Wednesday #Writetip: When to Spell Out Numbers

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Consistent use of numerals (1, 2, 3) versus spelled-out numbers (one, two, three) is one of the most common problems I see in my authors’ writing. Most just type whatever form their fingers choose at that moment, but ultimately a rule of some kind should be established.

There are at least four different numbers rules that a writer could follow. Which one you choose has to do with the type of publication you are writing for and the technical level of the material. Your options include the following:

  1. Some publications prefer to spell out one through nine and use numerals for all other numbers. This is often called the informal numbers rule and is commonly employed in newspapers and magazines.
  2. Others prefer to spell out numbers one through one hundred and all large, round numbers (e.g., ten thousand, fifty million). This rule dominates the nonfiction trade book market, which includes general interest, self-help, memoir — most books that are sold in bookstores but are not textbooks or fiction. It is commonly referred to as the formal numbers rule.
  3. A small segment of publications use numerals in all instances except in general uses like “I for one” or “for one thing.” I have only seen this in corporate reports, where the press has decided numbers appear often enough that it isn’t worth the time to deal with exceptions.
  4. And then there are those publications that spell out all numbers no matter what. This is most commonly seen in fiction, where numbers are used rarely, and when they are used, it is not for exact measurements.

I don’t know any cute names for these last two rules, but I do know they are the simplest to follow. That is because they have the fewest exceptions. Exceptions are what make numbers rules challenging even for trained editors.

In fact, I’ve found one of the quick ways to tell a book that hasn’t been edited very well is to look at the treatment of numbers. If I find a bunch of inconsistencies, I figure the editor didn’t know her numbers rules and has probably made other mistakes as well. (The numbers rule is an early lesson in editing training.)

As the author, you can help by choosing the numbers rule that suits your type of book and following it as best you can. It’s highly likely you will make a mistake somewhere — use words where there should be numerals or vice versa — but you can help yourself and your editor by working toward consistency.

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through POP Editorial Services, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers.

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Learning from My Clients: Lessons in Publishing Success

In the blog series Publishing Stories, I asked several past clients to share their experiences with publishing.

There are more to come, but I would like to pause here and think about what we as authors, editors, and publishers can learn from their stories.

The four profiled authors — Gary Bargatze, W.K. Dwyer, Maureen C. Berry, and Peter C. Diamond — come from a variety of backgrounds, wrote on wide-ranging topics in both fiction and nonfiction, and were in varying stages of their careers as authors.

  • Gary Bargatze, the author of the eight-book historical fiction series titled Your Winding Daybreak Ways, chose to hire his own editor and rely on a publishing services company to produce his book. Starting in 2015, five of the books have been released with more publishing over the course of 2017.
  • W.K. Dwyer, whose social sci-fi novel The Killing Flower was just released in fall 2016, arranged all of the vendors — developmental editor, copyeditor, interior designer, cover artist, proofreader, printer, and e-book company — himself.
  • Maureen C. Berry left a contract with a publishing house to self-publish her cookbook, Salmon from Market to Plate, on her own terms and schedule. The book debuted in 2016.
  • Peter Diamond’s self-help book Amplify Your Career and Life published in 2014. He hired a developmental editor, then contracted with a hybrid publisher for production, distribution, and marketing.

The goals of each author and their expectations for marketing and sales greatly colored their stories. It was educational for me to see where I saw success and where they did or did not.

Have a Vision and Stick to It

Gary Bargatze had a vision for his series before he wrote it, and he followed it through to the end of the project. He was aware of his abilities, crunched the numbers, and found the path that was economical for his time and pocketbook.

His use of an editor outside of the publishing services company is one of the key decisions he made. It saved him money compared to what the publishing services company offered, and he received what I know to be a more in-depth edit than most get with a company.

Gary also wasn’t shy. He stood up when the production wasn’t right, and he had his book reviewed in the Baltimore Sun online (twice, actually). He is strategic and pointed with each decision and the success he has had reflects that.

The satisfaction he takes in the journey of publishing is also apparent — and deeply important to the final judgment of whether this adventure was a success.

Make a Great Product and Ask for Help When Needed

W.K. Dwyer shared how much he learned over the course of publishing his first novel, and one lesson is that self-publishing is a whole lot of work!

There are a lot of moving parts, and it takes a lot of mind space to keep it all going. He wanted full control over production, especially in regards to the cover, and that is what he got. His book is beautiful and well crafted.

Marketing, as he says, does not happen on its own, and while there is satisfaction in making a great product, it’s more fun when people buy the book. Delegating work can help to alleviate the stress.

Indeed, W.K. has since enlisted the help of a marketing expert to get word out about his book. With that assistance, W.K. is set to meet his goals.

Be Flexible and Be Determined

Maureen C. Berry knew what she wanted: a traditional publisher who was going to support her book idea and her marketing efforts. When she discovered that wasn’t going to happen, she changed course. She produced the book on her own to her own standards, and she immersed herself into the marketing the book.

More than any of the other authors profiled, Maureen has embraced the work of marketing her book. She has clear determination to give the book its best shot at selling, and it is selling!

