Fictionalizing Your Story? Commit!

A few years ago I read Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel. It is the fictionalized tale of her grandmother and mother living on the frontier. It was a lovely book and I highly recommend it.

I have just one reservation: In fictionalizing the story, Walls did not go far enough. She did not fully commit.

This choice left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. I wanted a fuller story—a novel.

shutterstock_126004004

Before and since that time, I have seen the same problem with some of my clients’ works as well as in published books. After the A Million Little Pieces fiasco, more people are hesitant to call their memoirs nonfiction if they include anything not verifiably true, and they are opting to fictionalize. Here is my advice to those authors:

If that is your decision, then embrace it!

Employ all of the tools of storytelling that are available to a novelist to make your fictionalized story a worthy read:

  • Develop back stories for your characters
  • Invent dialogue and settings
  • Embellish feelings and reactions for your characters
  • Rearrange events and create new ones

In sum, fill in the details you don’t remember or never were told, to craft a full-bodied story that readers will enjoy.

Detach yourself from reality!

Some authors are reluctant to create something for fear of not being true to the story they wish to tell. I believe it is possible to capture the essence of an event while placing it in a different setting or inventing dialogue that you have no way to verify.

But fictionalizing isn’t just about filling in the details. Novelists have even more tools that keep their stories moving. You can use them too!

  • Combine or eliminate characters
  • Skip events that don’t fit with the narrative arc
  • Summarize background information
  • Leave out the details that don’t move the plot or aid character development

Omitting information can be as difficult as inventing it when your goal is to be true to your story. Yet, the best storytellers know when to expound on a seemingly minor detail and when to bridge over events that don’t contribute to the effect they want to achieve.

You have to do what is right and best for your work. Let the shackles of reality go, and commit to the genre you have chosen.

When you fail to commit, you leave readers adrift.

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Update and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Advertisements

Two POP clients earn media coverage!

Congratulations to Thomas Caulfield, author of Ephphatha: Growing Up Profoundly Deaf but Not Dumb in the Hearing World, a basketball memoir that is about much more than basketball.

Ephphatha cover

This is a beautiful story about a father and his son who overcame many obstacles to find success both on the basketball court and in the classroom. I’m proud to have served as the developmental editor on this project. Read about it here:

14 Best New Basketball Player Books to Read in 2019 (The Book Authority)

 

and here:

Interesting Reads: Ephphatha by Dr. Thomas Caulfield (Living with Hearing Loss)

Also in the news was Building a Business with a Beat, a business self-help book written by the inimitable founder of Jazzercise, Judi Missett.

Judi Missett cover

I copyedited this book for McGraw-Hill at the start of the year and enjoyed it immensely. Read about it in The Atlantic:

The Fitness Craze that Changed the Way Women Exercise

It takes a great many people to publish each and every book. Seeing those books get the attention they deserve is a reward for all who participate in the publishing journey.

Kudos, Tom and Judi!

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Update and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Researching the Competition — Example: Serena Williams Biography

Researching the competition for your next book can be a roller coaster of emotions. First you think your idea is completely new and out of the ordinary. Yay! Then you start to find others like yours. Nooo! Then you see those books are ancient and yours will be fresh and new. Yay! Then you search again and find 5 new releases. Heartbreak!

It can be exhausting going through all of that, and perhaps that is why many writers avoid researching their competition. However, if you plan to market your book to anyone outside of your family and friends, you need to know who you are up against.

Let’s say  you are interested in writing a book about US tennis great Serena Williams. A quick Amazon search for Williams brings up 419 items. Sorting by year of publication, we seTennis Racquete 12 of those books were slated for publication in 2019 alone. That is a whole lot of competition for a book about Serena Williams!

Looking closer, however, you will also note that very few Serena books were published before 2019. So how do you make your case that your book will have the shelf-life needed to recoup your and your publisher’s investment?

