Blog and/or Website

blogHaving been brow-beaten by my massive ego (see previous post) into building a blog and/or website, my next step was to determine whether or not I needed just a blog, or just a website, or both. It turns out that the correct answer, for me, was both, and, much to my happy surprise, I discovered that a website can also function as a blog. Eureka!

I was so green early on that I did not even know the difference between a blog and a website. This is what I learned.

The term blog is a portmanteau for web and log, combined to read blog. A blog consists of entries called “posts” written by the author of the blog. These posts appear with the latest on top, and previous posts beneath it (reverse chronological order.)

Blogs were usually the solitary efforts of individuals writing about whatever it was that interested them that day. Today, blogs are written by groups, institutions, corporations, whatever.

A website, on the other hand, is a group of pages usually organized around one central theme. The page titles are listed on a top banner, and indicate the major features of that website. For example, as a writer, I wanted to create a website dedicated to my book The Riddle of Riddles. So, I created three pages for that website: Home, About, and Contact.

My Home page contains regular postings (my blog) of assorted riddles. The About page contains a brief blurb about the book, and the Contact page enables readers to contact me by leaving their names, email addresses and whatever comments they have in mind.

I have referred many times to research in my previous blogs. The reason is that research is the only way I know to discover the information needed to move forward towards our common goal of becoming authors. Keep in mind, however, that what works for me may not necessarily refer to you.

While exploring various ideas to get my website noticed (MARKETING, MARKETING, MARKETING) I hit on the idea that two websites would be better than one. I would create one for my book, and a separate one for me as an author.

The reason for this is that I would place the emphasis on the book, The Riddle of Riddles, by periodically posting riddles on the book’s website, and posting the answers to those riddles on my author website. The idea is to generate cross-referencing, and, as a result, expose both the book and author.

This idea occurred to me after I had build the RofR website, and realized that, as an author with subsequent books in mind, I needed to also highlight the author, me, as well as my current book. If you Google major authors NONE of them do this. They have a page, or pages, listing their various titles. So, I could be wasting my efforts with this approach. As I mentioned before, what works for me (or doesn’t) may not work (or might) for you.

Upon completion of the website for my book, I hired professionals to create my author website. I did this because I am a coward. This was my first effort at creating a website, and I was so unsure of my abilities that I wanted to make sure that I got at least one site done correctly.

Guess what? I did a pretty good job on my own. I have to admit, though, that the reassurance I got comparing my work to that of the professionals, was sorely needed. Whew! I did OK.

There is much more to this and I will follow up in my next BLOG post here on my WEBSITE with the steps I took, and am continuing to take, to maintain my progress toward becoming an author.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

My massive ego website

My massive ego

My massive ego

My massive ego, being what he is, demanded that I satisfy his lust for fame by creating a website.  Being shy myself, and not knowing anything about websites, I was reluctant to give in to his unyielding demands.  In fact, I ignored his demands for years, but as time passed he became more and more insistent.  Finally, he would not let me sleep.  My eyes would pop open in the middle of the night, and there he would be, sitting on my chest, staring down at me until I got up.

I’ll call him Mot.  That’s French for word and it’s my nickname spelled backwards.

I tried to put Mot off by grabbing a cup of coffee, catching up on the late-night news, reading my emails, anything – except building a website I knew nothing about just to make him happy.  All the while he would follow me around like my shadow, trailing me, mere inches behind.  Every once in a while, if I was silly enough to believe that he had gone to sleep, I would glance over my shoulder but, sure enough, there was Mot staring blankly back at me.  His stare was not really blank at all. On the surface it did appear to be vacant, but glints of cunning peeked in from around its edges. It was embarrassing. He would not leave me alone.

Mot was never nasty, but he was uncompromising.  Occasionally he would try logical arguments, and those were actually the only times we really got along.  He did make some good points about how I had succeeded in other difficult endeavors in my life, and how those successes had satisfied me.  He often resorted to praising me, telling me how intelligent I am, and how easy this new project would be.  He knew all my weaknesses, and preyed on every one until, finally, he did get his way and I agreed to build him his website, um…our website.

