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  • What Ash Ambirge taught me

    What Ash Ambirge taught me. How to be a better business owner - or author-entrepreneur. Developmental editing of fiction and copywriting.
    What Ash Ambirge taught me

    What Ash Ambirge taught me

    As a developmental editor of fiction, I often find myself pointing something important out to clients. Novels should not be episodic. The plot should have a structure, with each event like a domino falling over which then hits the next domino.

    This should also happen on a psychological level, which I find particularly gets missed by writers. But that post is for another day.

    The point I wanted to make here is that one thing in fiction impacts another, which impacts another, etc.

    And this is also true in real life.

    You wake up and decide you’re going to tidy a cupboard and, before you know it, you’ve somehow moved on to cleaning the whole room, or trying to track down the stuff that you suddenly realise you’ve misplaced.

    Okay, I hear you saying, what does this have to do with the title of this post?

    And who is Ash Ambirge? (If you don’t know the answer to the second question, shame on you!)

    Look, I’m getting to the point – or points – so bear with me.

    It’s the chain of dominoes. And how it relates to funnels and marketing. And real life.

     

    How it all started…

    I’m a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association where I get access to a few free webinars.

    When Covid hit last year, business owners like everyone else were panicking. So, there were some useful webinars to help people through the crisis.

    And in one webinar Ash Ambirge and The Middle Finger Project were mentioned in passing.

    I’d never heard of her – or The Middle Finger Project.

    So, shame on me.

    However, being the kind of person who can’t wait to open a new tab on a computer screen, I immediately looked her up.

    She had a new book called The Middle Finger Project. It was part life story and part kick-arse business motivation and inspiration.

    The audio version is actually narrated by Ash Ambirge herself – if you get it, you’ll really get a sense of her personality. I totally recommend it.

    Anyway, I listened to this book in big chunks. Ambirge grew up in a trailer park, the daughter of a disabled single mother on benefits, who then loses her mother as a young adult.

    The story of what happened then is a masterclass in human callousness. I’m talking about the way she heard about her mother’s death. Disgusting.

    But our heroine came through and later, in a business capacity, the middle finger story comes up. I’ll leave you to find that out for yourself.

    But she also told the story of how she found out the guy she was living with had multiple passports and multiple identities.

    And when she confronted him, he got aggressive and threw her out. She had no money or anything, so she had to go back, and then he had his hands around her throat.

    Fortunately, she escaped and spent the night in her car. And that’s when her life changed. When she was sitting in her car, homeless, listening to the radio. An ad came on and said something along the lines of: the new Rihanna CD is available on preorder.

    A truly life-changing phrase.

    Why?

    Because it was at that moment that Ambirge realised you can sell things that don’t exist yet.

    She already had loads of experience in marketing and copywriting. So, she started furiously writing some copy on her laptop and uploaded it to the internet.

    Then the money started rolling in. Her product was legit and she started working on it.

    But she sold it ahead of making it, and the demand proved to be there.

    So, with $300 in her bank account, she flew off to Chile, where rents were cheaper, and set herself up in her new enterprise.

    Now she’s incredibly successful and specialises in motivating those who want to set up in business, or who need to refine their business skills like marketing and copywriting and dealing with clients, etc.

     

    Where it all led…

    At the end of her book, there’s a link you can follow. It takes you to her site, The Middle Finger Project, and a downloadable book called You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts. This is also very inspirational and deals with setting up your own business. It’s particularly strong on building the reader’s confidence and enthusing them to change their life.

    As a consequence of following the link to the downloadable book (which you have to pay for), and signing up to her email list, I then got some witty emails periodically, often on very useful subjects.

    There was also a chance to buy a previous mentorship course she ran – Unfuckwithable Freelancer

    This course consists of a generous series of modules in the Kajabi course format. Everything is laid out in a well-structured way and takes you through the best steps to setting up your business.

    There was a considerable number of modules and because it was no longer live, but a recording of a previous mentorship, it cost $97.

    Definitely one of the best $97s I’ve ever spent. (The other one was an Alex Cattoni copywriting course, also a recording of something previously live.)

    I admit I do love courses. I love learning new things.

