Writing Advice

  • How IndieCat Editorial can help you

    How IndieCat Editorial can help you

    Does this sound familiar?

    You try so hard to write a kick-ass novel that will wow readers and get everyone talking. Then you go around in circles tweaking and rewriting. Because you need to get it just perfect! And for a while, your book genuinely seems to be getting better. Then you lose a subplot or a character falls out stage left.

    Now you’re demoralised and stressed out. Your manuscript has turned into a monster, complete with tentacles. (Where did all these loose bits come from?)

    You’ve struggled to find reliable beta readers. Maybe you’ve tried online writing groups only to feel intimidated or frustrated because some of the advice just seemed plain wrong or contradictory.

    Unfortunately, serious indie authors and those hoping to submit to agents will always struggle with polishing their work. Everyone does, including seasoned professionals.

    Indie writers don’t have a publisher to help

    When you have an agent and a publishing house, you have a team working to support you and your book. You can take confidence in trained experts making your book the best it can be.

    But when you’re publishing yourself or just starting out, you don’t have these things. Then, you’re often dependent on the conflicting advice of writing groups and beta readers.

    Worse, they’re not trained to spot underlying problems, let alone anticipate the way different fixes impact one another in a manuscript. Because when you change one thing it can have a knock-on effect on everything else. Other writers or beta readers can also base their advice on how they would have written the book if it was theirs. That’s not the kind of advice you want. Because it’s not their book, it’s yours.

    You need someone who will respect your author voice and intentions.

    How developmental editing helps you

    That’s where developmental editing comes in. Developmental editing, also known as structural editing or substantive editing, is the first round of editing. This is where a professional assesses the big picture issues in your manuscript. They look for plot holes, structural problems, slow pacing, weak characterisation, and more.

    Think about it – how often have you given up on a novel you were reading because the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere or the characters were two-dimensional? A developmental edit highlights issues like this and allows you to fix them. Developmental editing takes your work to a whole new level.

    If you want to try out a developmental edit or manuscript, I offer a free 2,000-word sample edit. You can contact me at karen@indiecateditorial.com or check out my services page.

    Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

  • Why your book cover design matters

    Why your book cover design matters
    Why your book cover design matters

    If you’re an indie author and you want to attract readers, your book cover design really matters. It’s one of your most important marketing tactics.

    Why?

    Have you ever gone into a bookstore and felt overwhelmed by all the books to choose from?

    What motivates you to pick up an unknown book?

    Snappy or intriguing title? Or were you attracted by the cover image? Did it call to you to investigate further and check out the back cover blurb?

    Cover design is the magnet that draws the eye and piques curiosity. It can draw attention even from the other side of a bookstore. Even from a distance, when you can’t yet read the author’s name or the book’s title.

    And that’s why your book cover design matters.

    Of course, book covers accomplish other things too. They indicate genre, age group, connect to existing trends, even hint at the story’s atmosphere (creepy, suspenseful, erotic).

    Cover art speaks to emotions – and this is important in marketing.

    There are genres where speaking to emotions is particularly important – romance being the primary example. But you might be in the mood for something suspenseful or creepy. Horror and thriller covers also speak to a potential reader’s emotions.

    The style of the cover might connect to a particular subgenre or resemble the cover art on a more famous book. This is a way for publishers to indicate fast that if you like those other books in this category, you’ll probably like this one too.

    With so many books to choose from, a design department has to come up with ways to make it easy for the right readers to find their book. The cover art offers visual clues. The book’s title might also offer clues.

    Your book needs to stand out from the crowd. In a saturated market – and this is particularly true on Amazon – you need people to see that your book exists. And that it looks professional, intriguing, exciting.

    If the cover is plain and offers no hints about the genre, someone browsing on Amazon is likely to ignore it.

    Book buyers are accustomed to helpful cover design – covers that act as filters for what they do and don’t like.

    The cover design should attract the right readers. It should never trick people into thinking the book is something it isn’t.

