Well, the team have spoken, we’re updating the site, and there’s a lot of fun changes coming up. I thought today though, I’d share some of our best bits on the site.
Resources for miles
At the core of things at the Indie Author Group is our mission statement. Both Valerie Douglas and I felt, early on, supported by the rest of the team, that a safe space to get advice as an indie author. We don’t believe in judging others for their choices and are firmly all about making the most of everything. So, in 2011, when she set up the group, I was one of her first moderators, and we’ve gone on to build a really great resource. And we have an amazing team of moderators too! We founded the site late 2011, but the group will be 10 May 2021!
What you can find in the group
Honestly? A little of everything. We have resources that range from advice and support, to sharing information and tips and tricks. And a listing for the group’s Twitter list, Facebook pages, service providers (cover designers, editors, formatters, audiobooks, and more). If you’re not there already – why not? (tip, if you’re not, answer ALL the questions, and be aware we don’t allow advertising, at all, bar in communal documents for those reasons).
Happy birthday to the Indie Author Group. Founded just as the trend of self-publishing took off by Valerie Douglas, and her co-founder Kai Viola, we are a vibrant team of writers and artists that look after one of the oldest communities for self-publishing and hybrid publishing on the Facebook. It’s our birthday today! We’ll be celebrating next week though, so watch the blog, group and page! (or the blog page!) To celebrate our 9th birthday, we’ll be overhauling, adding resources and doing a lot more, so watch this space!
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Later, Asimov added a fourth, or zeroth law, that preceded the others in terms of priority:
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
I have many theories on AI, given I’m eventually doing a Ph.D. on it (hence the combined STEM degree now), but I’m not going to address the fallacies and intricacies of why the three laws (and the additional zero law, which is almost the same, but not quite, as law 1) fail and cause problems. If you want to know why there’s a plethora of books out there exploring that and similar issues.
No, instead, I wanted to talk about how the three laws apply to writing.
But I’m not a robot…
As you’re quite right to observe, it’s highly unlikely that you are a robot. You might be, but then, that opens up questions, again, not for a writers’ blog. But when you look at the three laws of robotics and change the context to writing, something interesting happens.
An author may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. I would argue this is common decency, but when there’s little of each online, it’s a good thing to bear in mind. It goes into a slightly broader concept though. While there’s no admonition to not harm our characters (cause we might), there is a duty in every community for the weakest to be cared for by the stronger. Writing is not a zero-sum game, so, if anything, I’d argue the first of the Writer’s three laws is that we need to work to prevent bullying. As we watch the mess with the RWA unfold and look back on Cockygate, I wonder why it isn’t a credo adopted by more. Beyond that, it also tells you not to hurt yourself. Planning and self-care are critical.
An author must obey the rules of its community, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. I think the easiest way to explain this one is 1) Don’t pick on someone for upholding rules on a group, even if you personally think they’re not fair. It’s their group, you agreed and continue to agree when you joined, and to be frank, bullying a moderator is something that we’re going zero tolerance on – and that includes if we *hear* of it from a friend that’s a mod. Beyond that, mob mentality is dangerous online – there’s a difference between defending the downtrodden and forming a lynching mob, and I think this law aptly states that. If an author is unhappy with a review and asks their tribe to retaliate, maybe question the worth of that tribe, and the person leading it?
An author must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Ah, you may say, doesn’t that mean if I don’t agree with people, I get to retaliate? Nope. You need to protect *your own existence*. What Jilly, Bob or Timmy does, as long as it’s not hurting you, isn’t important to you. I’m actually interpreting this one to be ‘don’t compare yourself to others, someone will get hurt’.
Law 1, Kindness. Law 2, fair play and Law 3, personal obligation. All three make for the best writers and the best communities. Personal obligation does mean sticking up for the rights of others if you’re sure you should, but it also means accepting that you ‘do you’. One of the hardest lessons I learned last year was that if I’m not careful, I will stay away for too long because I have nothing to give. My personal obligation became to me and only me for a while, and that was ok. But I have an obligation to you guys too. So, Law 3…it could also be read as ‘help yourself, help others’.
I don’t really agree that the zero law exists in the case of writers, but there is one final one I think all writers need to follow.
Law 4 – An author must ensure that everything they put out reflects the best of their work and the best of them. Each and every one of the team knows it’s hard to get things done in a budget, and we all sacrifice, but we are calling each and every one of our members to consider their reputations this year. Build good things, save and make things to the best of your ability, and only release books when they are professionally edited, covered and formatted. That way, you’re already ahead of a lot of people out there, who might see your example and follow suit (thereby helping you with the second and third laws ;)).
Yes, I belabored that one a bit, but I’m sure Asimov would forgive me.
Do you agree with my three laws of writing? What would you add?
Why making a five-year plan *after* New Year might work better for you
Hi guys! I know it’s been a while that we’ve been writing regularly here, but we’ve got an actual editorial calendar and a plan now, and we’re back. Valerie and I will be blogging and we’ll be introducing the mods that are around, old and new, throughout the year. We’ll also be looking for guest posters, but I’ll explain more on that in a few days 🙂
In 2011, Valerie Douglas put out a call for moderators. I think I was either first, or one of the first to say ‘I’ll help’. We’ve run this site, and others for almost as long, but we took a sabbatical last year, to think about what we wanted to do. And now….we’re back!
But first…. This year is a fun year for us. Not only are we NINE in May, but Valerie is a stone’s throw from 30 books, unless I miscounted, and that’d be funny cause I’m doing a Combined STEM degree, mostly maths. No, we’re not back in 2011, when this all started, but things are very similar again.
So…to start with, we thought we’d invite you guys to share your goals. Same rules as always, you can use the link in the form that you fill in to make a comment, but any URLS in the comment bodies will be rejected. And if you’re not sure how to make goals, hang around this week – we’re doing a crash course on this, and some other stuff that might help.
Quick tips to setting goals
While I’ll be sharing many more articles on building yearly and five-yearly plans and your vision board for the decade, using free tools, the biggest and most important tip is that any goal you set (whether you call it a goal, a target, a resolution or where I’m going), is to be as specific as possible. Whether it’s “make six figures, five figures, four figures or three”, whether it’s to write a million, half a million or any range of words, whether it’s to publish 1-100 books, put a number on it, then tell *everyone*. Stick it in the sidebar of your blog if you have one. Put it on your Facebook, your Twitter, and check out our post on making an intentions post on Canva, on the 3rd.
And, share it in the comments on the blog. We’ll be here, cheering you on. You’ve got this – and we’ve got you. Happy New Year, guys!
For those who aren’t familiar with Paper.li it’s essentially a ‘newspaper’ about whatever you want to share and it’s easy to use. Simply go to the site and sign up. There are two versions – free and paid. (More on that later.)
Give it a title but think long and hard before choosing one. Don’t make the common mistake of naming it ‘YourName, Author‘ or ‘RomanticTitle Series‘, because using your author name is a giveaway for ‘buy my book’ promotion and if you go off that series track you have to remember to go back and rename your paper.li. You want to consider it as part of your marketing plan but you don’t want to be obvious about it or no one will read it.
Since I write self-published fantasy, and that’s usually associated with sci-fi, mine references that. And, since no fantasy writer worth their salt shouldn’t also know something about archaeology (to ground their fiction in reality) and people are interested in that science, I reference that, too.
I’m also interested in giving back to other writers and educating them on the common mistakes many writers of fantasy make. Food, for example, was a lot harder to come by, you had to forage for vegetables and fruit, and it took a lot longer to cook. Say you have a character who takes down a bird or a deer. In some fantasy novels, writers roast them on a spit. A bird will take a fair amount of time. A deer is bigger than you think, it takes half a day to roast that way, with frequent turning. As another example of a common mistake, do you know why ancient peoples used chariots? Because most early horses couldn’t carry a person. Centuries of selective breeding (evolution) created an animal that could. Even so, a horse will take a long period of time, even with its longer legs, to get from point A to point B. More so if hitched to a wagon. And they get tired.
So, back to Paper.li. You can give it certain parameters to search for and feature, but some come with it.
In other words, there’s no formula for success as an Indie writer. There will be plenty of people who will tell you different, some will even offer you solutions, software, or fixes, that they promise will make your book great. They will be wrong.
Somerset Maugham said,
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
That is the truth.
There is no magic wand (if there were more people would be using it) – the magic lies in you. In your dreams, in your heart and soul. BUT, there is no substitute for the work, for the actual doing of the writing. As Neil Gaiman says, you sit down in a chair and you write, it’s both as easy and as hard as that. Do it for the love of it, to create characters that speak to you, to make worlds real or magical, or dark and terrifying, but that IS the truest magic – the writing. If you have the vision, you’ll make it happen.
There are many people out there who will say they have the crystal ball for making your book sing. They don’t and won’t. A great editor will help make your prose clearer and offer helpful suggetions. The so-called experts? They’ll tell you to write this way, write that style, write to the market, or write to their formula. They might even have software that will do it for you. And that’s exactly what you’ll wind up with – a machine-generated formulaic novel, boring and uninspired – that will lack your unique voice, your unique characters, your creation. Most of those who write to formula – like Harlequin or Mills and Boon Romances – disappear or are forced to reinvent themselves as writers, with varying levels of success. Romances are popular, but the best ones like Outlander, are unique.
Tell your truth, in your unique way, with your unique voice, and you’ll make magic.
There will be plenty of naysayers, doubt-sowers, and advisors – some of whom will charge a pretty penny with the promise of making your book a bestseller.
Any time someone tells you exactly what they think is wrong and what will fix it, it probably won’t. That’s their story, not yours.
For example, no one, when it was written, would have believed that a story about a reanimated corpse would be popular, but it was. The writer – Mary Shelley. She became the mother of science fiction. The book? Frankenstein.
How about a book about a magical world featuring peoples you almost recognize where a terrible force threatens to enslave them all? The Lord of the Rings series – Tolkien. Only Shakepeare had written anything close, but Tolkien created epic/heroic fantasy.
Or a tale of a angsty teenage girl with an ultra-religious mother and abilities she doesn’t understand. Carrie – Stephen King.
Or a suspense-filled, dystopian thriller about people living in silos. Wool/Hugh Howey.
Or a story about an astronaut stranded on Mars – told primarily from his POV. The Martian by Andy Weir.
Both of those last, by the way, were originally indie/self-published.
In the end, no one can tell you how to write your story. Only you.
It’s always sad to see the demise of a platform that supports authors, and I heard (though never personally used) lots of great things about Pronoun.
But it seems like they’re at the end of the road.
Here’s part of the announcement.
Two years ago Pronoun set out to create a one-of-a-kind publishing tool that truly put authors first. We believed that the power of data could be harnessed for smarter book publishing, leveling the playing field for indie authors.
We are proud of the product we built, but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.
Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.
While many challenges in indie publishing remain unsolved, Macmillan is unable to continue Pronoun’s operation in its current form.
In the beginning, there were the bards, the storytellers, and the spoken word.
And then, language was written down. Books became rare, hand-copied treasures.
Gutenberg changed that by inventing the printing press.
With the printing press came a new way for storytellers to share their tales. As time went by, multiple venues grew for those stories.
And an industry was born.
Publishers eventually sprung up; businesses who decided what stories would be printed, and then agents who sold those stories to those publishers.
And then, lo, there was self-publishing. First as vanity ‘publishers’ who would take advantage of those who could not pass the publishers’ gatekeepers, to fuel the dreams of those who thought they had wonderful stories to tell and a few who might have had those wonderful stories, filling their garages with their hopes and dreams. Only to watch them turn to dust.
Most, though, still though of traditional publishing as the only legitimate way to publish.
Then came Smashwords offering true self-publishing. However, there was one drawback – one had to read those first books on your computer or laptop. E-readers were few.
Smashwords was followed by Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, who saw the limitations (and freedom!) of reading on the computer. Thus was born the e-reader in truth as Amazon’s Kindle, the Apple iBook app, the B&N Nook, all of which helped bring about the tablet.
As with all good things, though, times changed. The Nook was the better e-reader at first but B & N wasn’t certain what to do with it or Indie writers and so Amazon came along with the new, improved Kindle. Amazon gave Indie writers a true home. And they all lived happily ever after…or mostly.
Here the fairy tale ends and so it should because it is a fairy tale.
Publishing, whether traditional or self-publishing, is a business like any other. Despite its reputation for being the big, bad wolf of self-publishing, Amazon, like Apple, is a business. But it’s not primarily a self-publisher, any more than Apple is. You could look at Amazon as a mall while Apple is more like an electronics store. Only Smashwords, D2D (Draft to Digital) and Kobo (primarily Canada) are true self-publishers. And what do they owe authors? In truth? Nothing, absolutely nothing. They are ultimately responsible to their customers – readers. All they do is provide authors a venue, a method of getting their work in front of readers, in exchange for a varying portion of the proceeds. That’s it, and nothing more.
Is Amazon sometimes draconian? Yep. They’re a business, and not primarily a self-publishing business. As a business, they owe their customers and only their customers. Like all the other vendors, that’s how they make their money. So, when any supplier pays for reviews – rendering the review process untrustworthy – the company cracks down on reviews. When authors on another site misrepresented the content of their novels and/or had covers that many found too revealing, all but Smashwords cracked down on erotica. When an author gamed the system to make it appear as if they’d sold more books than they had, they started looking at the sales and reviews of other authors.
Did they warn authors they were going to do that? No. Amazon – and other vendors – don’t have to. They are responsible to their customers, not their suppliers. And that’s true across the industry. Despite their avowed democratic and egalitarian outlook, even Smashwords had to bow to their distributors/customers – there are limits to what some distributors will permit when it comes to covers and content. In the one case, a father with his child on his lap looked for books about Daddies – and got an eyeful of content not suitable for small children. All because a few writers decided they didn’t want their books relegated to a separate corner.
Even vendors aren’t pure as the driven snow, though, one particular company colluded with traditional publishers to raise the price of e-books, primarily to cut another company off at the knees. This is why many traditionally published e-books are priced above the cost of paperbacks, even though e-books cost pennies to produce compared to the expense of printing paperbacks.
What do Indie authors owe vendors, whether Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N, D2D or Kobo? In a lot of ways, they owe everything. Where else can they go to print their novels, their way?
Authors owe an understanding of the rules of the site. They should then follow those rules. If you notice one thing about the example given, it’s that in many cases it was an author or authors who pushed the limits, and a lot of innocent authors who followed the rules paid the price along with them. With hundreds of thousands of new books added every day, sites like Amazon and Apple must rely on their algorithms to detect problems.
How can we decrease the likelihood that we’ll be impacted?
First, read and follow the rules of the site.
Second, get legitimate, organic reviews – not from friends/family, not from review ‘exchanges’, but from sales and ARCs (advance reader/review copies). Third, be professional – have a professional attitude, purchase a professional cover, have your book professionally edited. And, on the be professional front, stop complaining and don’t talk badly about a vendor. What business wants to deal with a vendor who complains about them all the time or talks badly about them in public or social media? If you don’t like them, take your business elsewhere. You might take a pay cut, but you’ll do yourself and the provider a favor.
Oh, and stop complaining about how unfair it all is. It is unfair that a few unscrupulous ‘writers’ created the problem. Go to another site if you don’t like it. Indie writers are a drop in the overall bucket of a vendors offerings, however great some of us think our ‘great American novel is’.
Stop biting the hand that feeds you, or it will stop, and then where will you be? Nowhere. And while you’re at it, you’ll squash the hopes and dreams of thousands of others.
Spelling – Even the best spellers make mistakes. Use a software program like Grammarly or WordWeb (both of which have free versions.) Both may catch other errors in word usage – like affect vs. effect – and both do offer a thesaurus so you can find a better word or correct one that’s overused.
One of the first things they may or may not tell you in writing classes or seminars is that in a novel it’s all about action. It’s about doing things. Show don’t tell. People don’t ‘begin’ to do things, they don’t ‘start’ to do things, they DO them. For example – ‘Smoke waited until they were distracted to begin nibbling at her hair again’ vs. ‘Smoke waited until they were distracted to nibble at her hair again.’ Which sounds better? (Smoke is a horse, by the way…) Don’t have your characters begin or start to do anything unless it’s the first in a series of actions. Do a search for begin and start.
Ditto feel and felt. Which sounds better – When he kissed her it felt like she tingled all over -or- When he kissed her she tingled all over? For #2 and #3, a professional editor will often scribble “SDT”. This is not a disease, it means “Show Don’t Tell”. “The best “show don’t tell advice” came from Anton Chekov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Very or Really. They’re not very happy or really happy, they’re ecstatic or delighted. Use a better, more descriptive word. If nothing comes to mind get a thesaurus.
Search for contractions. For some reason, many writers don’t write in contractions. Especially with ‘had’. He had, she had, rather than he’d or she’d. Be very careful not to do a universal search and replace to correct this or you’ll hate yourself in the morning because once it’s saved you have no other choice but to search the entire document for the awkward mess you made of things. (Always start a new copy when editing, just in case. It’s a lot easier to start over that way.) For example, a universal search and replace for ‘had not’ to ‘hadn’t’ will also change ‘had noticed’ to ‘hadn’ticed’. (This is a personal choice, in a more casual voice like dialogue in fiction, it works, but in more formal writing, it may not.)
‘There was’. Sometimes it’s justified. Look at each sentence to see if you can rephrase it to make the sentence clearer.
Speaking of there – their (possessive), there (in that direction), and they’re (they are).
*aargh* The dreaded ‘that’. That she, that he, that they… In most cases, the use of the word ‘that’ is completely unnecessary, but we use it in speech so it can sound correct when you write it.
Try not to use that when you mean who. “The man that…” should be “the man who… “
Just and only. Always make sure you really need to use them and that they’re next to the word you want to modify. For example – only costs vs. costs only or it just costs or costs just… Do you really need either?
Was. Jim was shaking his head. Jim shook his head. Always watch for those ‘ing’ words. If you see a lot of them in your writing in conjunction with was, you need to change that sentence to a more active voice. Active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. In passive voice sentences, the subject is acted upon by the verb.
As if/like. Make sure you know which of them you really mean. Do a search for like, and in each place see if ‘as if’ doesn’t sound better.
Watch for split infinitives. Not all of them are bad – to boldly go where no man has gone before, where boldly splits to and go – is generally accepted. “I decided to not go” sounds awkward.
Of…. is another sneaky little beggar. ‘Inside’ works as well as ‘inside of it’ in most cases.
‘Then’ and ‘and then’ are telling words, don’t use them. For instance: Then he went to sit down. Just say: He sat down. Or…. And then she set a bowl on the table. Just say: She set a bowl on the table. Using then or and then is like a narrator in your book telling us a story, it slows it down. Show, don’t tell.
Do not use really, very, or like. He’s either hot or he’s not. He’s not really hot, or very hot, he’s roasting, burning up, or he’s gorgeous, sexy, etc. She’s not ‘like’ that, she IS that.
Commas. If you have more than two it might be a good idea to look at the sentence and decide if it would work better as two separate sentences. This is DEFINITELY true if you have more than three. For more information on commas and their proper use – http://grammar.about.com/od/grammarfaq/f/QAoxfordcomma.htm
Singular and plural pronouns. When speaking about an individual, the pronoun should be singular, when speaking about a group, it’s plural. Ex. It brought him to their feet. Wrong.
(Although this is primarily a grammar document, it is about writing and this has been seen too often to go unremarked.) Don’t ‘Slug a Nun’, as a well-known writer once said. In other words, when opening a chapter, any chapter, get to the point. Don’t say “Mikey slugged a nun” and then take ten pages, eight of which explain the history of the Catholic Church before you explain WHY Mikey slugged the nun.
Another very common mistake – Her eyes wandered. Please put them back in her head, that’s disgusting. Her gaze might wander, but not her eyes. She might glance at him, their gazes may meet, or lock, etc., or they might stare at each other, but his eyes will never wander over her breasts unless it’s a zombie movie and they’ve gained legs. Some editors might let this go, but you should be able to find a better way to say it.
Watch for sentences that start with the same word or the same type of beginning. He did this, he did that. Change it up so the reader doesn’t get bored.
Too much use of “it” as a subject can make writing weak. Delete the vague pronoun and identify ‘it’ with a solid noun. Not – It felt good to dress up. Try – She enjoyed dressing up.
Do not mix dialogue of one character in the same paragraph as another. Ever. Even if, or especially if, you’re using omniscient point of view. And always identify the person speaking or thinking.
Action and reaction. Sentences need to relay information about the cause before the effect or result. Not – She jumped as the door slammed shut. Try – The door slammed, making her jump.
Eliminate unnecessary words. In the above example – few doors slam open, so it must have slammed shut or closed. So, the door slammed.
Try to avoid prepositional phrases (to her, at him, for her, etc.) that can be implied. Not – Seeing him proved what a distraction he was to her. Try – Seeing him proved what a distraction he was.
Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Try to evaluate each adverb (words that end in -ly), especially in conjunction with speaking tags. Replace with stronger words. Not – He leaned close and spoke softly. Try – He leaned close and whispered.
Repeated words: There’s a function in Word that shows words you overuse, but a beta reader or editor can be a better choice. Sometimes it’s justified – a character tic.
How often do you use ‘look’? Try variations like glanced, gazed, stared, their eyes met, saw.
Said, but don’t get too caught up it. Studies have shown that said is a word that readers eyes pass over, registering only who is speaking.
Starting a sentence with But when you could use However.
Starting a sentence with And. Can you rework it? It’s acceptable, but too much or too often is a bad thing.
Redundant actions: stood up. How else would you stand? Sat down – try sat. Nodded his head – just use nodded, if he’s nodding anything else it’s just weird.
Also, consider picking up The Elements of Style. It’s a small, thin book, perfect to keep beside your laptop or desktop computer. It answers some of those pesky grammar questions.
For style suggestions, try Hemingway Editor, a software program that highlights lengthy, complex sentences, common errors, and passive voice. Always be careful taking the advice it or other programs offer – you don’t want to sound too mechanical or lose your authors ‘voice’.
One last little hint. By not doing a read-through sentence by sentence but using search instead, it forces you to look at each sentence individually, in isolation. It makes it much easier to spot errors you might otherwise have missed or to question the wording of the sentence. Try reading it aloud, or use text to voice to read it back, that may help you pick up errors in flow.
We don’t often feature these products on the group blog, but this is one designed for indie authors, and it doesn’t have affiliate links AND you can donate 10% to charity, so we thought we’d see how it went.
Storybundle and HumbleBundle feature products in ‘bundles’ at a significant amount of money off, and if you’re looking to study or intake information, this bundle is a great one for at least one or two perspectives to give you something to think about in the indie author community. Plus, it’s something that the mod team talk about a lot – making sure that the advice we’re listening to isn’t from people just recycling information or not sharing from experience.
Here’s the blurb:
From curator Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Hundreds of writing books get published every year, and most of those books are written by people who have written…a book on writing. I kid you not. These people have a method or a scheme or they teach a writing class—even though I have no idea how they get those gigs. (Okay, I do. They get an MFA, which universities seem to think is more important than actual writing experience.)
Those writing books have nothing in common with the writing books in this bundle. Together, the authors of the books in The Write Stuff 2016 Bundle have more than two-hundred years of writing experience, and have contributed more than five hundred award-winning and bestselling books (fiction and nonfiction) to the world of literature.
We know writing, the writing life, and what makes a writing career. And we want to share it all with you.
You can grab your bundle here. And keep checking back on the blog as we talk about the advice we’re working on for you guys ourselves!