     

    48-To-Freedom mentorship…

    But a recorded course doesn’t have the same gung-ho motivation as a live one. So I signed up to the beta version of her live course, 48-to-Freedom, which is about setting up a business website, payment processing, email list, offers, service packages, etc, in two days.

    Now that did push me harder, especially since she totally underestimated how long it would take for people to complete it.

    In fact, it spilled over the weekend and finished on Tuesday. But it was great – she literally showed you what to do on her screen and then you just follow along according to your own business needs.

    Because I’d already done copywriting courses, I largely skipped using her copy templates. But her reasoning for the structure of her copy templates was very insightful.

    I’d studied Alex Cattoni’s sales page course and had already written up most of the content for one of the individual sales pages. But I hadn’t quite finished.

    48-to-Freedom encouraged me to finish and get it uploaded and live. And then do the other two pages.

    Sales funnels and email marketing are a big part of both Ambirge courses.

    Setting up an email list was on my list of things to do. But, with other things on the go, and not being as organised as I should have been, I had yet to sort it out.

     

    Conquer Your Novel challenge

    Now I have a free email 5-day challenge/course sequence.

    This free course is titled Conquer Your Novel. It addresses issues like your logline, character hierarchy (to prevent chaos ensuing), Mary Sues, plot structure, and more. 

    If you want to check it out, there’s a sign-up form below.

     

    So, that’s what Ash Ambirge taught me

    But that brings me back to the topic I had in mind when I started this post – funnels, dominoes.

    It started with someone mentioning Ash Ambirge and The Middle Finger Project – and this led me down a rabbit hole.

    I learned lots of new things.  

    However, I needed that kick up the backside to finally sort out my email marketing sequence. 

    Later my intention with my IndieCat newsletters is to talk about common problems I come across in manuscripts.

    I’ll also review useful books for indie and other authors, point to courses you might be interested in taking, discuss side hustles for those of you who are thinking of getting one.

    I’ll also be talking about training as a developmental editor, and the process of working through a manuscript.

     

    Topics I’ll cover in IndieCat emails

    But that brings me back to the dominoes and the funnel.

    If you’re an indie author (or any author), you want to funnel people from social media over to your site.

    And I will be writing another post on why that’s so important.

    If you are selling books, you’re in business. If you’re an indie author, you’re an author-entrepreneur.

    And it’s really worth thinking about yourself that way. Just as freelancers need to think of themselves as business owners.

    Ash Ambirge talks about us being the fiduciaries of our business.

    It’s our duty to look after our businesses and act in their best interests.

    It’s partly about separating ourselves from the business. If we think about the business – my editing business or your writing career – as a separate entity that we have a duty of care over, then we make better decisions.

    And marketing funnels are part of that decision! Marketing funnels that get people from A to Z.

    Which in your case might be getting people to buy your books.

    Or, if you’re an editor, getting people to buy your services.

    But first, you have to let potential readers or clients know that you understand their needs. Not to mention, why they should choose you (or your book) over someone else.

    I will be posting on some of the things I’ve learned that might also be useful for authors. There will be extra details in the coming email newsletters.

    In the meantime, here’s the Conquer Your Novel sign-up form:

    Try these tips !

    Join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge!

    Get 5 days of tips and challenges on plot, character, and structure so you can improve your manuscript. 

  • So indie authors aren’t real authors?

    So indie authors aren't real authors?
    So indie authors aren’t real authors?

    Some months ago, I was following the chat thread in an online authors’ group where someone made it clear they did not respect indie writers.

    True, they seemed a little confused about what self-publishing was, often veering into arguments more applicable to vanity presses.

    They talked about the bragging rights that come from being a traditionally published writer. They spoke about the waste of money hiring editors and cover designers and implied such service providers were scamming writers.

    Funnily enough, this same writer had hired an editor herself so she could send her manuscript to a publisher or agent.

    Just to be clear, it’s not necessary to hire an editor if you’re submitting to an agent, etc.

    The indie authors on the thread were understandably upset at the ignorance and disrespect. They had worked hard on their books. Yet she seemed to take great pleasure in putting them down.