    For example, you wouldn’t put a historical couple embracing on the cover of a modern horror novel. If a reader buys the book on the basis of the cover alone, they are going to feel cheated.

    Also, if the cover art and design are subpar, it will be difficult to stand out from the crowd.

    Furthermore, if the design is poor, potential readers will likely draw conclusions about the overall quality of the book, including the story, characterisation, formatting, etc.

    A good cover shows the writer has taken a professional approach to their work. But it also allows the writer to better compete with traditionally published authors.

    If your book looks like a traditionally published book, it’s more likely to draw readers.

    As well as using high-quality cover art, you should ensure your covers look good as thumbnails because this is how they will appear on sites like Amazon.

    Equally, you need to make sure your fonts match your genre and cover design, and that the text is clear and readable both at full size and in thumbnail.

    Most people cannot produce great cover art or choose the right fonts for their own books.

    Even people with design skills can do a bad job because cover art and what works for the market are not their specialties.

    Also, cover art should be chosen on the basis of what appeals to readers rather than what a writer might want. This might seem annoying, but if you want to attract sales, you have to put yourself in the place of readers.

    It’s worth doing quite a lot of research on your genre, particularly in relation to the newest styles and what the traditional publishing industry is producing.

    Design departments in publishing houses have experts who know what they’re doing. If they’re following a particular trend, you can jump on board.

    Indie authors who want high-quality book covers have a number of options. You can hire designers for bespoke covers, or you can visit a site that is selling premade cover art. In the case of the latter, the fonts are already in place. You just need to change the title, author name, etc.

    Some premade cover art sells for hundreds of dollars, but there are decent covers for well under $100. If you only want an ebook cover, the price is lower. If you want a back cover for a print edition, you’ll have to pay more.

    Likewise, if you want to add in banner advertising, and ads for specific social media sites, that pushes the price up further.

    However, a streamlined set of marketing images to use on multiple platforms is a great professional look that will help you stand out from the crowd.

    Sites providing premade covers

    Please note – I have not tried any of these services, so I cannot recommend them. They are just examples of the kinds of sites out there.

    Premade Ebook Covers

    Book Cover Zone

    Probook Premade Covers

    The Book Cover Designer

    The Artful Cover

    Self Pub Book Covers

    Kingwood Creations

    Other IndieCat blogs you might like

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    So indie authors aren’t real authors?

    When dialogue ruins your scenes

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

  • Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique
    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique

    Procrastination is a problem that besets most writers at some point. Why is it so hard to sit down and write? Why is it more tempting to rearrange your pencils, tidy your desk, check Twitter or another social media app? All of this has a massive impact on productivity. And since most writers don’t have the luxury of being full time, they have to fit their writing in around other activities, including nine-to-five jobs. This means they have to maximise their writing time. While there are numerous apps that can help with blocking social media distractions, in this post we will look at how you can boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique.

    Why do people procrastinate?

    But first things first – what is going on with procrastination? It’s a common problem that isn’t just confined to writers.

    One sad truth is that while most people dream of success – including writers – they don’t necessarily dream of the hard work that’s involved. It doesn’t help that you hear overnight success stories that don’t always show the long hard slog to get there. Writers are already gifted with imaginations – they can picture the book deal, the reading events, the signings. What they can’t or won’t picture so well is the more monotonous task of writing, rewriting, and editing. It’s solitary work that requires time away from others. And this connects with one of the two main human drives – the desire to avoid pain.

    Humans are primarily driven by two things – the desire for pleasure and the desire to avoid pain. Dreams of success relate to pleasure. The hard work and delays relate to pain. Because the work involves sacrifice – you have to give up watching TV and browsing social media. You have to say no to that night out at the pub. It’s not that you can’t have any fun, but writing a book takes a lot of hard work, and the book doesn’t write itself while you’re chatting to people on Twitter.

