Tag Archives: writing

Should You Use an Outline to Write? A Writing Q & A

Question: I understand some people write using an outline, while others discover what comes next as they write. Which is better?

Writing Q and A: Use an Outline

Answer: The short answer is to use whatever works best for you.

When writing a short story, article, or blog post, I often start with a title, opening line, or concept. Then I start writing to see where it takes me. (Sometimes I have the last line in mind and write to get there.) Though this may result in extra content that I need to cut, it usually becomes part of another article or post. However, recently for blog posts, I’ve been writing to hit bullet points, which is a basic outline.

Conversely, when I start a book, I always have an outline. This gives me structure to easily move from one item to the next, without wasting time or words. After all, it’s not a big deal to cut 20 percent of a 300-word blog post (60 words), but it would be painful to cut 20 percent of a 50,000-word book (10,000 words).

However, just because I use an outline for books, that doesn’t imply I don’t discover things along the way. When I do, it’s an exciting bonus, which I’m happy to work into the text. Then I update my outline.

9 Keys to Self-Publishing Success

It’s never been easier to publish a book, but that doesn’t mean we should

Self-published book

I once read a self-published book, a novella. I read it for several reasons: it was recommended (which turned out to be a bad reason), it would be a quick read, I’d never read a novella, and it was free (I got what I paid for).

On the plus side, the opening captured my attention, the story line was intriguing, and the ending was a delightful surprise. On the negative side, the book did not flow smoothly, was poorly edited (or not edited at all), contained many errors, and was poorly converted into e-book format. Overall, the great ending did not overcome all the negative elements.

Self-Published Book Success

For a self-published book to be successful, it needs what all great books need:

  1. A Promising Idea: If you don’t have a great story idea or theme, don’t start writing. This novella did, but its implementation fell short.
  2. A Compelling Opening (a Hook): The opening didn’t grab me, but it was sufficient to make me want to read more.
  3. Great Writing: I felt I was reading a rough draft. Elements of good writing were present, but they were too sparse to be effective.
  4. Professional Editing: The novella may have been self-edited (never a wise idea) or done so on the cheap, but the result wasn’t even close to professional. While publishing perfection is hard to achieve, the goal should be to get as close as possible.
  5. A Satisfying Ending: The ending of the novella was superb. It was the most notable element of the work. But one good line does not make a good book.
  6. A Memorable Title: Some titles are hard to forget and others are hard to remember. I can’t recall this novella’s title.
  7. An Attention-Grabbing Cover: The cover didn’t hurt the book, but it didn’t help either. If I were judging this book by its cover, I would have passed.
  8. A Pleasing Layout: In print, a self-published book shouldn’t look self-published. (We can’t always define it, but we know it when we see it). In electronic form, the formatting should flow smoothly with no glitches, misplaced text, bad alignment, or floating words or titles. In any good book, the interior design should be innocuous. When people notice the layout it becomes a distraction.
  9. Effective Marketing: The above items all relate to the quality of the product. (There are more elements to consider, but these are the main ones.) A quality product requires effective marketing. A stellar book with no sales will not be a success, nor will great marketing of lousy writing work out.Before you self-publish your book, make sure you include these 9 requirements. Click To Tweet

If you’re considering self-publishing, be it in print or e-book, make sure you cover all nine of these items before proceeding. Your book’s success will depend on it.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Grammar Checking Programs: A Writing Q & A

Question: I’m looking for a grammar-checking program. Is there one you can recommend?

Writing Q and A: Grammar Checking Programs

Answer: I seek the same thing!

I once signed up for a trial of grammarly.com. It’s a most impressive grammar checker.

The problem was that it was too sophisticated for me. It flagged many things to check, but I lacked the needed background to comprehend the issues. Many of their suggestions were beyond me. However, I recently took a fresh look at it, and it seems they’ve made it easier to use.

Regardless, the built-in grammar checker in Microsoft Word is a great place to start. Though this still requires the writer to decide which suggestions to accept and which ones to reject, it’s easier to manage. While this won’t catch everything, it covers the basics.

