Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · Uncategorized · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 2 continued

More on the “Who?”: Developing Characters

"WHO?" Vector Overlapping Letters IconCharacters are the heart of every story, and writing characters can be one of the joys—and headaches—of storytelling. For me, once the characters come to me, they stay in my head until their story is finished. They don’t always agree with me, either! Sometimes they will stop right in the middle of a scene I’m wrestling with, turn to me, and say, “I wouldn’t do that.” (And yes, thanks to my theater background, my characters do often stop to talk to me.)

The important thing for a writer to remember is that characters must evolve throughout a story. They can’t be wholly good or wholly bad all the time. Even really good people have flaws—doubts, uncertainties, petty complaints, anxiety, irritability—and even characters who are truly evil weren’t born that way and will have something from their past worth exploring. If we want our characters to be realistic for our readers, they must be fully-developed, three-dimensional personalities. Otherwise, they won’t be believable. And they must change from the first page to the last, or there won’t be any story.

Naming of Characters: Does It Matter?

I have been known to spend a lot of time looking for just the right name for a character, but sometimes it’s just a matter of what sounds right at the moment of creation. To me, the only really important things to think about are that each name should “fit” the character (is he an “Ed” or an “Edward”?), and each should be unique enough for the reader to easily keep the characters straight. For example, I personally don’t like reading a story in which Pam and Cam are best friends (unless, of course, mistaking them for one another is part of the story). It would be much easier to keep the characters straight if it were Pam and Cindy.

Sometimes a name’s meaning can also weigh in on my decision. I actually like to search the Internet for baby names, their meanings and origins. I’ll do the same for surnames, if I want a character to be of a specific nationality. For example, in my Cat & Mac Mysteries, I did both. Cat is Catherine O’Sullivan. She was born to a Haida mother and a white father in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. She also happens to be a shapeshifter who becomes a cat. The name Catherine means “pure and clean,” while O’Sullivan means “descendent of the black/hawk-eyed one.” These definitions helped me define her personality and character. I named Mac in the same way. He is a man who spends his life finding and protecting the innocent. His full name is Cahal (from Cathal, meaning “a great warrior”) MacAlastair (meaning “defender of the people”). Again, his name helps to define his character.

Do I go through this in-depth naming exercise with all my characters? No, because sometimes it doesn’t matter so much. For example, I used Samantha for my heroine in A Chance for Life, simply because she was supposed to have grown up a tomboy, and I thought “Sam” or “Sammie” would be a good nickname for her. Names, like story ideas, can literally come from anywhere.

When Describing Characters, Show . . . Don’t Tell!

Readers want to know what your characters look like, and we have all read books in which the narrator simply provides a physical description of the characters. But describing a character can be more than just giving their basic “five-two, brown, and black.” If that’s all you give your readers, then you are missing a great opportunity to flex your “show, don’t tell” muscles and really tell your readers about your character while describing his or her appearance. A character description can do more for the readers than simply tell them what a character looks like. For example . . .

You could simply tell your reader what your character looks like:

 Jane was short, with brown eyes and curly black hair.

Or you can show your reader what your character looks like—and a lot more…

 Jane gave up on getting the brush through her wildly curly black tangles and settled for pulling her hair back in a scrunchie. She had to stand on her toes so she could see her entire face in the bathroom mirror she shared with her older sisters, who had both been blessed with their Scandinavian mother’s tall, willowy build, striking blue eyes and silky, easily-tamed blond locks. Only Jane had inherited their father’s Mediterranean olive complexion, boring brown eyes, wild black hair, and short, skinny build. On a good day, she was thankful that, unlike the other women in her family, she didn’t have to trowel sunscreen on whenever she took a walk on the beach. On a bad day, she avoided going to the beach at all, since she didn’t have anything to fill out a bathing suit with, something her sisters wouldn’t hesitate to point out to their friends.

Short, brown, and black, sure, but now we also know (1) she has a dark complexion; (2) she’s envious of her sisters’ contrasting appearance; (3) she resents her sisters’ teasing her about her own appearance; (4) she has a boyish figure (doesn’t like to wear a bathing suit in public); and (5) she thinks her life would be better—or least less stressful—if she looked more like her mother and sisters.

So be creative! What can you character’s appearance tell the audience about his or her personality and lifestyle? Character descriptions can really add a lot to the story, if you’re willing to take the time to go beyond just the facts.

Next time, we’ll look at secondary, or supporting, characters and what they can add to a story.


team.Laura.120x140

 

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

 


 

 

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Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 2

 Finding the Who? . . . What? . . . When? . . . Where? . . . and Why? of your story.