It was only after I discovered the importance of marketing that I realized that he had been right all along. A website is crucial to successful marketing, but I couldn’t tell him that or I’d never hear the end of it. Come to think of it, he probably already knows all of this but is letting me slide for some diabolical purpose all his own.

I started out by researching everything and anything I could about creating websites.  Since I knew nothing,  I read a lot of useless information, went down too many dead-end paths.  However, little by little, I found my way.  In fact, some of the dead ends had value in what they taught me to avoid.

I was so green at this that I often had to stop my research just to look up the meanings of the terms being used.  Wikipedia became my best friend but Mot never got jealous.  He seemed to thrive in the ménage-a-trios of it all.

Still, he would not let me sleep until the website was 100% completed.  By this time we had become co-conspirators, although he never came up with any creative ideas except schemes to make himself look good.  He left all the heavy lifting to me.

Mot struts around now with a self-satisfied smile, even though he actually did none of the work.  He leaves me alone for the most part, so we’re getting along better, and I must admit that I am proud that I completed such an involved project, and that it came out reasonably well. So, he was right about that. You can check it out at www.thomasmcgann.com if you’d like.

I wish I was unable to let him know he was right, but he reads my mind so that satisfaction will forever evade me. Even now he is now probably laughing up his sleeve as I write this.

Good night, Mot!FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

Research, research and more research

internet

The Internet

Publishing a book? Get ready to immerse yourself in research, research and more research. Unless you are already in the industry, once you decide to become an indie-publisher, the learning curve gets steep, very steep.

Prior to the days of print-on-demand (POD), if a writer could not get read by a publishing house, he/she could not get published. And yeah, rejection sucks.

Sure, there were the Vanity publishers out there, vultures only too anxious to strip whatever cash we had from the bare bones of our bank accounts, leaving us with a garage or basement full of books that we had no idea what to do with.

That was not for me. While I knew the value of my work, my conceit did not blind me to the realities of the marketplace – or the greed of those willing to prey on those who were so blinded.

Then, one day, the sun came up on a new world. Scientific progress rewarded us with the internet, the advent of indie-publishing, and the ability to take charge of our own destinies.

Thank God for the internet. We are truly blessed to live with this incredible tool at hand. The answers to anything it seems (except a truthful accounting of how politicians spend our money), are only mouse-clicks away.

Becoming a published author is now a viable option. But who publishes indie-authors and what are their requirements? Those questions immersed me, like a post-grad student, in research, research and more research.

These are some of the major topics I found that needed addressing:

  • Create a website
  • Compare POD publishing companies such as CreateSpace, Virtual Bookworm, Lulu, etc.
  • Join social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and YouTube
  • Find a copy editor, a proofreader, and a book formatter
  • Find a book cover expert
  • Create a book trailer
  • Crowd funding is available if needed
  • Marketing, marketing, and more marketing

There are other ancillary subjects (such as MailChimp, etc), too numerous to list, which came up in my research and needed investigation. Any that prove to be important will be discussed in future blogs.

There were lots of dead-ends and false leads, usually because of my own ignorance. I did contact some individuals who were very generous with their time and advice, but whose input, I later learned, did not apply to my specific needs. Everyone I have been in contact with has been very understanding and most helpful (OK, there were a few curmudgeons.)

Being unfamiliar with the industry jargon was, and continues to be, a major problem. While reading I often came on terminology with which I was unfamiliar. What was the difference between downloading and uploading? (That’s how green I was.) What is back-linking and how important is it really? And then there is the library of abbreviations: API, SGML, VeRO, XML, etc, etc, etc.

Each new concept, each new term, each new abbreviation, required defining. Then I had to find out what each of these items did and did not do. Some ideas mattered and some didn’t but I couldn’t tell which was which without the research. I’m sure I’ve missed some concepts that are important but I work alone, like most of us, and I can only do so much.

