Editor? Proofreader? What’s in Your Indie Budget?

So you’re hot on language, your grammar is impeccable, your style puts Strunk and White to shame and like Akeelah you could win any old spelling bee. Why would you, as an indie author, need to pay for outside help? Well, you only have to read a few Amazon reviews to know that readers can be an unforgiving bunch, quick to spot a typo or a missing space between paragraphs. As an indie author you have to make some difficult choices about how much assistance you can afford to enlist. We wrote a whole post on the importance of a good book cover and we still feel that unless you’re amazingly hot stuff at art, you’re probably wiser to leave that to a professional. But here’s Ellie Campbell’s take on things.

 

Having a good editor is brilliant. Our first editor, Emma at Arrow Books, was instrumental in whipping How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go Bad into shape. She pointed out that the endings were too short, the middle was too long, told us which characters needed motivation or fleshing out, where we’d over-described, repeated ourselves, or missed some vital information. After our rewrite, she did a massive line edit, cutting, stretching and pulling those babies until they cried uncle and turned into halfway decent novels. And did we learn a lot from her! These days we rely on our two sets of eyes, multiple drafts and hard-won experience to get the story tight and hopefully catch any glaring errors. We might then send the book to one or two amazing friends who can be trusted to say things like ‘your hero’s a bit of a creep’ instead of just ‘it’s great, honest’. BTW, if you have discerning friends like that, never let them go. They’re pearls beyond price.

 

Then copy editors, what an amazing job they do. Who knew that you’d been misquoting Shakespeare or the words of that pop song for your entire existence? Or what year Madonna adopted her black biker jacket, cropped bleach hair, ‘bad girl’ look? How could the fact that your own heroine changed from blonde to a redhead halfway through the manuscript escape you? A copy editor will check facts, correct misspellings, grammar and punctuation, notice when you switch from British to American English, or say ‘10’ instead of ‘ten’, warn you of potential lawsuits and altogether bring clarity and consistency to every element of your manuscript.

 

In fact Ellie Campbell has been saved from all kinds of awkward bloopers by copy editors, and anything they might have missed (or we’ve introduced in the flurry of a last-minute re-write), our proofreader, Wendy Janes, will spot. Traditionally proofreaders come along at the end of the process, when the edited manuscript has been printed as a proof, looking out for printing errors, spotting those awkward word and page breaks – and of course the dreaded typos.

 

Meanwhile, about those typos – isn’t it amazing how you can read and re-read the book numerous times, scan each word line by line, yet still those little devils slip past you? Apparently the reason it’s so hard to spot your own typos is because your clever busy brain skips over details like transposed or missing letters because it knows the meaning you’re trying to convey and focusses on that. In other words it sees what it expects to see. And that, more than anything, is why we need outside help. But perhaps you have a different experience. Or another professional you – and your writing career – couldn’t live without?

 

Stepping Into The Time Machine plus Cover Reveal

What do you have hidden in your closet?

Pam and I have been writing together as ‘Ellie Campbell’ for so long that sometimes even we forget we ever did things differently.  Recently we rediscovered some of the 140 short stories we each had published in those early years and decided – huge shock – we actually found them really entertaining.  So much so that we decided to gather some of them up into a collection.  Between world travels, multiple changes of first stone age-style word processors, then computers, plus my inability to hold on to copies or the actual magazines, many are probably lost for good, but we managed to come up with twenty funny, romantic, twisty or reflective short tales, soon to be released as Love, Lies And Other Deceptions.   It wasn’t easy to pick a cover to reflect so many diverse themes, but our talented designer Andrew Brown came up with the following. And here it is – ta-da, drum roll, please.

For us, part of the fascination was remembering the two people and the mindset that created those stories.  As mentioned in an earlier blog I started writing in my twenties, working in London publishing and living the muddled chaotic single life so hilariously described in Bridget Jones Diary.  Pam was the mother of three small children when she took the creative writing class that launched her.  We both had very different themes and topics, many reflecting our interests and lifestyles at the time.  Looking over them was was like stepping into a time machine. Now that we are… cough, cough, cough… quite a few years older, would we – could we even? – write anything similar?  Personally, I hardly know that earlier me.  I can see she was cynical, moody, sometimes romantically hopeful, sometimes despairing – and inevitably attracted to every possible variety of emotionally-unavailable womanizer, but I don’t think I could totally recreate her world viewpoint from my happily married self.  (I also suspect she might have been a wee bit more intelligent than I am now but that’s another story.)

