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Week in Review: Holiday Prep

Have you ever noticed how the weeks leading up to the holidays feel extra magical and extra frantic? We spent the weekend making a holiday countdown chain (which Cheeks insisted we extend out to her birthday in February – so the chain now wraps around her entire room) and I am equal parts ecstatic and ill prepared for the month of festivities to come.

But next week is Thanksgiving, and I am fully prepared to eat!

And this guy? He’s still loving the snow!

We had a bit of a heated debate on Facebook this week about Christmas presents (yes, really).

I am thisclose to finalizing a deal to write for a new publication – the biggest I’ve ever written for. So yeah, I’m excited to share that news with you all!

I’ve lined up a few new editing jobs moving into January.

And these are the pieces I had published this week:

I hope you all have an amazing Thanksgiving!

FAQ: What is a book coach? And do you need one?

I’m currently in the middle of two book coaching jobs. This isn’t a service I’ve advertised in the past, but it is one I occasionally offer when a potential book editing client contacts me and it becomes clear they don’t quite know where to begin.

Book coaching is basically like having an editor who holds your hand throughout the writing process. Professional writers always have those editors along for the ride, but self-published authors don’t usually bring an editor on board until they have completed at least their first draft.

This is why a lot of would-be self-published authors will tell you they’ve got the first half of several books started on their laptops, all abandoned at some point in the process.

Some people have the drive and the know-how to propel them through the writing process once an idea gets in their heads. But plenty of others stumble along the way. Their ideas are too big. Or they don’t know where to begin. Or they find they’re a little all over the place in the writing process. And when they stumble, they often abandon what they’ve got—either because they convince themselves it’s no good, or they simply don’t know what to do with it next.

This is where a book coach comes in.

A book coach is the person who can help you with forming your story, so that you don’t have to go back after the fact and conduct massive rewrites. They also serve as a guide to keep you moving through the process.

I don’t personally believe that every author or book needs a book coach—every writer I’ve ever worked with has a different process, and I’ve known many who do best putting their heads down and working through that first draft on their own. But I’ve also received my share of manuscripts that jump all over the place and seem to reflect the author’s struggle to clearly commit to what they want their book to be. In those cases, a book coach could have proven to be extremely beneficial.

So, how does book coaching work?

On the two projects I’m currently working on, both writers came to the table with the strong desire to write a book. They also both had a swirl of ideas about what that book should be. But neither really knew where to begin, or even what to focus in on.

So our work together has involved first discussing all those incredible ideas, then honing in on which of those ideas would make the best book

From there, we determine a plan of action for bringing that book to fruition. This is a little different for everyone, because as I mentioned, everyone has a different process that works best for them. But I work with authors to find out what the best process for them might be—whether that means constructing an outline and working diligently through it, or giving them some free-writing assignments and seeing what we can come up with.

In all cases, a book coach is the person you send all your new writing to. They are the ones who are assigning you deadlines, checking in when you don’t meet those deadlines, helping you through blocks, and generally just working to keep you on track.

It truly is a comprehensive process that can mean the difference between a few unfinished (never-to-be-touched-again) chapters and publication for certain writers.

So who benefits most from a book coach?

  • First time writers. Writing a book can be daunting, and for someone who has never done it before, it can be quite easy to get overwhelmed and give up.
  • People with ideas they are passionate about but don’t know what to do with.
  • People who tend to get distracted easily and have a history of starting projects they never finish.

Both the book coaching projects I’m currently working on happen to be non-fiction books. But I’ve actually found that fiction novels tend to be the ones that benefit most from book coaching, since keeping a plot on track is something a lot of first time authors struggle with. When a non-fiction book gets off track, it’s usually a little easier to right the ship. But when a fiction novel goes off the rails, it can often mean having to toss most of what’s been written and start from scratch.

That’s where a book coach can save you a lot of time. And can help to ensure you actually make it to the finish line, rather than getting discouraged and giving up.

Either way, one of my favorite things about working as a book coach is the opportunity to help a writer turn that mess of ideas they have in their heads into something publishable. That may mean I have to be a cheerleader one day and a nag the next. But when you’re ready to stop talking about writing a book, and actually do it, it’s a process I love being a part of.

