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

Copyright Michaeljayberlin |

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,, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers.


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

Copyright Moreno Soppelsa |

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:/

Chicago Manual of Style Q&A,

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,, 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 (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

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

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.


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.

5 Tips for Successful Networking at Conferences

Conferences are an excellent place to meet people and make business connections. Yet the idea of networking at a large venue like a conference makes some people sweat. Often it seems people place undue stress on themselves to do it right and never show their flaws. If you approach it as a human being and not just a marketer, however, it becomes much easier.

The following five tips will help you make the most of a conference.

1. Go to learn.

This is a big one. Conferences of all kinds offer valuable information for attendees. If you are a writer at a writers’ conference, this fact is obvious. If you are an editor at a writers’ conference or business leaders’ conference and you’re attending because you want to meet new clients, it might not be as clear-cut.

Even if the topics aren’t directly applicable to the work you do, these conferences give you an opportunity to learn something new. You might be surprised by how much of the information applies to your own work and business.

More important is the attitude you carry. If you are there to learn, you will be engaged, ask good questions, and show respect to the presenters you are listening to. Attendees will notice you have more to offer than a business card.

2. Plan to ask a question in each presentation you attend.

One part of networking is making yourself visible. Asking questions is a great way to do that. Stand up if it’s a large room, give your name and occupation or the name of your company, and ask a relevant question. Listen to the answer.

To ask good questions, you have to be engaged in the presentation. Again, you are showing respect for the topic and the presenter, and you are demonstrating that you care about the same things the other attendees care about. You also show that you are a critical thinker, always a valued attribute.

3. Talk to the person sitting next to you in a session.

While you’re waiting for the next session to start, you may find yourself sitting quietly, elbow to elbow with a complete stranger. This is your chance to practice your networking. If you aren’t outgoing, you might not be used to starting conversations, but there are a few easy questions to ask to get the ball rolling. Start with hello, then follow up with a question about the other person:

  • Are you having a good conference?
  • Are you a writer/editor/businessperson also?
  • What did you think of the keynote speaker?
  • Are you from the area?
  • Have you been to this conference before?

Now listen to the answer. If the person on one side of you doesn’t seem interested in talking, don’t get discouraged. Those are the rare ones. Try someone else. If you two have something in common and want to stay in touch, exchange business cards. After the conference you can send a brief email to reconnect.

4. Join others at lunchtime.

Scarier even than talking to the person next to you is walking up to a table of strangers and asking to sit with them. Nightmares from junior high may flash through your head. But conference organizers these days are very good at taking the pressure off. Some have conversation starters at the tables. Others have tables labeled with topics of interest so that you can locate like-minded people. Even if your conference does not have these things, a warm smile will usually result in a warm welcome from the people already at the table.

The conversation starters above apply here as well. The difference is that the conversation will last longer than the 5 to 10 minutes that you wait for the presenter to speak. So be prepared to talk a little about yourself — what you’re working on, what services you offer, what brought you to the conference.

If this part really makes you nervous, do a few warm-ups by yourself. Practice using your voice so that it works when you need it. An exercise I learned recently is repeating “minimal animal, minimal animal” and “unique New York, unique New York.” To say the phrases right, you have to open your mouth and project. You will feel silly the first time, but it works surprisingly well.

Again, if you meet someone you might be able to do business with, exchange cards and follow up with a brief email after the conference.

5. Wear an ice breaker.

Now we have discussed meeting people while attending a presentation or when sitting at lunch, but what about those in-between times? What happens when you’re looking at exhibits or grabbing a muffin before the next session starts?

If you have been asking questions at each presentation and talking to your neighbors, people may approach you. Give them something to talk about. Wear a funny or notable tie or a memorable brooch. Add the title of your book and/or your occupation to your name tag. Wear a pin that says “Ask me about my editing services.”

You don’t need to wander into the realm of “flair.” Keep it professional. But wearing something unusual can make it easier for someone to approach you, and everyone appreciates an “in” to striking up a conversation.

And that’s really all networking is — talking to people to learn about them and determine how you can help each other. If you talk to enough people, exchange cards with the ones you connect with, and follow up after the event, you are virtually guaranteed to grow your network.

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.

Red Flags When Hiring an Editor

I have written extensively about how to find and hire a copyeditor that is right for you. In the blog series How to Hire an Editor in 5 Easy Steps I discuss what to look for so you know you are hiring a qualified editor and the one who is best suited to you and your book. In this post I discuss the other side, the red flags.


Perhaps the biggest red flag to look for is someone who makes promises they can’t possibly keep. I recently came across this bold statement on an editor’s website:

Because of David’s experience and cachet, you are more likely to sell your book to a publisher if his name is attached to the project. A book “authored by J. Doe and edited by David [Lastname]” will give the publisher assurance that the book will be a professional effort.

There is no way this editor can make such a promise unless he is an agent also. Freelance editors do not get special treatment within publishing houses. Even with an agent, the only special treatment I ever saw when I worked in-house was a closer look at the manuscript and a personalized rejection letter rather than a form letter. The book has to be good and right for the publisher. An editor’s name is not going to sell the book for you.

Another red flag to look for is anyone who does not list credentials on her website, or her only credential is a degree in English and/or time spent as an English teacher. Book editing requires specialized training, whether that’s through classes and certifications or through on-the-job training. Good training is very important, and you should expect your editor to tout whatever training she has received.


Two factors when choosing your editor warrant further exploration. I wouldn’t call these red flags, but you should know what they mean to you before you commit to an editor.

First, most of the time if you are hiring an editor who is part of a large editing group, you will pay a higher rate than if you hire a solo editor. This includes editing packages provided through self-publishing companies. If you aren’t paying more, then the editor is getting less than other editors. That’s because the leader or organizer of the group has to get paid somehow. The upshot is that you may not be getting the same quality of editing for the price.

And second, I have mentioned before that you will get the best edit from someone familiar with your genre and topic. If you work in a subgenre, you may need to be more particular. For example, if you write adult fiction, your editor should be familiar with adult fiction. Experience in young adult fiction is not enough, as the conventions are different. Similarly, if you write romance, an editor of sci-fi/fantasy may not give your book the edit it needs. He might overedit your manuscript or miss key elements that romance readers are looking for. With the number of editors out there, you can and should be picky.

Proceed with Caution

There are a few practices that some authors think are red flags that are not necessarily so. It is up to you to decide if you dislike the way an editor works, but you probably don’t have much to worry about with these editor preferences.

Some freelance editors like to see a full manuscript before agreeing to take on a project. It is unlikely she is planning to run away with your book. Rather, she may be able to get a better sense of how much work the project needs and therefore how much time and cost to estimate for the project. If you trust the editor otherwise, you should feel comfortable sending the full manuscript.

Further, I have found an increasing number of editors do not like to release their phone number. I prefer to speak to a client over the phone, and many of my clients feel the same way, because it gives me more insight into what our working relationship will be. It can also be a time-saver compared to email and can clear up misunderstandings faster.

However, most freelance editors work from their homes and may not have a separate work number. Giving out their phone number means giving access to their personal lives as well as their work lives. Others may have found that they spend too much time on the phone with clients who require hand-holding, and the editors prefer to control their time by restricting communications to email.

If you really want to be able to speak to your editor on the phone, then you should find someone willing to do that. At the same time, if you have found an editor you think will be great for your project and you don’t mind email as a primary form of communication, you do not need to discount your editor for this one preference.

Due diligence is essential to finding a qualified, reputable editor. When you know what to look for, you can hire your editor with confidence.

Tracking Your Story’s Timeline

Copyright Kevin Carden |

Keeping a consistent timeline in your story is crucial to earning your readers’ trust. Readers will become frustrated if your characters seem to be jumping through the seasons at will or if too much has happened for only one week to have passed.

Although this may seem like a problem only novelists would confront, memoirists, short-story writers, and anyone else writing about events that take place over time need to pay attention to their timelines also.

If you haven’t kept your outline up to date while you’re writing, do what your editor will do. Go through the manuscript and note all of the plot points that hinge on or mention timing. Write down the date and season, and if needed, count the days and weeks (and hours?) that would have passed between plot points. Ensure that time is adding up correctly.

Be sure your list includes subtle references to time, such as holidays or the changing colors of the trees. These are time indicators just as much as a date and year and should be treated with care. If you have the leaves turning from green to red a scant two weeks before Christmas, your readers may wonder just where in the world your story takes place. For most of us, that is not the kind of thought we hope to provoke.

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.