Then again don’t we all have similar experiences when revisiting our early work?  Sometimes you look back on things and find it hard to believe you ever wrote that story, painted that picture, or took that photograph. Sometimes it shows how far you’ve moved on.  But then not only do you, the artist, change but also the way you feel about it can change with each viewing.  We’re all familiar with the awful creative roller coaster – one minute loving the work in progress, the next seeing only the flaws and deciding it might be time to give up writing for good because you’re obviously hopeless.  And then coming back again after some blessed time has passed and being amazed to find some merit in there after all.  The successful are those who can see through the illusions and persevere anyway but I bet many of us have an unfinished manuscript in our closet somewhere that we discarded in disgust.  Perhaps rightfully so, perhaps… well, who knows?

Anyway, Love, Lies and Deceptions will be available on Amazon any day now and we’re super excited. And yes, we intentionally omitted to specify which of the two sisters wrote which story.  We thought it would be more fun to leave the readers guessing and maybe to answer that question we’re always asked – does writing together mean you lose your original ‘voice’?  We don’t think so but perhaps in the end the stories tell the tale.

What’s in a book cover?

How important is your book cover? Well, crucial enough that publishers will change their entire design if a chain store buyer doesn’t find a jacket visually appealing. And yes, even as a tiny rectangle on an Amazon page, it has to stand out, conveying the tone and genre to attract the right readers. Now that’s a big ask!

Of course publishers have teams of experts leading the design process. Great if you love the result. Not so good as a writer if you’re unhappy with the way your book is presented, whereas indie authors have the sometimes daunting pleasure of total control. Obviously the first step is to hire a professional designer but it’s still you, the writer, assuming final responsibility.

Ellie Campbell has gone through both experiences, traditional and indie, and we’re still learning. So just for fun we thought we’d show you some of our book covers, old and new.

       

Left is the original Arrow cover. Originally we liked it. Later we decided it seemed too juvenile and we really hated that it was so easy to miss in a WH Smith promotional stand of Summer Reads – even with two of us desperately searching.

By the time we commissioned the second version (right) we’d already decided to continue some elements of Looking For La La, our first indie book cover. Hence the photo cover with the bride looking over the fence. We feel she’s possibly a bit too angry – a real bridezilla – but again it gets across the humour aspect.

The next cover is the Arrow one for When Good Friends Go Bad. I don’t think Arrow knew what to do with us at this stage but they were trying for a more grown up look. A few years on we reverted the rights and our designer came up with the one on the right, again following the theme we started with Looking For La La (cover shown below). Comments, anyone?

   dfw-ec-tcac-cover-large  

Above, we have the three covers for our ‘Crouch End Confidential’ mystery series, Looking For La La, To Catch A Creeper and Meddling With Murder. Looking For La La was the first ever cover we commissioned and we were thrilled with the response. I honestly think we wouldn’t have got nearly as many blog posts or reviews without it. We had no idea the novel would inspire sequels but then, of course, we had to come up with follow-up designs using the same or similar girl. We particularly like Meddling With Murder, so colourful and cute!

        

The next pair are interesting because we recently decided we didn’t care for the old cover of Million Dollar Question and just commissioned a new one. Although the paparazzi do feature in the story, we felt the guy in black gave the wrong impression – he looks too sinister for what’s quite a funny romantic book. Or maybe as if he’s about to deliver a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. We like the new cover much better.

And then we have the cover for our just released box set of what is now the Crouch End Confidential series. We wanted it to have a ‘box’ look but also show the three spines. We came up with the idea of a file folder with polaroids pinned on it and the big red “confidential” stamp. Although in translation, the designer changed the file folder to an envelope, still we think we get the point across.

Anyway, as always, we’re curious to find out others’ experiences. What do you feel makes a book stand out? Ever have a cover you particularly hated or that you felt actually hurt sales? Or one that you loved above all others? And how do you feel about photo covers versus graphic?

Cleaning out the Clutter

Cleaning out the Clutter

pants

It’s 2017 and after last week’s resolutions, it’s in with the new and out with the old – clutter that is. Pam’s clearing out her underwear drawer and has just discovered she owns 51 pairs of knickers (aka panties in the U.S.A.). She has no idea how it got so out of hand but clearly some of those must be past their sell-by date!

The slogan for decluttering seems to be ‘If it’s not useful and you don’t love it, throw it out’. If I truly obeyed that I’m not sure I’d have any clothes left and days like today when I’m feeding horses in a foot of Colorado snow who cares if my sweaters are old and baggy?