Whether you write fact or fiction, the traditional “five Ws” of writing must be given to your readers so they can know what the story is all about. Some writers will also add the “How?”—some stories demand it—but the key is getting all that information to your readers in a timely fashion and without boring them, so they keep turning the pages.

questions_framedI used to think short story writers had the real challenge. After all, if I’m writing an 85,000- or 100,000-word novel, I have plenty of time to get everything into the story. I was wrong, of course, because the truth is, if you want your readers to keep turning the pages, you have to give them a reason to continue reading. So the who, what, when, where, and why need to appear somewhere in the first few pages, perhaps even on the first page, in order to let readers know what the story is about and give them a reason to keep turning the page. This doesn’t mean you have to give all the characters’ secrets away right at the beginning, but it does mean you have to at least introduce everyone and let your readers know your characters do, indeed, have secrets.

There is a good reason prospective agents and publishers want only the first five pages or the first +/-5,000 words—no matter how long your story is: They don’t have time to read more if the story isn’t worth their time. So if you want your stories to be read, you have to treat every potential reader as a potential buyer and ask yourself, “What can I give them up front to make them want to read beyond page one?”

Starting with the Who: Major, or Primary, Characters

You may or may not start writing your story with a character—you might think of a place or an event first—but as your story develops, you will eventually—and probably fairly early on—need to examine and evaluate the characters as they come along and ask that defining question: “Who is this story really about?”

This may seem a ridiculous question, but I learned early in my writing career that it is an important one. My first sci fi novel (not published) was about two women, both outcasts for different reasons, who meet at a space academy, become friends, and do well enough to both be assigned to the fleet’s flagship. One of the women disappears while on shore leave, and the other spends the rest of the book convincing her captain that her friend’s disappearance was due to foul play—not a dereliction of duty—and she needs rescuing.

One critique I had from an early reader was, “Whose story is this?” The thing is I had intended it to be a story about both women, but this reader didn’t see that. So if I ever do rewrite the book—and I do plan to rewrite it as one of my Commonwealth Chronicles—I will need to work on that one important point. If I want the story to belong to both characters, I can still write it that way to some extent, but I’m also going to have to decide, which is the primary character? Which character’s story is the one that will keep readers’ interest peaked to the end of the story?

The Challenge of Multiple Major Characters: Beware of “Head-Hopping”

One of the challenges of writing two or more major characters into a story is the danger of “head-hopping,” or switching point of view (POV) within scenes. I don’t know of a major best-selling author today who doesn’t do this—with varying degrees of success—but the writing instructors seem to be adamant: Do not change POV within scenes!  There are popular titles out there whose books I have difficulty reading because of this habit. There are times when I will need to reread a page or two to figure out who’s saying or thinking what. So keep that in mind as you write a multi-character scene. If the story requires a change in POV, give the reader some notice—for example, a double space between paragraphs—so they know you’re doing it intentionally. I mean, if the gal jumps overboard, then you might need to switch to the guy left standing on the deck, but put that extra space in, so your reader understands you’re now in his head. I do recommend against having multiple characters reacting to an action or dialogue within the same scene all the time. It can be very confusing to the reader.

One exercise you can use to break yourself of the habit, if it’s something you do regularly, is to step back for a time and try rewriting the same scene multiple times, each from the POV of a different character. It might surprise you to learn just how different each version reads. You can then go back to the original question, “Whose story is this?” You might be surprised by the answer, but it should help you to rewrite the scene where it belongs.

I personally try to stay in one character’s head throughout an entire chapter. This is particularly true for any romantic or heavy-action scenes, because when emotions run high, it can be difficult to distinguish who’s thinking what in the heat of the moment. In my Cat & Mac Mysteries, I try to give Cat and Mac alternate scenes, so the reader keeps seeing them both fully engaged in the story. Occasionally, I will switch heads within a scene, but I do it only rarely and only when a scene, because of the action, specifically calls for it. And when I do, I always use a space between paragraphs to signal the reader the POV switch is coming.

 The next time we’ll look at more on the Who?: Developing characters.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

 

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 1

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at the process of writing a story, from conception to submission. Today, we’ll ask the question, “How does a writer begin a story?” This is, of course, much like asking an artist how he paints what he paints or how she sculpts what she sculpts. Where do songwriters begin—with the music or the lyric? Creativity comes from many sources, and for most writers I know, a story can come from any number of places, with most writers citing more than one, depending upon the story.