In my experience as a publication editor, most of the submissions I receive could benefit from doing this basic grammar check in Word before they submitted their work. It seems many people have turned off this option (I once did), and some don’t bother to run spell check either. Don’t make that mistake.

Self-Publishing Versus Pursuing a Traditional Book Deal: A Writing Q & A

Question: With so many self-publishing options out there, why should I bother to pursue a traditional publisher for my book?

Writing Q and A: Traditional Book Deal

Answer: I love this question!

Here’s my short response: Traditional publishing requires less of the author, will likely result in more book sales, and carries the prestige of a publisher selecting your book for publication. The negatives include the effort to find a publisher, the length of time to publish the book, and earning much less per copy sold—if anything at all.

A commonly sighted reason to not self-publish is the requirement to market and promote our books. While it’s true that if we self-publish our books, we must market them if we expect to sell any, traditional publishers also expect you to help promote, market, and sell your books. If you can’t or won’t do that, the publisher is unlikely to decide to publish your book. In short, they want authors who can move books.

There is no one right answer. It depends on the goals and priorities of each individual author. Also, some authors do both, depending on the book. They’re hybrid authors, going with traditional publishers for some books and indie-publishing (self-publishing) for others.

Should You Be a Writer or an Entrepreneur?

Authors are advised to treat their writing like a business

Entrepreneurial

If you write solely for the fun of it or treat writing as a mere hobby, then don’t read this post. Seriously, it will just make you mad.

But if you want to succeed as a writer, regardless of how you define success, then this post should give you some ideas to consider. Please read on. Then let me know what you think about it.

Writing is a Business

When we treat our writing like a business it means we strategically pursue actions to meet the needs others have. We hope to earn a profit doing so. This need we strive to fill is information, inspiration, or entertainment. Maybe all three. For nonfiction we know things (or can find out things) that most people don’t know. For fiction we tell stories others want to read. We write to fill these needs. When we charge money for meeting the needs of others, we ensure we have the means to write more—and meet more needs.

A Book Is a Product

Yes, our books are creative works. Books are art, but they are also products; books provide a service to our audience.

A Series is a Product Line

If one book is a product, then a series is a product line. This is why beginning authors need to stay within one genre or one theme, so they can develop a product line and build a following around that line.

A Book Proposal is a Business Plan

At its most basic level an author’s business plan is a book proposal. Look at the elements of a proposal. It outlines the theme and purpose of the book (the product), it lays out a vision for what it will accomplish, it talks about the need for the book, and it addresses the competition. It also proposes follow-up books (a product line).

At the very least, a book proposal informs our writing and guides us to producing a marketable book (product). No business will ever produce a product people don’t want. An author shouldn’t either.Writing is a business, a book is a product, and a proposal is a mini-business plan. Click To Tweet

We Need Backing

The purpose of a business plan is to raise funding, to procure investors. When it comes to publishing a book our business plan (our book proposal) is the means to get a publisher to back us, to invest in our product (our book).

In theory an advance is money to live on while we develop the product (write our book). Our publisher will produce the book for us, distribute it, and sell it.

If we self-publish our book, we may go to Kickstarter to raise funds or solicit friends and relatives. They’ll want to see a plan before they fork over cash. Even if we self-fund our book, we would be foolish to do so without treating it as an investment.

Marketing Plan

Our marketing plan—often part of the book proposal—addresses how we will let others know about our book. Even if we go with a traditional publisher, they will expect us to market our book. If we self-publish, marketing is even more critical.

Writing and publishing a book requires thinking like a businessperson; we must become an entrepreneur, especially if we choose to self-publish.

Do you think of your book as a product? What do you think about treating writing as a business?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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A Book Need Not Be Perfect to Succeed

Book success can occur without it being perfectA few years ago, I finished a novel I was reading, the first in a series.

The first chapter grabbed me, but by the second or third, some of the scenes began to irritate. They were unrealistic at portraying real-life situations. Likewise, some of the dialogue didn’t work too well for me either. It was artificial, contrived. I certainly could have done better.