But our bulging wardsugar-in-the-snowrobes makes me think of the editing process and someof those huge unwieldy first drafts in our early collaboration. Pam and I have definitely got better at chopping away unnecessary pages, paragraphs and all those extra adjectives that tend to obscure rather than enhance the story. It’s a useful metaphor for life too. Now the crazy holiday season is over it’sa good time of year to take a mental step back from all the busyness to see what’s really valuable and what it might be better to let go.

Meanwhile, just as daunting, I’ve been tackling the thousands of old and unread messages in my two email inboxes. Why two emails? Well, my Yahoo account grew so overwhelming that ages ago I signed up for a second service, under the illusion that using this new exclusive address I could start afresh, be organized and not skip over anything that looked boring or leave opened messages to choke up my inbox. Hah!

So the last few evenings, I’ve been hard at it, sorting into folders any message about writing, money, or whatever, that migunsubscribeht be important to save. Every email I open I’ve been putting the address in the search box to gather others by the same sender and am either filing or deleting in bulk. I identified a huge amount of junk by searching for ‘unsubscribe’, ‘no-reply’, ‘opt-out’ or likely words like ‘student loan’, ‘mortgage’. There’s also that trick of changing the sort option to see what rises to the top and a very clever app called Unroll Me which safely unsubscribes or rolls up the daily new subscriptions that appear in my inbox. In the process of organizing, I’ve found a frightening amount of things that were overlooked – dinner invitations, questions needing an urgent answer two years ago.

More entertainingly, Pam and I have finally got it together (one of last year’s writing resolutions) to produce a kindle box set of three of our novels, Looking for La La, To Catch a Creeper and Meddling with Murder entitled Crouch End Confidential.dfw-ec-cec-boxset-midThis will be published mid-January and we can’t wait to see it out there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and purge my office. Makes me shudder when I think of what might be hidden in some of the filing baskets accumulating on my desk…

In gratitude of the short story

short stories pic

If it weren’t for short stories, I doubt that Pam and I would be novelists today.  Although some people might transition through journalism, advertising careers, or even just launch themselves at the computer with a brilliant light-bulb idea – oh, how we envy those inspired geniuses – it was having success with shorter fiction that let two cowardly creatives dare to tackle our first novel. Together.  Trembling and encouraging each other every step of our path through publishing.

typewriter, short storyI was 23, newly-promoted as assistant to an encouraging literary agent, when my boss hired a new secretary who also aspired to be a writer.  I quickly saw that if I didn’t rally the nerve to produce my first piece of work, I’d be choking in her dust. Luckily my disastrous love life gave me plenty of material for ‘chick-lit’ type stories – i.e. a mostly cynical, humorous look on modern London romance or rather lack of it.  I became a regular contributor to women’s magazines using the modest proceeds to fund holidays and later backpacking adventures.   More importantly, I started thinking of myself as a writer.  Sort of.

While I was faffing about South America Pam got into the scene. She had three young kids and her much needed escape became a creative writing class.  Her stories were more of the twist-in-the-tail variety.  And isn’t that the beauty of short stories – that you can experiment with all the different forms – mystery, romance, science fiction – to discover your voice while building confidence and skills?  You don’t have to spend a year or more of your life writing an entire book, only to throw away the whole rambling mess in disgust.  Tossing aside a few scrambled pages hurts a lot less!

Meanwhile we learned valuable lessons.  When your clever tale has to be tied up in 1,000 to 3,000 words, that first sentence had better throw the reader smack into the dramatic tension from the get-go. Your main character had better be instantly likeable, distinctive, and facing a clear conflict or crisis with no rambling detours to dilute the reader’s interest.  You’d better find a good resolution or punchline to end on.  You learn to aim for dialogue that’s witty and original and advances the story.  The same with description, finding the details that matter. We envy poets or songwriters like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison who can evoke whole worlds in just a few lines.  Now there’s something to aspire to…

Even now, writing full-length novels, it’s easy to get lulled by the fact that there are seemingly endless pages to fill.  It’s noticeable that our first two novels are much longer than the subsequent ones, partly because we jumped right in with not one but four main characters – hard to write about the dynamics of sisters, we felt, without offering the different points of view.  But more and more we’re coming back to our roots, rediscovering the value of editing out those fascinating, heartfelt or humorous paragraphs or diversions that amuse us greatly but add nothing to the plot.  We’ve just slashed 20,000 words out of a manuscript and discovered that much as it made us ache at the time, not only was the book not hurt, it was greatly improved.

And if you’re interested in seeing more of our writing roots, we’re offering a free short story in our next newsletter. Sign up here or through our blogsite at www.chicklitsisters.com.

onceupon a time the end