It’s been ages since I last blogged. There are a number of reasons. The first one is simply that I had back-to-back edits to the point where I didn’t have time to shift mental gears and think about blog topics. But then in March my cat, who is the reason this site is called IndieCat Editorial, suddenly became lethargic. We got her from a shelter a few years ago and from the moment she arrived here she settled in and was an absolute sweetheart.
But the shelter told me she was around two years old, so what happened in March was a shock. When I took her to the vet, the first thing I was asked by the examining nurse was if she might be older. They also warned me that it looked like chronic kidney disease, which would likely not be a good outcome.
After they kept her in for a few days on a drip, I was told she was likely around nine when I got her and that she was now well into her teens. Older cats are more prone to kidney disease, but thinking she was younger, I was completely unprepared. She came home and we had her for another couple of weeks before she finally passed away. It was shocking and upsetting. Especially having to take her for her last trip to the vet, knowing she wouldn’t be coming home.
Losing a pet can be devastating. I was fortunate enough to have some understanding clients. They were okay with me being a bit behind on deadlines – I warned them and explained the reasons why.
Meanwhile, I swore I wouldn’t get another cat for the time being. Maybe the autumn. I carried on working only to be called up for jury service with only about four weeks or so notice. This made it impossible for me to be fully open for bookings in June. I didn’t know if I was coming or going with the jury thing. I had to phone every day to see if I was going to get called. As it happens, our jury group didn’t get called. But it hit me work-wise. Obviously, I couldn’t commit to edits not knowing if I was going to be out all day at jury service.
Meanwhile, I was missing having a cat around too much. I had the food, the beds, the bowls, the litter, and the litter tray. And there were cats on shelter websites looking for homes.
Obviously, you can’t replace the one that’s gone. But after putting in a few applications, I got approved for a cute little black and white cat. She also made herself at home the day she arrived here. Like my previous cat, she’d been stuck in the shelter for a few months. So she must have been glad not to be on her own anymore. She loves attention and sits in front of me when I’m on the computer. She’s also taken to sleeping on top of me.
When I finished a manuscript critique and an outline critique recently, I decided to take some days off. Because sometimes you need a break. It was the first real break I’d had in ages. I’m getting back to work now. An opening chapters edit and a beta plus critique – somewhere between a beta read and a manuscript critique. The previous two clients have already asked me to pencil them in for their next round of edits. But I have openings if anyone is looking for feedback on plot, characterisation, structure, etc.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.