Week in Review: Winter Wonderland

We got a bit of snow this week in Alaska:

And it has made everything feel magical. Seriously, I love living somewhere with seasons. And now that there’s snow on the ground, the colder temps just feel worth it.

Plus, it means Christmas is just around the corner!

Over on Facebook we had a fun conversation about favorite Christmas movies (I personally go for the cheesy Hallmark happy ending stuff) and I shared a few more pictures of our Winter Wonderland on Instagram.

I talked about the different types of editing self-publishers need to consider in my latest FAQ post.

And these are the new pieces I had published this week:

FAQ: What Kind of Editor Do You Need?

At least a few times a month, I get an email from a new writer looking for an editor. When I ask what type of editing they need, they inevitably respond with, “What do you mean?”

Most new authors don’t realize there are several different types of editing available. And when I explain the differences to them, they’ll often say, “Great, I need it all—can you do that?”

While I do provide different types of editing services, my answer to providing them all on the same manuscript is always no.

But I’ll get to that.

First, let’s go over what those different types of editing entail.

 

Developmental/Substantive/Content Editing

Developmental editing (also called substantive or content editing) is admittedly my favorite type of editing. This is where I believe I shine—and where most of my clients would tell you I’m invaluable. In fact, I have several clients who have me provide developmental editing services on each and every book they write.

This type of editing is big picture. It’s often the most time-consuming edit, and it’s the first type of editing you should pursue—ideally after finishing your first draft.

When I complete a developmental edit, I like to go into the manuscript blind, without a lot of background from the author about what to expect. The goal here is to get a true reader perspective, so I don’t want to know about what issues you think the book currently has—I want a chance to read it for myself so that I can make those determinations along the way.

A developmental edit focuses on things like plot holes, character and plot development issues, timing, inconsistencies and problems with dialogue. I also tend to highlight writing quirks an author may have, and sentence structuring issues that may need some attention.

As I complete a developmental edit, I take notes throughout the manuscript drawing attention to some of my in-the-moment thoughts. These notes often number in the hundreds by the time I’m done, and the author has access to all of them when I return the manuscript (this is one of the reasons I prefer to edit in Word, as it makes this note-taking seamless). I then also compile an editorial letter which is often several pages long highlighting the main issues and providing the author with guidance on how to resolve those issues.

Think of a developmental edit as the opportunity to have your blind spots (when it comes to your manuscript) pointed out for you.

Keeping that in mind, it’s fair to say that a developmental edit is the hardest part of the process. Most people send me their manuscripts feeling pretty confident in what they’ve got, and most of the time I have to disappoint them by telling them there’s still a fair amount of work to go. I pride myself on being gentle but honest in that delivery, though, and 90 percent of my clients are thankful and manage to use that criticism to improve their work (the remaining 10 percent were always going to be defensive against any kind of criticism at all, and probably never should have hired me in the first place—because a developmental edit is all about having the flaws in your work pointed out to you.)

I have some clients who want me to do a new developmental edit every time they make changes to their manuscript, and I do offer a discount on additional developmental edits for work I’ve already seen. Other clients feel good after just one round, and are able to make substantial changes based on that. I personally had three rounds of developmental editing done on my own book, if that helps to provide some perspective.

One thing to keep in mind is that you will absolutely still have work to do after a developmental edit. The developmental editor doesn’t fix those issues for you (and if you’re looking for someone who will, what you really want is a ghost writer—I do that as well). They simply point out the issues to you and provide ideas on how to fix those issues. The rest is up to you.

 

Line Editing

If developmental editing is big picture, line editing is the fine detail stuff. This is the edit you want to pursue once you are fairly confident in the content of your work. A line editor focuses on punctuation, spelling, grammar issues and some sentence structuring. Unlike a developmental edit, there shouldn’t be much more work for you to do after a line edit.

 

Proofreading

This is the last line of defense edit you should get done after formatting and just before publication. It’s the quickest and cheapest form of editing, mostly because by the time you send your manuscript to a proofreader, it should have already been edited several times over. A proofreader’s main goal is to catch any final “ooops!” mistakes that others may have missed.

