About Marcy Kennedy

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How to Find and Select a Cover Designer

FreeImages.com/Bill Davenport

FreeImages.com/Bill Davenport

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Making sure my books had covers that would attract readers rather than turn them away has been one of the scariest parts of independent publishing for me. Readers do judge books by their covers. An ugly or unprofessional cover can make a reader pass on our book regardless of how great our content is.

Most of us are writers, not artists or graphic designers. We can’t design our own covers. (Or, at least, most of us shouldn’t.)So how do we find a cover designer who can create the perfect cover for our books—one that’s visually appealing and also accurately represents the content inside?

Well, that’s the topic of my most recent guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. I hope you’ll join me for How to Find and Select a Cover Designer.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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How to Win More Fans Through Storytelling

I’m excited to welcome a special guest poster today–Bryan Cohen. I originally “met” Bryan through a request to guest post on my blog a couple of years ago, and since then I’ve been privileged to take part in three March to a Bestseller events with him. Today, he’s back on my blog again to share some great insights on how we can connect with our newsletter subscribers through stories.

So take it away Bryan!

How to Win More Fans Through Storytelling

Guest Post by Bryan Cohen

FreeImages.com/Johan van den Berg

FreeImages.com/Johan van den Berg

I once competed on the show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. After the obvious question (did you win any money?), the second question people normally ask me about my appearance is, “How did you get on the show?” Each participant must take a difficult multiple choice test and score relatively high on it before moving onto the real challenge. You need to sit one-on-one with a producer from the show and make them think you’re interesting enough for TV.

Sure, they don’t come right out and say that, but when they’re asking you basic questions about you and your life, they’re not looking for one-word answers. They want to know your story, so you better have one to tell.

While connecting with new readers through your email list may not be as nerve-wracking as attempting to get on a game show, the same rules still apply. When you get a new email subscriber, it’s your job to turn that person from a casual reader into someone who wants to buy and review all your future books. To create a fan, you need to get that person excited about you. It all starts with your story.

When you share your journey, your writing process, and your personal struggles, you form a deeper connection with your readers. As you drip out bits of your story over the course of a few emails, your readers will feel like they know you. And it’s a lot easier to sell a book to a fan who wants to be your friend then it is to sell to a complete stranger.

Here are five different types of stories you can share with your readers to forge a stronger bond:

How I Did It

You may not feel like you’ve achieved much in your career, but readers are more impressed than you give them credit for. If you’ve written one or multiple books, then you’ll earn their respect and praise. By telling the story of how you got to this point of your writing journey, you’ll give readers context whenever they considering buying one of your future books.

Treat this story like your own personal Wikipedia page. Write about where you came from and how it influenced your efforts to write your awesome books.

Why I Became a Writer

In addition to sharing how you wrote your books, you can also explain why you decided to become a writer in the first place. This is an opportunity to really tap into the passion behind your writing. Explain why you had to write above all other callings (or why you write despite working a 40-hour-a-week job and taking care of your kids). These kinds of stories can really provoke emotion from your readers, and an emotional connection is one of the most important precursors to selling your books.

If you don’t have some momentous event that called you to writing, then simply share why writing has become so important to you.

My Biggest Struggle

Struggling is awesome. Not in the moment, of course, but one of the best things about a difficult challenge is getting to share your story about it later. Personally, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of my stories about the troubles I had attempting to write my first novel. You might have had a difficult past to overcome or a trying incident that delayed you from becoming a writer. Readers love to hear this stuff because it humanizes you. You’re not some mythical author, you’re a regular person who deals with the same struggles that they do.

Make sure to share what lessons you learned from your ordeals as part of the story.

Where My Book Came From

Book origin stories are always fan favorites. Readers love to ask about what inspired you to write a certain character or tell a particular story. In many industries, it’s a harrowing experience to learn how the “sausage was made,” but fans are always interested in the building blocks of your well-crafted tales.

There are many different directions you can go with this. You can talk about the research that led to the book, the other authors who you read leading up to the idea’s germination, the people from your life who you modeled your characters after, and even the moment in the shower when your best idea came to you. Pull the curtain back with this tale to reveal the backstory to your backstory.

