What Kind of Writer am I?

Untitled designDiscovering who I am as a writer is something that grew out of my master’s degree.

Until that point, I’d concentrated on M/M Romance, but the course encouraged me to try a range of writing for page, stage and screen, and my final project was a full-length screenplay for a contemporary romance.

(I also have a penchant for writing funny Northern women. Who knew?)

Learning who I am as a writer helped me to find my voice, and learning how I work best makes me more productive.

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Body of Water: A Retrospective

bodywaterhi-resNow I’m working on the final part of The Orcadian Novels, I’ve been reflecting on the first—Body of Water—that will always have a special place in my heart.

It was my first novel. Sure, I’d been published before, both as a food writer and as co-author of M/M Romance Isali Dreams, but this was my baby.

The title came first, springing from my love of the ocean and a strong desire to write a contemporary fantasy story set in the UK and featuring a main character with the power over water.

My research into water-related magic took me straight up to Orkney via the wonderful Orkneyjar website. As soon as I started reading through the wealth of information curated by Sigurd Towrie, I was hooked. Here were the building blocks for my overall story’s folklore and my main character’s backstory.

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Why Writers Need to Play

Play is the highest form of research.After two years of hard study for my MA in Professional Writing, I was looking forward to getting back to my own novel and put all my new-found knowledge to use, but when I sat down I just felt—bleurgh.

I’m burned out, I thought. I need to take a break and let my creative well refill. But two years of writing to strict deadlines, plus writing contextual essays about my writing, had got me into a solid, daily writing routine, and I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

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Out Now: Goodman’s Child

Copy of goodman'sMy new eBook, Goodman’s Child, is a short story set in Orkney.

Inspired by the Orcadian folklore story The Goodman o’ Wastness, which I read during research for Memory of Water, it centres on the plight of Moire, a woman trapped by her husband in the small croft house they share with their sick son.

Moire has spent years trying to escape Goodman and now she has a chance.

Buy Now.

Interview: Roz Morris, Independent Editor

 Walking along a busy London street, it’s not only Roz Morris’s phoenix-red hair that makes her stand out but also her palpable energy. She has that magical quality of talent and experience.

Employed as a major literary consultancy’s senior book doctor for over 15 years, and teaching creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper, she has a wealth of editorial skill. Her Nail Your Novel series is highly regarded.It doesn’t stop there. As a best-selling ghost-writer, 4 million of her books have passed through readers’ hands. Her own fiction work—My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three—proves she has a visceral understanding of story.

Settled into a café table on a busy London street, we talk about her views on the rise of the indie author and its effect on the role of editors.

“Self-publishing is a mixed blessing. It’s highly competitive, and not just for authors. 

“Lots of people are coming onto the market and setting themselves up as editors with very little, if any, qualifications or experience. They’ll undercut everyone else, usually to get the work, or maybe because they know they can’t justify the rates of an experienced editor. But are they doing a proper job? They may not be. It’s not enough to just be nice and friendly. You have to know what you’re doing.”

During our conversation, we discover that we both worked on the same manuscript: The Village: A Year in Twelve Tales by J.J. Anderson. I completed the developmental edit under the watchful eye of Victoria Mixon, and Roz—in a separate contract—completed the copy edit.

I ask how challenging it is to go into a developmental edit with an indie new to the editing experience.

“I was talking to Victoria about this the other day. An editor should never underestimate how demanding the work is. We have to be very sensitive to the author. It can be exhausting.

“Copy editing is less onerous, actually. It’s easier to set a proper rate and charge by the hour. With developmental editing, you don’t truly know how long a book will take until you see it.”

Are indies more impatient than those on the traditional path?

“They are, although they don’t realise they’re being impatient. If an author hasn’t been through the publishing process before, they have no idea how long the processes take. Some indies contact me for a developmental edit, wanting to publish by the end of the month. They don’t realise they’re likely to get reams of notes that may take them many months to address. One asked me to do a ‘light’ proof read, possibly because they imagine they’ll save time, but there’s no such thing.”

And how has traditional publishing changed from an editor’s perspective?

“I think traditional publishing has lost its focus on developing authors. There’s not as much nurturing. Publishers used to spend a lot on that aspect, but not so much now.

“A few one-stop shops have appeared offering a range of publishing services. Some even claim to be publishing deals. It really is a case of buyer beware and there are few ways for them to judge if the service is worth the money.

And it’s not just indie editors that authors should be wary of.

“We’re going back a few years, but I once worked for a literary consultancy that charged authors £4 per one thousand words for a developmental edit and paid the editor just one third of that. Certainly they needed to cover their costs, because they were finding clients and filtering them, but the rate of pay for the editors wasn’t good.

