Guest Posts · Self-Publishing · Writers' Week 2012 · Writing & Freelance

Writing a Book? Set Goals and Stay Motivated.

WriterBy Stacy Ennis

Once writers have a book idea that takes hold, the urge to write can be an unstoppable force. Many go into the book-writing process with a high amount of energy, ready to write until their fingers fall off. They envision their stories, ideas, or business concepts flowing gracefully and concisely onto the computer screen. Many make such claims as, “I don’t ever get writer’s block!” or “I don’t have trouble sitting down and writing every day.”

When I hear statements like these, I usually offer a knowing smile. And behind that smile is the knowledge of two things: 1) Most writers will hit a point when they just can’t write another word, and 2) Many aspiring authors never finish their book projects…and if they do, it’ll take them longer than they ever expected.

So, as you set out to write your best-selling cookbook or the next chart-topping young adult vampire novel, do some planning. A proactive approach to writing the first draft of your book will help you maintain focus and motivation as you accomplish a pretty impressive task. The following tips will help you overcome some of the major hurdles authors face:

#1: Choose a consistent time and space.

Figure out where you write best. Is it at a busy coffee shop? At the kitchen table, with a cup of tea and soft music playing? At the office, once your work is finished and colleagues have gone home? Wherever it is, make sure you have consistent access to that space.

Then, sit down with your calendar and determine how much time per week you have to devote to writing your book. Choose specific times each week that will be given exclusively to writing. If you keep a planner, schedule yourself out to write. Treat that time the same you would any other important appointment.

#2: Outline, outline, outline.

Now that you have your designated writing space and time set aside each week, it’s time to outline your book. Even if it’s just a loose outline, and even if you’re a fiction writer who likes to go with the literary flow, an outline can be a make-or-break thing. Proper planning can help save hours of rewriting, since the structure and main concepts (or story elements) are already established. You know all of those brilliant thoughts that strike you from time to time? How about those pages of notes you’ve been saving to eventually use when you write your book? An outline helps you place your notes, ideas, and research into the right places, as well as helps you visualize where you are in the book-writing process. It also helps you see that the end is in sight when you’re halfway through your draft.

#3: Set goals.

Goal setting isn’t just for losing weight and financial planning; it can be used while writing the first draft of your book, too. Do some research into the word count of typical books in your genre. Then, determine an approximate number of words you can write in the amount of time you have available per week (which you determined in step #1). For example, you might be writing a nonfiction business book and find that your specific niche tends to be in the 30,000-word range. Let’s say you have four hours available per week to write, split between two days, and you can write about 2,000 words in that amount of time, or 1,000 words per session (since you have two two-hour sessions per week). With our example above, it would take 15 weeks, or less than four months, to write a 30,000-word book. Not bad, right?

Next, look at your outline and assign loose word count totals for each chapter. The easiest way to do this is to divide evenly. In our example, let’s say there are eight chapters at 3,750 words each. So, it would take about two weeks to write the first draft of one chapter. Determining per-chapter word counts will help you gauge the approximate amount of time you should be spending on each chapter.

Finally, use these goals as you work on your book. Each writing day, set out to complete 1,000 words, or whatever goal you’ve set. Try to not spend more than the budgeted time on a chapter, unless you really need to. You can always go back later and expand, rework, or revise the chapter. The key is getting the first draft done. You can unleash your perfectionism in later drafts.

Setting small goals helps you accomplish little victories along the way—which can be very important in maintaining motivation to achieve the bigger goal: writing a book.

#4 Tell your friends and family.

Writing is a solo affair, but it’s rarely successful if the author works in absolute isolation. Accountability is one of the best motivators for success. Ask your friends and family to support you as you work on this big goal. Let them know that you need their help to stay motivated and focused, whether it’s verbal encouragement or helping with life tasks. The kids can do some extra chores for a little while, right? And your mom would be happy to help pick Foo Foo up from doggie day care once a week, now wouldn’t she? Just don’t forget to thank them in the acknowledgements section of your book once it’s published.

#5 Take it one bite at a time.

A colleague once told me that writing a book is like eating an elephant—you have to take it one bite at a time. Eat too much, too fast, and you’ll most likely find yourself getting overwhelmed. When you’re working on chapter 1, let it be the only thing in your writing world. Let yourself focus fully on developing that chapter, without getting distracted by the larger project ahead of you. On a smaller scale, focus on the daily writing goal. If you’re aiming for 1,000 words in two hours, then focus on finishing that goal.