 Planning vs. Inspiration 

Birth of IDEA. Concept background.These two concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to storytelling, and for many writers, they often overlap. Writers who write for publications, such as newspapers and magazines, will often be assigned stories, whether nonfiction or fiction. Some writers are particularly good at taking an assigned topic or theme and running with it. Even assigned academic writing can be inspired by personal interest in a related topic. Don’t let the “assignment” get in the way of your creativity!

For me, an assignment is a mixed blessing in both nonfiction and fiction writing. While it can be stifling if the topic really holds no interest for me, it can also open a window to a whole world of interesting research and writing. As a ghostwriter, I’ve often been assigned a topic or scenario. I have ghostwritten a romance series set in a contemporary Old Order Amish community, on the nineteenth century Oregon Trail, and in a fantastical world of shapeshifters—all assigned scenarios for short stories, yes, but I was able to create original characters and plots, letting my imagination free within each assignment.

5183gwhjx6l._sy346_If you are having trouble getting started writing a story, sometimes the best thing to do is to go ahead and assign yourself a general topic or scenario and see where it takes you. My Cat & Mac Mysteries came from a practical desire to write an e-book series I could quickly put up and sell in Kindle Direct Publishing. I’d never written mysteries before, but my research found the best-selling Kindle e-books were short mysteries written in a series, so that’s what I set out to do. From there I picked a city I knew fairly well and let my imagination run free, writing a single murder mystery which has led to four more episodes and counting. Each new story in the series has required an inspirational spark to get it going, but I’m happily continuing to play in my Cat & Mac universe.

 Places to Start

If you are having difficulty getting started writing stories, search the Internet on “writing prompts.” There are hundreds of them available at any number of Web sites for writers. Do some searching, and “assign” yourself a prompt, then let your imagination carry you to wherever it wants to go. Browse through a magazine and study the images. Ignore any captions, and see if you can find a story in any of the pictures you find. I, personally, have written the first 58,000+ words of a novel inspired by a single image I saw on television one evening almost two years ago. The story has a long way to go, but that image remains clear in my mind and continues to inspire the story whenever I sit down to work on it.

 Inspiration Is Everywhere

Pure inspiration can come from anything, so go for it! Either think of what you want to write, and keep your eyes open for inspiration, or start exploring the world around you with an eye for story ideas. You can literally start anywhere: a photo, a real-life news story, something you overhear on the bus, a personal experience, a movie, an odd dream . . . the possibilities are endless. The key is to think like a writer, that is to continuously consider the story potential of everyone and everything you encounter.

The next time we’ll look at the importance of identifying the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of your story.



by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling

END OF THE YEAR/NEW YEAR’S WRITING RESOLUTIONS

Now that I’ve talked about The Power of Story and how research can improve our writing, I’d like to spend some time on the original purpose of this blog: storytelling. But before you can start telling a story, the first question to ask is, “Okay, so what am I going to write?”

lightstock-social-graphic_96173bf1b4 (1)Whether a new writer or one with years of experience, it is always a good idea for us to sit down as the calendar changes over to a new year and ask ourselves, “What do I want to write?” or, more specifically, “What do I want to accomplish with my writing in the coming year?” One of my writing groups decided we were just too busy to have our usual Christmas party this year, so instead we’re planning a New Year’s party for our first meeting of 2019. And we decided at our last meeting that at the party, members will have the opportunity to share their 2019 Writing Resolutions.

Unfinished Business

If you’re like me, you have a whole bunch of writing projects just waiting for your attention. On the back burner, I, myself, have two unfinished novels, a screenplay, and a series of short stories.

The first unfinished novel is the sequel to one of my published books (currently out of print). The sequel now stands at 50 pages and 16,736 words. I stopped writing it back in May because the publisher of the first book went under, and the sequel can’t go anywhere until I figure out what to do with the first book.

I have another novel, which got as far as 168 pages and 58,200 words last February, before I had to abandon it in favor of a paid ghostwriting job that came in. I would dearly love to get back to this book, and completing it would make a terrific goal for 2019.

I also have an e-book mystery series which could really use some new episodes. I published Episodes 1 through 4 individually in Kindle Direct Publishing and then as Volume I in print this past summer. It would be really coo, if I manage to write 4 new episodes and publish Volume II in print by September 2019 in time for our local Writers’ Symposium. The only problem is I’ve only completed Episode #5, and I barely have an idea for Episode #6, so I really have my work cut out for me!