“Also, some of their editors weren’t sufficiently experienced. If an author had a previous report from that consultancy, I’d always ask to see it. It was appalling to see that some of these editors couldn’t explain craft concepts like ‘show not tell’. And that was from a consultancy. Personally, my first edits with an author are more like in-depth writing tutorials than ‘just’ an edit.”

So how can indie authors and editors choose the right partner?

“As an editor, I’ve learned to pick projects carefully so I’m in tune with the author and not tied to an agent’s or publisher’s agenda. I’m interested in working with authors who are committed to developing their writing.”

And are indies more or less motivated than other authors?

“I tend to find that the authors who attend my Guardian Masterclasses are highly engaged, committed, and willing to be told to be patient. And many are still looking to be traditionally published.

“Some marketers advise indies to focus on getting a lot of books out. That’s certainly a sound model. But there are also indies who are taking their time to produce quality books. They are creating our future publishing legacy. They understand it’s an art and they’re committed to quality and originality. And that’s the beauty of self-publishing because traditional publishing can’t always take a risk, which is a shame because the books that people cherish are the ones that are well crafted and unique.”

Find out more about Roz and her work at https://rozmorris.wordpress.com and http://nailyournovel.com

Interview: Victoria Mixon, Independent Editor

What are your views on the rise of the indie author and its effect on the role of editors?
I began indie editing six years ago because I saw the need on the horizon: if people are going to become professional self-publishers (and a profession is what it is), they need professional guidance them in learning how to do this work.

I’ve done extremely well as an editor. It’s been a very exciting time to be in the industry. Last year was a boom year.

We indie editors have spent many years proving ourselves. When I began, the advice to writers from a then-popular online agent was, “You don’t need an editor.” This was followed over the years by other agents with the advice, “Get your book edited, but don’t tell us.” Then last year a top online agent eventually said, “If you’ve had your book independently edited, tell us in your query.”

Finally–validation of our work from the voices that aspiring writers listen to!

However, I get more queries than ever from aspiring writers who have either paid outrageous sums to famous indie editors for simple feedback that you can pick up on the blogophere or paid bottom-of-the-barrel rates to false ‘copy-editors’ who have actually added grammatical and punctuation errors to their manuscripts. They show me the emails and the errors. They would make you weep.

Now, more than ever, it is essential for aspiring writers to do their due diligence and hire only those indie editors who can prove their skills. Better not to spend your money at all than to waste what little you have on a charlatan.

How challenging it is to go into a developmental edit with an indie new to the editing experience?

It depends entirely upon the writer.

With you, for example: you were so incredibly dedicated to the craft, to your characters, to your fictional world, to the stories that you wanted to create, that you and I had one of the best times I’ve ever had as an editor, working on your novel together–the perfect combination of joy in the work and serious commitment!

I always begin with a personal relationship with the writer. I used to respond to every single query, asking the writer about themself and their goals for their story. Then I began getting so many queries that I put a notice on my Editing page asking querents to please check out my blog first and let me know in their query why they think I’d be the best editor for their work. I have years of writing advice on my blog and advice column. If that’s the kind of in-depth work you want to do, then let’s do it.

Once the writer and I have a personal relationship, they begin to trust me, and with trust they’re willing to listen to me as I help them design their stories. And that’s when the real work begins. That’s when we can take writing of great promise and turn it into a great fiction.

Are indies more impatient than those on the traditional path?

I think so. I have many clients who very, very much wanted to go the traditional route. They’re willing to take a great deal of time to make their novels the best they can possibly be before trying to sell them, because they know that agents reject most work. So they know that that bar of quality is there. They know they have to be good enough to get over it.

Most self-publishers choose the other route because they don’t want to invest the time it takes to get an agent and then wait through the one- or two-year cycle of traditional publishing. And this is a perfectly valid concern. . .assuming that they have invested the time and money to learn their craft. Spending ten or twenty or thirty years and significant financial outlay on your craft only to be held up by a wait of four or five years because those on the publishing end aren’t paying attention is pretty insulting professionally.

And, unfortunately, the gates of traditionally publishing are closing more every day to new writers. Even good novels are being rejected if they don’t come with famous names or sophisticated marketing plans. So that traditional bar of quality is losing its effectiveness. If you reject even those who are good enough to get over the bar, aspiring writers will stop trying to get over it.

On top of this, the bar itself has lowered as traditional publishers have stopped editing, so those famous enough or with sophisticated-enough marketing plans are being traditionally published without their fiction being professionally editing. Aspiring writers read it and say to themselves, “I can do better than that!”

Of course they can. If they learn the craft. Any of us can. If we learn the craft.

So take your time.

If you want to be a writer, learn how to write.

How has traditional publishing changed from an editor’s perspective?

You mean aside from Black Wednesday in December 2008, when many of the top publishers in New York laid off a bunch of their most experienced editors all at once?

That was a turning-point: publishers ruthlessly dismissed their responsibility for the quality of their product in order to try desperately to maintain their enormous profits from it. They turned a long-respected industry devoted to the most wonderful art in the world into a money-churning financial grind.

And there has been no going back. Now very young editors are hired fresh out of college with their English Degrees clutched in their eager little hands and set to work—not editing—but learning the business of acquisitions and ruthless negotiation. They’re paid ridiculously low wages to live in two of the most expensive cities in the world, London and New York. And if they truly love fiction (as English Majors tend to), they’re forced to edit on their own time evenings and weekends.

Has editor turnover reached an all-time high among the traditional publishers? It certainly has.

Over the past six years, this loss of editing and author-editor-publisher loyalty has forced writers to go to, first, their agents for editorial help and then to professional indie editors. So Black Wednesday turned out to be good business for me, although incredibly disheartening for friends who were at the time publishing authors and expected their publishers to honor the responsibility to edit.

It’s reported now that traditional midlist author earnings—terrifyingly small to begin with—have dropped 25% in the past five years. The traditional industry is clearly imploding under the weight of its own greed. I used to be cautious about making such sweeping statements, but after six years of following the industry and listening to insiders I respect, I can say it now.

So genre writers are turning to self-publishing. This is a good thing: it puts control over a writer’s career back into the hands of the writer. However, many self-publishers making a living at the moment are much better at marketing than they are at creating great fiction. It’s excellent that certain savvy marketers have taught themselves how to make a good living this way. But they don’t always know fiction, so they don’t budget much for indie editing—barely enough to hire a competent copy-editor to fix their grammatical and punctuation errors. They don’t usually budget for developmental editing—they don’t necessarily know that there’s anything to learn. Certainly they don’t budget for line editing, which can be expensive and which marks the difference between a great story memorably-told and a great story told about as well as any other story.

The traditional industry, for all the havoc they’re wreaking, are still pushing us as writers toward a fabulous literary renaissance. . .just not to their own profit.

How can indie authors and editors choose the right partner?

You mean like you and me?:)

Indie authors have budgets to work within. This is a reality. Most indie authors don’t make much. And proper editing is expensive. It’s easier to believe that we can simply love our novels into professional quality (and look to marketing for the validation of sales) than it is to do the long, hard work of either unpaid (or costly) apprenticeship to this craft or earning enough money to hire a really great editor who already has.

I believe the self-publishing industry will continue to move toward making itself increasingly viable to those professionals who have always been essential to the publishing industry: authors, editors, cover artists, book designers, marketers, and promoters. It takes a village to create an industry.

Right now many self-publishers are struggling to do it all alone. It is an insane amount of work, and it’s not the best use of each individual’s natural skills and inclinations.

So I think the next step will be small cooperatives: one or more each of highly-skilled authors, editors, cover artists, book designers, marketers, and promoters banding together to create higher-quality indie fiction and sell it more effectively.

How can we find each other?

Networking.

A lot of people find me by simply searching online for “independent editor.” I have excellent SEO. Others find me through recommendations on the blogs of my friends in the online writing community. And some find me through my most popular blog posts, which still circulate the blogosphere. So this is how I get clients: I’ve put a lot of my expertise out there and made it available to anyone looking for it.

On the other end, indie authors must satisfy themselves that the editors they find are truly qualified. This means researching the editors’ freely-offered expertise—if they have blogs—and cheap proof of expertise—if they’ve published books on writing. It means looking for great testimonials and credentials and researching those writers.

It means treating the relationship as a professional partnership. You’re creating something worth your readers’ money. This is a profession.

And are indies more or less motivated than other authors?

I wouldn’t say that they’re more or less motivated as a group.

I would say that aspiring writers still seeking traditional publishing will drop out of the race pretty quickly without a passionate lifelong dedication to craft, when it turns out that mass-querying hundreds of agents with a manuscript anything less than both topical and stellar does not garner a contract. So aspiring writers interested in traditional publishing are often extremely hard workers.

Meanwhile, aspiring writers who go indie often work outrageously long hours learning and implementing the marketing necessary to make their novels visible to readers, even when marketing is not their strength and the effort takes time away from their craft. If they don’t put this huge work into marketing, no matter how good their work is it tends to be invisible in the crowd.

Right now, it’s those who are working incredibly long hours and throwing their whole hearts into earning a living as authors who are getting there. It’s been this way for as long as I’ve been an indie editor.

The indie industry is still very young. We have a long way to go.

What’s thrilling is that we’re getting there!