Maureen’s enthusiasm and drive are palpable, and it’s clear that she enjoys the challenges of marketing. Those two factors go a long way in whether marketing efforts will pay off. Her traditional publisher would have done well to keep her.

Revise Expectations and Focus on the Positive

Peter C. Diamond told us that he enjoyed the writing and publishing aspects of making a book.

But like many authors, he underestimated the amount of work involved in marketing the book. Although he had some help with the marketing, he did not meet his sales goal.

What I see with Peter, however, is a much bigger success than he may see.

His book is both a self-help book that really does help the people who read it — note the 25 reviews on Amazon — and a marketing piece for his company. In this situation, there rarely is a one-to-one return on investment.

But for many businesspeople, that’s not the point. Rather, the book offers intangible benefits in the form of new clients, prestige for the author, speaking engagements, and other business-related opportunities.

Self-publishing is also very much about the long tail. That is jargon for the amount of time it takes to make back the investment.

A traditional publisher will market a book for six months and reap as much profit from that endeavor as possible. That’s the short tail. Self-publishers have to take a longer view.

More to Come

In the coming months, more authors will share their stories, highlighting other aspects of the publishing life. Some do not see themselves as bearing a lesson, but I assure, there is much more to learn!

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: My Flirtation with Traditional Publishing

Maureen C. Berry, author of the cookbook Salmon from Market to Plate, is the feature of this month’s Publishing Stories installment. In this post she tells her experience with a traditional publisher and the ultimate successes she found for her book. 

My Flirtation with Traditional Publishing

by Maureen C. Berry

You write and polish the best manuscript you can. You hire an editor. You research and then query an agent (or 10). Then wait. While you wait, you wring your hands, fret over that last phrase, that one word. Should I have written more? Less? Did I seem needy? Will they like my work? OMG, did I include my phone number? I suck! What if I never hear from any of the agents? Should I self-publish? Traditional publishing is overrated. I will not self-publish, I’ll wait until I hear back. Checks email every two minutes. A rejection letter is better than nothing, right? A badge of honor. Surely someone will love my book.

***

As I aspired to publish my first book, these thoughts raced through my mind daily. Okay, who am I kidding, by the minute. My goal? Traditional publication. While I always considered self-publishing a viable option, I was convinced that traditional publication was the best route for me.

But as I researched agents and prepared my query letters, I was a hot mess.

Then something short of a miracle happened.

The first agent I queried for my book, tentatively titled Eating Salmon, replied within five minutes. My pulse raced, my breath caught in my throat. I wondered if I might be hyperventilating. I looked around my one-woman office needing someone, anyone to see the reply.

Dear Maureen,

Thank you for your MS. This is really do-able. [I almost fell off the chair]

But not for me. [Heart dropped to gut]

However, [Heart fluttered back to life], this is a perfect project for XYZ.

And BTW, there’s a similar title, ABC, that was bought earlier this spring by John. P.Q. Literary. Use this in your market research. And please use my name in your query to XYZ.

Warmly,

Literary Agent

Okay, so now I am dancing with the dog. Is it too early for champagne? I call my husband. Validation sets in. I pinch myself. Then I sit down to write the second query.

You know where this is going right? Insert all the above first paragraph internal dialogue.

Within two weeks, the second agent bit. And within two more weeks I had my first contract from an imprint of a midlevel publishing house in New York.

But first I had to write the book proposal (I had written the entire manuscript) and have the manuscript edited. I hired Katherine Pickett through an online referral.

I found a publishing attorney on Twitter (yes, it’s true!) who agreed to negotiate my first contract pro bono. Three months later, I signed off on the contract and submitted the manuscript.

Was the advance good? Nope — think small four figures. Was my royalty rate fair? I could have done better — was advised to not accept this contract.

But a contract is a contract, right? I was a first-time author with a small but growing platform. This contract could only help me build my brand, not hinder it.

The publisher suggested a book style — softcover, 6″ × 9″, black-and-white illustrated interior with color cover graphics. 200 pages. I flip-flopped, wanting a hardcover, full-color interior (mine was a cookbook after all, and we eat with our eyes), but I relented, assuming they knew best. And really, I didn’t have much say or any options, other than breaching the contract (code for return the advance and forfeit my rights to the manuscript to the publisher).

Much time went by without any word from the agent. When I did hear, she suggested I write the outline of the second book in the series, Eating Shrimp.

Then late that summer, I was working with the publicist. Salmon from Market to Plate was scheduled for a spring release date. My book had been upgraded to full color, they’d use my photographs, and the book would be larger, thus a higher royalty rate to me. Win-win! I shouted into the woods from my office.

But a month later, my agent messaged that she was retiring and I’d be working with someone else. Not daunted, but a little disappointed, I shook it off. Agents move around and there is always fresh blood willing to learn the ropes.

A few days later, on a Friday afternoon that fall, I received a message from one of the editors at the publishing house: my project was put on hold. Indefinitely. They had a competing title scheduled for a spring release, a lifestyle seafood cookbook by an author with a larger platform.