    Success is scary

    That brings us to another problem that also commonly hits business owners and freelancers when they’re trying to get off the ground. Success can be desired, but it can also be feared. This is why there can be a lot of self-sabotage going on. You sometimes see writers panicking when their books are about to be published. It’s not that they’ve changed their minds, but as well as the possible success they are facing potential pain in the form of poor sales or bad reviews. They are now committed and there’s no way to back out. If they’re a newer author, it will be all the more intimidating.

    Perfectionism

    And part of this relates to perfectionism. Is the book good enough? Which in turn leads back to pain – will I get bad reviews? Perfectionism can really bog people down, leading to procrastination, never being quite ready, or finding ways to avoid the task. As a writer, you probably know that what you put on paper rarely lives up to what’s in your head. Certainly not in earlier drafts. The frustration of bridging that gap can lead to you putting off the work. You avoid the pain by looking for something more pleasurable instead – like dreaming about your story which is much easier than writing it.

    All of this, along with the usual social media distractions, gets in the way of productivity. And if you’re failing to get the writing done, you feel a loss of confidence, and perhaps a sense of failure. This is also counter-productive.

    It’s easy to get stuck in a negative loop of endless procrastination.

    But there’s another issue too – writing a book can seem like a huge endeavour. Especially when you add in rewriting and editing. To deal with procrastination and the massive overwhelm you might be facing, it’s worthwhile looking at the Pomodoro technique of time management.

    Pomodoro – what is it?

    Actually, it’s a tomato. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. In the late 1980s, Italian student Francesco Cirillo developed a time-management technique involving a tomato-shaped timer. This technique breaks tasks down into 25 minute time intervals. Each interval is known as a pomodoro – after the timer Cirillo used. These intervals are broken by short breaks of three to five minutes. This makes work more manageable, less intimidating, and more achievable.

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique

    Here’s an example for writing tasks:

    • Make sure you have a goal or set of goals you want to tackle in the work session
    • Decide on what you’re going to tackle – for example, a scene in your book or short story
    • Set the timer for 25 minutes – this can be any timer, or an Alexa app, or an online timer
    • Get to work (and turn off social media to avoid distractions)
    • Stop working when the timer goes off and if you’ve completed your task, tick it off
    • If you have fewer than four ticks, take a break of three to five minutes
    • This break is also timed with an alarm going off to mark the end of the break
    • Then you return to your task or the next one for another 25 minutes, before another break
    • You should aim for four 25 minute work periods with breaks in between
    • After that, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes before starting again

    Beware of the social media rabbit hole during breaks

    All of this depends on the overall writing time you have to play with. It might be tempting to go and check out Twitter during a break, but this can disrupt your concentration. Once you start checking emails and social media, even if you don’t check it for long, you might take a while to get your concentration back. A short break can lead to lost time that goes well beyond a few minutes. And then you’re staring at the word-processing screen again, frustrated that you can’t get back into your story. Beware of misusing your breaks, unless you are good at managing yourself.

    If you finish a task before the end of the 25 minutes, you can use the extra time to review or edit your work.

    Set goals, then rinse and repeat

    If you’re really stuck for time, you could just do two hours and repeat again the next day. Be sure to set out your goals before you start and check off whether you accomplish them. A rough draft of a scene is a good goal. Reworking dialogue or filling in some location details in a rewrite session is also a perfectly good goal. By breaking writing into chunks of time, the task becomes more manageable. Yes, you should have the longer goal of writing an entire book. But you also have the shorter goal of dealing with it bit by bit.

    Examples of a Pomodoro timer

    pomodoro.io is a website that offers a Pomodoro timer with the ability to list the tasks you want to tackle.

    You can also try out this YouTube Pomodoro timer – the channel has other timers you can check out.

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    Other IndieCat posts you might find useful

    Social media blockers – how to block social media distractions that interfere with your writing.

    How to establish a writing routine – writing is like a muscle that needs to be built up over time.

    When is your novel done? Or, do you want to write and rewrite it forever?!

    When dialogue ruins your scenes – because it can you know! It can make or break scenes. Find out how.

