update, writing

Who You Know

No matter where your passions lie, networking is necessary evil.

Don’t stress or panic!

It doesn’t have to be as scary as all that.

Sure, it might mean chatting with strangers and remembering to brush your hair, but it can be fun and memorable and present opportunities you never would have gotten if you’d stayed at home, headphones on, nose in book/video game/canvas/guitar case/garden, etc.

I’ll even share a secret with you.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to put on pants.

Okay, if you’re leaving the house to do this networking thing, please, put on some form of clothing. Not only will you avoid the chill, you’ll also avoid the criminal charges, and that’s just better for everyone.

BUT you don’t have to leave the house.

Social media is a wonderful thing.

It can be.

Just avoid the people who make you miserable.

But that’s an aside.

Point is, social media is full of people who share your interests and are looking to connect with like-minded people for support, advice, discussion, inside jokes that only fellow writers/musicians/gardeners/gamers will understand.

And really, that’s what networking is.

To go out and expect to meet people just for the sake of getting opportunities is not going to get you very far. Most people have an easy time sniffing out when they’re being used.

Proper networking is right there in the name. Network. Connection. Information going back and forth to create a complete data set. The wider the network, the more information, the clearer the picture.

Twitter, when done carefully and when well-curated, can be a fantastic source of networking. It can be easy to fall into the world of trolls or instigators, but if you’re paying attention to the people you follow, you should be able to only see what you want to see.

In my case, the recent hashtag #WritingCommunity has introduced me to a whole new circle of writers in various stages of their careers.

It has allowed me to find support and encouragement and to offer it in others.

My time on Twitter led me to one of my first circles of writer friends, many of whom I’m still in contact with today, 10 years later.

One of those people is the person who get me into indie publishing.

I’ve met people who have brought me into anthologies and boxsets, who have led me to writing forums that have helped me hone my craft and get inspired, who have become close friends, confidantes, and kindred spirits.

This weekend, I’m heading off to meet a few of these people in person, and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of getting the words written and talking shop with a whole cabin of people.

So try not to think of networking as a four-letter word.

Find your own way of reaching out and meeting people in your field.

You never know how your life will change for the better.

update, writing

Self-Editing: Personal Tricks

Last week or so (time means nothing to me anymore), there were a lot of posts going around about paying for edits and how it is so crucial to not bankrupt yourself for the sake of publishing, so I thought it might be a good time to go through some of my personal self-editing process to take some of the weight off the costs of edits.

Though I will always hold that it’s in any writer’s best interests to have a professional go through your work for content/line edits, that’s not necessarily where you need to start. Make use of critique partners and swapping work, and get a solid handle on self-editing.

None of this is always easy. Unless you’re one of those people who derives enjoyment from deconstructing all of your work (Hi!), the task can be overwhelming or boring or, *gasp* you skip that part.

Critique partners are fantastic, but it can be a challenge to find someone who delivers feedback in a way that meshes with your preferred way of receiving it, or who delivers on time, or who knows enough themselves to point out the relevant weaknesses.

I have a wonderful critique partner. I’m sure we curse and swear at each other over the interwebs, but by the time I finish making my revisions based on her feedback, I know I’m walking forward with a stronger book.

She’s not where I start, though, and my self-editing process has changed significantly over the years. Heck, I would say it’s changed significantly over the last year.

When I first started publishing, my editor at the time (and now my editor again, huzzah!) sent me a gift that has remained at the heart of my process. Susan Bell’s book The Artful Edit gives a fantastic and thorough breakdown of each layer to be considered during edits, from a macro and a micro level. Things like character, plot, conflict, theme, and working down to line edits.

In fact, thanks for the reminder me, I’m going to re=read this book to get a refresher on some of these things now that more of my system has changed.

One of the most common tips you’ll hear is to set your book aside and walk away for two weeks or two months or two years. Give it some time to breathe and distance yourself from it.

This is pretty great and necessary advice. If you jump right back into edits the moment you finish, you’re not going to see what might be missing. Your head is still going to be in the story, where you already know what’s supposed to be there.

It can be hard to set it aside though, so my way of forgetting about it is to draft another book (she says, somewhat facetiously).