#6 Sacrifice: get your butt in the chair.

You weren’t expecting that one, were you? Well, here’s the truth: Writing a book takes sacrifice. It won’t write itself…even if you ask really, really nicely. This sometimes means making personal sacrifices. Dinner with friends or monthly wine tasting may have to be put on hold until you accomplish your goal. But you can do anything for a few months, right? Stick with your goals, get your butt in that chair, and write your book.

#7 Remember: It’s not done.

Many writers make the mistake of believing that their first drafts have to be perfect. This tendency toward perfectionism can be crippling as new authors try to get the first drafts of their books finished. But the truth is that all books go through several drafts—heck, mine took six drafts over seven months! What you are writing now is just the beginning of what your book will eventually become. During later stages, your editor will help you take your book from good to great and transform your first-draft prose into the well-written book you envisioned when you set out on your book-writing endeavor. So don’t get so hung up on writing the perfect book that you never get done writing it.

Thomas Edison must have been talking about book writing when he said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” By setting goals and taking steps to stay motivated, you will be able to put in the work required to finish your book—and achieve a pretty awesome lifetime accomplishment.

[box border=”full”]Stacy EnnisStacy Ennis is a book and magazine editor, book coach, and speaker. Her book, The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great, will be released in September 2012. Visit for more information.[/box]

Guest Posts · Self-Publishing · Writers' Week 2012 · Writing & Freelance

From First Draft to Finished Product: The Editorial Process

By Kelly O’Connor McNees

editorial process self-publishingYou’ve decided to publish your novel or nonfiction book independently, and that makes you more than just the author—you’re also the project manager. As a wise manager, you know that you can’t—and shouldn’t—try to do everything on your own. You need to recruit a team of experts who can help make your book shine, and an experienced, reputable editor should be at the top of your list.

But what, exactly, does an editor do?

As a way of answering that question, let’s examine the editorial process. A book begins as a first draft. Then you revise, revise, and revise some more. Then you ask some early readers—your friends, your mom, teachers or colleagues—to help you figure out what else might need work. You revise a little more. Then, finally, you have a draft you’re ready to share.

Phase One: Substantive/Developmental Editing

You might consider hiring an editor at this phase in the process to get focused, specific feedback based on your goals for the manuscript. Some editors call this substantive/developmental editing, or a manuscript evaluation. An experienced editor understands what makes a novel engaging for readers, and what makes a nonfiction book informative and compelling. She can provide an evaluation that outlines the steps you might take to get the manuscript closer to your goals: Engaging your reader and building an audience for future titles. Specifically, this kind of editing addresses things like organization, structure, plot, character development, pacing, and dialogue.

With this evaluation in hand, you can make one last revision. Now, after all this work, your manuscript reads just the way you want it to. Each chapter begins and ends with a bang. If your book is a novel, each scene is vivid, and the characters’ conflicting desires lead to conflicts that propel the story forward. If your book is nonfiction, your prose is concise but packed with the results of your careful research. This manuscript is ready to become a book! Well, almost.

Phase Two: Copyediting

An important, sometimes invisible last step is copyediting. I say invisible because it seems that we only notice copyediting when it has been done poorly or not at all. And nothing says amateur like an e-book full of grammatical errors, punctuation missteps, and cut-and-paste blunders. Copyediting clarifies meaning, eliminates jargon and repetition, and polishes word choice; it also addresses grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of style so that your manuscript will be clean, professional, and ready to publish.

Finding the Right Editor

The abundance of freelance editors available online is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you have plenty to choose from. On the other hand, some of them don’t really have the skills to serve you well. Before you commit your time and money to this relationship, be sure to find out about a prospective editor’s level of experience, and what kinds of projects he or she has worked on in the past. Ask for testimonials from past clients because good editors will have plenty of happy customers ready to sing their praises. And don’t work with an editor who doesn’t put everything in writing up front: schedule, fees, and a detailed description of the services he or she will provide.

How long?

The editorial process can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the editor’s schedule and the length and complexity of your manuscript. Be patient—good editorial work and revision take time. Focus on doing it well, not quickly. Besides, while you’re waiting to hear from your editor, you can get started on writing your next book!

[box border=”full”]Kelly - Word Bird EditsKelly O’Connor McNees is the founder of Word Bird Editorial Services, and along with colleague Kelly Harms Wimmer, edits traditionally and independently published books by writers of all stripes. She is also the author of two novels, In Need of a Good Wife and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, published by Berkley/Penguin. Follow @wordbirdedits on Twitter.[/box]

Guest Posts · Self-Publishing · Writers' Week 2012 · Writing & Freelance

Attention Writers: 6 Ways to Spot a 5-Star Publisher

By Sara-Jayne Slack

6 ways to spot a 5-star publisherAs the owner of an independent publishing house, reading about the shenanigans of iUniverse on this very site made me feel as though I needed to apologise for the sheer number of bad practices that people within the publishing industry seem to be piling up on authors these days. Whilst I could write at length about what publishers need to do to pull themselves out of the rut they’re in, instead I’d like to offer some advice to you, as writers.

There are a number of different ways you can check that the publishing house you’re looking into isn’t going to leave you high and dry. Of course, these aren’t foolproof, but they will act as a good screening method for when you’re researching who to send your manuscript to.

1.     Quality of past work

Take a look at their catalogue. Do you cringe at the cover art they use? Are all of their eBooks 99p on Amazon Kindle? Download the best looking one to assess writing and editing quality. If these books don’t live up to the standard you’d expect, don’t think that your novel would be treated any differently. Sloppy work is the front-view of a sloppy business. The ONLY caveat I would suggest here, is if their later titles look better in quality to their older ones. Seen in this light, the positive development is actually quite a good thing. It shows a willingness to progress and grow…but if they’re all the same, turn heel and run. (This includes all of the titles having the same sort of cover feel to them. the same font over the same part of a stock-image photograph is a precursor for a distinct lack of imagination on the part of the publisher, not to mention an inability to treat each work individually).

2.     Other authors web presence

Do you recognise any of their authors?  If the names don’t speak for themselves, go and take a look at personal websites and blogs. What sort of Twitter-er are they? Do they come across well? Poor social media presence or personality can be taken as an indicator that the publisher doesn’t spend much/any time helping them to develop their platform. Remember what I said earlier about publishers needing to prove that they add value? Well, this is one of the many ways, and if this development is something you want help with and the publisher isn’t delivering to their other authors, you need to consider just how important it really is, if you want to still sign on their dotted line.

 3.     Good website

There are only so many times I can look at a blog with dodgy graphics and poorly-chosen static pages and wring my hands. If the business doesn’t even have their own domain name, I would be very cautious. For many businesses, websites ought to be seen as a ‘shop window’. Ask yourself the question; “If this was an actual shop window, would I go inside to browse what they had to offer?” If the answer is ‘no’ for whatever reason, simply walk on by.

 4.     Clear information & easy to contact

So their ‘shop window’ looks pretty good, but do they have a clear means to contact them? Is the information on their site clear and concise? Transparency is a huge issue for publishing houses these days (just look at how badly iUniverse failed at this!) If the only way to contact them is via their submission form, then be wary that they hold the reins of contact-ability. This might play against you in the future if you need to call them to find out exactly where your royalty cheque is…

5.     Interactive – they’ll answer your questions and be transparent

I guess this should really be 4.5, since it fits in nicely from my last point. Send the publishers a couple of easy questions about their ethos and project management and see how they respond. If they don’t reply at all, just imagine how good they’d be at communicating with authors who have difficult questions for them. If they do respond in good time (anywhere up to a month, although the less time the better), consider their tone of voice. Do they end with thanking you for your enquiry and to get back to them with any more questions? How transparent are they with their answers?

 6.     They match your values

This isn’t an aspect of finding a publisher that I’ve seen people speaking about all that often. of course, it’s incredibly important to find a publisher who actually deals with your genre, but what about the other, important things? Where do they stand on the eBook evolution? Do they host or attend any special events? Are they affiliated with any charities or other businesses? Heck, are their printed books FSC stamped? It’s important to know who you’re aligning yourself with, and to make sure your values are a good fit. Don’t be afraid to ask these sorts of questions, either! If you’re passionate about literacy in school, send your potential publisher an email, asking about initiatives and their stance on that sort of thing.

Now, I could go on for a while longer with this list, and each of these points could quite easily make its own post…but I did promise to keep it to 6 (short!) items.

I hope I’ve managed to give you all something to think about past the regular ‘look up their testimonials’, because as we’ve unfortunately seen with companies such as iUniverse, that doesn’t always cut the mustard.

Remember: do your homework now, to save later headaches.

[box border=”full”]sara slackSara-Jayne Slack is the owner of Inspired Quill, an ecologically-friendly, people-orientated publishing house. She loves the theatre, huge cups of tea, and telling people her theory that ‘to-do’ lists breed when you’re not looking. Follow @inspiredquill on Twitter.


Guest Posts · Self-Publishing · Writers' Week 2012 · Writing & Freelance

Self-Publishing Fundamentals

By Kim Bookless

self-publishingSelf-publishing can transform the lives of authors and their readers. The concept has been around for hundreds of years but recent technological advances, along with increasing turmoil in the traditional publishing industry, have made self-publishing a popular and easy way to bring a book to life. Aspiring authors are no longer dependent on the whims of editors at the few remaining traditional publishers. With self-publishing, authors now have complete control over when and how their books are published.

Self-publishing authors have to invest time and money, and be willing to push through a learning curve, to bring their books to life. Successful authors avoid self-publishing pitfalls by taking the time to educate themselves before jumping in. When planning to self-publish, an aspiring author should give considerable thought to goals (the purpose of the book and the desired outcome), budget (how much money there is to work with), and method (which parts of the self-publishing work the author will perform and which parts will be hired out).


Most self-publishing authors fit into one of three categories:

  • Personal – Some self-publishing authors write for strictly personal reasons, such as creating a memoir to give to family members. These authors usually have little interest in selling their books to the public so marketing, distribution, ebook formatting, and building an author platform are unnecessary.
  • Prestige – Other self-publishing authors write books for prestige reasons or to position themselves as experts in their field. For these authors, using their books to boost their credibility is more important than making money from book sales. Professional editing and design, and building an author platform, are crucial.
  • Profit – Most self-publishing authors write to make a profit from selling their books. For these authors, every step of the publishing process is critical, including professional editing and design, multiple formats, marketing, distribution, and platform building.


In traditional publishing, the publishing company covers the costs of producing a book, including editing, design, printing, and marketing costs. Few authors who wish to self-publish can perform all the book production tasks without help, and hiring professional service providers can total several thousand dollars or more. There is no guarantee the book will sell enough copies to break even, let alone make a profit, so self-publishing authors should be prepared for the possibility that they won’t recoup their investment.


Self-publishing authors can purchase publishing services a la carte or hire a self-publishing company to handle everything. Authors who choose the a la carte method have to find all of the necessary publishing service providers and manage the entire publishing process. This option is often less expensive than hiring self-publishing companies, but authors will need to invest a bit of time and effort to make it work.

Hiring a self-publishing company usually costs more than going the DIY route but it can make the publishing process much easier for authors. The challenge with this option is to separate the reputable and reasonably priced self-publishing companies from the unethical and overpriced ones. Mark Levine’s book The Fine Print of Self Publishing and his website Book Publishers Compared are excellent resources for choosing and working with self-publishing companies.

Some authors hire a publishing consultant (also called a book consultant or book coach) to manage the process. The consultant educates the author on self-publishing, helps make the necessary decisions, and works to develop a publishing plan. The consultant works with the service providers, oversees the book’s production, and serves as a single point of contact for the author throughout the publishing process.

The Basics of Self-Publishing

Most authors want to make money from selling their books, and profit-oriented authors follow ten basic steps to bring their books to life:


There are many resources to help authors with their manuscripts, including writing coaches and developmental editors. Software programs like Scrivener can help organize manuscripts and make the writing process a little easier. Other writers and trusted colleagues can serve as beta readers and give suggestions for improving a manuscript. Working out manuscript kinks during the writing process will save money on editing later.


It is critical to have a manuscript professionally edited. Industry associations like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) maintain directories of excellent book editors.

Cover design

Book design is an art and a cover is, among other things, an advertisement for the book. Unless the author is a graphic designer with experience in creating book covers, it’s best to hire a professional to create the front, back, and spine cover design.

Interior layout

Authors should hire book designers to format their books’ interiors so that fonts, margins, page numbers, headers, etc., look professional.

Ebook formatting

A good ebook formatter will typically charge a few hundred dollars or less to convert a manuscript into various ebook formats.


