Authors, Know Thy Craft!

Authors, Know Thy Craft!

You don’t need a degree to write a book but, authors, you do need to know your craft.

I ‘ve recently read a number of online blog and social media posts where people claim that you don’t need to have a university or college degree to write a book. I believe this is true. However, you do need to know about writing and editing–and about publishing if you’re an indie author.

The first time I wrote a book I thought to myself, “I have a language and literature degree. I can write a book. It couldn’t be any worse than some of the ones being published right now.” I should qualify that, at the time, I had just read two or three books in a row that were poorly written and/or edited, and it was ticking me off.

Guess what I learned when I wrote my first book? It’s not as easy as it seems.

Even though I have a degree in literature and language, I’ve been a French teacher for the past 18 years, so I hadn’t been exercising those particular mental muscles very much. I read a lot and watch movies regularly, so I have an understanding of how stories work, but this can only get you so far.

At the most basic, nitty-gritty level, there are questions like, what style guide is widely used in novels these days (hint: it’s the Chicago Manual of Style)? Where do commas go? How do you format to differentiate between narrative and flashbacks, dreams, letters, and so on?

On a slightly larger level, there is: Should you outline? What point of view should you write in? How many point-of-view characters should you have? When is it okay to switch between point-of-view characters? Are you including all the necessary scenes and elements for your genre? What’s the correct way to structure a story? Are your characters developed enough?

The list of questions goes on and on.

Some of you might think, “Wait. Isn’t that what editors are for?”

Well, yes and no.

As an author, it’s your job to make the story as strong as possible before it is sent to an editor. The better it is, the less time it will take for an editor to complete and the lower the cost will be for you. Also, there are many different levels of editing (which I will get into in a later post). You need to have an idea of where your story is to know what level of editing you need.

Study your craft

Here is a cautionary tale for you. I have two editions of my first novel. Why? Because as I started to learn more about my craft, I became convinced I could improve on what I’d written. I could have done better at showing versus telling, for example. So, when I decided to get a cover artist to create my logos and redo the cover so that the planned series will be uniform, I decided to improve the story as well. In the end, I added almost 12,000 words to my novel.

But, hang on. I paid an editor a lot of money to do a substantive edit. That means they were supposed to do a structural and a copyedit. So, why didn’t my editor tell me about my weaknesses and how I could improve my story before I hit publish?

Long story short, I used an assisted self-publishing company to help me publish my first book. While I was happy with most areas of my collaboration with them, editing was the one area that was lacking. I had a project manager through whom I communicated. I never had direct contact with the editor, and so had no place to ask questions or get clarification. I tried writing my questions in the comments section of the manuscript but, in the end, several of my questions went unanswered.

Now, this has much to do with me being new to self-publishing and not knowing any better than to accept what I got for editing. But I could also have avoided having to rewrite my story if I’d taken the time to learn more about the craft first. Knowing my craft better would have helped me figure out what questions I should have been asking (myself and the editor) to begin with.

I’ve learned a lot since then. And as authors, we should always be striving to improve our writing and to learn more. Does that mean you should wait until you think you’re an expert before putting pen to paper or fingers to keys? No, not at all.
But always be open to learning more and improving your craft.

*Since I have an interest in almost all areas of writing and self-publishing, I spend as much, if not more, of my time reading, watching informational videos, taking online courses and workshops, etc. than I do actually writing.

Here is a list of some of the books and resources I have found helpful:

Outlining Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland
Structuring Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland
Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print (2nd Edition), by Renni Browne and Dave King
Manuscript Magic (for editing and understanding story)
The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne
Story Grid Online Workshop and Resources:

What is Self-Publishing?


Are you a new or aspiring author and you’re wondering, what is self-publishing? Have you decided on self-publishing but don’t know where to begin? Are you a traditionally published author who would like to have more creative control, so are now considering self-publishing?

Then, read on for some valuable information to help you decide if self-publishing is right for you.

Traditional publishing is signing on with a publishing house that will cover the associated costs and provide the expertise to get your book from manuscript to published work. They take on the financial risk, as well as the taking the time and resources to get your book from manuscript to published book. That is why they claim royalties and then pay the author.
*If a publisher asks you to pay for services while also asking you to sign a contract, they are not a true publishing house, and this should be a big flashing warning light.

Assisted self-publishing is when you pay a company to find or provide these services for you. You take on the financial risk, so the companyshould NOT charge you a print cost above the actual printer’s cost, and they should NOT claim any royalties. Also, remember, if they provide ISBNs and a domain name for you, then chances are they are listed as publisher of the book and owner of the domain name, so you should probably get these for yourself.

For true self-publishingyou take it upon yourself to do as much of the above as possibleand to find and pay for the right people to get each of the tasks done that you can’t do yourselfYou again take on all the financial risk, but this time, you will have no company guiding you along the way or putting you in touch with all the right people you need to get everything done. So, if you are new at the game, you will need to be patient, willing to deal with a steep learning curve, and willing to take the necessary time to learn everything you need to learn and find the people you need to get it done.

I would also add a couple of steps along the way for self-published authors.

Steps for self-publishing your book:

  1. Finish your manuscript. Just write at this point. Do not edit while you write.
  2. Put the manuscript aside for a while. Some people suggest a couple of weeks, even months. I’m not that patient though, so I will say at least a few days to a week.
  3. Edit your manuscript.
  4. Get beta readers to read your book. Be specific in what you expect from them.
  5. Edit your manuscript again based on the feedback from the beta readers.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 if necessary
  7. Find and hire people to do the cover and interior design. This process should actually be started somewhere between steps 1 and 6, as it could take a while.
  8. Hire a professional editor to edit your book.
  9. Revise your book based on your editor’s feedback (You don’t have to make every suggested change)
  10. Have your book proofread
  11. Buy ISBNs for each format of your book (in Canada, we get those for free)
  12. Create, or hire someone to create, the cover file(s) and interior file(s) needed to upload to the distributor (often, this is the cover designer, at least for the cover files).
  13. Create an account with your distributor(s) of choice and set it up
  14. Go over your distributor’s style guide to make sure your book files conform to their expectations
  15. Upload your book files to the distributor(s)
    *There is usually some turn-around time needed for the distributor to review and approve your file.
  16. If the files are not approved, fix them and re-submit
  17. If you are selling print copies, have one printed and sent to you so you can make sure there are no problems before releasing it for sale. This is called a proof copy.
  18. Marketing, which can actually start when you are in the process of writing, but should take place during and/or between all the other steps.

DON’T PANIC if this seems like a lot.

It’s because there are so many things to do, and so much I didn’t know, that I used assisted self-publishing for my first book. But if you have a limited budget, patience, and the time to put into it, there are many options and resources available that can make the process easier, and less expensive, for you. I will tell you about some of these in future posts.


In future issues:

  • Further explanations of the above steps and links to helpful resources

Please note that these are my own experiences and opinions. I am not saying my choices would be best for everyone. It is always a good idea to do your research.


Thanks for reading!