The first project on my to-do list, however, is a screenplay based on that out-of-print novel, since I’d like to sell it as a movie before I republish it as a book. This is my “dream” project, the one that could garner me an agent but also kind of scares me. Is it guaranteed to sell? Absolutely not. But I have learned over the years that if I don’t at least try, I’ll never know what might have been.

Making the Effort

This is a key step for a writer: forget the fear factor and make the effort. I have writing friends who want to write a novel but have never started one, simply because they’re afraid of it. They don’t think they could ever finish it, and even if they did finish the writing, they don’t think anyone would want to publish it. But truly, we won’t know until we try, and even if you never sell the first book you write (I certainly didn’t), even if you don’t self-publish the thing (I haven’t done that either), the experience of actually completing a book-length manuscript is a huge step toward learning and polishing your storytelling craft.

 Identifying Your Writing Goals

So what will your 2019 Writing Resolutions look like? Will you promise yourself you’ll write that first story or article and submit it to a magazine or newspaper or anthology? Is your goal one story? One story a quarter? One story a month? Do you have that novel inside you just waiting to come out? Will you start it? Will your goal be to finish it in 2019? Will you start a blog? An e-book series in Kindle? A regular article submission to your local newspaper? Will you learn new writing software? Learn how to format a book in an old one? Attend a writers’ conference? Join a writers’ group? Whatever you decide, do yourself a favor: write down your goals, and give yourself deadlines. You don’t have to necessarily stick with the list—or the deadlines—but trust me: you will be more likely to complete something if you give yourself a due date.

Here are my own Writing Resolutions for 2019:

1. Complete/submit A Chance for Life screenplay by March 1st;

2. Write and publish 3 more Cat & Mac Mysteries e-books by September 1st; publish Volume II in print by September 15th;

3. Finish the Chance sequel rough draft by December 31st and pursue publishing options for both books.

Big goals? You bet! Will I accomplish every one? Not likely—but then I haven’t lost that 20 pounds, yet, either, and that’s been a New Year’s resolution for the past six years!  Will I be satisfied if I don’t complete the list? Yes . . . as long as I have made some progress on all three projects.

 So what do you want to accomplish as a writer in 2019? You’d best start brainstorming—January 1, 2019, is only a few days away!

The next time we’ll start discussing the process of writing a story.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Christian ghostwriter · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend, Part 6

The Details That Help Build a Story: Historical Stuff

This is a great time to be a writer of historical fiction because of the mass of historical documents being digitized and put up on the Internet every year. Historical societies, historynational historic sites, associations, colleges and university libraries, museums, and other organizations all seem to be adopting the new technology in order to put their collections online. Some require membership to access, but many of them are free to use by anyone.

One of my personal favorites for American history items is the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/collections). So much of this rich collection has been digitized, from photographs and documents that go back centuries to audio recordings from as far back as World War I. WARNING: If you are a history buff, you can get lost in these collections and spend hours perusing American History, Performing Arts, War & Military history . . . and so much more.

Another useful tool, the Google Advanced Search (see my October 5 post), can be a big help in locating digitized images of original historical documents. I’ve talked about historical maps before, but there are also early books, diaries, timetables—there doesn’t seem to be any limit to what you can find, if you can build the search to find it.

I once worked as a ghostwriter on a series of Christian romances set on the Oregon Trail between 1836 and 1861. As someone who grew up in Washington State, I knew something about the topic from my school years, but I needed factual details to add realism to my stories. The good news is there are Oregon Trail historic sites all along the 2,200-mile trail, and many of these are digitizing their collections. I was able to find maps of the trail as it developed over the years, railroad maps showing how people traveled from points east to Independence, Missouri, photographs of camps, labeled drawings of  covered wagons, and even the text of a nineteenth century Oregon Trail travel guide, which covered what to take and how to pack it, including how many pounds of bacon, flour, coffee, etc., so when my characters headed west, they had what they needed and nothing more.

Another ghostwriting job I did was about a late nineteenth century mail order bride. My client had a city in Colorado she wanted me to use, and she wanted her character to travel there in a specific year by rail. There was only one problem: The Union Pacific went as far as Denver that year, but the line farther south had not been built  yet. How did I know? My research on historic rail lines not only netted me nineteenth century railroad maps showing where they went by decade, it also found another gem: a railroad timetable for just a year before my client wanted her story set. So I not only knew where the railroad went, but I also knew when and where it stopped, how long it took to get from point A to point B, and how my character could connect to a stagecoach line to make that last leg of her journey.