Another search, this time for tennis biographies, illustrates the long life of tennis as a source for biographies: Arthur Ashe, the icon who played in the 1960s, is the subject of a biography set to publish in 2020. Nearly 60 years is a pretty good shelf life.

You need not be discouraged by the competition. All of these books indicate that there is a large population interested in reading about the lives of sports stars.

That said, you might also take this information and decide instead to write about someone else, say, Maria Sharapova, who is ranked number two by ESPN for famous female athletes but has had just a handful of books written about her. Explore a wide-open market like that and you just might land on the bestseller list.

Researching the competition is scary, but it can also lead to inspiration and will almost certainly fuel your success. Keep with it until you know exactly who you are up against.

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Update and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

 

Writing Prompts: Get Published on the POP Newsletter

dreamstime_86409057
Copyright Gorodok495 | Dreamstime.com

Would you like to be published on my blog, The POP Newsletter? Here’s your chance.

First, respond to one of the writing prompts below. Then follow these simple rules:

  • The submitted piece must clearly relate to the prompt.
  • Genre and style are open, but no erotica, please.
  • Publication is at my discretion.
  • Some editing may be required before publication.
  • Word limit: 2,000 words.

And now, the prompts:

  1. This is fear country
  2. What are you waiting for?

Submit your work to me at katherine [at] popediting [dot] net. Please paste your submission into the body of an email.

I look forward to reading your submission!

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

#1 New Release on Amazon?!

Perfect Bound: Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, Revised Edition, released August 26, and on August 29 it was the #1 New Release in writing guides on Amazon!

Screenshot (25)

Amazon even put a banner on the Perfect Bound book profile page, which was great to see:

Screenshot (22)

I won’t tell you how many books I had to sell to reach this milestone. Thirty copies? Three copies? Who’s counting? All I know is, with all the work that goes into making a book, it really is a treat to see the accolades.

Get your very own copy of the Amazon #1 New Release and find out what all the fuss is about. You just might discover it’s worth all hype!

 

Print

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Before You Hire an Editor, Do These 4 Things

The other day, I called around to find someone who could tell me why the bush in my front yard was dying. “Dying” may have been too generous. It seemed like maybe it was already dead. It had slowly turned brown over the past year and as of the week before, three-fourths of it was leafless. Not to mention, the trunk seemed to be growing something.

Still, I was hoping someone could help me salvage what was left.

The lawn care company I called first recommended a garden center. The garden center recommended a tree specialist. The tree specialist said this:

“Dead is dead.”

He explained that he could come take a look but it would cost me $250 and it didn’t sound like there was much left to save. “I’m not usually one to turn down billable hours, but it’s not like I can do an autopsy or even a tissue sample. Dead is dead.”

I thanked him for his forthright manner and said I would take his gentle suggestion not to hire him.

The next weekend, my husband went out with a saw to see what he could do. The bush turned out to be so dead, the saw was unnecessary. He more or less yanked it out of the ground with his bare hands.

I’m glad I saved my $250. It is a treat to encounter someone who isn’t just looking to make a buck.

To tell the truth, that tree specialist reminded me of me.

black and white black and white branches cloudy
Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

It doesn’t happen often, but there have been times when I had to turn down a client simply because I thought they would be wasting their money by hiring me. Not that their book idea was dead; they just were not ready for editing. (I have written previously about the reactions I have gotten when this happened after editing had already started.)

I am always pleased when writers want to have their books edited before publishing them. Sometimes, however, they have a few more steps to take before it is wise to spend money on an editor.

Here are 4 steps you should take before hiring an editor:

  • Let the manuscript simmer. Take a week or, better yet, a month away from the manuscript before you begin your revisions. You can spend this time not thinking about the book at all, or use it to build your marketing platform, research agents and publishers, or read other books that will help you hone your craft.
  • Read through the manuscript 2 or more times to make revisions. Most people require 20 revisions to get their work where they want it. It is an iterative process. However, you will probably need an outsider’s perspective before you get quite that far.
  • Share your work with a friend. No, a friend isn’t likely to give you the best feedback, but you have to start somewhere. If you don’t already have a writing group to tell you what is good and bad about your story, start with a friend. You need to get the gumption up to expose your work to someone else and it’s OK if you start with a softball.
  • Find a writing group, beta readers, or other outside people with writing experience to read your manuscript. Arrange for 3–5 well-chosen readers to give you specific constructive feedback on the writing. Then sort the feedback to determine which changes support your vision for the book.