Early on, and throughout my research, MARKETING established itself as the PRIMARY concern. With some 3000 books being published daily how was one to get noticed in this blizzard of words? Marketing is a subject in and of itself. More on that later, much more.

My research continues. I am moving forward with the information I have while continuing to keep an eye open for new ideas I think may prove useful.

Writing a book, and actually getting it published, is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Soldier on!FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

Rejection sucks

rejectionIf you’re a writer you’ve been rejected. It comes with the territory. That does not mean that you have to like it, accept it or chalk it up as some kind of (choke) learning experience. Rejection sucks, whether it is your manuscript or a date to the senior prom. It sucks.

As writers we can “accept” rejection as a fact of life without “accepting” rejection as screwing down the lids of our coffins. We accept that some ivory-tower-snob, who has never written anything other than a rejection letter, just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the art of writing. We don’t hate them (grrr). We shake our heads and go on with our work.

But rejection is not an easy emotion to dismiss. It is an attack on our spirit. It is like an attack on our children. We get protective.

When I first started my journey of becoming an author I knew nothing about the industry other than how to write. I knew the odds of getting published by a major publishing firm were thin slim. I counseled myself against any expectation that I would be one of the lucky few, but it did not help when it came time for my first submission.

I hand-carried my manuscript to one of the major publishers in NYC. The company owned the whole building, maybe the whole block. There was a guard in the lobby to stop guys just like me from delivering their “over-the-transom” manuscripts. I ignored him and went straight to the building directory, found the floor I was looking for and went to the elevator. The guard must have thought I knew what I was doing because he smiled at me as I passed. I smiled back.

I found the office I was looking for and was surprised to be greeted by an exceptionally good-looking woman. I gave her my elevator spiel[1], trying not to be distracted by her looks. She accepted my manuscript with a “thank you,” a handshake and a quizzical look. I smiled and left, skipping down the sidewalk, believing in the power of fate.

Several long months later I was humiliated to find my rejected manuscript stuffed into my mailbox like an aborted fetus.  All my self-counseling about rejection was to no avail. As I pulled my rolled-up, mutilated manuscript from the mailbox, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I was instantly depressed, the kind of depression not easily shaken.

But then I got pissed. Defiance overcame me. I will be published!

But how?FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

 

[1] Picture this: You’re in an elevator. The lead editor gets on the same elevator. You have seconds to give him your elevator spiel before he/she gets off. You’d better make it good.

Copy editing is essential – Part II

I had heard through the grape vine that copy editing was essential but I knew that my English skills were so good that I didn’t need no stinkin’ copy editor.

Well maybe…

After all those rewrites, I did recall some errors I had made but had not immediately corrected. I could do another rewrite (groan), or I could test my skills by sending my manuscript out to a copy editor, just to prove how good I really am.

I researched copy editing and, invariably, the advice was always the same. Do not think you can copy edit yourself. Do not let your girl/boy friend, husband/wife, significant other, do it for you. Do not allow that uncle, the one who “writes” for the local newspaper, edit it. Do not expect some college professor you know, to do the editing. Copy editing is essential. Hire a stranger. Hire a professional. Hire a strange professional.

I started a discussion on the Book Marketing Group on LinkedIn to which I belong, looking for copy editors. Of the ten, or so, replies I received, four asked me to send them 5–10 pages of my manuscript so they could see how much help I needed. They would correct what I sent them and tell me what their fee was depending on how much work was required to make it right.

I made the mistake of sending each of them a different segment of my work. In retrospect, it would have been wiser to send them all the same segment so I could compare their efforts.

After another week or so, I received all their replies. Even though I had only sent out a few pages they found many mistakes. It looked like I would need a copy editor after all.

Their fees varied from several hundred dollars up to well over $1000 dollars.