So you can find a treasure among digitized historical documents to help bolster your story, and though you sometimes just need a simple historical fact, however simple an item sounds, as I’ve said before, you still need to get it right, or you will lose your audience. For example, one of my science fiction novels is about a pilot from a Commonwealth of Planets who crash lands in the Sierra Nevada in 1873. The first half of the book reads like a time travel story, as my character struggles to fit in on primitive Earth. Historical research was necessary to keep the setting realistic. For example, did they have matches in 1873? Yes, they had been invented, but no, they would not have been using them yet in the American West, so as I edited my first draft, I replaced matches with flint and steel.

Language, especially, can be tricky. I don’t know anything that turns me off faster from a historical novel or movie than the characters speaking modern American English. If you have a word that is either slang or has to do with technology, be sure to look it up! For example, a quick plain-language Google search o, “When was the word gadget first used?” finds the word is a late nineteenth century (1884) nautical term from the French word gâche. So my 1873 characters do not use it—at least not until they leave Earth and return to the Commonwealth!

The old adage, “never assume,” is never more true than when dealing with historical information, and as was true with the cultural stuff, don’t depend on Hollywood to teach you what you need to know about an unfamiliar historical period.  For example, though the prairie schooners used on the Oregon Trail were built by the Conestoga Company, they were not “Conestoga wagons,” which were much larger and heavier freight wagons that proved too heavy for the rugged Oregon Trail. And despite what you see in the movies, most pioneers used oxen to pull their wagons, not the more romantic horses or even mules, because (1) oxen could survive on poorer feed; (2) oxen could travel farther in a day than horses; and (3) the natives were less apt to try to steal oxen. So I hitched oxen to all the covered wagons in all four of my Oregon Trail stories!

Next time we’ll continue by looking at online resources for time-sensitive topics: the legal, medical, and technical stuff.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 
Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links 
Christian ghostwriter · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend: Part 1

researchFor writers, research is NOT an option—even when writing fiction. Why not? Because it is the thing that puts reality into a story, that allows your readers to participate in the “suspension of disbelief” we, as authors, need for our stories to work.

I’ve mentioned before that old adage, “Write what you know.” What you need to remember is how you know what you know can vary with what you’re writing. Stories are quicker and easier to write if our characters work at a job we’ve had or live in a city where we’ve lived, but that doesn’t mean we can’t write about what we don’t know right this minute, as long as we do the research so we do know it before we write the story.

Albert Camus once wrote, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” I couldn’t agree more, but it’s critical to get the facts right within the lie so as to capture and keep the attention of our readers. It really is all about the details, because if you get the details wrong, you’ll lose your audience.

Case in Point

I once attempted to read a book that managed to keep my attention only until somewhere in Chapter 2, at which point the author proved herself to be as much of an airhead as her heroine was. It was a dark and stormy night, and said heroine was frightened by the thunder and lightning. She attempted to figure out how close the storm was by counting the seconds between—wait for it!—the thunder and the lightning. I kid you not! The character listened for the thunder clap then attempted to count the seconds until the lightning flashed.  I used to think everyone knew that light travels much faster than sound, but . . .

A friend of mine used the same scenario in one of her books, and unfortunately she also got it wrong. She did have her character counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, but she had her character count two seconds between the flash and the boom and estimated the lightning was two miles away. The problem, of course, is that her calculation was wrong, and the lightning was really less than a half-mile away—which can make a big difference when your character is running across an open field in the middle of a thunderstorm.

How do I know? Well, besides counting the seconds between flashes and booms all my life, and knowing that approximately every five seconds is a mile between the lightning and me, for my story, I did the research! I did a quick Google search and found this: (1) the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second; (2) the speed of sound within our atmosphere is 1,125 feet per second; and (3) a mile is 5,280 feet. Doing the math, we learn sound travels one mile in 4.69 seconds, so if your character is counting, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi . . .” and the “boom” comes at about “five,” the lightning is about a mile away.

I used this in one of my own novels. My librarian and a bunch of kids are cut off from town by a horrific thunderstorm, and she sends two of the older boys out to her car to get the groceries she’d bought on her lunch break because flash flood warnings were up, and it didn’t look as though anyone was going home that night. I let my librarian and the geeky teen count the seconds together following a flash of lightning, so they knew they had a little time. I used this not only as a plot device—it was safe for the kids to run out to the car if they hurried—but also to develop my characters, because when the librarian and the geek together come up with the distance, the other kid—a not-so-studious athlete—asks, “How do you know that?” and my geek explains it in detail as they head out the door. I did not do this to brag about my own accurate research but rather to help establish the boys’ relationship with the librarian—she had a whole lot more in common with the geek than with the athlete—and with one another—the athlete gained a measure of respect for the geek via this encounter.

