In Your Corner : Speaking Out and Speaking Strong

For those of you who are new to self-publishing and who are new to writing book-length manuscripts as well, the act of cultivating of a resoundingly authentic and consistent voice can present a particularly difficult (and ongoing!) struggle.  What is voice?  And how do we go about cultivating one, much less stick with it through chapter after chapter while negotiating other, competing concerns?

Voice, simply put, is your personality made manifest in the style, characterization, plotting, and point of view that emerges over the course of your book.  Voice is the unique approach that distinguishes one author from another, even when they’re writing the same story.  Voice sets Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red apart from Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet apart from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber apart from the Brother’s Grimm and their transcription of the original Red Riding Hood tale.  Distinctive voices allow us to revisit even a familiar, beloved storyline and get something new from it each and every time.

But authors are very rarely the written equivalent of a Maybelline commercial: nobody, and I repeat, nobody is “born with it” in the sense that a kitten is born adorable and fire is born when a lit match touches a candlewick.  Which is not to say any of us use cosmetics companies as standards for authorial experience, but we do sometimes fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to other authors that we respect and admire as if those authors were delivered into the universe with the tools and skill and voice requisite to connect them with their readers in later life.  It simply doesn’t happen that way!  And a captivating voice, like every other aspect of good writing, takes time and work to acquire.

david mccullough

In order to develop clear thinking and therefore a clear voice, an author must do two things that might, at first glance, seem contradictory: pay close attention to detail, and relax into the writing process.  Whoa there, you’re thinking.  I can’t do both at the same time!  And this may in fact be true: everyone’s writing process looks different.  (And mine, I must admit, even looks different from one day to the next.)  Whether you apply yourself to both of these things at the same time or separately doesn’t matter so much as ensuring that you do them both at some point.  And I personally lean heavily towards relaxing first, and then applying a microscope later––but some authors prefer to go into the drafting stage with a rigorous outline and a bundle of research already in hand, which is perfectly wonderful too.

The benefit of paying close attention is that you’ll notice when your voice changes.  I find this particularly applies when reading aloud a passage I’ve written, although that might take more time than you have if you’re reading an entire manuscript.  Keep a weather eye out for shifts in tense, plurality, characterization, and vocabulary as well as sentence structure as you go along––a sudden jump in any of these things can give a reader pause, and halt the flow of your prose.  And sometimes, these shifts slide completely under the radar; after months or even years of writing our manuscripts, we as authors simply cannot edit our own books!  It becomes impossible to hold both the big picture and the finer points of editorial expertise in mind when writing––we tend to either fixate on all the little flaws that only we can see, or our eyes skip over plot holes and inconsistencies in voice because we know what’s going on and our minds fill in the gaps automatically.  This is where a professional editor, like the ones I work with over at Outskirts Press, comes in handy.

Editing is not optional for the dedicated author, but there are all sorts of reasons––including the ones stated above––why we need to seek out fresh sets of eyes in addition to our own during the editing and revision processes.  Casual editors and first readers, such as friends and family, can be useful during the early stages, but what we all really need––what self-publishing authors specifically need––is someone on hand who can recommend changes based on years of experience and a wealth of industry expertise.  Not to mention, someone who will help you spot the points in your manuscript when you need to circle back around to a consistent voice.  A good editor may recommend changes, but ultimately, the author’s wishes and vision for a book are respected––and that is what is published.  A captivating voice is, when push comes to shove, something that taps into a shared relationship between author and text … and that sort of relationship cannot be manufactured.

voice in self publishing

Which brings me to my second point.  To create a unifying and consistent voice, an author really must relax and let the inspiration flow uninterrupted.  Jack Kerouac’s On the Road may be an extreme example of continuity in writing leading to continuity in voice, but it does illustrate the point that whatever you can do to limit your exposure to emotional and physical disruptions while writing––do.  Kerouac locked himself away for three weeks while he typed up the continuous “scroll” that would eventually form the base manuscript for his book, but you don’t have to go to such extreme measures to write a good book or to relax into the writing process!  You know the boundaries of your own mind and attention best, so you know what must be done to cut through all of the white noise generated by everyday life.  And not to harp on like a broken record, but seeking a professional editor for your book will lift the burden of obsessing over the details and leave you free to do what you do best: write.  That’s it, that’s really it: you write books, and you’ll write better books when you’re “in the zone,” or when you’re physically and emotionally free to stack word on word until something beautiful and unexpectedly perfect happens––and you have a book.

Writing is hard.  Writing well is even harder.  But you have a voice that the world needs to hear, and a book that the world needs to read.  And always remember:

You’re not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Top 6 Quick Tips for Creating a “Publish-able” Manuscript

While preparing your manuscript for publication, there are a few things to keep in mind to make your publisher’s/your own life a bit easier when book design time comes. Here are my top 6:

1. Run Spell check
2. Run Grammar check (keep in mind – neither of these checks can substitute for the expertise of a professional copyeditor)
3. Turn on Formatting marks to see odd areas where spacing may be off such as missing spaces causing a word to look misspelled, or too many spaces (2 instead of 1 or 3 instead of 1).
4. Only use Hard Returns at the end of a paragraph, NOT the end of each line like a typewriter.
5. Quick margin and page setting to book trim size, for example if your file is letter size then change settings to book sizes you’re interested in and view how the text shifts and moves. If you have a specific idea of text placement, this will identify any problem areas.
6. Do not use Spaces or Tabs to indicate an indented paragraph; change paragraph settings to first line hanging .25″.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share?

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING:
Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

Sizing-up Your Self-published Book

As you continue to develop your content, target your market, and research self-publishing options, it will become at some point important to consider your book length.

The most important thing to recognize is the difference between your manuscript page size (which is most likely 8.5 x 11) and your published book trim size (which will most likely be smaller). Whenever a publisher discusses page count, or per-page pricing, it is based upon the size of the published page.

The most common published book trim sizes are 5.5 x 8.5 and 6 x 9, although many publishers will offer several more options. Check out our recent post on book sizes recommendations for more on choosing your book’s trim size.

If your manuscript is 100 pages long at 8.5 x 11, you probably have closer to 200 pages of finished text when the book is published. The good news is, your book just got twice as long, which in many cases improves its perceived value. On the other hand, some authors will be surprised when they see pricing based upon 200 pages instead of 100. Be prepared.

Keep in mind that production cost is directly related to page count, and POD books, as a result of their many advantages, are still a bit higher per-book than traditionally offset printed titles. The more pages your book has, the more it will cost to print. Most authors keep their books between 100-300 published pages.

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Self-publishing Manuscript Submission Tip

When I was in college, several of my less disciplined associates found a sly tactic in composing essays and papers in the Courier font face. Courier allowed them to reach the assignment’s minimum page count with significantly less actual characters or words than with a font like Times New Roman.

The reason being that Courier is a monospaced font, which gives the visual impression similar to what we were used to seeing in copy created on a typewriter, which was the result of mechanical limitations. Monospaced copy simply means that each character requires the same amount of horizontal space on a page. A period the same space as a W.

This paragraph is in Courier, a monospaced font.
Notice how all the characters take up the same
amount of space and line up in columns.

The unfortunate and universal result of the typewriter and monospaced fonts is the nasty habit of placing two spaces between sentences. Not only a visual eyesore, the practice is wrong according to our experts at the APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style.

With the modern word processor and standard publishing typefaces, your manuscript should have only one space between a punctuation mark and its subsequent character. This one-space rule applies to colons, semi-colons, question marks, quotation marks, exclamation points and all other punctuation.

While potentially a pain, the time spent revising to this standard is worth your effort. Be sure to also check for hard returns before submitting to your self-publishing option for review.


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Have fun and keep writing.

Self-publishing & Page Count

The most important thing to recognize is the difference between your manuscript page size (which is most likely 8.5 x 11) and your published book trim size (which will most likely be smaller). When you discuss page count with your self-publisher, or per-page pricing, it is based upon the size of the published page, also referred to as trim size.

The most common published book trim sizes are 5.5 x 8.5 and 6 x 9, although on-demand publishing now offers most trim size choices available anywhere in the industry.

If your manuscript is 100 pages long at 8.5×11, you probably have closer to 200 pages of finished text when the book is published. Congratulations, your book just got twice as long.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, some authors are surprised when they see pricing based upon 200 pages instead of 100. Don’t be caught off-guard.

Keep in mind that your production price is directly related to your published page count. The more pages your book has, the more it will cost to print. Therefore, most authors keep their books between 100-300 published pages.

Yes, that probably means your book is already long enough to publish! But being long enough, and being finished are two different things, right?



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Ask the Doctor: Editing and Self-Publishing

Q: I plan to self publish. My book was written and designed and ready to go to a printer, but somebody warned me that it needed editing.  I sent it to an editor, but he said he can’t edit it when it’s already designed. Why not?

A: A manuscript should always be edited before it is designed into book format, and the reasons are simple. If you plan to have the editor work on the hard-copy version of your manuscript, it has to be in standard manuscript format; that is, twelve-point Courier or Times New Roman type, double-spaced, with margins of at least an inch on all sides. This format is standard in the industry and gives the editor room to work. If the book is already designed, it won’t be in standard manuscript format; it will be in book format.

If you plan to have your editor work on your electronic file, the format won’t matter, but it must be in a word-processing document, not a design program or a PDF. Most editors are not designers and won’t have the design program used to design your book. If it is in a PDF file, most editors cannot change those files electronically. Worst of all, even if the editor has the capability of opening the design program or manipulating a PDF (which some do), editing a book after it is designed will surely interfere with the design. After the file is edited you’ll have to return it to your designer to get it redesigned, and there will certainly be an additional charge for that service.

As you can see, it’s cheaper and easier to follow convention. After you have made all the revisions to your manuscript that you can make, get it edited. After it is edited, reread the manuscript for a final proof before getting the manuscript designed into a book.

 

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com