Fan Encounters & Appreciation

There really is nothing quite like meeting fans. It’s an incredible feeling, and your readers would love to hear how much those encounters have meant to you. You can share certain incidents or just the general sensation you get when you actually meet a person who loves reading your stuff.

If you haven’t had any in-person fan meetups, then share how you felt when you got your greatest compliment via email or through a customer review on Amazon. When you share stories about fans, don’t be surprised if you get even more praiseworthy messages from readers who want to join in the fun.

I went into my Millionaire audition with a story ready to tell. It touched on struggle and love and a happy ending with a dash of humor. I made it onto the show and earned enough money to pay off my credit card debt.

What do you think you’ll win when you tell your story?

Byran CohenBryan Cohen is an author, a podcaster, and a copywriter. If you’d like to learn more about writing better book descriptions and emails for readers, then check out his free cheat sheet and free mini course. Click the link and enter your email on the next page to get instant access: http://www.sellingforauthors.com

 

 

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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The Inevitable Truth of Life–Things Go Wrong

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

How do you face the difficult times in life?

Over the weekend, my husband and I went to see The Martian, and this is the question I walked away with.

In The Martian, Mark Watney is part of the team of astronauts who went on a Mars mission. Due to a storm, they had to leave the surface of Mars before their allotted time was over. During preparation for lift off, Watney was injured and lost in the storm. The team thought he was dead and had to launch without him–leaving him stranded on Mars, a planet where nothing grows, with no breathable atmosphere, and extreme weather conditions.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the story details for you, but Watney doggedly manages to survive on Mars until he’s able to be rescued, years later.

Once back on earth, Watney becomes an instructor, teaching astronaut candidates. In his first class, he tells them the one inevitable truth of space travel.

At some point, everything will go wrong.

That’s not an if. It’s a when. And when everything goes wrong, there’s really only one thing you can do if you want to survive.

You have to focus on one problem at a time.

The movie was talking about space and what you face there, but it’s also the one inevitable truth about life.

At some point in your life, everything will go wrong. Horribly, heart-breakingly, hope-crushingly wrong.

And there’s only one thing you can do if you want to survive. You focus on one problem at a time.

The big picture—that’s going to be more than we can handle when life blows up in our face. Because if we look at the big picture, it’ll seem impossible to overcome. We’ll feel too weak, too unprepared, too alone. Too everything.

But one problem at a time…well, we can find the strength for that one small thing. Just that thing. Only that thing.

And then the next one.

And the next one.

And one day, we’ll look up, and we’ll have made it out the other side. We’ll have survived.

And if we’re really brave, one day we’ll do what Mark Watney did. We’ll take what we’ve learned and use it to help teach others how to survive. Because at some point in their lives, everything will go wrong.

And what will matter most if they want to survive is knowing how to face it without giving up.

Have you faced a time in your life when everything seemed to go wrong? What helped you through?

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March to a Bestseller 3 – Great Writing Resources

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

March to a Bestseller III

I’m honored to once again be participating in the semi-annual March to a Bestseller event run by Bryan Cohen. I love this event because it brings writers a bunch of high-quality books about writing and publishing for an affordable price (99 cents each).

And to make it even better, on the day of the sale, the authors involved staff the Facebook group for giveaways and Q&As. If you have a writing-related question, this is the place to bring it. I’ll be manning the “table” from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Eastern.

Here are the books involved this time!

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBooks. (You also might want to check out Grammar for Fiction Writers or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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7 Reasons Understanding Point of View is Essential to Writing Great Fiction

Point of View in FictionBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When we talk about point of view, we basically mean the perspective from which the story is told. Who are we listening to when we read the story? Whose head are we in? Whose eyes are we watching the story through?

Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which great fiction rests.

Why do I say point of view is so essential to writing a good book?

Reason #1 – Well executed point of view allows the reader to experience (and participate in) a situation that they could never have been part of, or might never want to be part of, in real life. Consistent and skilled use of POV not only allows us to live vicariously, but also gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves and think about whether we would have made the same choices as the characters. In other words, we become participants in two senses of the word. It engages our emotions and our minds.

