Friday, March 15, 2013

Why it's good to belong to a writing group

Both of the writing groups I lead met this week and I was struck both evenings by the high level of comments and compassion from the participants. Some of these writers are very good and some are are still developing basic skills. Some have been coming a long time to the group; others are relative newcomers. But their encouragement of each other and their careful listening is really inspiring.

Note that these writers belong to a writing support group and not a writing critique group. My own experiences with critique groups were so painful, I soon stopped going. I tried three and in each case, the groups seemed to run on fear and scarcity. Fear that they weren't any good and fear that there weren't publishing opportunities for everyone, and so they needed to make others feel less adequate in some way. I will admit that those experiences happened over 10 years ago and publishing has changed so much that perhaps critique groups are now less competitive. But back then, I needed support, not critique, so I arranged my own groups, where seldom is heard a discouraging word and we believe in everybody's right to write.

Here's some of what I see writing support groups offering. The opportunity to:

1. Read out loud before an appreciative audience.
2. Be heard by the same audience over time so they note your progress.
3. Ask questions about the writing process from others who are in that process. No question is too elementary to be entertained.
4. Receive encouragement no matter what your skill level is.
5. Listen to the same writers over time and note their progress.
6. Celebrate small and large writing successes with people who care about your creative expression.
7. Receive compassion and understanding when the writing isn't going well.
8. Feel safe as a creative.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tip #1 for a better self-published book

 More and more of my editing clients are self-publishing. Yet for all of its time and money advantages, self-publishing presents additional challenges to the writer, challenges that would have otherwise been handled by the publishing house with its many resources. The next few posts are going to cover some ways to handle these challenges.  

Tip #1: Use a professional cover. 

Although most self-published books don't end up in brick-and-mortar bookstores where potential readers will pick them up off a crowded table, you still need a great cover. People look at the cover first thing on your amazon site and then read on. People consider the cover first if you are selling your book at a book fair or event. Readers are visual people and like all visuals, they are attracted to color and patterns. Many people buy books just because they like the cover.

In self-publishing, there are three ways to create a cover: 

1. Pay a graphic designer or book cover designer to do it. Costs for this vary but $250-500 is a reasonable investment. I suggest getting a firm price from the designer that includes the initial front and back design, at least one design re-do if you don't like it, and up to two text changes. The designer should be willing to supply the cover to you in both pdf and jpg formats. Cost may increase if you do not supply ideas or the cover art. If you're short on funds, consider whether you have something you can trade the designer for their services: massage, yoga, editing, writing, home-cooked meals, etc. 

2. Pay the self-publishing venue to design it for you. All self-publishing companies sell additional services in design, editing, marketing. If you're buying other services from them, it may prove more cost-efficient to have them design the cover. 

3. Do it yourself. There are cover templates available and companies like amazon's CreateSpace make it very easy to do, even offering you a variety of cover images. Unless you have design experience, however, I don't recommend going this route. You'll most likely end up with an okay cover but not a great one. 

If you can afford it, get a piece of original artwork for your cover. 

There are thousands of artists out there with beautiful, original work. If you spend some time looking on line at art websites, you are apt to find several perfect things for your book cover. Contact the artist and find out about buying the piece or about buying the right to put the piece on your cover (with appropriate back-cover credit, of course). Many artists will be thrilled at the chance to get their work in front of a larger audience and may well be interested in a trade or a good deal. 

Choose an image that intrigues the reader to enter the story.

Two of my clients wrote a very interesting book about their move from urban to rural living in the wine country of Northern California. They chose a lovely picture of themselves with their dog in a vineyard to put on the front. For those of us who know them, it's a great cover. But for someone who doesn't know them, it doesn't work well. The authors aren't celebrities and the cover doesn't invite readers to imagine themselves in the stories, in that vineyard. One option would have been to show themselves from the back with their dog. That kind of anonymity might have created a romance and mystery that would beckon the reader in. Even better would have been a painting of a landscape that invited the reader in.

Bottom line: A beautiful and intriguing cover may make all the difference between sales and no sales.