    When is the best time for a developmental edit? Since developmental edits are not beta reads, this is a good question.

  • How to order the stories in a collection

    How to order the stories in a collection.
    How to order the stories in a collection

    How do you order the stories in a short story collection? What kind of strategy should you be using? Time to get out a pen and paper!

    The reason this subject is dear to me right now is based on two things:

    • I am currently trying to put together my own collection of stories that have been previously published in various journals and online sites
    • I am currently engaged in a daily short story read – which will run either for a month or, if I keep it up, for an entire year

    So, I’m going to break this down into different parts.

    Let’s start with my own collection. I have a choice between literary, magical realism, and genre fiction. The first two go together. The second two might go together depending on which particular stories I choose.

    But all three don’t go together.

    There’s too big a jump in atmosphere, style, etc. And one thing I don’t want is to introduce disruption or speed bumps for the reader.

    I decided to read through the rough manuscript from start to finish. I wasn’t trying to figure out the order at this point so much as what didn’t belong.

    Sure enough, there was one story that didn’t seem to fit with the others. I had already removed some others, so it was a matter of refining it further. This did not decide the order, but it did give me an idea of what will fit and what won’t.

    I will probably go through this process a few times just to keep checking. Especially since there are one or two stories still to be added.

    In terms of fitting in, it’s not about whether it’s good enough. It’s whether it just seems out of place. Stories that aren’t good enough shouldn’t be included in the first place.

    Of course, one temptation is to mix the best stories with some fillers – that way you can save some of the other best stories for another collection, along with more fillers. This might work if you’re prioritising publication over quality.

    If you’re playing a slightly longer game, you can add and remove stories over time, until you feel you’ve reached the ideal mix. This means not committing to publication too soon. You might still have some new stories that will fit in better.

    One important thing to remember about a short story collection is that it’s like a calling card for the rest of your writing.

    Of course, the rest of your writing might also be shorter fiction. Alice Munroe is famous for her short fiction. And writers who excel at the short story don’t necessarily do as well with novels.

    So, while a short story collection could act as a calling card for your novel, it might just be an introduction to more of your shorter fiction.

    Short story collections are hard to publish via the traditional route. This is where indie publishing is a great option. But as an indie writer, you also have to decide on what to include, and the order in which the stories will appear.

    And you might find yourself perplexed by the options – what to include, plus the order.

    Do you start off with the best story? The title story?

    And now that we’re talking about titles, do you name the collection after the best story in the book?

    Or do you take a title from the collection that best illustrates any themes in the book?

    Or maybe you have a title that isn’t referencing a story at all.

    Even there, the title should in some way reflect what the book is about. Are the stories in a particular genre? Are they love stories? Science fiction stories? Are they stories all set on Mars? Are they steampunk tales? Do they all centre on the same theme?

    Unless you have a definite title in mind early on, you might want to put the title problem aside while you deal with the final list of works and the order in which they appear.

    So, what’s the best order?

    One thing you can do is look at the choices made in other books. During my daily short story challenge, I looked at order choices, and sometimes it’s interesting and other times it’s not helpful at all.

    For writers whose work has been released as an entire collection, the stories might be arranged in chronological order. The Elizabeth Bowen collection I recently purchased, which runs to 880 pages, is arranged from First Stories, to The Twenties, The Thirties, The War Years, and Post-War Stories.

    I’ve seen other collected works with chronological ordering. But for a first-time collection, this is not your best option. Though, if like Bowen your writing covers a long period of time, there might be a reason to do it.

    Then again, she’s famous and her reputation was well-established before the collected stories were published.

    So, what about other authors and collections?

    In an edition of Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F Scott Fitzgerald, the title story is the first in the collection. The second story in the collection is a pre-Gatsby story and one of his best, so it can be said that this book gets off to a strong start. Which is exactly what you want in a collection.

    If a reader starts at the beginning, you want to wow them from the start. Especially if they’re sampling your book on Kindle (the opening pages) or in a bookstore.