    Her criticisms and claims about self-publishers

    • It’s not real publishing and there are no bragging rights because anyone with a few dollars can do it.
    • It’s like being a child and making your own little newspaper and selling it to your mother for a penny.
    • You are not sending your work to anyone to be critiqued, so why bother?
    • It’s just a matter of printing out copies of your own work.
    • Indie authors hiring editors are being scammed.
    • Why would you hire an editor if you’re not submitting to publishers?
    • Apparently, you are just publishing your own ‘SHIT’ and then boasting about it.

    It became clear very quickly that this would-be author did not understand how indie writing actually works. She seemed to be confusing indie publishing with vanity publishing in some of her arguments.

    When the indie authors explained to her that they functioned as publishers and subcontracted work to experts – editors and cover artists – she claimed they were being scammed. She also didn’t see the point, presumably thinking these writers would never be read.

    An example of an indie success: The Martian

    I posted an example of a successful indie author – Andy Weir. There are many others, but Weir was the one who came to mind first. His self-published book became a Hollywood blockbuster.

    If that’s not a success, what is?

    He also managed to sell the print rights to his book for a decent amount of money.

    Weir originally published The Martian as a serial on his own website and had a lot of fans who followed the instalments. The book was repackaged as one volume and sold 35,000 copies in the first three months.

    Funnily enough, the writer who sneered at indie publishing had nothing to say about Weir’s indie career.

    What can you say?

    That he published his own shit?

    That he was putting together his own little newspaper to sell to his mother?

    That he was little better than an eight-year-old child?

    Check out the amount of science in The Martian to see how child-like the book is.

    Indie publishing has evolved since the early years

    Yes, some writers have uploaded unedited files and published them online. The freedom of the indie marketplace means that you have the choice to publish unedited if you want.

    Some people just want to get their book out and possibly don’t even mind if it doesn’t sell. Publishing a book might have been on their bucket list. They’ve done it and moved on.

    There are also others who perhaps have had little contact with writers’ groups and don’t understand the amount of work they still have to do before publishing. I think fear of being judged by an editor might also be a factor.

    However, some people are just plain adamant that their work should go out as it is.

    All of this aside, many indie authors take their work seriously enough to shell out money for various rounds of editing, decent cover art, and marketing. They are taking control of their own careers and not dependent on industry gatekeepers or the whims of acquisition trends.

    And the indie market has grown over the years. In 2018, the number of self-published books jumped by 40%. In fact, the actual figure is much higher since only ISBNs were counted, which leaves out authors using Amazon’s identifier system.

    Indie authors have courage too

    One of the most disparaging remarks made by this critic of indie authors was that it takes a lot of courage to send a manuscript off to a publisher.

    But doesn’t it also take courage to invest in your work, research the right editors and designers, believe in yourself, and go out there and chase success? Especially since there are plenty of people happy to diss the work of others in reviews.

    The point of this post is to say that indie authors are real authors. And the gatekeepers of the publishing industry take on the financial risk with traditional authors, which means they can be picky about what types of books they want to accept.

    Books that are badly written or that don’t quite make the grade aren’t the only ones rejected. Great books that are difficult to categorise, that deal with difficult topics, or which might be seen to appeal to very small demographics are also turned down.

    Traditional publishing is a commercial field. But writing is not just about commerce.

    And taking control of your writing career and becoming an author entrepreneur can be the most courageous choice of all.

    And that’s before we get into something that is often missed about the power of indie publishing. Some writers are content to produce the words alone, while others have a bigger vision which includes the cover art, audible narrator choices, and the freedom that comes from marketing the book their own way.

    One choice is not more valid or braver than the other.

    Different writers just have different priorities, aspirations, and motivations. And some are working in less commercial niches. There are still readers out there looking for those books, even if the traditional publishers are not fulfilling their needs.

    Conquer Your Novel 5-Day Challenge!

    In other news, fancy signing up for my Conquer Your Novel 5-Day Challenge? It focuses on your central plotline, your characters and characterisation issues, and your structure. It does get you asking questions about your manuscript and I also point out some common issues I’ve seen with client manuscripts.

    It’s free and you receive your first instalment today! Sign up here and get started!

    Try these tips !

    Join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge!

    Get 5 days of tips and challenges on plot, character, and structure so you can improve your manuscript. 

  • A quick overview of 2020

    A quick overview of 2020

    I decided to write a quick overview of 2020, work-wise. I have yet to fully assess 2020’s editing work, except that it’s been hectic owing to the fact I decided to sign up at Fiverr. There, I started with one gig that drew in a lot of work: an opening 10,000 words chapter edit. It wasn’t something that others were offering. After waiting for someone to bite and getting the first five-star review, I hit the ground running.

    I believe that I’ve edited or given feedback on well over a million words. That is not an exaggeration when I factor in full novel edits, plus a lot of 10K+ opening chapters edits.

    From the first gig, it was one editing job after another. Writers would try out the opening chapters edit, and then they would branch off as follows:

    • Request a developmental edit of the rest of their book
    • Come back for a developmental edit of a bigger chunk of their opening
    • Return for a revision of their 10,000 words
    • Opt to edit their book in 10,000-word stages, to spread cost
    • Seem happy with the edit but didn’t request another or waited months to rework their manuscript before they did

    Beta+ Reads

    Sometimes a client decided to opt for a beta+ read – this was more or less a beta read with some editorial feedback. Not as much feedback as you would expect with a manuscript critique. This is because they specifically requested a beta read with some editorial feedback thrown in. They had a list of concerns they had. I would respond to those and add any observations of my own, focusing only on the most important issues. Definitely shorter than a manuscript critique.

    Editing Memoir

    One client group I didn’t plan to work with was memoirists. One of the developmental editing courses I did years ago included memoir, so I had the class notes. But all my other courses, except one, focused on fiction. While there are many disadvantages to pricing your services far too low, one advantage is you and the client are willing to try something out because the risk is low in terms of money. I really enjoyed working with these clients. It was a privilege to read and give them feedback on stories that were very personal to them.

    There was one particular client whose true story has really stayed with me. I can’t even hear particular music from the 1960s or think of particular places, without recalling scenes from their books. Their memories have in many ways become my own. People and places from over fifty years ago and the very definite sense of the fleeting nature of youth and time. I found myself wondering what happened to those young people. There was a mood that hung over me afterwards. I think it can be best described by the Portuguese word saudade. Dionne Warwick’s song, Say A Little Prayer, which played on one of the streets, will be one of the tunes that I forever connect to that story.

    One client had published their memoir already and had noticed, thanks to Amazon, that readers were bailing out by a certain page count. They asked me to take a look and I could see that they effectively had three introductory chapters that created a circular opening where the same points were made over and over, delaying the main story. I really liked the main story, so it was a matter of removing unnecessary repetition, condensing some other information, and letting the themes of the memoir unfold through the book. Now, the reader will be plunged into the story sooner.

    Overbooked and overworked

    I frequently had to pause my gigs or switch to out-of-office mode just to control the workflow. Putting prices up also meant fewer people placing orders. I will need to put prices up again soon. I did however have a lot of returning clients. Some with more than one book for me to work on.

    Joined the wrong editorial society

    I made a mistake in January when I joined the wrong editing society. Not much there on developmental editing. Some people specialised in developmental editing, but to get upgraded in this organization they had to come from proofreading and/or copyediting first.

    So, I pretty much paid to put a glass ceiling over my head. Three months in and I just wanted out. I have not applied for an upgrade since it costs money and there’s no way for me to proceed. At the end of the day, it was just not the right place for me.

    Happily, later in the year, I upgraded my EFA membership to full member status. Since it’s the primary teaching organisation for developmental editing, it’s just a better fit for me.

    Continuing Professional Development

    On continuing professional development, I’ve been delayed finishing some courses because of the sheer amount of client work I had. But I finished my copywriting course from the Publishing Training Centre. According to my tutor, I hold joint top position in the history of the course. Or I did at the time I completed it. The course is in publishing-related copy.

    I also did almost all the free webinars provided by the Editorial Freelancers Association to full members.

    2020 heroes – all in copywriting or marketing!