Authors who plan to sell their books online or in stores need ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which must be purchased from Bowker. A single ISBN costs $125 and a block of ten ISBNs costs $250. It’s a good idea to purchase a block of ten because each format of a book (paperback, hardcover, Kindle, epub, PDF, audiobook, etc.) needs its own ISBN. Print books also need a barcode, which is a scannable ISBN that is available from Bowker.


An author’s printing needs will depend on the goals for the book. Print on Demand (POD) has eliminated the necessity for authors to order thousands of books just to get a good printing price. Dan Poynter’s book and his website offer information on printing options, as well as warnings on how to avoid unscrupulous POD companies.


Dan Poynter’s book and website give a great overview of book distribution options available to self-publishing authors.

Author platform

Building an author platform is a vital part of book marketing and selling. Just like a real platform, an author platform is a foundation – it’s what an author “stands on” to deliver his message. Jane Friedman’s author platform article is an excellent resource for author platform building.


Self-publishing authors either handle their own marketing or hire people to do it for them. There are many ways to market a book that are free but require the author’s time, such as an author blog, writing guest posts for other blogs, and requesting reviews from book bloggers. Hiring a book marketing company or consultant can help an author reach a wider audience.

Authors who educate themselves have an advantage over those who don’t. These sites are some of the best places to learn about self-publishing: ParaPublishing, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, The Creative Penn, and The Book Designer. Armed with knowledge from these and other industry experts, authors can bring their books to life via self-publishing in their own timeframe and on their own terms.

[box border=”full”]Kim BooklessKim Bookless is a Chicago-based publishing consultant, writer, and editor. She co-founded the Chicago Self-Publishing Meetup Group to help educate aspiring authors on the joys of self-publishing, and she is the Publicity Chair for Chicago Women in Publishing. Connect with Kim at and on Twitter at @kimbookless.


Guest Posts · Self-Publishing

Writing for a Micro-Press in the Age of Self-Publishing

By Jessie Powell

self-publishingEmily is gearing up for Writers’ Week here on Suess’s Pieces. As an author whose book was published by micro-press Throwaway Lines, I’m fascinated by her topic, the self-publishing process. It isn’t all that different from working with a micro-press.

Let me start with the obvious differences between the two.  The good part for me is that I didn’t pay anything to publish Divorce: A Love Story. I didn’t buy my ISBN, I didn’t hire a private editor, and I didn’t work with Amazon and Barnes and Noble to get the book listed. All of those things were taken care of by my publisher. Right now, the novel is still only available in e-book format, but we’re hoping for a fall release of the paperback edition.

Of course by that same token, I miss out on potential advantages to self publishing, like increased control and possibly greater royalties. I’m also not in control of the timeline. At a traditional publisher, this would be because the book had to be worked into the schedule. But Throwaway Lines has a staff of exactly two, and my editor has a day job. That means that things can move slowly. Obviously, a self-published author is much more in control of the speed of publication.

But then again, maybe not. Depending on how much the author farms out, self-publication can also come with a set of built-in delays. For instance, a wise author will hire an editor. Nobody wants to be the next Shades of Grey in the grammar and continuity department.  And cover art is often hired out as well.

In fact, the same agencies a self-published author will use in the manuscript finishing process are all available to micro-presses. For example, my editor, Jason Horger says:

We had a basic design for the front that we liked okay, and then putting together the rest of it (spine, back cover) fell apart like a paper goblet. Oh, and then we farmed out the cover to a designer and…sweet Jesus, it just wasn’t right at all.

For the paperback edition, Jason plans to trust his own design skills a little more. (I certainly do; I liked the prototypes he initially created, and the basic premise for one of those wound up in the final concept.)  He also plans to work with a print-on-demand group because it’s not financially sound for presses of this size to have stock on hand.

In the end, it’s been wonderful for me to work with a micro- press. I’m not willing to pay to go to work every day. Indeed, I can’t afford to. So I need to find someone to publish my writing. I hope to someday work with a larger press, and I’m completely open with Throwaway Lines about that plan. But I’m not saying that as a dig against self-published authors. There are situations in which self-publication is exactly the route to go, and I can’t wait to learn more about the process when Writers’ Week kicks into gear here on Suess’s Pieces.

[box border=”full”]Jessie Bishop Powell is a freelance writer who blogs as the Jester Queen. Her articles and stories have appeared in encyclopedias and blogs, as well as a nationally syndicated magazine. You can buy her novel Divorce: A Love Story at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.