Authoring Advice

It’s been a busy summer and I haven’t written a blog posting in a while. My family moved from California to the Rocky Mountains this summer. After being in our last house for 16 years, it’s been quite an adjustment. I also just returned from a trip to New York City and have been mulling the strange twists of fate that brought me to where I am today. My oldest daughter has just started college and I’ve been giving her a lot of “adulting” advice lately. Coincidentally, I’ve had many recent conversations about how to make it into the publishing world these days, and the latest request came yesterday from a fan in Virginia named Breanna. She’s nearly done with her first million words (kudos on that, Breanna!) and asked what do to next?

So here is some “authoring” advice for a person who has already written several practice books and is ready to go to the next level. Take it for what it’s worth – one person’s opinion.

The publishing world changed a lot when Amazon started its KDP program. I won’t get into a history lesson here, but the short version is that it opened the floodgates for self-publishing. That was like an earthquake that caused a tsunami and it changed the landscape in the publishing industry…for a time. I lived through that period and certainly benefited from it. But the landscape has changed again. While it is easier to self-publish a novel than it has ever been, the problem of finding readers has gotten even more difficult. The deluge of unprofessional, unedited, cheap or free e-books has made readers more wary. Word of mouth has always been and will always be the key to finding success in this business.

So what does a new writer do to break into this industry? There are still two options to consider: finding an agent or going the self-publishing route. Both routes have risks and rewards. I tried the agent route myself and after 42 rejections decided to go the other way. But getting a traditional publisher nowadays (and I include Amazon Publishing in that category), it really takes an agent. So we’re back to where things were before KDP.

So what’s my advice?

Whether you choose the indy route or the traditional publisher route, my advice is the same. Hire a good dev editor. Having beta readers is always a good thing and can be hard to get. But a dev editor (or “development” editor) isn’t a beta reader. These are people who are paid for offering their advice to authors. They go line by line through a manuscript and make suggestions on how to improve it as well as praise for what is working well. These are editors who have extensive track experience and are really good at spotting plot inconsistencies and missed opportunities to develop characters or improve world building. They don’t work for free, nor should they. I wish I had known about them before I started my self-publishing journey. How do you find one? Well, most of us authors like to thank the people who help us in the acknowledgement section of our books. So if you like an author’s style or how their books are edited, do some homework and see if you can find out who they use. Most dev editors work as contractors and support many authors and many publishers.

A dev editor can tell you whether your work is up to par. They won’t pull punches. That’s exactly what any writer needs to get to the next level. Even me.

Time for true confessions. This topic is especially relevant for me right now because of the new series I’ve been working on. I recently turned in book 1 to my editor and my dev editor. One of the hardest things is waiting for the feedback to come. I always welcome opportunities to improve and have tried to conquer the “ogre of author pride” (a phrase one of my creative writing teachers coined). But sometimes, the ogre rears it’s 125 hit point head and I have to do some serious battle with my +5 pie server of humility (get it? eating humble pie?). That happened with my latest manuscript. The book came back requiring massive re-writes the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long, long time. The temptation, of course, is to become defensive. But when you realize that your team (both your editor at the publisher and your dev editor who you trust) is trying to help you make the best book possible, you constrain that reflex, internalize the feedback, and then kick that ogre’s ugly butt by tackling the re-writes with a vengeance and genuine openness. The result? A far better story.

So whether or not you want to go the indy route or find an agent, having a good dev editor on your side is only going to help. They are worth the cost. Absolutely. Sometimes making it in this business is a matter of persistence, timing, and a bit of luck. And keep in mind that it’s a business and run like one. It’s not a popularity contest. In my case, it was an absolute miracle from God that came when I wasn’t even looking for it or actively trying to promote for myself. I didn’t make my career happen. I have always just tried to write the best books possible. And now I have the best help available.

I read a book once by Ed Catmull of Pixar called “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration”. It’s a fascinating story of how Pixar was born and created so many hit movies. How the scripts are such a collaboration between very smart people. I think novel writers would benefit from reading it and being more willing to seek help from the best sources.

I feel truly blessed to work with some of the best editors in the business: Jason Kirk and Angela Polidoro. We make a great team, but they’re not the only members of the team. I rely on fantastic line editors, proofreaders, and some really good friends who encourage me to bring you the best stories I can.

I think my next book is going to knock your socks off in no small part because of all of them.

So that’s my “authoring” advice today. I hope it helps, Breanna.

Photo (during my trip to New York, I visited my first Amazon Bookstore. So cool to find TQP there in the Page Turners section!)

Jeff Wheeler

Jeff Wheeler

Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over forty epic fantasy novels.

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  • Heidi Smith says:

    Hi Jeff. This is great! I have a question. I am working with a website designer to create my website. By the way, I used your site as my “dream” site. I am not sure how to add the link to Amazon Buy Now link. Can you point me in the right direction on how to do this? Thank you.

  • Susan Nielson says:

    I wondered why I had not seen you in the Temple on Tuesday for a long time. Now I understand. Hope all is well with you.
    Keep writing!!!

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