 

As I mentioned, while I do provide both developmental editing and line editing, I never provide both on the same manuscript. This is because a good line edit requires a fresh eye. Once someone has already read your manuscript, they are more tuned into what you were trying to say, and more likely to miss smaller errors that a fresh set of eyes would catch. So I only provide one or the other, but I do have a great line editor I am always happy to recommend to my developmental editing clients.

Week in Review: Trick or Treat

Instead of snow this Halloween, we had 40 degree weather and the creepiest fog anyone could ever hope for. My girl was elated. Both by the spooky factor, and by the fact that she was able to run around for about 15 minutes without her jacket covering her costume:

I kept my promise and put up the first post in my FAQ series: Whether you should pursue traditional or self-publishing.

I also had a piece on being an empath published.

And I’ve got two book coaching jobs that are going to be taking up the rest of my year. So work is good!

How’s your week going?

FAQ: Should You Pursue Traditional or Self-Publishing?

Working as a developmental editor, and being a writer who has self-published a memoir and is now working on a fiction novel I’ll pursue traditional publishing for, I get asked this question all the time. And the answer is always: it depends.

I have connections to agents and experience helping writers to pursue that traditional publishing path. But the truth is, I only recommend going down that road to about 5 percent of the writers I work with. If I believe your manuscript is best suited for traditional publishing, I will always do everything in my power to help you get there. But not every manuscript is.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are a a few different considerations when choosing to pursue traditional or self-publishing:

Traditional Publishing Pros

  1. You have the backing of a larger corporation, which means an entire team of experts (editors, cover designers and marketers) dedicated to getting your book published. These people are part of the deal—you shouldn’t have to pay for their services. And if you do, you don’t have a traditional publishing deal, you’ve signed on with a vanity press—which is a whole other beast I’ll address at some point in the future!
  2. Because of that backing, traditional publishing will almost always produce a more professional finished product than what you might produce on your own. If you want to produce something of similar quality as a self-published author, you need to be willing to invest a fair amount of money on the same services a traditional publishing house would provide.
  3. You have their marketing experience and reach to rely on. That means your book will likely be read by far more people, and you will likely be given the opportunity to do things like book tours and speaking engagements related directly to your book—again without having to pay for those opportunities.
  4. While self-publishing is becoming more common, there is just a heightened level of respect given to authors who still manage to pull off traditional publishing today. Mostly because anyone can self-publish a book, but very few can pull off a traditional publishing deal.

Traditional Publishing Cons

  1. Convincing an agent or publisher to even look at your book in this market is HARD. Traditional publishing is changing a lot, and most publishers are focused on authors who have already proven themselves or already have a very extensive reach. Connecting with one of the Big 5 publishers as a first time writer is unlikely. Not impossible, but very difficult to achieve.
  2. Most first time writers are far more likely to get picked up by a smaller press. But even with that, it could take years to get one to take a bite and show interest in your book, and sending out queries is a time intensive, sometimes soul-crushing, endeavor. Then, even if you are picked up by a traditional publisher, small presses usually have a much longer waiting period for publication because they typically only roll out a few new books a year. So you might be signed, only to be given a publish date that is 4 years down the line.
  3. The payout is much smaller with traditional publishing than self-publishing. With self-publishing, you get 60 to 75 percent of the royalties from your book. With traditional, it is more like 6 to 10 percent. Granted, with a greater reach, the potential is there to make more (6 percent of 100,000 books sold is obviously still better than 60 percent of 100 books sold). But traditional publishing doesn’t always translate into more books sold, or at least not enough more to account for that difference, so it is a risk.
  4. You give up a lot of control with your book. Once you sign on with a publisher, you are subject to their editing requests—which can sometimes be substantial.

 

Self-Publishing Pros

  1. At the most basic level, anyone can self-publish with just a few hours of effort (after the book is written, of course). There are great online publishers that make the whole process fairly seamless, and most are already connected with big retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
  2. You have more control over the finished product, and can usually hire freelancers for anything a traditional publisher might do. If you are willing to invest the time and money, you can produce a finished product most people would think was completely professional
  3. You get more returned to you in royalties, which is a bonus especially if you have the marketing expertise to successfully market your book.
  4. You aren’t hindered by publishing schedules. You can publish your book as soon as you feel it is ready, use it to start building a name for yourself, and dive into your next project.