    In Alice Munroe’s Runaway, the first story is the title story of the book. But in Barbara Gowdy’s classic collection, We So Seldom Look on Love, the title story is the second last in the book. It’s also the most memorable and was made into a film.

    In Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, the title story is the first in the book. It also benefits from having been adapted to the screen. It’s a famous story further boosted by a famous and classic film.

    In Maeve Brennan’s The Springs of Affection, the title story is the very last one in the book.

    While Tanith Lee’s classic feminist fairy tale collection, Red as Blood, has the title story as number two in the list.

    Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber collection, which includes The Company of Wolves, starts with the title story. Meanwhile, The Company of Wolves is second last, showing again that collections benefit from strong endings.

    Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others has the title story (later filmed as Arrival) as number three in the contents list.

    Back to Tanith Lee and the title story in The Gorgon is the first story in the book. And in Yasunari Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties, the title story comes first again.

    And so it goes on.

    I found other Tanith Lee collections where the title story came first.

    And others where the title of the book did not match any story. And this is not unusual either. Sometimes a title comes from a quote or is meant to represent in some way the theme of the collection.

    In Women as Demons, there is no story of that name in the book, but the first story is The Demoness. Which is the nearest to the collection’s title.

    In Anna Gavalda’s I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere – no story comes close to the book’s title.

    So, using a pre-existing story title is a popular choice. It’s also common for that story to kick off the collection or be close to the beginning. It can also be close to the end.

    This then brings us to the overall structure of a collection.

    In a novel, you want a powerful opening, a strong middle, and a memorable end. A collection should work the same way. The final stories should leave the reader wanting more. The middle shouldn’t flag. But you can include quieter stories in the places in between – just don’t have a bunch of them together, dragging down the pace.

    Besides, you should be choosing the best stories anyway. This can include much shorter fiction.

    This then brings us to the problem of readers ignoring the chosen order of a collection.

    I admit that I’m one of those readers. I study the contents list and choose on the basis of intriguing title, or length.

    I’m particularly likely to pick a shorter story if I have less time, am feeling tired, or I’m just getting to know a writer.

    If I know I really like a writer’s work, then I’ll tackle the longer stories. Of course, this is something of a generalisation. However, it does introduce a wild card into the ordering of the stories.

    You just don’t know what the reader will start with. But you do know if they’re sampling on Kindle, they will be looking at the opening pages. So, you absolutely want those to perform well. Likewise, with any book, you want a powerful ending.

    What about grouping together stories that are very similar? This could work really well – you could even divide your collection into sections, like the parts of a book. However, if they’re too similar, putting them together will lead to monotony.

    And putting stories that are very different back to back could work very well, or be too disruptive.

    When you’re experimenting with the order, try reading stories together to see how they bounce off one another. Play around with the order. And get some beta readers or friends to give you feedback.

    Ultimately, there is no right way to go about it, but there are some basics to keep in mind.

    It’s common to name the collection after a story in the book, but not absolutely necessary. You can come up with an alternative and even better title that fits in with the overall themes.

    You want your collection to get off to a great start. At the very least the first two to three stories should be very strong. Likewise the final stories. You also need a strong middle. Include your best stories, but they also have to be the stories that best fit the collection.

    If you find quite a few of your stories follow a theme, this will give you some ideas for the overall title or even the order of the stories.

    Also, if you have strong stories with a shorter word count, they can be a great introduction to new readers who are dipping into your collection for the first time.

    Another thing worth remembering is to focus more on previously published stories. This is because new stories should usually be sent out to magazines or online sites first.

    If you can get your stories published at a journal or magazine, you can use this as PR for your later collection. You can also use newer stories you’re just getting published in magazines to promote an existing collection – via the author bio that comes with your story.

    If you want a second opinion on what to include or the order of stories in the collection, feel free to contact me to discuss your project.

    Other blog posts that might be of interest:

    When dialogue ruins your scenes.

    When is the best time for a developmental edit?

    Are you wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?