Reason #2 – Well executed point of view builds subtext, as we’re able to contrast what’s happening around the character with what they think about it. We can sort through the difference between reality and perception, the difference between the objective and subjective.

Reason #3 – Well executed point of view sets each character apart, as we see how they uniquely interpret the world around them. Put another way, point of view is the tool we use to create three-dimensional characters. When we don’t understand point of view and when we don’t execute it correctly, we’re very likely to end up with flat, uninteresting characters. Beyond this, as novelists and short story writers, we have an advantage in that we can give our audience that filtered perspective. They can’t receive that from television or movies or plays.

Reason #4 – Well executed point of view controls the flow of information to either create suspense or forward the plot. As authors, how we choose to handle POV determines what we must and can’t show to the reader. As readers, it creates the page-turning excitement as we discover things along with the POV character.

Reason #5 – Well executed point of view encourages showing rather than telling. “Showing” in fiction rather than “telling” is one of the most common pieces of writing advice and also one that a majority of writers struggle to execute. Understanding and writing from a close point of view makes this concept easier because we’re experiencing the story through the eyes of a particular character.

Reason #6 – Well executed point of view helps us decide what description belongs in the story. Many writers buy into the fallacy that description slows a story down. Description doesn’t slow a story down—bad description or description placed where it doesn’t belong slows a story down. When we write with a clear point of view, we’ll know what details are important to include and when is the appropriate time to include them.

Reason #7 – Well executed point of view shows us when to include backstory and when to explain details about our world and setting or about the way something works. How much or how little to explain these elements to readers becomes a stumbling block for many writers. When we have a clear POV, we’ll know to include it only when the POV character would naturally be thinking about it or noticing it.

Point of View in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide Is Now Available!

In Point of View in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide, you’ll learn

  • the strengths and weaknesses of the four different points of view you can choose for your story (first person, second person, limited third person, and omniscient),
  • how to select the right point of view for your story,
  • how to maintain a consistent point of view throughout your story,
  • practical techniques for identifying and fixing head-hopping and other point-of-view errors,
  • the criteria to consider when choosing the viewpoint character for each individual scene or chapter,
  • and much more!

Each book in the Busy Writer’s Guide series is intended to give you enough theory so that you can understand why things work and why they don’t, but also enough examples to see how that theory looks in practice. In addition, they provide tips and exercises to help you take it to the pages of your own story, with an editor’s-eye view. Most importantly, they cut the fluff so that you have more time to write and to live your life.

You can grab a copy of Point of View in Fiction from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. It’s also available in print.

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Top 10 Dialogue Mistakes that Kill Your Story

Top 10 Dialogue Mistakes that Kill Your StoryBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Awkward or boring dialogue can make readers cringe and toss our books aside to find something better.

A few months ago, I wrote a post called 10 Writing Mistakes that Kill Your First Chapter. Because of how much everyone liked that post, I decided to do a follow up. So today I’m sharing the top 10 dialogue mistakes that kill your story (in no particular order).

#1 – Too Much Direct Address

Direct address is where we call a person by their name or title (e.g., Mother, Doc).

“Bob, would you pass the peas?”
“Of course, Mary.” He turned to look at Frank. “Frank, I heard you got a new job.”
“Yes, Bob. I’m liking it a lot.”

Almost no one talks this way, and the people who do are considered strange. You can use a name or title once in a while in your dialogue, but make sure you’re doing it strategically (for example, people will often use names during an argument).

#2 – Allowing a Character to Speak Uninterrupted for Paragraphs (or Pages!)

How much do you enjoy being around a person who talks for five or ten or fifteen minutes (or more) without letting anyone else get a word in? Probably not that much.

Since this is a short list, I’ll give you just four reasons why allowing a character to talk uninterrupted is a problem. The first is that the reader usually ends up feeling preached to. The second is that you lose all sense of setting. The third is that it stops the action dead. The forth is that it can hurt the likeability and believability of your windbag character.

Even if your character is giving a speech of some kind, you need to interrupt them with body language, actions by other characters, or internal dialogue from the point-of-view character.