 

Self-Publishing Cons

  1. A LOT of authors get ahead of themselves with self-publishing and are so excited to get their words out there, that they wind up publishing a sub-par product. You can go back and fix some things after the fact, but you can’t erase bad reviews. And people will tear your book apart if it doesn’t come across as professional.
  2. You are on the hook for paying for all the up front costs (editors, cover designers, formatters, etc.), which can reach up into the thousands if you are truly committed to a professional end product.
  3. Very few self-published authors have the marketing expertise to market their books well, so it isn’t at all uncommon for someone to spend a lot in up-front publishing costs, only to fall extremely short of recovering those costs in sales.
  4. There is a lot of competition out there. Everyone is self-publishing these days, and when people hear you self-published, there is the risk of losing some credibility as a result. So you really have to have something special to convince them your book is worth reading, as opposed to the hundreds of other books out there on a similar subject.

There are some questions you have to ask yourself when deciding which route to go:

  1. What are your ultimate goals for this book, and for your future?
  2. Do you want to use it as a stepping stone, or are you aiming for something more—perhaps to make a career out of writing?
  3. What is more important to you? The payout (money) or the prestige of being a published author?

Just to give you some context, there were a lot of factors that went into my deciding to self-publish the first time around:

  1. My book was considered a niche genre, which would have made it even harder to get a traditional publisher to look at it. Realistically, it was a book that was mostly going to appeal to women (thereby cutting the potential audience in half right away), and more likely women who had dealt with infertility (again, greatly reducing the potential). On top of that, it was a memoir, and memoirs are a dime a dozen—convincing a publisher yours is something different is hard. In a situation like that, I went into it knowing it would have been near impossible for me to ever convince a traditional publisher or agent to even crack the cover.
  2. I had a pretty extensive and loyal audience built up already. My blog was achieving 5,000 to 10,000 views a day when I published, so I was confident in my ability to market the book, particularly because it catered so specifically to the audience I already had.
  3. When I asked myself the questions above, I realized that my goal with this book wasn’t to get rich. I mostly just needed to get the words out there. I wanted to be able to say I was published, to be able to use that in my attempts to get other writing jobs, and to use this as a “first book,” but not necessarily something that would be representative of my entire writing career.
  4. I had no interest in waiting years for this project to see the light of day. I put 2 years into writing and editing, and I didn’t want to commit any more time to it than that. I was ready to move on, and once it was done, I just wanted to share it.

So, I decided to self-publish. For me, and this book, that was absolutely the right decision. It did very well with self-publishing, certainly better than most, and given all the above—I don’t think it ever would have made it to print if I hadn’t.

That said, I’m currently working on a fiction manuscript that I have completely different goals for. It has traditional appeal, and my desire now is to write novels for a living. So once this manuscript is done, I will be pitching it to agents and pursuing the traditional path.

You have to really examine the potential of your book, and how that aligns with your goals, when making this decision. There’s no universal right or wrong answer. It’s more about being honest with yourself about what your book is, what you personally have to offer, and where the best starting point for you may be.

 

Week in Review: All The Things

I think I’ve mentioned before that when you start writing for a living, updating your own blog becomes less and less of a priority. I wish that weren’t the case, but in any given month I may have 20 to 35 writing assignments, at least two books I’m developmental editing, social media accounts I’m running, and my own fiction novel I’m slowly but surely working towards completing.

Oh, and did I mention I’m still single-momming it with my amazing 4 year old?

All the things add up, and the personal blog fades into the background.

But I’ve been thinking lately about some of the things I’d like to write here. Maybe a FAQ series, answering questions I get all the time about self-publishing, traditional publishing, and what you should expect from the editing process. As well as ways to make writing a career, if that’s truly something you dream of. The kind of stuff that, sure, I could probably find an outlet to pay me to write, but that I’d rather feature in my own space.

So next week, hopefully, I’ll start finding the time to write one of those posts a week. And hey, maybe I’ll even get back to a regular Week in Review while I’m at it!

In the meantime, Facebook remains the best way to keep up with our crazy life in Alaska, with Instagram following behind in second.