One of the editors, by the name of Jeni Chappelle, included a comment that my work reminded her of a writer by the name of Neil Gaiman. I am a fantasy writer but I had never heard of this guy. Please do not laugh

The book that she mentioned was called The Graveyard Book. I borrowed a copy from my local library and enjoyed it immensely even though our subject matters differed greatly. If you have never read Neil Gaiman, and enjoy fantasy, I recommend you give him a go.

The fact that Jeni had gone out of her way to recommend a book she thought I might enjoy sold me on her services.

She had my manuscript for about two weeks as I recall, and when I got it back I was happy that I had heeded all the advice I researched. My English skills were not as expert as I thought. It seems that I have the bad habit of starting sentences with clauses. I also have a bad habit of using the passive voice. I never even heard of em dashes, and my use of italics was pitiful. I will not mention how bad my punctuation is. Gulp…I am not the scholar I thought I was.

In addition to pointing out my mistakes Jeni also made some recommendations about my consistency, ideas that I had not considered. She actually improved my content.

Then it was time to fix my mistakes. I corrected most of Jeni’s suggestions but there were a few instances where I preferred my style to hers.

Another step completed.

A copy editor is essential. Do not make the mistake of neglecting this vital step.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

 

Copy editing is essential – Part I

red pencilOh, you are so proud of your completed manuscript!

You can’t help but sit back and admire all your hard work. Good for you. You deserve it. Enjoy the moment but, and you already know this, you are far from being done. You are somewhere in the middle of the process of becoming an author.

You haven’t lost interest in your project have you? I hope not because the next step is editing and it gets yawn-boring. This also means you must send out your baby to have it carved up by a total stranger.

Here is a brief summary of what I have gleaned about editing from numerous websites:

There are basically three steps to this process. The first is substantive editing which can include expanding the scope of your work, altering the placement of whole sections, and eliminating content for the purpose of increasing the readability. It is the most expensive of the three steps and can run to several thousand dollars.

The second step is called copyediting and is, in my view, the most important. Copyeditors correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. They correct awkward sentence structure, and check for consistency in content and style. My editor picked up on some omissions in my consistency, and actually offered some ideas all her own. More on that later.

The copy editor will return your manuscript to you with suggested changes. They usually use the MS Word track change function which will show corrections within the text as well as comments about the text off to the right side of the page.

Once you receive your manuscript you proceed with the third step which is proofreading. You can hire the same person to serve as both copy editor and proofreader or you can hire a new set of eyes. This is the cheapest of the three services and usually costs in the vicinity of a couple of hundred dollars or so.

I finished my novel with an intact, coherent story line, so substantive editing was unnecessary. A thorough copy editing would probably suffice but did I even need that?

I am, after all, the product of Irish Christian Brother schooling. This was back in the days when bouncing your head off the blackboard when you got an answer wrong was expected punishment, when “Brother Ball and Chain Eddie” would fire glass ink-wells at us if we dared to doze off, and when you didn’t complain to your parents either because they’d bounce your head off the dining room table. There was even a time when crazy Billy…but that’s a whole other story.

I was taught Latin and English in sync. It was a rewarding experience. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was being taught to love language. Consequently, I consider myself something of a scholar when it comes to the English language, and this includes punctuation.

So did I really need a copy editor? Won’t a real careful reading with a red pencil in hand do? Yeah, I don’t need no stinkin’ copy editor. 

Or so I thought. 

Stay tuned.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill 

Rewrite your manuscript and then rewrite it again

again

Again?

At last! You have finished your manuscript, maybe even celebrated with a glass or two of a fine wine. Not so fast. Your work is far from done. It’s time for the dread rewrites.

As good as your manuscript is it is far from perfect. But you know that. You remember the mistakes you made here and there as the ideas came pouring out faster than you could write. It is now time to go back and fix those mistakes along with others you never realized you made.

Step one is to pick up your manuscript and start reading. With the backspace key and/or a red pencil, go over your baby and start correcting. You will be startled by the number of mistakes you find. But do not get discouraged. It just needs some work to polish it up.