Over the weekend, I considered my options. I would attempt to negotiate my rights back without penalty or returning the advance.

Mid-October, nearly a year to the day after receiving the contract, the publisher agreed to my terms and within two weeks, my rights were reverted. I told myself (and the husband and dog) that I’d give myself six months to find another agent/publisher.

Then the new year rolled around. And, well, my attitude changed, as often is the case during the new year. I decided to self-publish under my company, Berry Consulting. It never occurred to me to use a self-publishing services company. My thinking was if I’m going to self-publish, then I’m going to learn how to do it with all the unknowns, bumps, and not-so-pretty side of doing something totally foreign. A friend’s cousin, a graphic artist, wanted to expand her portfolio. Her style leaned toward commercial but fun. And with that recommendation, mid-January 2016, I hired Megan Johns to design my book. I wanted an April release date to coincide with the opening Alaska salmon season and my project fit her schedule.

Megan delivered Salmon from Market to Plate a week ahead of the April 13, 2016, release date. Any delay was editing and style issues on my part. Megan is a terrific book designer.

Is Salmon from Market to Plate a success? 

  • Salmon was #1 New Release in Fish & Seafood Cooking on Amazon for its first week out.
  • It won a Gold Star for cover design from The Book Designer for the month of April.
  • I was invited to the 35th annual Kentucky Book Fair this November hosted by the Kentucky Humanities Council.
  • I was accepted to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University next fall.
  • In October 2016, Salmon received an Honorable Mention from the 24th annual Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Competition.
  • Salmon is stocked at two locations in my small (20,000-person) western Kentucky community — Bobbi’s Hallmark and Bookstore at the mall and 45-70, a men’s bespoke store in downtown Madisonville.
  • Salmon was accepted for review by BookLife/Publishers Weekly.
  • The larger bookstores in my region, Joseph-Beth in Louisville and Cincinnati, Parnassus in Nashville, and Barnes & Noble in Bowling Green rejected my book. But I am not disappointed. Encouraged is the word that comes to mind.

And what marketing do I do?

  • I try to do a book signing/salmon tasting event every month in my community. Average book sales are 15 books per event. I sell signed copies from my home, shipping via media mail and taking payment via PayPal, including the shipping and handling plus tax in the price. For each of these signed books, I offer a free bourbon-and-butter cookie, made by a local baker, that looks like the cover of my book.
  • I send free copies to industry and sustainable seafood organizations.
  • I sell books to chefs and restaurants.
  • I submit books to writing contests and for review.
  • I work hard to not be that author who shouts, Buy My Book! on social media.

There is much to tackle yet. For instance, how do I sell foreign rights? And should I? Should I print an Asian counterpart? Should I hire a publicist?

There are many questions I can answer. Am I glad that I self-published? Yes. Did I make mistakes? Yes. One biggie was that I didn’t give myself enough time to submit galleys for review. Is self-publishing hard work? Yes. The marketing responsibilities are overwhelming some days. Do I still want to be traditionally published? Yes. But would I self-publish again? Hell yes.

One thing that kept me sane when I otherwise thought I’d lose it was that I believed in myself and my project. Because if you can’t be your own cheerleader, then nobody else will either.

***

Salmon from Market to Plate is available as a 200-page, softcover, full-color, 6″ × 9″ book. Available on Amazon ($12.95) and Kindle ($6.99). Also available wholesale from IngramSpark.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Wednesday #Writetip: Ensuring Variety of Word Choice in Your Writing

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When I’m editing I often see writers relying on the same words and phrases throughout their manuscripts. Sometimes the repetition becomes noticeable and distracting, particularly when words are repeated in the same paragraph or sentence.

Some words and phrases are more memorable than others. Indefatigable, for example, or invariably, or in an alternate universe will stand out to readers and need to be used sparingly.

Now, some words are difficult to write around — work is one that causes me trouble — but others are not so difficult, and if the repetition is distracting your readers from your message, it is almost always worth the effort to find a new way to say something.

What can you do about it? First, determine if you are falling into this trap. Reading the passage aloud can help. Stepping away from the manuscript and then reading through from beginning to end is another way to detect the problem.

Once you know what some of your “crutch” words are, you can do a search to locate each instance. Then evaluate each use and decide (1) if you need the word at all, and (2) if there isn’t a more interesting way to convey your meaning. Revise as needed.

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers.

Wednesday #Writetip: Save Money When You Get Your Grammar Up to Snuff

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If you want to save money on editing, your first step is improving your writing. Get your grammar and punctuation up to snuff by picking up a couple of language guides.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White continues to be a favorite of mine for its brevity, humor, and accessibility.

The Chicago Manual of Style offers the other extreme of long and slightly cumbersome but also authoritative.

The Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh is a slightly irreverent guide that covers topics many other books ignore.

Random House Webster’s Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation will answer almost any question you may have.

You can find more information online. Helpful websites include:

Grammar Girl, http:/www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

Chicago Manual of Style Q&A, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/latest.html

Grammar doesn’t have to be boring, and getting familiar with the rules can save you hundreds of dollars. What are your favorite grammar guides?