#3 – Dialogue That’s Too Formal

This could be someone who uses multisyllabic words when a simple word will do, it could be a character who always uses perfect grammar or doesn’t use contractions, or it could be a character who always speaks in complete sentences and never uses a sentence fragment.

You might have a good reason for wanting to do one of these things, but most readers will find it awkward. We don’t talk this way in real life, and the rare people who do are considered stuck up.

#4 – Dialogue That Repeats What’s Also in Action or Internal Dialogue

This is also known as redundancy. It can happen on a small scale.

He shook his head. “No.”

Or it can also happen big-picture. If, for example, we’re going to have a character cracking a safe, we don’t need to have them explain the whole process to another character before it happens. That makes it boring for the reader to then have to sit through the description of our character actually cracking the safe (even if something goes wrong).

#5 – Creative Dialogue Tags

A creative dialogue tag looks like this:

“I’m going to kill you,” she hissed.

When you have a character hiss, growl, beg, demand, or (insert another descriptor here) their sentence, you’re violating the show, don’t tell principle. It’s usually a sign of weak dialogue. And if they’re used indiscriminately, they can give your writing a cartoonish feel.

They’re also impossible. Go ahead—try to hiss or growl an entire sentence. Or try to laugh or snarl an entire sentence.

#6 – Not Making It Clear Who’s Speaking

Do not make your reader guess who’s speaking or count back through your lines of dialogue to figure out who said what.

If we have more than three lines of unattributed dialogue in a row (dialogue without a tag like said or an action beat), we can risk the reader losing track of who’s speaking. If we have a scene with multiple speakers, we need to be certain it’s clear who each line of dialogue belongs to. An unattributed line of dialogue could belong to anyone present.

But the sneakiest of all is when we write about two characters in the same paragraph and then tack on a line of dialogue at the end.

Ellen waved her arm above her head, and Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”

Who said “I’ve missed you”? It could be Frank or it could be Ellen, and the reader has no way to tell which one it really is.

#7 – Too Much Filler Dialogue

We don’t need to hear our characters say hello, ask each other how they’ve been, and all the other small talk we make on a daily basis because it’s the polite thing to do. Those don’t forward the story, and they’re boring to read.

We also shouldn’t fill our dialogue with a lot of umms, ers, and ahs. Every word needs to count.

#8 – As-You-Know-Bob Dialogue

As-You-Know-Bob dialogue is when one character tells another character something they already know. It’s done purely for the reader’s benefit (because we’re trying to give the reader some information we think they need to know), and it’s unnatural.

If it’s common knowledge, it won’t come up in conversation, and real people won’t say something that isn’t relevant to the conversation.

#9 – Dialogue That Sounds the Same No Matter Who’s Speaking

If you’ve been told your characters seem flat, sometimes the problem isn’t that you haven’t fully developed your characters. Sometimes it’s the way you’re writing their dialogue. They might all sound like you or like each other.

#10 – Dialogue That Requires a Rosetta Stone to Decode

“S’pose we must be resigned; but oh Lord! how ken I? If I know’d anything whar you’s goin’, or how they’d sarve you! Missis says she’ll try and ’deem ye, in a year or two; but Lor! nobody never comes up that goes down thar! They kills ’em! I’ve hearn ’em tell how dey works ’em up on dem ar plantations.” (From Chapter 10 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe)

Dialect written out phonetically like this is a bad idea for many reasons. It’s frustrating to your reader. You don’t want anyone to have to work that hard just to understand what your characters are saying. It pulls them out of the fictional dream. Beyond this, dialect used in this way sounds forced and can even border on demeaning to whatever group you’re trying to imitate.

Do you have any other common dialogue problems you’d like to add to the list? Which of these causes you the most headaches in your own writing? Or when you’re reading?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue, Description, or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Image Credit: FreeImages.com/Samuel Alves Rosa

Creating an Author Business Plan: Professional Development

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Janice Hardy Fiction UniversityThis week marks the final installment in the series I’ve been running at Fiction University about writing our author business plan. I think this final section is one of the most important for independent authors.

Self-published books still have a bad reputation among many because too many independent authors put out their books before those books are “ready.” The professional development section of our business plan helps make sure we’re less likely to be one of those authors. It’s where we set improvement goals both in the writing craft and in the business side.