When the time has past, my next step is get out a notepad and start reading. Ideally in a format where I can’t make any changes. I don’t want to be nitpicking at things just yet. Turn a blind eye to the typos and awkward sentences. At this point, it’s all about the big stuff.

I go chapter by chapter and take note of everything that needs to be changed. I treat myself as my own alpha reader, giving myself feedback in the way that will most help future me. I flag places where motivation is weak, where emotions are missing or where conflict needs to be tightened up. I can get a big-picture look at my story arc and make sure that all that necessary beats stand out with as much oomph as possible.

Obviously, this can’t all be done in one pass, which is why I do fifteen of them with various depth of focus, but with my most recent round of edits, I found this made a huge difference. I was able to rewrite full chapters knowing what I needed to hit instead. My character development is more consistent and my plot a bit less saggy in the middle.

I have one more major round of revisions to go before it goes to my critique partner, and at that point I know I won’t really be able to see anything else for myself. The rounds of self-edits would be endless, constantly wondering and tweaking and nitpicking to the point where the book can never be released, which is why, for me, it’s critical to have someone waiting to get their hands on it.

What are your self-editing habits? What have you found that works or what doesn’t?

update, writing

Why Proofreading?

As we’re now deeply in the new year and I’ve settled into a bit of a new routine, I figured it was time to start promoting my business again. You know, refilling the coffers post-Christmas, keeping myself out of trouble, making sure I keep my skills honed.

The year has gotten off to a good start, contract wise, but I still have a lot of room in my schedule for projects and manuscripts that need a fine-tooth combing.

And I don’t mean just novels.

One of the reasons I decided to offer proofreading services was my time at my dayjob. Part of my job was to distribute incoming correspondence to the appropriate teams, which meant reading them to see where they best fit.

Some of the letters were from private citizens, but most came from organizations. Not-for-profits, unions, funding programs, etc. Organizations and businesses that wanted to be taken seriously with their requests.

But often their letters were riddled with typographical, formatting, or grammatical errors.

Heck, I’ll go out to a restaurant, and the menu will be full of errors. We went to a mid-scale place one day, and they had spelled blackened salmon differently THREE TIMES (blackened salmon, backend salmon, blackend salmon), to the point where at first I thought it was actually three different varieties of salmon.

And yes, I am one of the people who questions the quality of the service and food if no one performs a quality assurance check on one of the first real impressions a customer will make of their establishment (yes, I am one of those people. No, I don’t point it out to the servers. It’s not their fault and they’ve probably already been told fifteen times).

From what I can tell, there are many reasons for these oversights:

  1. Most likely, the errors were just missed. It happens. Even with a proofreader, the chances of having a 100% perfectly error-free document is small, especially with longer projects. The human brain is fascinating and autocorrects what it sees so that everything makes sense. But having someone unconnected with the creation of your project will mean a cleaner end result.
  2. Hopefully not the case, but they might not care. Their mentality might be: Get the product out and move on to the next. The content will still be clear and the reader will figure it out for themselves. Sure… but impressions do matter. If you’re giving a presentation, do you make sure your outfit is tidy or go on in with a rumpled shirt and no brushed teeth after an onion- and garlic-filled sandwich?
  3. They brought someone in who was too familiar with the project. Again, the brain autocorrects. If you know the subject matter too well, you’ll know what was intended and miss the errors. There are ways to help with this: change the font of what you’re editing or read it on a different medium (tablet vs. computer; print off a paper copy). Just the change in appearance can help you see things you might have missed.
  4. They used someone they had on hand who doesn’t have the background/experience to know what they’re looking for. Typos can be caught easily enough, but grammar can be tricky. Sometimes it takes someone with a passion for knowing how semi-colons work to ensure they’re in the right spot.
  5. This last one is what I suspect to be a huge reason for official/important documents going out with errors: proofreading is often lumped in with administrative assistant tasks, and admins are expected to a) know how to do the work; and b) get the work done between all their other tasks. I’ve seen this quite a bit as I’ve looked for new contracts, and I find it staggering. For one thing, it’s a whole different way of thinking between editing a document and booking travel arrangements (nothing but respect for folks who are able to do the latter; just the thought of doing it makes my palms sweat. Give me commas any day). For another thing, how on earth do you expect someone to be able to hunker down and really focus on the nitty-gritty of a document while being interrupted to book travel arrangements? You can do it, sure, but the quality won’t be there.

So that is where I am offering to come in. Even if you’re not an author, even if you’re a student, an entrepreneur, applying for grants, getting ready to submit a thesis, a research paper, an article, a really important blog post, it can absolutely be worth it to fork out a few bucks to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, making the best first impression. So if you’re interested in getting a quote, feel free to send me a message!

That being said, I also intend to continue doing research on how best to teach/share some of the rules and techniques I use to better help you do some of this on your own. Do you have any questions/any particular issues that pop up that you’d like me to cover? Let me know in the comments!

update

Take the YOU Time

When it comes to running my business, my process is always in flux.

For one thing, the sort of tasks I need to focus on changes every day, as does my concentration, my mental state, any other stresses going on in the world outside my office.

The part that always stays the same: every single day, there are things that need to get done, and there are things that can be set aside for a while.

This is true across the board, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a parent, a student, or a kid who needs to decide whether they want to finish their video game or binge watch the entire MCU.

And it can be overwhelming to stand at the start of your day, knowing that your to-do list is now onto its third page, and you still don’t have any idea how to start this project that’s due in three days.

One thing I have learned–the one part of my process that tends to stick around, because when I fall out of the habit my stress levels start climbing–is to take the time you need out of every day to prepare your battle plan.

I don’t care if it’s a to-do list, a schedule, an actual strategic map written in blood on your bathroom wall*, but if you’re the sort of person who finds you tend to run into your tasks with your war cry ready only to find yourself quickly torn down under the panic of having too much to do and no time to do it, take the time to stop and breathe.

For me, that routine starts with my bullet journal, a habit I formed thanks to my friend Kate, who has turned her journal into a work of art (as have many people, as you discover when you fall into the rabbit hole on Instagram and Pinterest).

Every single morning, the first thing I do is sit down and make the list of tasks I want to accomplish during the day, in both my personal and business life. I keep a daily spread, a weekly spread, and a monthly spread, each on designed to keep me en route to my goals, which, hopefully, brings my whole business forward.

Current template of my weekly spread

It doesn’t have to be in the morning, though.

Depending on my schedule, I’ve made use of lunch breaks during the dayjob, or as a way to wind down at the end of the day, planning my tomorrow so I didn’t keep myself awake at night trying to figure out what I needed to get done.

Since I’ve started this routine again and stuck with it consistently, I’ve noticed a huge change in my outlook on the day, my time management, my sense of balance between personal and professional, and just general mental well being.

But again, this might change. I could go from bullet journaling to drawing maps on the wall, but the change is part of the process right?

Wise words from Yoga with Adriene’s Adriene Mishler

What are your methods to stay on top of things/stay within a reasonable level of sanity? Post-it notes on the mirror? Pen and paper in your purse/backpack? A good pen and the back of your hand? Let me know in the comments below!


*please don’t do this. It would be difficult to maintain every day and would very quickly start to smell

update

InDesign 101

When I started my Author Services business, it was always with the plan to start with proofreading (where I already have a solid skillbase that will only continue to increase), and then introduce print formatting down the road.

I’m not quite there yet (I still feel like I have much to learn), but I’ve definitely upped my game since I started learning Adobe InDesign.

See, all those Apple folks out there have a huge advantage in that they can use Vellum, which is, by all accounts, one of the great pieces of software for creating pro-level interiors for both ebook and print.

For everyone else, there’s MasterCard Adobe InDesign.

If you’ve ever played with an Adobe program, you know they’re not the most…user friendly. The learning curve is steep, and while the road is rife with frustration and challenges, the results are phenomenal.

I started with Adobe InDesign CC Classroom in a Book, which has given me a massive headstart in learning how to use the software. It walks you through a whole series of different tasks and uses for the program, and gives tips on how to explore on your own after each lesson is finished. I have one chapter left before I finish the book (this one on how to convert to epub, which I hope will up my ebook formatting game as well), and then I’ll likely start back at the beginning until I’m really familiar with the different tools.

So although I still want to practice a lot more on myself before I start offering it as a service, I’m feeling pretty good!

When my latest release, Veilfire, came out at the end of October, I put my new skills to work and am pretty proud of the results:

Symbol designed by Chris Reddie

So I’m going to keep working on improving my skills, and hopefully before the end of 2019, there will be more services available here at the Raven’s Quill!


Although I really do my best not to cross over my two blog posts, I figure I’m going to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back and give a bit of a signal boost to the Faces Magazine Awards, where I was nominated for Favourite Author. Voting is open internationally, and you’re able to cast a vote every day until the 25th. It’s People’s Choice, so votes matter. If you’re able to take the time (and feel I’ve earned it), you have my gratitude!

update

EMS Upgrade (cont’d)

A few months ago, I started sharing my experience shifting my mailing list over to ActiveCampaign.

There had been a miscommunication with the customer service representative who was supposed to give me a call and says she couldn’t get through to me. For the evening, we left it at that, and I was supposed to make another appointment for her to call me so we could go over everything.

Unfortunately, our schedules never synced. I’d made it clear I was only available in the evenings, and this customer service rep’s calendar stopped at 4:30pm, so I’m not quite sure she was assigned to my file.

Anydoodle, I let her know that I wouldn’t be available during her hours, never heard back from her, and that was that. She left me with a few links and I tried to use those to get myself started.

So… so far I would give their customer service a 3/5.

The service itself, though, seems to work great. I spent a week sending up my various workflows and automations, my forms, and my triggers. I haven’t really had a chance to test them out yet (if you’re interested in my fiction work and want to sign up for my newsletter to get some free short stories while also helping me work out any kinks in this new system, here’s the link!)

I love that I get to build my templates from the ground up, and customize the full workflow, allowing me to have slightly different variations depending on whether people are coming from my epic fantasy series, urban fantasy, or just a neutral starting point like my Facebook page or my website.

The first trial, sending an email to my imported existing list, went incredibly well, with higher open rates than I’ve had in a while. The goal now will be maintaining, or even increasing, those rates, but the fact that I can so easily play with tags and segmentation should allow for improved value with every email.

I’ll share one more post in a couple of months with my down-the-road impression, but for now I’m quite happy with the change over.

Have you had any experience with ActiveCampaign? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts, update, writing

Happy New Year!

design-2019-to-reach-new-yearWishing everyone a fantastic start to 2019.

I have quite a few business-related goals this year, most of which involve keeping on top of my administrative tasks (a goal I make every year. This will be the year I achieve it*!), but my primary focus is to find ways to feed my soul, as it were.

I begin this year on the search for a new dayjob contract to help my husband and I save up for some renos we want to do around the house, but I’m going to be choosy this time around.

I’m looking for a job that best suits me, and I won’t settle for anything less. The way I’ve always seen it is that life is too short to be unhappy or unfulfilled. Yes, yes, bills need to get paid and responsibility and adulting and all that fun stuff, but I don’t see where “misery” comes into any of that. Even if it’s not your dream job, it can still be satisfying, fulfilling, social, and — sometimes — fun. Food for thought for 2019…

Another possibility is that I fill my schedule with proofreading contracts, which would also thrill me to my fingertips.

So if you’ve got a book coming out this year that you want polished to a fine sheen, shoot me a message. I’d love to work with you!

What are your goals this year? The wild, the crazy, the realistic? I want to hear about them all!

update

EMS Upgrade (cont’d)

I’m afraid to say I’m not quite as far in the newsletter changeover as I’d hoped to be by this point. In part because of some animal health issues that kept us away from home at high stress levels for the better part of last week, but also because of some miscommunications.

newsletter

Not that I don’t have anything to report, however.

I mentioned last week that I am making the move from trusted MailChimp to the fancier dancier ActiveCampaign. So far I have nothing bad to say about the service, but that’s mostly because I haven’t really played with it yet.

For the customer service… I’m on the fence.

Mostly, I’m blown away by how on top of things they are. I signed up for the free trial so that I could get my account set up and everything ready before migrating everyone over from MailChimp. Within two days, I was receiving calls from ActiveCampaign looking to introduce me to their service, see if I had any questions, and to set me up with a longer phone call to go over the different features that would best suit my business.

Wow!

I’d never encountered anything like that before and was super impressed! I looked forward to the longer chat, which involves some screenshare time so I could get a crash course in how to best use the service.

So I book the time, and that night, 6:15, I postpone dinner so I can be at my computer in time for the call.

Now, for the intro call, the phone rang within 30 seconds of the clock rolling over to our arranged time.

This time… 6:20 rolls around…. 6:30…. 6:45.

After forty-five minutes of waiting, I send off an email to follow up and make sure we’re all on the same page about the time of the call. A few minutes later, I receive a reply telling me they had tried the number on file, but it had just kept ringing without anyone answering.

Now, I had my phone right beside me. I’d made sure the volume was up, and there was no one on the line. Also, I was confused about why no one followed up with an email when the call didn’t go through, even if it was a “sorry we missed you!” message.

We tried to arrange another time for the call, but nothing has worked with our schedules, so I’m just going to start with a few links they sent me to try to work it out on my own.

So overall… kind of a wash as far as customer service goes (likely, like with anywhere, it’s just a matter of who you get), but I’m still really excited to try out all the different features and see how this can up my game! That is a big part of my goal for this weekend, so I should have at least a few more updates for you by then.

update

Leveling Up: EMS-style

There comes a time in every business-owner’s life when they need to say farewell to the vintage-newspaper-printtrusted systems they used when they first started out and move on to something a bit more expensive, yes, but more importantly, more focused and versatile.

One of the first pieces of advice I received when I started my business was to start a mailing list. Never rely solely on someone else’s platform. Amazon can go glitchy, Facebook can shut down. Better to have your own foundations for people to find you.

It’s very good advice. In fact, it’s some of the best advice out there. It’s a big part of why I created my own paperback (and eventually ebook) storefront on my author website, and, of course, why I maintain my mailing list for all its ups, downs, and GDPR-purges.

I love sending out my newsletters, too. It’s great to hear back from readers and learn a bit about what they’re up to, what they’re reading, what they’re looking forward to. Up until now, MailChimp has been my trusted companion on all of these adventures, and really I have no complaints.

But I’ve decided it’s time to level up. As of this week, I’m slowly going to be building up a presence through ActiveCampaign, exploring its versatility, it’s resources, and it’s ability to help me better engage with readers. Because that is my first priority. Getting to know the people who take the time out of their day to read my messages. Not only out of a sense of appreciation, but also to better deliver what interests them. It’s a never-ending circle.

My first impressions of ActiveCampaign have been incredibly positive, so as I explore further, I’ll share my thoughts and views on this, my most recent attempt to kick all kinds of ass at my business.

What have you tried lately to shake things up and move yourself up a notch? Share in the comments below!

update, writing

Pet Peeve: Nauseous vs. Nauseate

cold-and-flu-seasonWe’re heading into cold and flu season, which also means the start of hearing another one of my language peeves.

This one isn’t a full peeve. It doesn’t make my eye twitch like “impact” does, but I do notice it. I can’t help it. I can be exactly the kind of language purist whose tea you want to lace with some kind of relaxant so I’ll go to sleep and stop talk about how words should be used.

I would apologize for it… but I won’t.

This particular gripe? Nauseous vs. nauseated.

Anyone who watched or remembers Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed will appreciate this one.

Common usage says that these two words are interchangeable. Fine. I accept that, but at the very least I feel people should make a conscious decision about which word they’re using.

Nauseous means something that makes you feel ill. The rotting garbage is nauseous (not to be confused with noxious, which is something that is physically harmful or destructive). If you were to be nauseous, it would mean that your very presence was enough to make those around you feel ill.

That might be the case, who am I to say? But I find it unlikely that if someone were to provide a description of you, “makes me queasy” would be included. If so, my apologies.

Typically, however, the word you should be going for is nauseated. It’s fun to say, sounds fancy, and doesn’t run the risk of accidentally giving people the wrong impression about your personality. Win-win!