    I’m also getting to the end of a copywriting course in direct marketing with the San Francisco School of Copywriting. In the coming year, I’ll be offering copywriting services for authors. I did a small amount of copywriting work in 2020.

    Otherwise, I started a great course by Ash Ambirge in how to be an fuckwithable freelancer (I should be so lucky). It’s amazingly comprehensive in terms of giving practical advice and listing apps and must-dos for your business. I’d already enjoyed her book The Middle Finger Project (which I totally recommend). It also contains a link at the end to another exclusive pdf book called something like, You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts. Not a freebie, but it IS one of those things that gives you a kick up the backside when you need it. It’s also about 200 pages long. I’m hoping to do another course with her in 2021.

    I think Ash Ambirge is one of my heroes of the year, in terms of inspiration. Funnily enough, all my 2020 heroes are in copywriting or marketing, not developmental editing. Maybe because my developmental editing tutors were heroes in previous years. But, the marketing/copywriting folks who inspired me include Janet Murray, Jo Watson, Graham Cochrane, and Gill Andrews. I shall continue to consume their content in 2021. I’ll also overhaul this website on the basis of what I’ve learned from them. I’m already doing so. However, more client work beckons, so I will leave my 2021 plans for another blog post. But, one of the first tasks on my list is to write up detailed services pages for the services I offer here. In the meantime you can check out the following blog posts on the differences between a manuscript critique and a developmental edit, and what you get if you hire me.

  • What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?
    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? Hint: not coffee

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? This is a reasonable question since I could be a complete scam artist about to run off with your money.

    I know you don’t particularly care about my training, other than to hope I’ve had some. Yes, indeedy, there are people out there who think reading a book on developmental editing and downloading a template off the internet is all it takes to start a business.

    Before I go any further, I need to point out two things:

    • Yes, I meant to write ‘indeedy’ because this is a somewhat informal post
    • I once had a client tell me she got more feedback from me for her 20,000-word novella than she did for a full length developmental edit where she paid over £1000. Not to me, obviously. To another editor who may not have specialised in developmental work.

    The skillset for developmental editing is very different from a proofreader’s skillset, or what you need to be a good copyeditor. Indeed, you can be a good technical copyeditor, but not a great line editor when it comes to fiction – especially fiction where you literally have no idea what the author is trying to do because you. don’t. get. literary. writing.

    It’s like getting an actor to read a poem. Sometimes they do a good job – think Vincent Price reciting Annabel Lee. Totally blows my socks off every time. But there are some lords and dames of the theatre who absolutely murder poetry by reading it like a speech. They completely ignore metre and I never want to hear that poem read that way ever again. It’s like a tone-deaf person murdering a song.

    But, I digress… I’m supposed to be telling you what you will get if you hire me.

    I’ve been rather remiss when it comes to posting client feedback on this website. This is because my clients were all coming from another platform and I didn’t bother to promote my site the way I should. But it’s the end of 2020. I need to sort myself out, give myself a good slap, and remember that I will living on the streets if I don’t start charging what I’m worth.

    A crash course in writing

    Today was a great reminder. Though it started yesterday, or several days before that. A client whose manuscript has been through two rounds of full developmental editing sent me her new chapters one and two. I think she’s hoping for a third round soon, and my prices are such that it’s well affordable. Her new chapters one and two were a big jump from the previous two drafts. I was seriously impressed. She took my reading recommendations, ploughed through the list, read the novel I recommended because I thought it was perfect for her to learn certain techniques, and she has improved her writing in a very short period of time.

    She’s a newish writer, so she doesn’t have years of writing behind her to learn all this stuff. Is she there yet? No, but her learning curve has been amazing. And that’s one of the most satisfying things about developmental editing and returning clients. If someone comes for a single round of editing, there’s not the same opportunity to see how they get on with it. You might even start to worry if they did get on with it. I personally prefer to see a second round of the manuscript at the very least.

    But that leads me to what you’ll get with me beyond a potentially steep learning curve, if you’re a beginner. However, that learning curve is one of my USPs. Know what a USP is? It’s your unique selling point. If you ever mean to go into business, and that includes becoming an author-entrepreneur, you should give a great deal of thought to your USP. Because it’s what marks you out from the competition. It doesn’t necessarily make you better than the competition, because they have their USPs too, and their client base could be very different.