You could continue on this path until you have completed your 20 revisions. That’s not a bad plan. But you might also decide it’s time to hire an editor before then. That’s not a bad plan either. What I would strongly advise against is typing “The End” and immediately beginning your search for an editor.

As the tree specialist illustrated, it’s often faster and cheaper to rip a dead bush out of the ground yourself than to pay someone to tell you what you already know.

[Related: How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps]

 

cover for the revised edition of Perfect Bound

 

Like this blog? Get more insights and advice with the Revised and Updated edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available now on Amazon!

Revised Edition of Perfect Bound Coming Soon!

I am happy to announce Perfect Bound: Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro has been updated and revised!  This has been a long time in the making, and I’m thrilled to be able to provide my readers with the most current information possible.

Cover reveal: The revised edition of Perfect Bound
Cover reveal: The revised edition of Perfect Bound

The 2019 edition of this multi-award-winning guide features:

  • New exercises for choosing your path to publication
  • Condensed and updated guidance on e-book companies
  • Updated cost information and new resources to explore
  • In-depth discussions of hybrid publishing, Instagram, and barcodes
  • A new interview with Janell Robisch, a designer and e-book formatter

And so much more!

Sign up for my newsletter and be the first to know when it publishes!

 

It’s here!

Print

Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Copyright Tips and Tidbits: How and When to Register, How to Format Your Notice, and What Not to Do (Updated)

Self-publishers, take note: While it’s true that you hold an inherent copyright to your work just for the fact that you wrote it, should anyone try to infringe on your copyright you will be best served by registering with the US Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov). That may sound intimidating, but it is actually a fairly straightforward process.

How to Register

Start by going to the US Copyright Office website. The Copyright Office accepts both online and paper applications, and the applications come with easy-to-understand instructions. The filing fee (as of 2019) is $55 for online registration and $85 for hard copy.

In addition to the application and the filing fee, you will be asked to provide a copy of the “deposit” — what the Copyright Office calls the work to be registered. If you file electronically you can send an electronic file or a hard copy of your work; file with paper and you  have to send a hard copy. (The Copyright Office prefers online applications, but you are not bound by that.)

The application itself is easy to follow and there is an extensive FAQ section to answer questions. Read the instructions carefully and you can complete the online form in less than 20 minutes.

When to Register

You can register your book either before or after publication. Although simple, it can be a lengthy process, as getting the certificate can take nearly four months for the electronic application and nearly seven months for paper applications. During particularly busy times, those lags can be even longer.

The good news is, unless you have reason to believe you will not be granted copyright, you don’t have to wait until you receive your certificate before publishing the work. The date of registration is the date the office receives the completed application, not the date you receive your certificate. Still, copyright registration is not something you want to let slip through the cracks. I would recommend beginning earlier rather than later.

Upon publication, if you have a print book, submit a hard copy to be held in the Library of Congress.

What Not to Include

When you apply for copyright, you are making a public record. That means anyone can view the information you supply. The Copyright Office website offers this pointed advice:

Personally identifying information, such as your address, telephone number, and email address, that is submitted on the registration application becomes part of the public record. Some information will be viewable in the Copyright Office’s on‑line databases that are available on the Internet. For this reason, you should provide only the information requested. Please do NOT provide any additional personal information that is not requested, such as your social security number or your driver’s license number.

As identity theft is a real problem in this country, heeding this advice only makes sense.

How and Where Your Copyright Notice Should Appear

Your copyright notice belongs on the reverse of the title page in your book. A valid copyright notice includes the word “Copyright” or the symbol “©”; the year of registration; and the copyright holder’s name, in that order:

© 2020 Katherine Pickett

Some publishers choose to use both the word and the symbol for copyright as well as the word “by” — Copyright © 2020 by Katherine Pickett — but that is not required.

Pitfall: Preregistration vs. Registration

The Copyright Office provides the option of “preregistration” for works that have not yet been completed. (Important: This is separate from registration of unpublished works.) The fee for preregistration is a whopping $140. I suspect this fee is intended to be a deterrent, as even the Copyright Office notes that preregistration is not helpful for most people. Rather, preregistration is recommended only for those who meet these two criteria:

  1. You think it is likely someone will infringe on your copyright before the work is made public, and
  2. The work isn’t finished.

Note also that even if you preregister, you will still need to go through the registration process. Except in extreme circumstances, you will most likely want to register your work rather than preregister it.

 

Print

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

20 Years and Still Going Strong

This January marked my 20th year working in publishing. Things have changed quite a bit in that time. I learned how to copyedit with paper and a red pencil, and for the first five years, I edited nonfiction books exclusively. Today it’s electronic editing supplemented by software and online dictionaries, with fiction and nonfiction, corporate reports, and journal articles all mingled together.

I will always be grateful to the people who set me on this path. From my first copyediting teacher in college, Mr. Witte, who pulled strings to secure me an internship at one of the few trade book publishers in the Chicago area, to the team of production editors at NTC/Contemporary who took me under their wing, I truly would not be here now if not for them.

When I was a new editor, “lightbulb” was two words. So was “videotape.” Now, not only has the spelling changed but those two objects hardly resemble what they were in 1999. You could probably say the same thing about me. And I couldn’t be happier.

What Is Your Mission?

Defining your mission as a writer is a powerful exercise. It’s not enough to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your book or other writing. You need to be clear with yourself, and the sooner you can get that clarity, the better.

In the past I have thought the act of writing down a mission statement was needless work. I knew why I plugged away at my editing company. I knew what my business goals were. I knew why I was writing a book. Why should I go to the trouble of writing it down?

But my attitude has changed.

shutterstock_404833252After reading a fellow freelance writer’s argument for why mission statements are so important, I decided to give it a try. I suppose having it come from someone I knew gave it more weight. I wrote up a mission for my editing company and placed it on the home page of my website.

I was blown away by the effects. Writing down my mission forced me to give my company the attention it deserved. In return, it gave me direction I didn’t know I needed. I also began getting clients who were better suited for me.

That was for a business. What about a mission statement for a book?

When it came time to write the proposal for my book Perfect Bound, I thought a mission statement would make a good marketing tool. Agents would love it. It would make my proposal stand out.

Well, I never found out what agents thought of it. What I learned instead was that having a mission statement gave me clarity and direction. I had a concise paragraph stating what I wanted to accomplish and why. That influenced how I wrote my introduction, how I presented myself at public events, how I approached my website, and more.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a mission statement for a book, here is one example:

My mission in writing Perfect Bound, as it has been throughout my career, is to help aspiring authors achieve their dream of publication. Armed with the knowledge contained in this book, authors will be more confident in their approach to book publishing in general and the book production process in particular. Further, they will save time and money when they avoid the common pitfalls every author faces.

Importantly, this mission statement is particular to the book I was writing and is concrete in naming what I really hoped to accomplish. It is outward-facing—that is, I can share it with my readers—yet personal, so that it has meaning for me too. The statement appears on my website, and I have often referred to it when I needed encouragement.

In one of the exercises in my class Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, I walk students through the process of crafting a mission statement. I provide a simple formula to get you started, and we generate ideas for how you can make yours meaningful to you.

Ultimately, however, what you put in your mission statement isn’t as important as the act of writing it down. Publishing is a long road. When doubt starts to settle in, a writer’s mission statement is a touchstone that reminds them why their book is worth the struggle.

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!