Becoming a professional author remains as hard as it ever was.
The biggest criticism I hear of self-published authors is that their books are full of typos and punctuation errors.
Admittedly, too many traditionally published books these days are also chock-full of typos and punctuation errors. But here's the hard truth – as a self-published author, you will be judged more harshly by readers, overall, than those who are traditionally published.
“Self-published” still carries a stigma – that you aren't “good enough” as a writer for your work to be picked up by a big publisher.
If you're a professional author, you'll take pride in creating a product that's every bit as good – or better – than anything that comes out of one of the big six publishing houses.
Study your craft – and writing is a craft. Take writing classes if you can. At the very least, read as many articles as you can find on writing. There are good writers' magazines in print and online. Read them. Study them. Find what works for you.
Compare your work to that of other writers. Look at books you enjoy reading – and start thinking about what makes those books enjoyable.
When people criticize your work, listen to them. You don't have to take all the advice that's given to you – but at least consider it with an open mind. Is the criticism honest? Can you do better?
A professional author doesn't just want to see her (or his) book in print. You want it to be the best book you're capable of writing.
You don't finish your manuscript and immediately pop it online as an ebook. You wait. You walk away from the manuscript for a few days … maybe a couple of weeks.
Then you go back. And you edit! You read your book for continuity and clarity. You check spelling and punctuation.
And check them again.
Ideally, if you can afford it, you find a professional editor. Do an online search. Check the ads in writers' magazines. There's an online outfit called Book-Editing.com that promises to put authors in touch with professional editors – and publishers. If you know a writer (or two), ask who edits their books – and if they're happy with that person's work.
Check prices. No, you won't get an editor for free, but some are less costly than others – and by all means, look for someone who charges by the word or by the page. I'm familiar with one editor who charged $20 per chapter – which doesn't sound too outrageous – not at first. But this person charged the same $20 whether the chapter ran 20 pages or only two or three.
If you really can't afford an editor, seek out someone you trust – not a family member or a friend who thinks your writing is the greatest thing since sliced white bread. Find someone whose opinion you value and that you trust to be completely – even brutally – honest with you about your writing.
What are you looking for when you edit? First … The Basics: As clean a copy as you can achieve. No misspellings. No glaring errors in punctuation. Do not trust your computer's spellchecker for this. The spellchecker doesn't recognize usage, only spelling. “There” is as correct a word as “their.” So are “to,” “too” and “two.”
So you could wind up with something like, “Polly told me there cat got lost two.”
Edit for continuity. If John's last name is “Smith” on page 35, you don't want him introducing himself to someone as John Jones on page 135.
Be alert for repetitive phrases. Not long ago, I read a book in which every other sentence started with “As she ...”
As she walked into the room …
As she turned …
As she bent to look at …
A little goes a long way, and you want your sentences to be varied in length and varied in structure.
Active voice is better than passive. Avoid words such as “was” and “is” whenever possible. “An ottoman occupied the corner” rather than “There was an ottoman in the corner.” You can even get a bit atmospheric: “An ottoman huddled in the corner.”
If you're not sure of punctuation rules, find someone who is. One of my favorite book titles comes from a joke based on a badly written wildlife manual in which a panda is defined as a mammal that “eats, shoots and leaves.”
I assume that, if you're an author, you have a story to tell.
Here's the bottom line: Anything that distracts your reader's attention, even for a moment, detracts from that story.
Tell your story in the best way you can. It's what your reader wants … expects …
Magic and crime. Agatha Christie meets J.R.R. Tolkien in Shadow Path, first book in P.L. Blair's Portals fantasy detective series.
An Ogre murdered with a rune-inscribed sword is just the beginning as Kat Morales, a very human police detective in Corpus Christi, Texas, and her Elf partner Tevis MacLeod follow a blood trail that leads to Pixies, necromancy and Magic of the Blackest kind … to its climax in a stronghold Between worlds, where Tevis must duel spell for spell with a former lover who wants to see her old flame extinguished permanently.
When P.L. Blair isn't mixing magic, murder and creatures from mythology and folklore in her fantasy/detective novels, she blogs, writes columns and book reviews for myshelf.com and covers news events for The Coastal Bend Herald, a newspaper in South Texas. She divides her year between Rockport, Texas – where she has family – and Sheridan, Wyo. (where her publisher, Studio See, is based). She describes herself as an avid and eclectic reader, a lover of jigsaw puzzles, and companion to a basset hound, a long-haired dachshund, a terrier-mix, and a cat.