Why It Matters

Now, you might ask, “What difference does it really make if you don’t get it exactly right? After all, it’s just a story.” But it does matter, because if you get the details wrong, somebody—some reader—is going to notice, and a factual error can (1) pull a reader out of your story, and (2) damage your credibility as a writer.

With the ready availability of the Internet, we writers really don’t have any excuse for getting the facts wrong. Look it up. Get it right. Always confirm what you think you know. Even when I was working as a reference librarian, I never gave a fact to a patron that I hadn’t first looked up in a reliable source, so I could give the patron both the information and the source. Don’t disappoint your readers. Have the same respect for both them and your story.

Next week, we’ll start to look at some of the details that can help build a story’s reality—and some of my favorite research tools with which to find them.

Please visit Christian Editing Services. Laura is a ghostwriter on the CES team.

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Questions Writers Ask, Part 3

Do I need an agent to get a publisher or should I just self-publish?

This is one of those “it depends” questions. It depends on your priorities for yourself as a writer and your aspirations for your work. If it’s important to you to be published by a known, commercial publisher, then yes, you do need an agent, because very few—if any—of today’s publishers will accept an unsolicited manuscript submission without agent representation.

I personally have never had any luck finding an agent, though I’ve spoken with a number of them at various writers’ conferences and submitted to others I’ve found through online research. I find today’s publishing world something of a disappointment, as agents assure me that no publisher will even consider my work if I do not have, at the time of my submission, (1) an active blog with X number of followers; (2) a successful webpage with X number of followers; (3) an active Twitter/Instagram/whatever account with X number of followers, and . . . Well, it goes on from there as the technology develops. Basically, what an agent will tell you is that in today’s publishing world, the author must do all the marketing preparation for his or her book before it is even considered by a publisher. In fact, in my experience, even an agent won’t look at your book, unless you can show you already have a marketing plan ready to roll.

Gone are the days when a publisher pays an writer for a book they want to publish and then goes on to market and sell it for the author. Bummer! On the other hand, this is a great time to self-publish, as all sorts of opportunities are currently available, with new ones cropping up all the time. And if nothing else, you, the writer—unless you’re already a best-selling author or a famous personality who can sign a lucrative contract—will earn a lot more per copy sold if you self-publish than you will with a commercial publisher. Most of us who self-publish have decided that if we’re going to have to do all the marketing work, anyway, we might as well get a higher percentage of the sales!

You do have to be very careful of what used to be called “vanity” presses. There are a lot of them out there, and some do very good work, but I’ve known authors who have spent literally thousands of dollars and waited years for their book to be published by one of these—or found themselves fighting to get their publication rights back from one, so they could publish someplace else.

After being thoroughly cheated by one of the so-called “Christian” publishers, I can say with some authority that before you go with any publishing company that requires money up front from the writer, do your research, both online and among writers you know and trust. My personal experience taught me that it’s a very hard—and very expensive—lesson to learn, if you make a mistake.

That being said, there are free self-publishing services out there, including Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. The former will be disappearing in the not too distant future, as Kindle takes over Amazon’s entire publishing arm, but I am confident KDP will become as good as CreateSpace at publishing print books before that happens.

The biggest drawback to using either service is you have to do all the work of manuscript preparation, cover design, and uploading—or hire someone who knows what they’re doing to do it for you. On the other hand, the only cost associated with publishing a print book in CreateSpace is the cost of the print proof copy. Since this is a print-on-demand service, the cost of printing remains relatively low, you can order as few or as many copies as you need, and the turnaround is, in my experience, surprisingly quick. You also get access to Amazon’s vast international market for anything you publish with them.

Publishing company staff flying toward an open book and working in it.
Christian Editing Services

Of course there are also companies like Christian Editing Services that can do the more technical aspects of self-publishing for you if you don’t have the experience working with layout and design. It can be quite overwhelming to face doing it all on your own—headers, footers, pagination, notes, chapter headings, tables of contents, indexes, title pages, copyright notices, dedications, cover design, etc.—and depending on your circumstances, it can be worth your while to hire these things out, especially since doing so will leave you free to do what you do best . . . write! At Christian Editing Services we can do everything except the actual printing, and we can prepare a print-ready file for CreateSpace or whatever printer you choose.