And hey, if you’ve really missed my writing, here are some highlights from the past few months:

 

What If Milk Could Make The Difference?

At my daughter’s preschool, milk is doled out based on punch cards. At the beginning of every month, I pay 10 dollars for her to have 20 punches. That’s milk every day of the week. And chocolate milk on Fridays, which she thinks is pretty special. If for some reason she runs out of punches, the school just starts a new punch card and adds it to her tuition bill for the next month.

Her entire life, milk has been a readily available commodity. She’s never had to go without, or to suffer from the lack of nutrition that milk provides. For my 4 year old, milk is simply what’s served with lunch. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other kids around the world.

September 27th marks the 18th World School Milk Day; a celebration dedicated to commending the health benefits of school milk programs. Since 2008, Heifer International has been working to grow one of those programs in Tanzania, where children have long suffered from a lack of proper nutrition.

The milk program in Tanzania initially began by helping local farmers to boost milk production. Now those famers, government agencies, and school districts are working together to bring that milk into the classroom. The launch began this year, with 1,742 students in the Njombe region receiving 200ml packets of fresh, pasteurized milk, Monday through Friday, for the rest of the school year. Those packets contain a quarter of the daily calcium requirements for those students who receive them.

The goal is to bring that milk to a total of 9,000 students (age 9 and under) in the Njombe, Iringa, Mbeya, and Songwe regions. This full circle, “cow to the classroom,” implementation encourages students to focus on learning instead of hunger, and reduces poverty by increasing farmer incomes.

It’s a win-win for all involved.

But reaching that full potential is going to require a little help. Which is where we come in.

For $10 a month, I’m able to provide school milk for my little girl. But for a one-time donation of just $75, a child in Tanzania receives milk for an entire school year.

My child is lucky. She lives in a country where milk is readily available, and in a home where poverty is not a concern. We are lucky. But this is one small way we can help kids and families who don’t have the same resources.

Don’t have $75 to spare? You can make a donation of any size. Every little bit helps to bring milk to the kids who need it most. And just 40 cents a day means milk being provided to one more child who probably wouldn’t have it otherwise.

It’s a gift that benefits not only that child, but also their entire community.

#GiveHeifer

 

This post has been sponsored by Heifer International. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

While I’ve Been Out

I’ve been absolutely terrible about updating this space here. The good news is, that’s because my schedule has been completely packed with work. I haven’t had to bid or fight for jobs in well over a year now. I’m booking out a month or two in advance for editing clients, all word of mouth based on people who have been sent to me by past clients. And I have a packed writing schedule too, filled with work that I absolutely love.

When I set out on this adventure 4 years ago, I don’t think I really let myself imagine where it could take me. I simply wanted to be able to do what I love, to have flexibility in my schedule (so that I could be the type of mother I wanted to be) and to be able to provide for my little girl.

Somehow I’ve managed to accomplish all that and more. And I’m grateful. So incredibly grateful.

But, yeah… I have next to zero time for updating my own website.

We’ve also been dealing with this thing. Cheeks was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis in June, and we’ve been navigating that news and what it means for her future. Which is just one more thing that’s kept me from making frequent updates here.

Guess what, though? Facebook is still an amazing way to keep up with me – I post there several times a day. And I’ve started to get a little addicted to Instagram as well. In fact, it was there that I first announced our newest addition. We’re now a family of three!

We adopted Maui on May 25th, and he has proven to be just the best addition to our family. So, yeah, if you want to be melted by adorable photos of a little girl and her puppy – Facebook and Instagram are where you can find that.

And if you’re just looking for some links to my recent work, I pin pretty much everything that has my name attached to it. There should be enough reading to keep you busy there for quite a while!

You’re welcome! 😉

Healthy Relationships Have Never Been My Thing, But I Want Them to Be Hers

Like most kids from broken homes, there are a lot of things about my childhood that I wish had been different. The way I grew up was messy, and the message I received from too early an age was that I was in the way… too much effort, too big a burden. I really didn’t belong anywhere, and was told by certain adults in my life, both directly and indirectly, that they would be happier if I wasn’t around.

Because of that, I learned early on to shape and mold myself into something others might accept. I was always kind of desperately searching for a sense of family. For somebody to really make me feel loved and wanted.