I hope you’ll join me today for Creating an Author Business Plan: Professional Development

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Internal Dialogue is now available from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.. (You also might want to check out Grammar for Fiction Writers or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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5 Creepy Sea Animals You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my unbelievable real life feature. Usually I focus on a single weird place or creature in our world, but today I thought it might be fun to give you a list of five incredibly strange underwater animals.

#1 – The Red-Lipped Bat Fish

Red-lipped_Bat_fish

This odd-looking fellow hails from the Galapagos Islands, and he’s such a terrible swimmer that he actually walks along the ocean floor instead. I suspect that’s why he looks so grumpy. The other fish probably tease him.

#2 – The Goblin Shark

Goblin Shark

Goblin sharks average 10-13 feet long at maturity, but they’d probably send any swimmer heading straight for shore even if they were half that size. Fortunately, they’re a deep sea shark, preferring to live 330 feet or more under water.

#3 – Japanese Spider Crab

Japanese_spider_crab_(15340536895)

“What’s so cool about this one?” you might ask. Well, you can’t tell from this picture, but this spider crab stands as tall as a man, weighs around 42 pounds fully grown, and if you made him stretch out his legs (good luck with that), he’s 12 feet from claw to claw.

#4 – The Blue Dragon

Blue_dragon-glaucus_atlanticus_(8599051974)Glaucus_atlant.

I had to include extra images of this one because it’s just so beautiful. It’s also called a blue angel or a sea swallow, but officially it’s categorized as a sea slug. A rose by any other name I suppose. Unfortunately, along with being beautiful, the blue dragon is also venomous.

#5 – Sea Pig

Sea Pig

I couldn’t find a better image to use here legally, but you can see a real-life image of the sea pig at this link. Sea pigs have tubes of their top and their bottom that they can inflate and deflate. Technically, they’re a sea cucumber, which sounds even more strange than calling the blue dragon a sea slug because these sea pigs definitely look more like uncooked sausages than they do like vegetables. They’re one of the few underwater creatures that uses the sense of smell to locate food.

Which one of these five is your favorite? It’s probably no secret that mine is the blue dragon 🙂

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IMAGE CREDITS:

Bat Fish
By Rein Ketelaars (Flickr: DSCN1938.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Goblin Shark
By Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria [CC BY 3.0 au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Japanese Spider Crab
By Takashi Hososhima from Tokyo, Japan (Japanese spider crab) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Dragon
By Sylke Rohrlach from Sydney (Blue dragon-glaucus atlanticus) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Imtorn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sea Pig
By Lindberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Q & A: What Type of Editing Does Your Book Need?

Image Credit: Willemijn Simonis (www.freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Willemijn Simonis (www.freeimages.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m starting a new monthly feature here on my blog where I answer your questions. If you’d like to submit a question for a future episode, head over to my contact form to send me an email.

To inaugurate this new venture, I’ve decided to answer a question I receive a lot.

This one comes from Rachel Funk Heller:

What’s the difference between a developmental edit and proofreading?

Writing doesn’t have standardized terms like some other industries, and this leads to a lot of confusion among writers. (This actually came up in the comments on the guest post I wrote last week for Jami Gold about internal dialogue.)

So to answer Rachel’s question, I’m going to explain the different levels of editing. And remember, if you’re not sure what’s included in the type of editing an editor is offering, ask. You have the right to know what you’ll receive in your edit before you agree to hire the editor.

I’m putting these edits in order from big picture to small details. The order is important. If the foundation of your house isn’t solid, it won’t matter how pretty your living room drapes are.

Developmental Edit

You might have also heard this called a comprehensive critique, a substantive edit, a structural edit, a content edit, or a macro edit. (No wonder everyone is confused, right?)

This doesn’t involve correcting your punctuation and grammar or smoothing out awkward sentences. It’s about story issues—characterization (including likeability), setting, plot, too much/not enough backstory, showing vs. telling, dialogue, point-of-view problems, pacing, and goals, stakes, and motivation.