Yet the plot was intriguing, so I kept reading.

About midway through, some foreshadowing suggested an implausible ending. Surely, this was a ruse. I imagined two other scenarios I deemed more satisfying. Yet, further foreshadowing pointed towards a conclusion I didn’t want. As I raced towards the finish line, the improbable ending unfolded just as I feared. The book left me unsatisfied. I was irked, bordering on mad.

And I wanted to read the next book in the series.

What? Why would I wanted to read another book in a series when the writing of the first one frustrated me?

Quite simply I’ll read more because the author did a wonderful job creating characters I care about. I wanted to see how their stories unfold. I hoped to see them continue to grow as individuals and realize the potential I see for them.

Yes, the writing could have been better, and some readers would not tolerate it. But for light entertainment it was good enough for me; the book was a success.

As writers, we need to make our books as good as we possibly can, while at the same time not becoming paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection—because there’s always something we can improve.

Book success can occur without being perfect. And I couldn’t wait to read the second book.A book can succeed without being perfect. Click To Tweet

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Writing is an Art; Publishing is a Business

Producing and selling booksConsider all the really great books that don’t sell. Consider some of the poorly written books that do. Although this is unfair, it is also reality. Fortuitous timing aside, these two situations point out the fact that producing and selling books is part art and part business.

I’ve been in business much of my adult life: managing businesses, owning businesses, starting businesses, running businesses, and buying businesses. Being a businessman is in my blood; it’s part of who I am. Producing and selling books is part art and part business. Click To Tweet

Writing is Art

I’ve been writing even longer, but in the past years, I’ve taken writing seriously, moving it from hobby status to professional. I’ve worked at improving my work, at communicating clearer, and at understanding the craft. Along the way, I realized writing is art. For a person who didn’t think of himself as creative, seeing writing as a form of art is huge. I embrace the role of an artist who writes. Writing is my passion. It’s in my blood; it’s part of who I am.

Publishing is Business

In accepting the reality that writing is art, while publishing is business, it would seem that as a businessman writer, I have the best of both worlds. My creative side produces content and my business side turns it into product that sells. Unfortunately I have trouble connecting the two, at least as far as my work is concerned.

Many writers also struggle with the business side of their art. And while I am closer to connecting the two, my struggle is no less real.

Though the reason why I have this issue still evades me, the solution is clear. As Nike says, I need to “just do it.” And with all the evolving technology in the world of publishing, it has never been easier to do.

Are you more artist or businessperson?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Why We Need a Book Proposal for Every Book We Write

Book ProposalI’ve never met an author who likes to write book proposals, yet if we hope to sign with a traditional publisher, we need a book proposal—a really good book proposal. Aside from being tedious and time-consuming, parts of a book proposal are challenging, such as researching competitive titles, selling ourselves as the ideal person to write the book, and talking about our platform (a.k.a. how we can move books). If we hope to sign with a traditional publisher, we need a book proposal. Click To Tweet

To further complicate things, there is no standard format for the ideal proposal. True, there are some common expectations, but the list varies. Even the order is a matter of preference. To further frustrate matters, some people advise including items that other equally knowledgeable folks say to ignore.

Writing Book Proposals Is a Chore

This all conspires to make writing a book proposal a chore. Thankfully we only have to write book proposals if we’re going the traditional publishing route, right? No. The gurus say to do a proposal if we’re going to self-publish too. Yeah, like I’m going to do that.

However, I gained some insight into this when attending a book proposal workshop by Andrew Rogers at the Jot Conference. In addition to giving the most helpful information I’ve ever encountered on the subject, the act of writing parts of a proposal in class was insightful.

For the purpose of the exercise, I used my then current WIP (work in progress, which I’ve since published) Women of the Biblefor which I did not have a written proposal. Noting the title and subtitle was easy, since I already knew that. A synopsis paragraph affirmed my vision for the book, while describing the target audience was insightful. Though we didn’t have time for it, writing the hook—a compelling one to two sentences to sum up the book—would provide additional clarity. Last is the table of contents, which effectively is an outline to guide the writing. (I realized that to self-publish I could skip the other items of a typical proposal, including a detailed outline, platform information, author bio, and sample chapters. Yea!)

A Mini Book Proposal for Self-Published Books

Having these five key items established would help me write and hone any book I want to self-publish. Plus, they wouldn’t take too long or be burdensome to develop. Armed with this insight, I intend to write a mini book proposal for all my future self-published books to guide my writing and clarify my vision.

The items for a mini book proposal when self-publishing are:

  1. Title and subtitle
  2. Hook
  3. Synopsis paragraph
  4. Target audience
  5. Table of contents

This is not an overwhelming list and won’t take much time to pull together. Remember, this will make our book easier to write and the finished product, better.

What’s your experience writing book proposals? Do you see yourself writing a mini book proposal for your next self-published book?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Peter’s Law of Reciprocity as It Applies to Writers

As writers we must seek to learn and to teach

When it comes to learning and sharing information, I developed a guiding principle to direct me along the way. I call it Peter’s Law of Reciprocity.

Peter’s Law of Reciprocity states: “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t, so politely and tactfully learn what it is. Conversely, everyone you meet doesn’t know everything you do, so be willing to graciously share whatever you can when asked.”We are both teacher and student.

I started this blog to share what I know about writing and publishing. I’ve been writing most of my life and have been a published writer for over three decades. I’ve learned a lot along the way and am willing to share what I’ve gleaned on my journey as a writer.

I’ve also been a magazine publisher and editor for the past seventeen years. In that time I’ve edited thousands of submissions. While doing so, I’ve picked up a thing or two. And I’m willing to share these experiences as well.

I use this blog to give back to the writing community. In this way I try to fulfill the second part of Peter’s Law of Reciprocity, of sharing whatever I can. I blog to give back to the writing community. Click To Tweet

However, there are things I’m just learning about, too, things for which I have little experience. In these instances, I tap the first part of Peter’s Law of Reciprocity, of learning whatever I can from others.

I talk about this new information in this blog, too, not as an expert, but as a fellow traveler. These new areas include writing fiction and book publishing. (Yes, although there are many similarities, publishing a book is much different than publishing a magazine.)

As I pursue my just-in-time learning to gather the information I need when I need it, I’m willing to share that, too. And I learn from you in your comments, both on this blog and in person.

We’re in this writing journey together. And as we travel down our path, we can learn from each other, as both teacher and student. That’s the guiding principle for this blog. And as I often say in my newsletter, write on!

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today! Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Pursue Just-in-Time Learning for Effective Education about Writing

Writers should consider just-in-time learning to round out their education

I work at home. My office window looks out at the bus stop. Each school day I see kids waiting to get on the bus. And each afternoon the bus returns them home. They’re mostly excited, but more so when they’re learning for the day is over.

They remind me of my time as an elementary school student, followed by middle school and then high school. Various colleges followed. First a bachelor’s degree and then a second major. Then a master’s degree was next and a PhD and then a second one. I have a lot of formal education. Fortunately, this is behind me. No more tests!Writers should never stop learning.

Though my formal education resides in my past, I’ve been pursuing informal education all my life. I call it just-in-time learning.

Most of my recent education about writing comes from the usual sources:

  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Magazines
  • Critique groups
  • Conferences

I learn whatever I can from whoever I can whenever possible. Along the way I’m also willing to share what I know with others.

However, I’ve recently begun paying people to teach me specific things—what I need, when I need it. This is just-in-time learning at its finest. I’m custom designing my own courses based on exactly what I need to know. Paying people to teach me what I want to learn costs less than one university class. Click To Tweet

Though paying people to teach me what I want to learn has cost several hundred dollars, it’s still far less than the cost of one university class. Plus, taking a class covers many things I don’t care about or need to know at this point in my writing journey. If I take a class I must sift through the material to get to what I need to know.

My approach to just-in-time learning is so much more valuable. As you continue to work on improving as a writer, maybe just-in-time learning might work for you, too.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!