I didn’t always enter into the healthiest of relationships. The truth is, I didn’t really even have any examples of what a healthy relationship might look like. I just had a history of letting myself get taken advantage of, and sadly, of pushing away some of the best people who did come into my life.

You see, I had this thing where I was constantly trying to rewrite the past. My mom more or less disappeared from my life when I was 13 years old, and my stepmom made it clear from day one that I was not part of what she had signed up for in marrying my dad. The message I received, again and again, was that I was unwanted. And that I certainly wasn’t worth fighting for.

So in relationships, I was always striving to change minds. The people who treated me the worst were the ones I was most hell bent on convincing of my worth. As you can imagine, that never turned out well for me. But in the end, I really only ever had myself to blame. I was the one who was seeking out toxic. I was the one constantly trying to convince crappy people that I was worth their time, when in reality, they were never worth mine.

I bent over backwards for people who treated me terribly. I fell in love with men who were never going to love me back. And I cried so many tears over history repeating itself over and over and over again.

Because you can’t change people. And no matter how hard you try, you definitely can’t make them love you.

It took me a long time to see the mistakes I was making, and even longer to begin changing how I behaved in relationships and to start setting higher standards in regards to the type of people I spent my time with. We’re talking years of therapy here. And even still, I have a lot of work left to do. I’m terrible at confrontation, for instance, and am only slowly learning how to have adult conversations with people when I feel like they’ve done something to hurt me.

It has been a process. And at 34 years old, I’ve still never had a romantic relationship truly stand the test of time. But I have managed to build some pretty spectacular friendships. I’ve got a village around me now that serves as a testament to my growth in this area.

I’m capable of healthy relationships. And of walking away from unhealthy ones. It just took a lot of work to get here.

Today I look around at my circle of friends, most of whom grew up in healthy homes, and I can see the drastic differences in how they manage their relationships. There’s an ease to how they communicate and love that I’ve never really had. They are secure in their marriages and even capable of butting heads with a friend without that meaning the friendship is over.

These friends didn’t have to fight to learn some of the same lessons I did. Communication was big in the homes they grew up in, so they’ve always known how to handle difficult conversations. They witnessed parents and family members treating each other with care and respect, even in times of turmoil. They saw examples of loving marriages every day. And they never had to question, not once, how loved or wanted they may have been.

Now that I’m a mother, I want the same for my little girl. I want her to grow up with the comfortable confidence I see in my friends who grew up in healthy homes. I want her to be surrounded by healthy relationships she can learn from. And I want her to avoid so many of the mistakes I made in my teen and young adult years.

That’s why I love the platform AMAZE has put together. AMAZE is a collaboration between 3 expert organizations in the field of sex education: Advocates for Youth, Answer, and Youth Tech Health. They are using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Snaptchat to provide tools for families to have those hard conversations. Their videos cover the “mechanics” of sex ed (like puberty) but they also explore more complex topics, like relationships, gender identity, and consent. Their whole goal is to give kids and families the foundation for building healthy relationships, and to make those conversations less weird.

#MoreInfoLessWeird

In my family, we didn’t really talk about the hard stuff, certainly not the problems sitting just beneath the surface. Every once in a while one of us would blow up and yell about those problems, but the healing conversations never actually happened. And much of what I was dealing with as a teen (sex, an eating disorder, cutting, and even suicidal thoughts and feelings), I was dealing with alone. I don’t blame my parents for that. It is what it is. But I want better for my daughter.

I want her to grow up knowing I’m here. That I’m listening.

I want her to understand she can come to me, even when she’s angry, and I will swallow my defensiveness and try my best to hear her.

I want her to learn how to navigate the hard conversations, and to grow up knowing her value doesn’t have to be proven to anyone.

I want to provide her with the examples of healthy relationships I didn’t really have growing up, and to make better choices in my own relationships so she doesn’t grow up thinking that unhealthy relationships are normal.

I know all of that starts with me. And I know that today and every day, the example I set matters.

I just hope I can live up to the challenge.

 

This post has been sponsored by Amaze. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

To read advice from other parents who have written about talking to kids about sex, consent, and healthy relationships, visit these posts: