Indie authors

  • 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. 

  • When dialogue ruins your scenes

    When dialogue ruins your scenes
    When dialogue ruins your scenes

    When dialogue is great, it can be terrific, keeping readers or audiences on the edge of their seats.

    Whether it’s the verbal sparring of Bogart and Bacall, the wisecracking characters of 1930s films, or dramatic courtroom exchanges in A Few Good Men, dialogue can spark and enthral.

    It’s not just true of films or plays either – there are plenty of novels with powerful dialogue.

    But there are also times when dialogue ruins scenes

    But here’s the problem – dialogue can be a little too seductive.

    Or to be more exact, writers who are rather too fond of their characters can sometimes find it difficult to know how much is too much.

    The problems with dialogue are numerous and linked to different issues.

    For example, writers who find their characters springing spontaneously to life, like Athena from her father’s head, might feel they spend a good part of their time just reporting what their characters are saying.

    It’s like taking dictation. Sometimes it’s like being possessed as you struggle to keep up with what your characters are saying and doing.

    Your fingers fly over the keyboard and you’re hoping they’ll slow down.

     

    When characters won’t stop talking

    Characters like this can have a real spark because they haven’t been consciously constructed or built from the ground up.

    They’ve not been sketched out on paper but appear to emerge from the writer’s subconscious.

    They can be unpredictable, obstructive, overly chatty (or the opposite).

    Such characters can pull the plot way off track. They have their own opinions that can supersede the author’s.

    If they are chatty, their dialogue can go on longer than necessary, and if they’re the amusing type, the author may find them entertaining.

    However, this can have a detrimental effect on the pacing and plot.

    Amusing dialogue scenes can only go on so long. Dialogue scenes should usually serve a purpose.

    If the author has two characters like this in the same scene, the situation can become more unmanageable.

    Cutting back these scenes is pretty much an example of murdering your darlings.

    The scenes might seem to be full of life, but a novel is not episodic. There should be a plot, and it should keep on moving.

    It shouldn’t be paused frequently for a chat break.

     

    When dialogue destroys your atmosphere

    Where this can become an even bigger issue is when there’s a conflict between the tone of the dialogue and the genre of the novel or its overall atmosphere.

    For example, if you want a dark, foreboding atmosphere to hang over the narrative, too much witty repartee is going to blow it out of the water.

    Think horror novels or dark thrillers.

    The dialogue becomes tone-deaf.

    It would work in a witty chic-lit novel, but there are other narratives where you really need to reign it in.

    You particularly don’t want it at wrong moments in the plot, where it interrupts the story or delays important events.

    Too much of this and your reader may bail out completely.

     

    When dialogue makes scenes too ‘loud’

    Another issue I’ve seen in manuscripts is that dialogue can actually amplify the volume in scenes where you want a quieter and possibly more introspective atmosphere.

    Sometimes, instead of dialogue, indirect speech is really better.

    There are other reasons why you might choose to use indirect speech, but volume is one.

    Another is that too much speech which has a low-information-to-wordcount ratio buries important details. You don’t want the most important details of the speech to be hidden among the less important chat.

    While people can drone on in real life, you have to be a bit more ruthless with characters.

    Novels, like films and plays, are artificial constructs. They are not a realistic representation of life. The scenes are edited, with toilet breaks and other mundanities usually left out.

    The same should be true of speech.

    You don’t have to be puritanical about it and only include the absolutely most relevant dialogue.

    But you do have to weigh the length and tone of your dialogue against the surrounding narrative.

     

    When dialogue slows the pace

    Dialogue often produces shorter lines and paragraphs down a page. This leads to the reader turning the page faster.

    While that is good for pace, it can also be draining to read if it goes on too long.

    This is particularly true if the dialogue doesn’t have an important purpose.

    The reader isn’t reading to eavesdrop on people, they want to see what happens to the characters and follow the plot to the end.

    When dialogue works really well it can boost the pace, but when it doesn’t it can slow the pace to a crawl.

    A novel that is heavy on dialogue is going to have a different tone from one that has much less.

    This doesn’t mean that the first is wrong – it could be a feature of the novel.

    But it does have an impact on tone and volume, though there are other factors like the personalities of the character and the genre that also have to be factored in.

     

    Other examples of when dialogue ruins scenes

    Fictional dialogue is a huge topic. Certainly, it’s too complex to cover in one blog post.

    But these are some of the other occasions when dialogue can ruin your scenes:

    • Using clunky dialogue to convey information to the reader. There are more subtle ways to convey the information you want your reader to know. 
    • Related to the previous point – some writers are using blocks of dialogue as massive info dumps, with no interruptions or pauses that you might expect in real-life speech.
    • Long speeches that are never interrupted by other characters.
    • Incorrect dialogue formatting – one author client even had an editor incorrectly format all the dialogue in her novel which I then had to undo.
    • Dialogue where everyone in the same scene sounds exactly the same. Readers struggle to tell one character from another.
    • Overly formal dialogue that doesn’t match real-life speech patterns. For example, some writers make upper-class speech oddly stilted.

     

    Dialogue is a skill you can master

    There’s much more that could be listed here.

    But one important thing to remember is that most human communication is non-verbal. And this is often getting missed.

    Those little pauses, gestures, facial expressions, and body language can reveal a lot. Check out The Emotion Thesaurus for how to convey non-verbal cues.

    If you really want to learn from the best, screenwriters and dramatists are a great place to start.

    Some of them are more realistic than others, but there’s plenty of great material to learn from.

    Most of all, don’t worry if your dialogue isn’t quite there yet. It’s something you can refine over multiple drafts.

    And if you think it’s not your strong point right now, remember not to get bogged down in negative thinking.

    Because when you tell yourself you’re not good at something, it can block you from doing better.

    Those other people who are great at dialogue – who knows how long it took them to get there!

    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.