If you persevere you will finish your first rewrite, the simple one with the most obvious corrections. Because of this rewrite you now know you have to go back and make some serious alterations. This part needs to be transposed with that part. Some sentence structures are just plain awkward and need rewording. A few sections may need to be deleted completely. As Stephen King says, “Carve up your baby.” Be blood-thirsty.

You will begin to recognize that you have a style all your own and, gulp, it needs improving. You use the same words over and over again. You have started some sentences with dangling participles. Forget about punctuation. We won’t even start discussing punctuation yet.

So you rewrite again. Now it’s getting boring. You know parts so well you can almost recite them. OK, put the work down, and take a break. Once you reach the stage where sentences no longer make logical sense anymore, once you become word-blinded, you need to stop.

Leave it be. Depending on your personality it may only take a few hours for recovery. For others it may take a day, a few days or even longer. If you feel drawn back to your manuscript, go pick it up and start reading. You will know if you are refreshed enough to begin again. If you are still word-blinded put it back down.

Don’t worry about losing your place or forgetting ideas as they come along. Your mind will not let the project go. You will be thinking about it while you’re thinking about it. Whole new ideas will come to mind and you’ll get excited all over again.

That’s when it’s time for the next rewrite. That’s right. I said the next rewrite and the next. There might even be subsequent rewrites in store. Boring! You bet. Boring but necessary. The beauty is you are making yourself a better writer all the while. You are honing your skills. You are working your way towards being the author you want to be. Congratulations.

Here is a link to one of the best, if not the best, descriptions of what it takes to be a writer that I have ever read. It is a piece from a writer named Chuck Wendig. Thank you, Chuck. You can skip what I write and read Chuck. You will not be sorry but be forewarned that it contains some purple prose.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

Completing your manuscript

manuscript completed

Your completed manuscript

Completing your manuscript is the next step in becoming a published author.

You have determined that you are a writer and you have found a subject about which you are passionate. You sat down, took up pen and began to write. Your manuscript has begun.

All you need do now is to write. Most of the difficulties are behind you. Or are they?

Two problems immediately come to mind. First, you do not know how lengthy your manuscript will be or how long it will take to finish which can be intimidating, and second, but certainly not of any lesser importance, are distractions.

The first problem is really not really a problem at all. You love what you are doing. It is just that, sometimes, when a character takes off on an expected journey all its own, you cannot see where your story is going or how it will get back to its main plot point.

Do not let this strange territory scare you. Revel in it. Somewhere down deep, your psyche has already worked out how this thread will weave its way through the story, back to where you need it to be. Your story will be richer and all the better for it.

The second problem of distractions is the more serious of the two. Just like the TV, and that Chunky Monkey ice cream in the freezer, stood in the way of you beginning your manuscript, there is now a fresh troop of elfish distractions hiding in wait to delay you. Some are obvious but some more discrete.

A distraction is anything that gets between you and your writing. We need reminders to remind us not to get distracted.

Most of us face this dilemma. I suppose there are some disciplined individuals who do not have this problem but I am not one. The problem of distractions is so common as to be a frequent topic of discussion in forums. Here is link to a discussion on this very point by a woman with kids and a full time job and how she deals with distractions.

Few of us are blessed with enough free time to just sit and write. It is imperative that you carve out time for yourself to write. You will note that some authors of renown (Steinbeck and Salinger to name just two) retreated to quiet cabins so as to not be disturbed. A professor I know, married with a young son, gets up at 5AM every day to write before he heads out to teach. Another author wrote one of his books in four months during his lunch hour. You must do what you have to do to write.

And, if you do, your manuscript will eventually be completed. Watch out for the temptation to start patting yourself on the back as your manuscript nears completion (another distraction.) It is not done until it is done.

Then again, it is never really done until it is published. You will find yourself tinkering with the “finished” product ad infinitum, tweaking it here and there. I speak from experience. I found myself adding new ideas and altering sentence structures even as I was correcting my manuscript using my copy editors recommendations.