Most writers on a budget skip this step, but this is usually the type of edit we need the most. We might be able to copy edit or proofread our own work, but we’re not objective enough to developmentally edit our own book. And a fantastic story can cover over a multitude of other writing sins.

Line Edit

A line edit will cover things like word choice, paragraph flow, smoothing out awkward or wordy sentences, eliminating repetition, catching clichés, and other style issues. During a line edit, your editor will also point out areas where you need to clarify what you’ve written and suggest spots where your transitions are weak.

Many editors will flag POV errors or small scale showing vs. telling during a line edit, but they will not do it to the degree that a developmental edit does.

Good line editors are rare because they need to be mimics. They need to enhance our voice rather than stamping their own voice on our writing.

Copy Edit

A copy edit is about making your manuscript follow the rules of grammar and punctuation such as comma placement and homonyms. Editors will also trim unnecessary words, change passive sentences to active ones, and catch typos or missing words. Usually they’ll correct your formatting.

For fiction, a copy edit includes catching continuity errors as well—for example, your hero has blue eyes on page 10 but green eyes by page 100. For non-fiction, your copy edit might check and flag potential factual errors. (Be sure to ask if continuity checking is included.)

If you have big issues still in your book at this point, your copy editor is going to leave them there. It’s not their job to fix them. A good copy editor might brave your wrath to suggest you should have a developmental edit or a line edit done first.

Proofread

A proofread corrects typos and overlooked errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc. No big changes are made at this stage. It’s your last minute check because no edit ever catches everything.

Do you need to go through every level of editing?

In a perfect world, we would. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Few of us have the money to pay for all the levels of editing.

Take an honest assessment of where your natural skills lie. Focus your money on bolstering your weaker areas.

I’ve also written a post for Janice Hardy about How to Save Money on Editing Your Book, and Jami Gold has a great post on her site about how to find beta readers.

If you don’t remember anything else from this post, remember these things:

The lines between each type of edit are blurry rather than clean. That’s why you need to be certain what the editor you’re talking to will include in that type of edit. Don’t assume.

Friends don’t let friends send their babies out into the world without some sort of editing. Poorly edited books make us all look bad. I know you’re worried about hurting their feelings, but it’s better to be honest than let them be eaten alive by the reviewer sharks or to let a book with great potential fall short.

A man (or woman) who is his own editor has a fool for a client. Even though I edit as part of my job, I still need a fresh set of eyes before my book goes out. Do something to get your book looked at by eyes other than your own.

Any other questions about editing? What forms of editing have you had done?

If you have a question you’d like me to answer here, make sure to send me an email!

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Internal Dialogue is now available. (You might also want to check out Description or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Helpful Ways to Deal with Dream Crushers

Dream Crushers

Image Credit: Len Nguyen

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Definition of a Dream-Crusher: A person who attempts to discourage or stands in the way of someone else pursuing their dream.

This isn’t a post about The Fantastic Four movie (which was mediocre at best), but I started thinking about dream-crushers because of a scene at the beginning of that movie.

A young Reed Richards gives a presentation to his elementary school class about the scientific break-through (teleportation) he wants to invent when he grows up. When he finishes, his teacher tells him he didn’t do the assignment properly. He was supposed to write a report about a real career.

I felt that reprimand.

I’ve been that kid.

No, I never dreamed of inventing teleportation, but I can still remember sitting in the guidance counselor’s office in high school for my “career counseling session.” I already knew then that I wanted to be a writer, and I didn’t see the point in lying about it.

My guidance counselor pulled up some numbers for average writer income, and strongly advised me to go a different route. With my grades, I could do anything I wanted. He made it clear that writing wasn’t a good career choice.

I know he meant well. He was a kind person. As graduation drew closer and it was time for university applications to be sent, many of my teachers—from my Calculus teacher to my history teacher—kept me after class to recommend I go to university for whatever their subject was. And their disappointment was clear when I told them what I intended to turn into my career.

When I was younger, those types of reactions to my career choice hurt me and made me angry. I felt judged and criticized.

The older I got, the more I understood that this wasn’t a personal attack, even though it felt personal. Anyone who wants to follow an unconventional dream seems to provoke the same reaction from people. I’ve heard people say that they’d never allow their child to go into a creative career.

I started to wonder what causes these reactions. Millions of people enjoy the fruit of those creative professions. They watch TV, read books, listen to music, attend plays, visit art galleries, and watch shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Yet when it comes to the creators of those fruits, they’re so often viewed with disdain.

I’m only one point of view, but I think the cause lies in three different reasons. And when we understand those reasons, hopefully we can start to find productive ways to deal with them.

Cause #1 – Misunderstandings about the profession and the people in it.

There seems to be a misconception about creatives that we’re lazy. That we sit around all day, excusing our lack of output with claims of waiting for the muse to strike or writer’s block. They think we simply don’t want to put in the effort a real job requires. We’d rather play than work.

They see us as slothful addicts, prone to drinking too much of our beverage of choice and unhealthy eating that leads to unhealthy bodies.

Or they think we can’t make good money. (True, some creatives don’t. But some creatives do.)

They think anyone can do it, and they talk about how someday they’d like to learn to paint or play an instrument or write a book. When they retire. When they have more free time. Because those things are really more of a hobby.

As a creative myself, I can’t claim to know or understand all the misconceptions out there.

What I can do, what we all can do, is tackle them when we run into them. We’re partly to blame for these misconceptions. We can take care of our health. When we talk to non-creatives, we can make sure they understand that this is a business as well as an art. We work hard. We put in long hours. We all know of creatives who’ve been successful and can serve as good examples even if we’re not there yet ourselves. We can share the hours of education and training that actually go into what we do. We can treat our dream career with more respect and confidence and fewer apologies.

Cause #2 – The feeling that creatives are judging them or looking down on non-creatives.

Let’s be honest here. It’s easy to (incorrectly) think that people in more standard jobs aren’t living their dreams. And when we have that mindset, it comes across to people.

Non-creatives have dreams that are just as big and just as valuable. Two of my best friends are perfect examples.

One wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool her children. That’s her dream. That brings her fulfillment and joy. It’s her dream, and no one should belittle her dream.

My other friend is a teacher. She started out her university years with the intention to become a doctor, but what she loved, what she really wanted to do, was to teach young children. So she chased after it. It’s a beautiful, valuable dream. She makes a difference. And she’s happy.

For some people, their dream doesn’t involve a job at all. They’re happy with going to work simply to make money because their dream involves being able to spend their off-hours at their cottage or creating pottery in their garage.

We, inadvertently, sometimes convey the idea that we’re “better” somehow because we’ve bucked tradition and chosen to walk our own path as creatives. We expect people to show interest in and support for our career, but we don’t always show the same for their passions.

Here’s what I’m trying to do instead. I’m trying to ask people what they’re passionate about and what they love to do, rather than what they do to earn a living. It levels the playing field, and it allows me to invest in them before I expect them to invest in me. My dream might be different from theirs, but it’s no better.

Cause #3 – Failed dreams of their own.

This is the saddest. The most troubling.

Some people try to crush us and make us conform because they gave up on their own dreams.

At times these people are so easy to spot that I want to cry for them. Talk to them for very long and you’ll be able to learn about that dream they didn’t chase because they use it as an example of why you shouldn’t chase yours. Their reasons for giving up their dream are varied. They don’t even always recognize their motivations for giving it up. Maybe they were scared. Maybe they truly weren’t capable of chasing their dreams—the need to eat, the need to put someone else first, or the lack of talent became an impenetrable barrier.

You can often spot these people because they chose their career for practical reasons, and now, a few years in, are disillusioned and dissatisfied with their work. They live for their vacation days and complain about their jobs regularly. They’re jaded with the work they do. They can’t wait to retire.

And the only way to make themselves feel better about their choice is to make sure no one proves them wrong. Seeing someone succeed at their unconventional dream hurts them deep inside, in a place they’re not brave enough to admit to or face.

We can’t change these people. All we can do is pity them. Pity them and show them more kindness than they show us and hope that, someday, they’ll find something that makes them happy too.

Have you run into dream-crushers before? How have you handled it? What do you think makes people try to crush the dreams of others?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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