    The basic built-in services

    So, beyond the learning curve, what do you get? In some respects, it comes down to what is right for you, the individual author. And what is most appropriate for your manuscript. But there are the non-negotiables. For a full developmental edit, you get an editorial letter that is several pages long, plus a copy of your manuscript with track commenting. You also get a reading list.

    I can do more than this. I can draw up a book map, which is time-consuming and therefore more of an extra. Although my prices are going up, they will still be lower than industry-standard for quite some time to come. This means I don’t put in extras that add a lot of time (because time is also money). You can get the extras on top. That includes a second round of editing. You can also get feedback between edits – for when you’re stuck and you need me to check something. A small amount of this is built into the price already. But a lot more and I’d have to charge. But, again, I wouldn’t be charging industry standard rates. Not for a while. I’m keen to give lower-income writers an opportunity to get a foot on the rung.

    All of this, so far, has been about developmental editing. I can do this type of editing on different levels – starting with the most basic issues in the first round of editing, and moving on to more pernickety stuff later. This can be easier for a writer to deal with because it paces the rewrites better. Reworking a draft is no longer such a monumental task. And they’re getting guidance along the way. Of course, some writers want something much more detailed to start with because they don’t intend to come back for a second round.

    Manuscript critiques

    So, what about manuscript critiques? These are cheaper than developmental edits, so I ought to have done far more of them, right? Wrong. I’ve done far more developmental edits because my prices were low and many of those edits were my opening chapters edit. The wordcounts were around the 10,000 word mark, unless a client asked me to look at something longer. Many of those clients would then come back to me for a full developmental edit. They liked the track commenting in the margins and found it helpful.

    However, as my prices go up, a full developmental edit will be more expensive. So, where does that leave the manuscript critiques? Well, cheaper, obviously. The full weight of the feedback is in the editorial letter since there’s no track commenting. These editorial letters can therefore be longer because they have to deal with everything. They are structured by subject, starting with the bigger issues and moving down the hierarchy of things-that-need-to-be-dealt-with. There’s also a reading list. You get this regardless of whether it’s a developmental edit or a manuscript critique.

    Specially tailored manuscript critique

    You can also ask for a manuscript critique with a sample developmental edit of the opening chapters. This means those chapters will have track commenting. You could ask me to look at the beginning and the end this way. But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons a developmental edit is more expensive is the sheer amount of time it takes to go through a manuscript and leave comments. It’s at least two passes of comments or even three or four in one edit. I never read a manuscript once, I read it several times.

    My opening chapters edit is a developmental edit, but you could ask for the manuscript critique version instead, which means no margin comments. It takes me less time, and that means you save money. You miss out on the comments though.

    The main thing to stress is that what I can do for you really depends on a number of things. These include the amount of knowledge you already have, the number of drafts you’ve already written, and whether you intend to send your novel to an agent or publish it yourself. In the case of the former, if you can get a cheaper developmental edit (from someone who knows what they’re doing), then that’s all well and good. But you don’t need a full DE if you’re submitting. If a publisher accepts your book, that kind of editing will be provided without you being out of pocket. Some writers do still choose a developmental edit even if they’re submitting to an agent. There are reasons… like, they think it’s the best way to rise above the other manuscripts in the pile. It’s true that the competition is huge.

    Another editorial service I offer is a beta read with some additional developmental comments. However, this is nowhere near the input of a manuscript critique. It can work as the last read, checking that everything on the developmental level is now fixed or close to being fixed.

    So, that is an outline of what I deliver. However, every client and manuscript is different. Custom orders are always welcome. If you want to know more, feel free to drop me a message through my contact form. We can discuss your needs and also assess whether you’re really ready for a manuscript critique or a developmental edit. Perhaps you need a beta read first, in which case I’d advise you to hire or find beta readers and getting feedback from them first. But it really comes down to the individual client. I will turn down work if I think I’m not right for the client or that the client is wasting their money.

    In the meantime, you can check out my services page. Here’s a detailed post about the differences between a manuscript critique and a developmental edit.