But do not worry. Your manuscript is not going anywhere. Soon you will be sick of seeing it as you rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

Writing your manuscript

writing

A manuscript begins

So you have determined that you are indeed a writer. You just cannot help but write. The next step is to decide what the the subject of your manuscript will be.  After all you are determined to become an author and being an author requires that you get published and get paid. That requires a finished manuscript.

“What should I write about?”

There is an oft-repeated axiom that states that you should write about what you know. Comments of that nature are a bit simplistic since it is impossible to write about what you do not know. The real answer to that question is that you can really only write with passion about subjects about which you are passionate. Passion is the key.

What excites you? That is the subject of your first manuscript.

Some writers start with an idea, a concept, that passion and let it take them where it will. Others prefer to outline their story and then work within that framework. Sometimes a certain segment of the story demands to be written NOW.  If so write it.  It will not matter that it is out of sequence. That is what rewrites are for. Use whatever system works for you. Create your own system if need be and then share it with other writers.

Just write. Write even when you don’t feel like writing. Turn off that damn TV. The program you are watching, the one that has your attention, you would not ordinarily be watching anyway. Today it possesses an inordinate amount of interest for you even though you find it, basically, uninteresting.  Turn off the TV.

Walk passed the refrigerator. Yes, that Ben and Jerry’s “Chunky Monkey” ice cream is in there and, yes, it would taste great right about now but NO! Walk passed the refrigerator. You do not need the extra calories anyway. Forget about the news. Forget about calling what’s-her/his-face.  Forget about everything except your writing.

Drag yourself in front of that blank page/screen. You do not feel like writing right now but you must. It is called discipline and if you have none you will never be a successful writer. In fact, you will never be successful at anything difficult.

So finally you are sitting in front of that empty blankness with nothing to write. The blankness stares back at you. Stay there. Stay. Soon enough you will begin writing just because you are where you are. The words do not come easily. They seem contrived, awkward, boring.

But then you write a phrase or a sentence or, maybe, even a paragraph that you recognize as well written. Now you are writing and, before you know it, you have the beginning of your manuscript.

Congratulations!

You can now sneak back to the kitchen for some of that “Chunky Monkey”, a small portion of course.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

So you want to be an author…

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

So you want to be an author, huh. So do a lot of us, including me. In that pursuit I am engaged in finding and completing the steps necessary to accomplish that end.

It ain’t easy.

Among the throngs of those who write the definition of who is an author and who is a writer is a hot topic. For purposes of this discussion let’s define an author as anyone who has gotten published and been paid. All the rest of us are just writers.

The term “just writers” is not an attempt to diminish our time-won rapture. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword and those of us who “just” write are blessed/cursed with a terrible affliction over which we have no control.  This affliction stalks us. Wherever we are, it is. Writing is a heady affliction but one we welcome like a hangover after too many glasses of the fine wine of creativity.

We sit down to write and take a sip of mind-settling reflection. Sometimes our minds are so parched, so needy of expression that a single sip will trigger torrents of words like the flowering of a desert after an overdue rain.  More often a single sip is insufficient. We sit motionless, staring at blank paper/screen, hands on the keyboard, waiting.

We push back, drop our hands into our laps and rise to start pacing. We need more reflection, more emoting, heavier thinking, another sip or two or three of that wine.

Then we’re back typing furiously not even realizing that we ever even sat back down to type, the words coming so fast we can’t keep up, snarling over slow typos, but writing, writing, writing, taking big gulps now, the wine so sweet, the words so exact, we go on and on and on, it’s so much fun, we drink some more and write more and more and more, joyously exuberantly exhilarated.

We stop.

Have to stop.

Wow! Where did that all come from?

We snatch the paper from the typewriter or scroll back to the top of the page and read.

Damn that’s good!  OK, OK, there are typos, some clumsy phraseology but nothing that can’t be fixed and, damn, it is good.  We have drained the wine, feeling fine, just fine and proud and, suddenly, sleepy.

Can’t wait for tomorrow. Fuck the hangover.

That’s a writer.

To become an author is another subject for another day.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill