Category Archives: beta readers

Self-publishing– the naked truth

I continue to work on preparing Princess of Secrets for CreateSpace– doing a line-by-line reading takes time. I hope to have Secrets ready for CS in the next couple of days; the edits I put in will also be added to the Kindle edition. Then I will turn my attention to Princess of Shadows, with the intention of having it ready for publication by December 1st.

I’ve had some ups-and-downs getting these novels re-edited, including a truly spectacular frak-up with find-and-replace on Wonders that I had to repair in a big, fat hurry. Editing my own work is the quickest path I know to humility. Or maybe it’s humiliation. For me there’s not much distance between the two.

No one should construe, from my previous ardent defenses of self-publishing, that I think I’ve achieved perfection with my own work. Hardly. As in, what a laugh. Every time I revisit my work, I see new items to fix, or to improve.

Let me be honest here– when I first self-published, two and half years ago, an objective observer would have probably classed me as one of those “not ready for prime time” self-publishers. I started out publishing some of my novellas and novelettes, and I spent months wrestling with issues. When I went to publish my novels, I thought I had cleanly edited copies. But my readers let me know that there were still issues, and I’ve had to revisit both Wonders and Secrets on several occasions (see my previous posts as evidence).

What this proves is that there is an “on the other hand” truth about self-publishing. A downside, a fly in the soup, a cloud obscuring the bright sun of our gloriously published state.

Ready for it? Here it is– self-publishing is hard.

Let me amend that– self-publishing is back-breakingly hard. Heart-breakingly hard. “Will this bastard ever be done?” hard.

At least, if you’re trying to do it right. If you’re not– or worse, you’re sure you’ve achieved perfection already– then forget what I just said. Sit back in the warm glow of your own self-sufficiency and the certain knowledge that it is only the stupidity of the rest of the world that prevents them from recognizing your genius. I have nothing useful to say to you.

For us mere mortals, though, the simple fact is that, when you self-publish, you take the whole weight of getting a book written and ready for market (two separate, if conjoined, tasks) on your own back. You may be helped by beta readers, you may hire a freelance editor, you may purchase a professional cover from an artist (God, I hope you do– there are some amazingly stupid self-published covers out there), but by-and-large this effort is all on you. You’re it. If the book succeeds, you get the glory. If it fails, or if it is an unreadable mess of misspellings, bad grammar and screwed-up formatting, you got no one to blame but yourself.

I can’t speak for other self-publishers, but for me, the whole experience of self-publishing has been one of learning, sometimes the hard way, sometimes by “oh my God, I can’t believe I did that!” Learning to edit, learning to format, learning how to promote (my personal downfall at the moment). And that learning process is still going on. It didn’t happen all at once, and I am beginning to suspect that it will actually never end.

So be warned– if you want to self-publish, and do it right, then you have to be prepared to commit to long hours of picking through prose, finding mistakes and sweating over whether this phrasing is better than that phrasing, to learn how to upload an html file and what it means to link your TOC correctly– and then to take the one and two star reviews, think about what they mean, and apply them to your text. You will need a thick skin, including on your behind where you’ve sat for hours editing a passage for the fourth or fifth time. You’ll need to be willing, after you’ve uploaded a novel, to turn right around and re-edit it and upload it again to fix one misspelled word on page 231.

There is, however, a positive to all this labor and pain– my work is better now than it was when I started. Perhaps much better. And I’ve learned how to make the next novel better to start with. For me, that makes the whole business worthwhile.

Not to mention, it’s better than doing yard work. That’s really unpleasant.


(PS– I have now edited this post twice to fix issues. QED.).

Trying to find the silver lining…a brief update on my lack of progress

I’ve never been someone who is naturally cheerful. Somebody says, “Good morning!” with a bright and happy smile on their face, and my tendency is to say, “Let’s not jump to conclusions” even if it’s 11:55 AM and the planet hasn’t yet been invaded by right-wing mutant zombies from outer space (the homegrown varieties are quite enough, thank you). This has been, at times, a problem in my church circles; some Christians seem to think you’re supposed to paint a joyful grin on your puss no matter how miserable you actually feel. Not me– somebody asks me how I’m doing and they’re liable to get a response similar to, “Well, I’m not dead yet, but give it time.”

And at the moment, life’s not exactly handing me sunshine, either.

Chiefly, I remain unemployed; I haven’t heard back from either of the companies I interviewed with two or more weeks ago, so it is not looking hopeful. Both interviews seemed to be fairly positive, but my natural pessimism (here shading over into paranoia) assumes that the people who interviewed me showed me to the door with smiles, and then burst out laughing when I was gone. Pretty soon I am going to have to start looking for temporary gigs, which I hate.

In addition, there is this thing and the other thing, most of which are trivial annoyances that altogether come to a lot of time on my hands, doing chores I don’t like, and probably snacking more than I should. There are stresses and strains and tensions because of the uncertainty of my immediate future. There’s personal stuff that would be embarrassing for me to talk about and which probably needs a therapist’s touch (or sledgehammer).

The holidays are coming, too. I have complex feelings about the season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, which I will not try to unpack here and now. Suffice to say that I usually feel out of step with the whole commercial business of false cheer and merriment. Somebody says, “Merry Christmas!” to me, they’re liable to get the finger.

And then there’s my lack of progress on Princess of Shadows.

It’s beginning to look as if two out of my three beta readers are not going to be finish their reading-throughs in time for my drop-dead goal of having Shadows published before Christmas. I have almost decided to just do another read-through on my own, make final changes, and publish. I’m not happy about that, but I think it’s something I need to do. This book has been hanging around my neck for far too long.

Now, in view of all the preceding, it would not be unreasonable to assume that I am completely in a pit of despair and hopelessness. Or even more than I usually am. Strangely, though, not so much.

Uncharacteristically, I think I’ve found a silver lining or two in this whole situation. The extra time on my hands has allowed me to complete initial research for Princess of Fire. My enforced idleness on Shadows means I’ve had to put it aside for a month and focus on other things, which I have heard often recommended as a way to see your own work with fresh eyes when you do take it up again.

Lastly, I’ve used the extra time to publish Princess of Wonders to CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service. It’s now available on Amazon and in the CreateSpace e-store. I’m in the process of doing the same for Princess of Secrets, and when I publish Shadows, I’ll be doing it simultaneously for Kindle and CreateSpace. This is a new venture for me, and, as good as Kindle has been for me, the idea that my work will be available in print still makes me smile.

It’s an odd feeling– I don’t think my face is used to it….


Princess of Fire on fire– a quick dispatch from the front

I have finished inputting the feedback from one of my beta readers on Princess of Shadows, but the other two folks are dragging their feet. Not that I’m eager to publish or anything (well, at least a little). I just want to get this monkey off my back.

My first beta reader did me a tremendous service in one respect– she caught an inconsistency in Kathy’s character growth that should have glared out at me but that somehow I missed. It’s fixed now and I seriously owe my reader chocolate or gold bullion or something.

If I can get the feedback from the other readers soon, it is entirely possible I will be able to publish next month. Thank God.

Meanwhile, so far every time I sit down to write on Princess of Fire I do a thousand words or better. Two nights ago I wrote 1400 words in one session. I wrote 1100 today. For me that’s a blistering pace. I don’t know how long I can maintain it, but it’s a nice change.


Inspiration and the joy of pre-written material.

I am starting to get feedback from my beta-readers on Princess of Shadows, and no one has reported any seriously negative symptoms yet– vomiting, rashes, un-American activities, that sort of thing. Time will tell. The one cautionary response so far is that one reader began to wonder just how many times something was going to get in Kathy’s path back to Crown. That is clearly another way of saying things run a little long, but the reader was not able to mention anything specific they would want to cut. It’s an indication that I need to think hard about cutting, in any event (no surprise).

In my last post I half-jokingly referred to “pre-written” material feeding into my draft of Princess of Fire. Turns out that “pre-writing” (rather than pre-written) is an actual concept, at least enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry–

Very interesting, although in my case I was using pre-written in a somewhat different sense.

My story ideas come from many different places. Sometimes a story comes out of frustration with an existing work– I have a space opera waiting in the wings that, in part, owes its origins to my rage over the Verhoeven Starship Troopers atrocity and my grief over the cancellation of Firefly. Sometimes the inspiration is more direct– the first Mankin story I ever wrote was directly inspired by, God help me, a scene in Sword of Shannara (yes, I once read Sword of Shannara. Give me a break, I was twenty). I can hardly see a professional production of anything Shakespeare without getting inspired, either about my current work in progress or about a new story– in fact, I can trace the ultimate origin of Kathy and the Divine Lotus series to a production of As You Like It I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the 1990’s. Sometimes, even something in my everyday life will actually inspire a story idea, such as a story I have in my files based on my time in the US Army in Germany (unfortunately, it’s another abandoned tale, with a melange of life in the Army, horror and time-travel that never quite worked).

Sometimes the inspiration will express itself as a character or a setting. Many times, however, for me I actually start with nothing more than an image, usually of something happening. That first Mankin story started as an image of a lone man crossing a body-strewn battlefield, in haste and desperation. Often these images lead nowhere– at the moment I have in mind the image of an M1 Abrams tank firing its main battery and the concussion shattering every window in a Regency manor house, ala Jane Austen. It beats the crap out of me how an M1 got to Regency England (although it might indicate I’ve been watching too much Jane Austen), and I rather doubt that any story will ever grow out of it. But that’s the sort of thing my creative side (to the extent I have one) serves up.

And then, sometimes, thinking about a story long enough yields me a tremendous number of interlocking images, to the extent that when I sit down to actually draft the story large sections of it are practically already written in my mind. Of course, if I’ve ruminated long enough, the story ceases to be just images, as characters, dialogue, and conflict attach themselves to the scenes.

This is what I meant by “pre-written”, and it is the happy state I find myself in regarding Princess of Fire. In three days I have taken it from 4000+ words to more than 7000, a thousand words a day, a pace at which I would have finished Princess of Shadows sometime last October. Something about this story is powerfully stimulating to my imagination. I’d like to think it’s not just because there are bigger explosions in this novel than in Shadows, but that doesn’t hurt.

The conclusion I have to come to is that inspiration and imagination are quirky things. More than likely what gets my imagination going would be alien to others. But then, as writers, particularly writers of fiction, we are not exactly engaged in a wholly rational activity in the first place. We spend time with imaginary people in imaginary danger, trying to make them as real as possible. It helps if our imagination does a lot of the work ahead of time.

I don’t know how far my pre-written material will carry me with Fire, but I intend to milk it for all it’s worth.


Fourth draft, Princess of Fire, and the virtues of unemployment

Princess of Shadows is now in the hands of my beta readers. Even though my readers are well known to me, it’s always nerve-wracking to hand off your writing to others whose whole purpose is to look it over with a critical eye. I specifically told my readers to be merciless, but I hope it won’t be necessary….

Meanwhile, I added 1000 words to Princess of Fire last night without even hardly trying. I’ve got a number of scenes already practically written in my head, so this story may go pretty quick until I run out of pre-written (is that even a word?) material. I do know, however, that there is a certain amount of research I need to do on some topics before I get too far into the draft.

Ironically, I’ve been so wrapped up in getting to the fourth draft on Princess of Shadows that I haven’t even had time to call out my new status in the working world–

It has been official for the last couple of days– my IT contract has ended and I am at loose-ends. Resumes are going out, but nothing is biting yet. Properly, this is a moment in which I could make some serious progress on Princess of Fire, do research, or prepare other future projects. Instead, I seem to be playing Halo and eating a lot of dark chocolate (Weight Watchers? What Weight Watchers?).

Anyway, until I get gainful employment I am going to try to devote more time to Fire and getting ready to publish Shadows. Except my wife is talking about yard-work, now that we have a break in the recent rain-storms.

I got to get out of here….


An amazingly quick and compact update for Princess of Shadows

I’m exhausted– I spent the day formatting Princess of Shadows to Kindle standard. This is now done (creating bookmarks wears me out). If I wasn’t committed to beta readers, I could publish tonight. But I do want to see what my readers have to say, especially about the book’s size.

I just realized, btw, that while I am waiting for feedback from my readers, I will have no excuse not to start writing Princess of Fire. Hopefully it will go faster than Shadows.

It’s now bedtime.


We have crossed the Rhine.

We have secured a bridgehead and the enemy is on the run. It was a vicious battle with no quarter given or taken, but truth and right and justice have prevailed. Victory is in sight.

I’ve completed inputting the hard-copy edits for Princess of Shadows.

And if you think that metaphor is overblown, you obviously haven’t read through my previous posts. World War II seems a perfectly appropriate metaphor for a struggle that has seen many reverses and terrible casualties (mostly to my self-esteem). But the last major barrier has been breached and we are in the enemy’s heartland.

There is plenty of fighting (work) left to be done. I am now adding chapter breaks and making sure that the formatting is to Kindle standard. This mostly involves getting rid of extraneous hard returns, making sure that the paragraph spacing is where I need it, and getting the bookmarks right. I want to handle all of this and get it in place before I give Shadows to my beta readers. Their feedback will (hopefully) be the last major changes to the manuscript prior to (cue the triumphant music) publication.

The generals are optimistic, but a shadow hangs over their planning. I have not been able to get the word-count below 162,000, despite cutting some significant sections. 162,000 is still way huge, and the idea of publishing a book that size is like the rumors of a Bavarian Redoubt, a threat fit to unsettle the generals’ sleep. The unanswered question is if a work this big will sell. In a traditional publishing setting my editor would almost certainly be screaming at me to cut the novel further. In a self-published, e-book format, I am not sure it matters.

Of course, the real test will be if my beta readers think the narrative drags at any point. That will be the red flag, the point at which I will need to focus. Still, the temptation exists to take yet another editing pass over the whole shooting-match before giving it to the beta readers. At this point I am resisting the urge– it feels rather like stepping off into a morass of endless editing, where I could end up floundering without a way out. No, I am going to try and trust my beta readers. Really. I mean it. I can trust people…I think.