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: Rewards and Challenges of a First-Time Author, Part 2

Peter Diamond, author of Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward, returns to tell us what he learned about marketing and sales when working with a hybrid press.

Part 2: Marketing and Sales

by Peter Diamond

Marketing and selling my book was much harder and more time-consuming than I imagined. While the manuscript was being turned into a fully formed book for public consumption by my publishing company, I focused my attention on marketing. As an ex-advertising professional, I thought this would be easy. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the early stages of writing the manuscript, I was advised to create a platform of followers, at least a couple thousand, months before the book was published. I was told, “You will have to put as much effort into marketing your book as you do writing it.”

I heard this advice, but I didn’t listen. I mistakenly thought the message of my book, Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward, would automatically appeal to my target audience: midlife business professionals facing career crisis. Little of my time was spent cultivating a fan base in advance of the book release. I was too focused on writing the book and running my executive coaching business. Little did I know more than 2 million books were published in 2015. That’s insane competition.

Here’s what I did do.

  • I found a PR agency that specializes in working with authors of nonfiction titles.
  • I paid for a number of promotional programs offered by Amazon that my publisher recommended.
  • As part of the PR effort, I wrote a number of byline articles (with no mentions of my book except in my bio) to be pushed out to various sites.
  • I gave 28 small-market radio and podcast interviews, secured by the PR agency.

What happened? The PR effort generated very few sales. The articles I wrote did get a lot of exposure and helped my Google ranking. The promotional programs, in partnership with Amazon, resulted in no sales.

Using my own contacts I was able to secure a local TV morning show interview and radio interview on a popular public radio program. I did see modest sales spikes from these interviews.

After six months of actively promoting my book, I hadn’t hit my sales goal or, said another way, recouped the cost of my investment. At that time I had to make a decision whether to continue to spend more time and resources on promoting the book or focus on generating revenue for my executive coaching business. My business won out and is doing quite well.

Writing and publishing a book was a great experience with certain intangible benefits.

  • It boosted credibility for my brand and executive coaching business.
  • I learned about the process of writing, publishing, and marketing a book.
  • I’m more comfortable being interviewed and telling stories in different mediums.
  • I’m a regular contributor for Entrepreneur.com (this connection came from the PR agency).
  • On occasion, I’m contacted to be interviewed for an article or write a blog post such as this one.
  • Lastly, my book was a finalist for two book awards. It’s an honor to be recognized by the publishing community and fellow authors.

Although my book doesn’t enjoy best-seller status, I recently had a client tell me that reading my book was like reading her own thoughts and how helpful it was to know that others experience the same midlife trials and tribulations. That, for me, made all the effort worthwhile.

Would I do it again? Maybe, just maybe.

Peter C. Diamond, “The Amplify Guy,” is a professionally trained certified coach who helps people improve their work performance and achieve a higher degree of career and life fulfillment. He has appeared on ABC’s Windy City Live and WGN’s News at 5 as a career coach expert, and he writes a blog, The Amplify Guy. For more information about Peter and the Amplify Your Career and Life workbook, visit his website at www.petercdiamond.com.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: Rewards and Challenges of a First-Time Author, Part 1

In this installment of the Publishing Stories series, Peter Diamond, author of Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward, relates his experience finding an editor and working with a hybrid press.

Part 1: Editing and Publishing

by Peter Diamond

I never set out to be a published author. During my 21 years in advertising I mastered how to write business memos and PowerPoint decks. This type of writing served a very functional purpose—sell ideas, concepts, and points of view to clients. My early mentors had exacting standards that taught me the rigors of writing persuasive communications that were clear and concise and made a compelling case. But it was all business all the time.

Seven years ago I began a career transition from advertising to executive coaching. To support my fledging new enterprise I began writing a blog to attract and engage clients. With a handful of blog posts and some encouragement from my clients I decided to turn it into a self-help motivational book.

Having never written or attempted to write a book, I was naively surprised at how challenging it would be to find a good editor and an interested publisher. From my experience, I proffer two pieces of advice:

  • Early in the writing process ally with an editor who believes in your idea, and
  • Be prepared to manage the details of publishing your book.

Finding a good editor was an onerous process. I started by asking my advertising colleagues if they knew of any editors. This resulted in only one option. With this editor, we initially worked on a couple of chapters. Shortly after we started, I realized she wasn’t that interested in my project. We agreed not to continue working together. I wanted to work with someone who was excited about the potential of my idea.

I then turned to the Internet thinking this would unearth editors galore. I was underwhelmed.

I finally settled on someone to help me write a book treatment (which I found out I needed) and fine-tune the first two chapters to send to agents as a teaser. She turned out to be competent but we didn’t click. I was looking for not only an editor but also a collaborator. She just wanted to edit.

I mentioned my predicament to a client who worked in publishing right out of college. She offered to connect me to one of her longtime publishing colleagues. This introduction proved most fruitful. Within 24 hours of making this new connection I was introduced to Katherine. Yes, Katherine Pickett, who is probably blushing right now. It didn’t take long into our initial conversation for me to realize Katherine would be the ideal editor for my book.

This relationship was exactly what I needed. In addition to her scrupulous editing skills, I benefited from her belief in the importance of my message. Probably more than she knows, I immediately warmed to her inclusive editing style. Her generous use of “we” and commitment to the book motivated me to power through during times of self-doubt (which isn’t good for a self-help motivational author). Her belief kept me pushing forward to finish the manuscript. As a first-time author, I felt having a finished manuscript was essential in securing a publisher. I could not have done it without her.

After more than 50 failed attempts to find an agent, I investigated publishers who work directly with authors. The shortlist included Greenleaf Publishing. I submitted my manuscript and they accepted.

I was elated because the benefits of working with a hybrid publisher are twofold:

  • I retain all the rights to my content and can use it any way I choose.
  • They bring all the resources and expertise needed to get the book published.

This arrangement requires the author to fund the publishing costs, similar to self-publishing. Since I have a full-time business to run, the idea of having someone else project manage the process was very appealing.

The most important lesson I learned in working with a publisher is that it still required me to pay close attention to every detail. I read and reread all the editing changes to ensure they were properly reflected in each updated version of the manuscript. This included being fastidious about the formatting of both the print and e-book versions. As I always say to my clients, you are your own best advocate. And this is true in publishing.

I’m very happy with the final product and fortunate to have worked with supportive caring people who believed in my idea and me.

In Part 2: Marketing and Sales, Peter describes what he did to help sell his book and what results he was able to achieve. Stay tuned!

Peter C. Diamond, “The Amplify Guy,” is a professionally trained certified coach who helps people improve their work performance and achieve a higher degree of career and life fulfillment. He has appeared on ABC’s Windy City Live and WGN’s News at 5 as a career coach expert, and he writes a blog, The Amplify Guy. For more information about Peter and the Amplify Your Career and Life workbook, visit his website at www.petercdiamond.com.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Guest Post: Remembrances, by Walter F. Curran

This week I am pleased to present the writing of Walter F. Curran, a novelist, poet, and, of all things, the mayor of Ocean View, Delaware. Curran submitted “Remembrances” in response to the writing prompt “Should you ever choose.”

If you would like to receive writing prompts and a chance to be published on this blog, subscribe to The Hop On Newsletter. It’s monthly and it’s always jam-packed with timely and useful information about writing, editing, and publishing.

Remembrances

by Walter F. Curran

You love me and have for forty-seven years.

I love you and have for forty-eight years. It took me a year to convince you.

You are a pessimist. Not just “the glass is half empty” but a full blown “OMG the glass is cracked and leaking” sort of pessimist, a Roseanne Roseannadanna type of pessimist. A flat tire is not an inconvenience, it is a catastrophe from which there is no recovery, until, of course, AAA fixes it. “Never mind!” Your pessimism has increased with age.

I am an optimist. Pretty much a run-of-the-mill “the glass is half full” kind of optimist. I’m flavored with a strong belief that there is always a chance to improve things if you simply hang in there long enough. My optimism has diminished somewhat with age.

You are from East Boston, as Italian as you can get and still be in America. The minute you exit the northbound Sumner Tunnel and take a hard right you can smell the pizza from Santarpio’s. You see the old-timers dunking biscotti into their anisette-laced espresso and watch the stereotypical nonnis scrubbing or sweeping the stoop and sidewalks in front of their row houses.

I am from South Boston, unavoidably, indelibly Irish. A few Lace Curtain types but mostly pig-shit Irish regularly ensconced on their corner pub thrones. A chronic forum for ridiculing the Lace Curtain Irish, claiming disdain but evincing envy. The Lace Curtains in turn behaved the same toward the Boston Brahmins. No one was happy being themselves. Only the Irish!

You didn’t have money. You worked with your father, Mando, part- time at a millinery wholesaler. A mini-sweatshop, minuscule desks loomed over by stacks of boxed hats, compounding the inherently poor lighting. You were stuck in total darkness in the freight elevator with your father on November 9, 1965, the great New England power outage. He discovered you smoked when you lit a match. Scrimped and saved just like everyone else in your neighborhood. The way to get ahead was to work hard and you never shirked. You worked until I forced you to retire at sixty-two. You had earned the right to rest a bit.

I certainly didn’t have money. I started working odd jobs at seven years old and never stopped working. All the money went home to Ma. I hated a lot of my jobs. Laundromat go-fer, cat food plant cookroom cleaner, warehouse mucker, all of which would qualify for Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs. I hated them but I never resented them. Working was the only way to get out of my Irish ghetto world.

You had a baby brother, Joey. Born thirteen years after you and ten years after your sister. He was the long-awaited son. Mando now had an heir. You and your sister Lorraine got even for Joey being the favorite by telling him he had a mystery brother named Gerald who would someday come back and claim his inheritance. It was a running family joke. It’s still running.

I was the baby brother. Twelve-year span between me and my oldest brother Al, but four other siblings were strewn in-between us. I got away with a lot that my siblings didn’t get away with. Staying out late on school nights, not always being there at suppertime, not having to clean my plate when I was there, not doing household chores. The other five had worn down my Ma to the point where she was too tired to chase after me. In a way, I was the family joke.

You were brainy and a goody-two-shoes up until college. You went to public grammar school, got good grades and got accepted to Girls’ Latin High School then got a scholarship to Emmanuel College. All girls there, too, taught by Sisters of Notre Dame.

In your first theology class, the nun asked the girls, “Who went to a parochial school?” Everyone but you raised their hand. “Who went to public school?” Your arm a solitary flagpole wanly poking the air. You could feel the supercilious glances of your peers. “Well for everyone that went to parochial school, forget everything they ever taught you about religion.” Instant gratification! You knew then that you could deal with the bullshit. Your blue-collar foundation was at least as strong as your peers’ silver-spoon upbringing and your drive to succeed far outpaced theirs.

I was not brainy. Not dumb, just not interested in education. Grammar school taught by Sisters of St. Joseph, sadists by any other name, followed by Boston Technical High School, an all-male school. We both escaped the regional high school. The standing joke was that if you went to either East Boston or South Boston High School, you’d enter with an eighth-grade education and graduate with a fifth-grade education. I went to summer school for three years, finally waking up in my senior year. One of my aunts, Elizabeth, a teacher, tutored me for two years. She had more faith in me than I did. I got a political appointment to Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a military trade school for Merchant Mariners. It instilled the discipline that I sorely needed even though I didn’t appreciate it until after graduation.

Your social life through high school and early college years was closely monitored by your parents, Rena and Mando. Rena was the sentry and Mando was the deliverer of punishment. You were sly enough to mostly outwit them with your occasional smoking and drinking but when caught, the punishment was swift.

I didn’t have a social life in high school and for the first two years of college. Socializing took money. Also, I was an introvert and painfully shy. I didn’t smoke or drink because I didn’t want to, so I didn’t need to be sneaky. At eleven years old, I would be out on the street until midnight just because I could. I wasn’t making a “statement” or defying Ma and Dad, that’s just the way it was. Like you, Ma was the sentry and Dad the dispenser of pain, though actual physical punishment was a rarity for me.

You raised the kids, endless hours of tutoring, taking them to sports practices and games, piano recitals. You were the disciplinarian and did a terrific job with the kids. I was the hammer you held over their heads but it never dropped. When our youngest, Amy, started first grade, you returned to work as a teacher. Anything you earned went into either a savings or vacation fund. You took after your mother when it came to handling money, a good thing.

I participated in raising the kids but on a part-time basis, weekend games, a little coaching. I earned the majority of the income but spent a lot of time at work. I was a workaholic. We agreed that we would live on my salary and never live beyond our means. You and I both hated owing money to anyone. Other than the house and a car, we didn’t buy anything unless we could pay cash for it. You and I still live by that rule.

You started as my girlfriend, became my lover and wife and now, in the twilight years, have become my best friend.

I started as your boyfriend, became your lover and husband and have always been your best friend, even when you didn’t know it.

You and I have been “we” (or is it “us,” I’ll have to ask her — her choice) for a long time and will remain that way until the end.

If you should ever choose? I’m thankful that you have.

Walt Curran is a retired maritime executive and the mayor of Ocean View, Delaware. A member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, he has self-published a book of poetry titled Slices of Life, Cerebral spasms of the soul. His first novel, Young Mariner, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, as well as at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach. He is working on the second of the trilogy, Young Mariner: On to Africa, and hopes to publish it in the fall of 2017.

Publishing Stories: Publishing a Book I Can Stand Behind

Welcome to the second installment of Publishing Stories, a new series from The POP Newsletter in which former POP Editorial Services clients offer publishing lessons for new authors. Today W.K. Dwyer shares his experience in publishing his newly released social science fiction novel, The Killing Flower.

Publishing a Book I Can Stand Behind

by W.K. Dwyer

In mid-October of 2016 I launched my debut novel, The Killing Flower. After more than seven years of writing, followed by two full years of editing, I held a launch party in DC, during which I referred to self-publishing as a misnomer, giving huge credit to the outstanding team I’d worked with, without whom I never would have completed my novel. Now that I’m on the other side, I want to share some of the details of this journey, the choices I made — good and bad — and what I think I ended up with as a result.

I began writing The Killing Flower in 2006, at a time in my life when I was in a lot of anguish. First, 9/11 had happened and was already deeply disturbing, but the nasty polarization that occurred around the time of the Iraq invasion had affected me personally. I felt I had lost my entire family, who I’d always been unusually close to; they had all gone to the other side of the political, sociological, and religious divide. This was alienating, frustrating, extremely upsetting for me, particularly because soldiers and innocent civilians were losing their lives overseas and our only response seemed to be screaming matches on Facebook.

So what motivated me was simply catharsis — writing was my way of working through my angst, and the fictitious character I made up could do anything he wanted to with that tragic situation. He could kill all the bad guys, he could tell the unedited truth about his family, he could survive war, he could bear listening to the two insane sides of America — one saying the sky is blue and the other saying skies don’t exist. As the story developed it became more about the character and his world, but I retained the overall framework, to create a metaphor for what I saw had happened to us post-9/11.

Although I had never published before, in fact had never been involved in journalism or writing clubs or anything related whatsoever, I had been writing all my life — personal journals, poetry and songs, and a few short stories. My mother, being an English major, introduced me to poetry at an early age and influenced my appreciation for literature. The classics were emphasized quite a bit in my preparatory high school, so I did obtain at least a decent foundation.

Despite this, I never considered myself to be well-read at all. I was placed in remedial reading in seventh grade and never quite recovered; there are hundreds of novels I wish I had read and only a very small percentage of them I can say I have. So, for better or worse, when I began writing The Killing Flower my only points of reference for writing were a select set of books most would consider way out of the league of a first-time novelist.

What came out of all this was perhaps pure in the sense that it was naively written, with no bias from knowing the business side of things — targeting a particular audience, making the story marketable, fitting it into a specific genre. I simply focused on telling a good story, mimicking the novelists I had been exposed to and using techniques I had learned in school. “Build it and they will come” was my thought. Make a great product and a readership will follow.

The downside of this is that in the world of self-publishing, this almost never works. Without an established following, there is little chance of the book taking off initially, and if all I did was “build it” and put the book on Amazon there is a very real possibility that it would go completely unnoticed. Even if a few readers here and there are super impressed, no one will have any motivation to go shouting from the rooftops about how my book is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Regardless of what has happened to the pub world in the last decade or so, it remains a business and excitement over a book is simply a commodity that is bought and sold.

Nevertheless, that was my approach, and it affected my decision to go with self-publishing over traditional as well. For me it was pretty clear; no way was I going to hand over the cover design to a publishing house and risk having readers get the wrong impression about my novel. It was an easy decision, and although it did sign me up for three solid months of stress, pushing the limits of my artistic side and navigating through choices and judgment calls usually made by professionals, it did pay off in the end. My artist, Carlton Tomlin, came up with an absolutely brilliant interpretive piece of original art that fits the story perfectly, and I could not be happier with how the novel looks.

But the most critical part of this process by far was the editing. Again, with an emphasis on building the best product possible and doing things by the book, I turned to professionals in the business. I was lucky enough to find Katherine Pickett, a seasoned editor and self-publishing expert with more than a decade of experience in publishing, including the editing of over 300 books. She not only played the role of my developmental editor, but also served as my personal self-publishing consultant-slash-mentor.

My first step in the process was to read her book, Perfect Bound, and it became my reference throughout. Although the query/editing was a ton of hard work, and was harrowing at times, it was extremely productive and positive every step of the way, even surprisingly so.

The manuscript we began with was a hodgepodge of passages, somewhat story-ish perhaps, but rather disjointed and very incongruent. What came out was a well-organized and smoothly flowing narrative; every passage had an important role, moved the story along, delivered the plot. It was so polished I actually considered skipping copyediting, but Katherine convinced me to go the extra mile again (and this was great advice).

Copyediting, which was performed by Christina Frey, was a similar experience for me. There were hundreds of queries and issues to work through, and those several months were extremely intense, but the entire effort was methodical and predictable and clearly added quality to the novel. Although I expected little more than fixing commas and grammar here and there, what I got was a second, laser-focused pass through the novel, fixing everything from timelines to fact-checking to character inconsistencies.

It was only after the copyedit phase was completed that it finally hit me what an actual professional-quality novel really looks like. Proofreading and interior design added the final look and feel, and the book was finally complete. Looking back, I consider the choice to have the book professionally edited — which obviously incurred some expense — well worth it and one of the best decisions I made.

All in all I am very happy with the results. Sure, some of the technical aspects of putting everything together were neglected and I would have been better off if I had followed Perfect Bound more closely and studied self-publishing for six months prior to starting the process. Researching Bowker, ISBNs, review sites, establishing a platform and followers, how to throw a launch party — these are things that are critical in the process and ideally should not be rushed at the last moment. But the most important thing by far is the book itself, and this was given top priority.

To market a book takes confidence in the product, and that is what I have achieved. Developing a new strategy or angle for marketing can be tweaked along the way; not so much for the novel itself. It has to be something I can stand behind, and it truly is.

W.K. Dwyer, author of the novel The Killing Flower, has written short stories and poetry for decades and was trained as a musician under J.D. Blair. Following the events of September 11, he stopped creating music to focus on writing and podcasting about the root causes of terrorism. W.K. holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and has done postgraduate work in artificial intelligence and cognitive science. He works as a government contractor, developing targeting systems for counterterrorism.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: Successful Self-Publishing Takes a Team

In the new blog series Publishing Stories, I have asked former clients to share their experiences with book publishing. This first contribution is by Gary Bargatze, author of the eight-book series Your Winding Daybreak Ways. His self-published books have earned praise from many corners, including the Baltimore Sun. Here he tells us how he found success as a self-publisher.

Successful Self-Publishing Takes a Team

by Gary Bargatze

When our first child was born some 30 years ago, a wise old friend foretold our future as parents. He flashed a knowing smile and accurately predicted,

“Children give you the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow. … The challenges will never go away; they’ll just get different.”

And as writers who’ve “given birth” to a number of works over the years, my wife and I have often compared the ongoing challenges of parenting to the long, winding road of crafting an idea and managing it to print.

After overcoming the myriad challenges associated with a successful “delivery” (e.g., daily decisions about plot, character, syntax, grammar, word choice, and consistency), we stare at the newborn manuscripts in our hands, sigh with relief, and smile with a rightful sense of accomplishment.

But as the thrill of our newborns’ births begins to fade, we slowly realize that we now face a whole new set of daunting questions and responsibilities to ensure that our “children” reach adulthood and succeed in their lives.

And when these new questions arise, “they come not as single spies, but as battalions”:

  • Which route to publication should we choose?
  • Should we attempt to publish traditionally via an agent and a major publishing house?
  • Should we publish independently through our own start-up publishing companies? Or should we hire an existing press to perform most of the publishing and marketing tasks for us?
  • If we go either the independent route or hire a company, do we engage professional editors?
  • Whom will we hire to design the covers and format the interiors? How many editions of our works should we produce—a print version, an e-book, and/or an audio edition?
  • How will we distribute our new books to retailers (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple)?
  • Whom will we hire to develop our author websites?
  • And last but not least, should we tackle social media marketing on our own or engage a professional to develop our social media persona, visibility, and branding?

In my own case, after spending seven-plus years writing the Your Winding Daybreak Ways series consisting of seven novels and a novella (e.g., Warfield, Happy Hollow, and McGill), I ventured out into the vast reaches of the Internet seeking answers to these challenging questions. When I discovered that I could deduct most of the expenses associated with developing and operating a new company from my income taxes, I chose to create my own publishing house, Rigor Hill Press, and to publish my works independently. And then the question arose, how many of the publishing and marketing processes do I really have the desire and expertise to tackle on my own?

After further research, I identified several presses specializing in independent and self-publishing. And over the next several weeks, I conducted a number of staff and customer interviews and ultimately decided to engage Mill City Press headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Our contract included a number of milestones — for example: cover design, interior formatting, printing, e-book formatting, publishing, distribution, and marketing programs via Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon. While Mill City Press offers editorial services and the use of one of its imprints, I chose to use my own Rigor Hill Press imprint and to engage a copyeditor whom I had thoroughly vetted for qualifications, editorial style, and personal compatibility.

The good news is that I chose wisely. Mill City Press has delivered on time as advertised, and the few times that there have been hiccups in our multibook, multifaceted project, they have quickly and effectively remedied the situation, which is the sign of a first-class operation.

During my search in 2014 for the perfect copyeditor, I discovered Katherine Pickett’s recently published book, Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro. I ordered a copy, read it thoroughly, and contacted her company, POP Editorial Services, in Silver Spring, Maryland. After several conversations with Ms. Pickett via email, the telephone, and a personal meeting at a local bookstore signing, I concluded that she was the right person for the job.

Ms. Pickett had the experience and qualifications, her editorial style was what I had envisioned for the series, and our personalities were quite compatible. Not only is she a pleasant person, but she has the ability to offer constructive criticism that motivates, provides potential solutions, and fosters vitally important trust between the author and herself.

And I cannot overemphasize the trust factor in the author/copyeditor relationship. Since great copyeditors as Ms. Pickett will openly express their opinions with no holds barred, the author must be prepared to suffer a few bruises to the ego along the way. I must admit that as we edited the eight books in the series, I always dreaded receiving another of Ms. Pickett’s lengthy, single-spaced editorial letters detailing everything that I needed to enhance to publish a first-rate novel — for example:

“(1) include more description and feeling around dialogue so that it doesn’t feel like an interview; (2) balance dialogue against straight narration; (3) remove unneeded or excessive adverbs; and (4) insert line spaces to indicate large time lapses. … In addition, the narrator and his three closest friends would benefit from some additional character development.”

But the good news again is that I chose my copyeditor wisely. Ms. Pickett is a true professional who delivers as advertised. And the positive reviews for the series posted by readers in the US and Europe speak volumes to her ability to raise an author’s level of play — for example: “A literary landmark!” “A saga for the big screen!” “Profound, meaningful characters!” “Riveting and imaginative.” “Impossible to put down!”

So when I’m asked at book signings to explain the keys to self-publishing success, I respond, “Choose your partners wisely, and prepare rigorously for every step along the way to publication.” I then usually close my remarks with a quote from the legendary heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, who believed that rigorous preparation was the key to long-term success. He said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. … I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

Gary Bargatze is the author of the novels Warfield, Happy Hollow, Hurricane Creek, Hollow Rock, and McGill, the first five works in the critically acclaimed 10-part fictional series, Your Winding Daybreak Ways, comprised of a prologue, an epilogue, seven novels, and a novella. Mr. Bargatze divides his time between Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.