind the table and chat up the passers-by. I printed up cheap bookmarks to give away, had them fill out an entry form (don’t forget their email address) for a free draw of some of my books, and talked about the event, even the other authors.
I’ve made a living at direct sales so this is second nature to me, but even so it was exhausting and not a lot of fun.
After six months I had a decision to make. I now had lots of opportunities to speak, teach and sell my books, but I needed to invest in more stock. If I ordered more books, I’d have to get out there and flog them.
I decided I’d had enough.
So what have I learned?
Selling a book is a lot like writing one. There’s no easy way,
and nobody can do it for you.
Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs.
Amazon Author Page (still the easiest way to sell books)
The internet has a plethora of sites that offer free or deeply discounted e-books to members.
They get their product from authors who are enticed by the opportunity to have a promo template of their book sent free to the site’s membership in hopes that some members will download it, read and review it.
The free offer is a teaser to encourage you to pay for their enhanced list - more members and prolonged exposure.
They also offer a free author interview template. Answer the questions, add your picture and they’ll post it for free.
I discounted Local Rag to 99¢ and submitted it to the four sites listed below, taking advantage of free option only. I work hard to write and produce a decent book and I won't pay to give it away for free.
Like so many things that are free, and I suppose that goes for most free e-books, you get what you pay for. I didn’t see a whiff of interest.
I’ve researched a few authors who have documented how much they spent versus how much they made in sales using this approach. They claim to have broke even, but I have my doubts. I’m reminded of my friend who makes frequent trips to Las Vegas. When he wins, I hear about it. When he loses, well, he’s back talking about the time he won.
The other thing I noticed is that their book sales were not sustained. There may have been a blip, but there was not enough reviews, word of mouth, or buzz, in general, to elevate their book from self-publishing oblivion.
Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs
Discount book sites
My Amazon Book Page in case you want to purchase Local Rag for 99¢ until the end of August
Ursula Le Guin describes Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, as “A handbook for storytellers - writers of narrative prose and not for beginners.”
Indeed, it is not a book for beginners as much of what she addresses would be beyond the comprehension of novices. What it does concentrate on are those problems that challenge writers and impede the tone an flow of the narrative.
For example, she asks you to listen to the sound of your writing which involves diction and syntax.
Sophisticated consideration is given to verbs: person and tense, as well as point of view and changing point of view.
Indirection narration or what tells including avoiding expository lumps is discussed in depth.
There’s an excellent chapter entitled Crowding and Leaping which involves the necessity of focusing on some areas while leaping ahead in other parts while still following a fixed trajectory.
Steering the Craft is primarily a workbook with “exercise consciousness-raisers that aim to clarify and intensify your awareness of certain elements of prose writing and certain techniques and modes of storytelling."
These exercises are challenging but illuminating. I particularly benefitted from one called A Terrible Thing to Do that involved writing a narrative of about 500 words and then cutting it by half still keeping the narrative clear and not replacing specifics by generalities.
The book also includes the best advice I’ve read on running peer group writing workshops.
This slim volume has profound insights on writing and presents them with grace, charm an wit. The goal, according to the author, is to help you develop skills that free you to write want you to write.
Or as Le Guin puts it so that you’re “ready to let the story tell itself; having the skills, knowing the craft so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”
As an independent, self-published author you could spend thousands of dollars to have your book professionally edited, produced and marketed. Despite what you’ve been told it would not guarantee success, in fact, you’d be lucky if you sold enough books to offset the costs.
Knowing this has made me reluctant to pay for these additional services.
Some would argue that’s the reason I’ve had no success. I’m too cheap to pay for the services of professionals to design my covers and edit my manuscripts.
That’s at least partially true, but I maintain the real reason is I’m still not a good enough writer.
I’ve done a lot of stuff to become a better writer, and it's worked, up to a point. What I need now is someone educated and experienced who knows more about the fundamentals of the craft than I do to make constructive suggestions on how I can move forward.
I need a skilled and credible editor.
With my last three novels, I’ve been fortunate to have three dedicated beta readers who have volunteered to read my manuscripts and found hundreds of typos, spelling mistakes and dropped words. They’ve improved the final product immeasurably and yet even after I incorporate all the corrections I still come across embarrassing errors.
But what’s worse, when preparing The Local Rag, my last full length novel, to submit to a competition, I noticed passages that were awkward and poorly written. They were examples of lazy writing, not digging deep enough, or, not having someone to push me to dig deeper. Someone credible who I trust.
There is a plethora of editing services on the internet from freelancers to large companies that tie in editing with other self-publishing services. For example BookBaby https://www.bookbaby.com/book-editing-services/
Copy editing as defined by BookBaby’s Editing Services site includes “a basic word-by-word edit that addresses grammar, usage, and consistency.”
Line editing according to BB is, “A more intensive structural edit that focuses on the finer aspects of language—the flow of ideas, transition elements, tone, and style,” as well as all the services performed in Copy Editing.
At BookBaby the cost of Copy Editing is $7.00 per page; line editing $10 per page. At 255 pages, it would cost $2250 to have The Local Rag line edited.
To recover that cost, I would have to sell 1,020 copies of the paperback edition or 1607 ebooks.
Well, that isn’t going to happen.
What about a computer program that is inexpensive (preferably free) and would at least eliminate most of the errors that were being missed by my beta readers and repeatedly by me?
ProWritingAid claims to be “your personal writing coach, grammar guru, style editor and writing mentor in one software package.” It also has a free version that allows you to upload articles to a maximum of 500 words.
I tried it and was impressed. I checked out a few others and liked Grammarly as well because it focuses on grammar and punctuation and ease of use.
I experimented by uploading chapters of The Local Rag first into ProWritingAid for style suggestions and mentoring(?) and then taking that version with the changes I made and putting it through Grammarly for one final check for grammar and punctuation.
Not only have these two programs eliminated errors, but ProWritingAid has also prompted me to improve things like passive writing, sticky sentences and shows me where opportunities to show rather than tell.
A year’s subscription to Grammarly cost me USD 139.00. I found 25% off coupon for ProWritingAid to bring my annual fee down to USD 37.50.
I plan to ask my beta readers to comment more on the story, now that they don’t have to worry about what amounts to proofreading. Addressing issues like was the opening compelling, did you find the main character sympathetic, was the dialogue authentic, what parts were boring (bogged down in back-story), what parts were exciting (if any), plot glitches, and overall, how could the story be improved would be illuminating.
Frequently, traditional publishers will release a work of fiction by a famous person. Because of author's fame in other endeavours and the curiosity factor of the public, it’s a guarantee that the books by these first-time authors will make money. I make a point of reading these books to remind myself that even the best editors, the most creative cover designers, and a full-press marketing campaign complete with a book tour can’t make a bad book good.
The most recent example of a "celebrity book" that all the professional services in the world couldn’t save was Crying for the Moon by Mary Walsh, a comic icon in Canada.
The next one likely one will be Full Disclosure, the first novel, a thriller, by the former Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLachlin.
You’d think these authors, who have risen to the top of their profession, might have some insights into areas you and I don’t. Maybe they do. But most are long on hubris and short on writing craft and whatever inside information they have isn't worth the effort of reading their book.
I’ll find out if this is the case with McLachlin by and by; I’m number 134 on the list to borrow her book from my local library.
This is the long way of saying editing services, online or provided by a real person, without a doubt will improve your writing. But no matter how much you pay them they can’t make a silk purse out of sow's ear.
I take some consolation in that.
Stay Calm, Be Brave, Watch for the Signs
Website links associated with this blog:
BookBaby Editing Services https://www.bookbaby.com/book-editing-services/
Author's Amazon Page https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU