The Psychology of Editing

First and foremost, I am no editor. I’m only an author with some thoughts about this subject. I don’t think an author on this planet can edit themselves, with the exception of Anne Rice!

Nancy of Melange Books suggested I might share some prep advice when it comes to writing and editing. Particularly editing. We’re all going to go through these stages with our Melange books, and it is inevitable. As authors, we’ll always need new eyes—a fresh outlook from another perspective. I shouldn’t remind you that these views and changes that come from your editor are not personal opinions from an editor. Editors are stand-ins for readers—readers are the well-spring from which you flow. So take in mind that any editor who flags a problem is seeing these speed bumps or errors in place of the reader, and is removing the “bad” or “questionable” before the reader even sees it. Problem solved, you end up with a smooth, uninterrupted transition through your text. That’s a very positive thing. Every little nuance that is pointed out and corrected makes the story, better and better and better. It’s teamwork, and the goal is to make it shine.

Do you have a choice word or paragraph that you just can’t let loose of? Do you believe it’s intrusive to remove it? I’ll bet your editor knows that it’s going to throw the majority of readers off because it is too exotic, misplaced or not really needed. She knows that passage will confuse the majority of readers by leaving that kink in there. You want wide and easily comprehensive writing. You can’t afford to lose your customer’s interest or let them pause. Editors know that part of it and it deals with pace. “Couldn’t put it down” means there’s a lack of speed bumps.

Tip 1: (Got ahead of myself there). Prep. Prep first means health. Strive to be in the best physical condition you can before you write or handle any editing. Get that flu on the run, ease that backache, take your choice of meds for that migraine and generally strive to be as wide awake and rested as you can. Eat right—you have a stint in front of you. Me, I have to take dozens of pills a day, drag my oxygen tube around with me and get in some walking laps inside the house. I’ll avoid any of the stronger medicines, and I won’t drink or smoke at the computer or at any time. I’m damn lucky to live from one breath to the next.

Tip 2: If you’re just about ready for your first edit pass, you’ll be told this by your assigned editor. Do you feel the drudgery coming on? Here’s a nice little psyche move that’s good for you and your editor. If you think your book is finally ready to hit the editor’s desk, do a real fast run-through the text. Your editor will click their heels and     oblige the request. This might take you four or five days, depending. Trust me, you’ll find things you missed. You always do. No reason for major rewrites, just a solid, precise read through. This helps in two ways: it will bring back great memories of where you were when you started this tome, which you wrote with white hot inspiration. Right? Remember that masterpiece? Nothing has really changed. You were thrilled to the gills when you wrote your first draft of it. You’re reliving  that state of awe and exhilaration and, even laughing and crying over some of those memorable scenes. Secondly, you are recapturing your momentum. You’re remembering every beat and the natural rhythm of the story, the action sequences, pauses, breathers and crucial dialogue passages. Your character’s names, ages, vocations, motivation and physical characteristics will click right back into place. You’re not going in half-blind. In addition, this takes some extra time off of your editor’s workload, which is a relief and speeds up the process.

Tip 3: Remain steady on your editing pass, progressing at a good pace. When you find yourself enjoying your story too much and glossing over the words, remember to slow down and get back in critical mode. Slow down enough to catch those missed commas, hyphens, quotation marks and periods. Don’t jump ahead and anticipate what you thought you wrote–double check it and find out what is actually printed. You might have revised something way back there and forgotten about it. Keep continuity in the back of your mind—your characters don’t change skin, hair or eye color every other chapter. They don’t take off in a Chevy and later burn rubber in a Ford.

Tip 4: I’m not an editor but I sure can see POV swaps in just about every book I read. If you have a multiple view point story, separate the scenes with a chapter or transition break. A transition is this little indicator like this:   #              #           #  between paragraphs. Your publisher will insert those symbols in their own house style, in case you already know them.

Tip 5: A little metaphor and simile never hurt a writer. Observe the passive and telling in the next phrase:

He was clumsy. He wasn’t experienced. He looked like an amateur runner.

Now, a bit longer but showing with some voice:

His stride was crazy-legged; he ran as much sideways as forward. She nearly laughed out loud but thought better of it. Instead, she felt somewhat sorry for him. It might have been his first jogging experience. Diane was no stranger to barbs or insults. Even with a slung gut and knocked knees, wasn’t Seabiscuit hard on the eyes but chock-full of speed and heart?

Tip 6: Are you seeing a lot of red lines tagged in your manuscript? So much that you think it’s overwhelming? Don’t despair, take one at a time and you’ll breeze right through them. Remember, you are forging ahead and leaving all the bad behind. It’ all uphill from the very beginning now. You won’t be going back.

Tip 7. Learn to stop editing. Quit. That’s enough. Don’t insist on, or try to sneak in, structural editing when you’re in final proofs. It’s going to be just fine. It’s true that you can edit a book until it’s worthless. If you are in the middle of a grammar or syntax pass, stay on that track—focus on that. If something flies out at you that needs attention, make a note of it to later share with the editor.

Don’t argue with an editor. Don’t insist. Compromise. She is the pilot and captain for now. You are passenger with the seat belt fastened and tray in the upright. She’ll know when it’s time to land.

Thanks, Chris red-shifting outta here

Rejecting Publishers

You, rejecting publishers? Say what? You would think it’s always been the other way around. Yet maybe you don’t realize that you do have that option and can enforce it any time you like. I’m not talking about random dismissals or motives sparked by revenge or anger. I’m referring to instances where the publisher seems, not only not right for you, but something else is amiss. Something’s not kosher and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Although you’re desirous of seeing your book in digital form or print, and nothing would boost your ego more or delight your family members than having that happen, you’d better slam on the brakes and start thinking with your gray matter instead of listening to your heart. 


Remember that. Because if you don’t heed that warning you’re likely to end up with a very bard publishing decision that could hamper or even ruin your writing career. I’ve been through this more than once, so allow me to throw you a life preserver if you feel lost, alone and confused in a potentially hazardous environment. There are also subtle warning signs as well as the obvious ones, and I’d like to point out some these traps and snares that could land you a very bad contract offered to a very good book.

The Obvious–do some research. Visit sites like Predators and Editors, AbsoluteWrite (writing group) and Piers Anthony’s e-book publishing forum. Type the name of the publisher into the search bar and bring up the dirt, if there is any. You’ll find comments or articles from past authors or site managers who’ve accumulated reports and testimonials about the publisher. Look for “not recommended” declarations, poor performance, late or no royalty payments, low royalty percentages on “net”, non-communication or response, unimpressive back-list numbers, lack of distribution to even the online retailers, back-end fees, irregular publishing schedules, requests for family and friends email links, any charge upfront contingent upon editing, the printing process or distribution and anything else that might immediately warn you off. 

What if everything looks good, even great on the surface and you find no negative reports? These are the ones that can slip by you, suck you in and sink you. You’ll find these red flags in the contract, but before you even get that far, read their website from stem to stern–open up every link and peruse all of their files. The mission statement is where you’ll start, followed by the submission guidelines, then the “About Us” page. After 30 years I’ve seen it all. In just the past 15 years I’ve (or my agent) rejected 28 publishers, putting only two of them in the dugout. My most recent offer came from a press that offered contracts on six of my remaining books–books that are repped by my agent. I’m currently investigating this publisher up one side and down the other. This offer came out of the blue, and I won’t bore you with the details right now.

Here are some not so obvious and obvious warning signs that you’re headed for trouble:

When the publisher asks you for an itemized email list of your associates, group members, family relatives and friends, co-workers or any other contact source. This will be for a mass, spam e-mailing campaign, targeting potential customers. Nothing could irk your friends and associates more than this unexpected spam slam.

When a publisher mentions or stipulates that an author’s duty is to self-promote and market the book, including examples on on how to do so–sell at conventions or street corners, solicit major radio, newspaper and television media, hold bookstore signing events where you purchase bulk copies of your books without the financial aid/assistance of the publisher, recommendations to purchase banner or page ads, entering fee-charging contests, and so on, you’re headed for trouble. This type of information/participation doesn’t have to be mentioned–it’s already implied–most writers dig in and promote anyway, but if it’s heavily emphasized, especially more than once on the website or contract, you know this publishers is going to do little or nothing to get your name and your book out there. If you fall for this one, congratulations. You’ve just hired yourself on as an unpaid sales and publicity person. 

Don’t buy a minimum number of your own books as a stipulation from the publisher. This is “vanity mill” territory. The reader is not supporting the publishers in this instance, you are.

When the publisher states that you must reach a certain e-book sales threshold before you are allowed to go to print? This one is becoming more prevalent, but it also indicates a lack of financial solvency. They don’t have the basic start-up print funds. Avoid.

When you find in the contract that the publisher will not provide any free author copies? Look for this one.  This one’s very subtle and it might not mean much to you. But take heed; it means the publisher is a shoe-stringer and the only alternative you have is to purchase your own books for posterity and/or for giveaways or reviews. This is mirroring a vanity operation with the mirror being held very far a way.

When the royalty amount is based on net. Net can mean postage, editing, cover art, retail discounts, returns and just about anything connected with the book’s production and distribution. You’ll need it spelled out in the contract in regard to what constitutes their interpretation of net royalty. Fight for gross. It’s simpler and easy for you and your records.

When the publisher sells exclusively on their website, with maybe one other retail source? Here’s a list of a few retailers where you’d like to see your book available for sale. Not necessarily all of them:

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Create Space
All Romance
iTunes (iBookstore)
Barnes & Noble Nook
Overdrive Content Reserve (distributes to libraries and various retailers)
Lightning Source (an Ingram Company) is another good exposure resource.

When a publisher will not provide even a token advance? They have NO financial backing, regardless of their excuse that their high royalty rates more than make up for it. The entire sales of the book and risk is on you. Not them. They have no incentive to make their money back, only the production costs, and that’s likely after YOU have sold a sufficient number of copies to recoup the expense. And they can recoup very quickly.

When a publisher has an extravagant termination clause–$500 plus, ranging into the thousands. Strike it. They have no right to lock you in.

When a publisher who does POD and e-book charges you a set-up fee for a print addition. Again, this means their pockets are empty.

When a publisher refers you to an in-house or associate editing service before the contract is signed?  Chances are it’s their own service or an affiliate. Does conflict of interest ring a bell?

When a publisher keeps delaying or pushing your print schedule ahead. This is more often a sign that they are experiencing some type of difficulty, probably financial, dealing with the set-up and print fee. This is after all the work (cover art and editing) has been completed. Make them furnish the copyright–they can buy these and bulk and should have them. It is a courtesy extended to the author. It’s the norm, really.

When a publisher places very high prices on their e-book or print books. Either their overhead is unnaturally high or they’ve got Mr. Greed whispering in their ear. If they are vanity, they are counting on you to purchase your own books at that higher cost. Find that clause in the contract and modify to your benefit.

Wen a publisher has a very small back-list or none at all. This shows they’re new to the game, perhaps too new to have established an adequate reader fan base. Two years (bare minimum) in the business is enough time to determine if they’re in this for the long haul and have a decent roster of authors and books. However, longevity doesn’t mean they can’t suddenly tank and take a stable of authors down with them.

When a publisher does not send out ARCs (author’s review copies) or galleys to the major or even minor media review sources., OR EVEN TO YOU. Reason–high cost of books and postage for print editions. For e-books? Plain laziness. 

When a publisher switches editors (or several) on you midstream? Something’s up. Like a disgruntled commission-paid employee has jumped ship, the editor is sick (multiple times), or some other snafu is interrupting the process. Generally, one or two-person publishing operations are very limited in what they can do so when an emergency arises it has them scrambling for back-up help that they never had to begin with.

When a publisher suffers not, agents. Any publisher who refuses to deal with agents is one you don’t want. Something is amiss with their business practices and they don’t wish to reveal, haggle over it or amend their contract. They will force a boilerplate contract on you whether you like it not.

Listen and feel for your Spidy sense, people. If something seems off, investigate it more thoroughly. Don’t settle. You don’t have to.  Contact their authors on the side and ask for an honest lowdown on their performance.

Thanks for reading. I’ll red-shift outta here–Christy, who is Chris H. Stevenson

Advance Money?

Certainly, your best advance deal would come from one of the imprints owned by the Big Five corps or houses. Although a great deal could come from a well-known independent like Kensington and others. (Disregard Publisher’s Market Place definitions for a moment) I would consider a substantial deal, or something I was very happy with, as an advance of five figures and over. I would not scoff at $2,000 to $5,000, provided they had reputable distribution for bookstore placement and library inclusion. And, department store and book club sales would be icing on the cake. A participating marketing team and publicity manager is always a plus, and automatically provided by the big guys. These larger houses also have a foreign rights team and go after those huge overseas markets.

In the prehistoric past, I asked Ray Bradbury, Alan Dean Foster and Poul Anderson the same question: “What’s the best way to go; high advance, or no advance with higher royalties?” They were unanimous (and our own James D. McDonald will tell you the same thing): “fight for the highest advance because it’s more than likely it will be all you will ever get.” So, if the advance is high and the book doesn’t earn out, you’re in fairly good shape. The publishers may not be in very good shape but that depends. I just had that happen to me recently. The money was good but the book is a snail in sales. I don’t think I’ll ever earn out and I’ve done everything humanly possible to promote the title. Remember that you are the one who spent months, maybe years sweating and toiling over that book, possibly costing you some money to bring it up to high publishing standards.
Now, if your earn-out is fairly close to your advance payment, the publisher can/will make money. It also depends on the book—Manufacturing costs (for paper), editing, cover art and maybe shipping, might determine a break point outlay for the publisher until they make a profit. If sales are really dismal, it is possible that the publisher may lose some money, or maybe a lot.
About small press: It’s highly unlikely that you will get an advance from a small or independent press. They just don’t have the budget for it. There are exceptions—an agent can work a contract and obtain, at the very least, a token advance payment. What’s the typical advance range for a small publisher? This is also subjective, but climbing out on a wobbly limb that may break, I’ll say I’ve seen $50 to $1000. The sweet spot seems to be about $100 to $200, judging solely by the deals I and my agent have tried to wrangle in the past. If the small press has legitimate distribution like Perseus, IPG or Midpoint, there is a higher probability that they may cut loose with a small advance. It’s not a guarantee, it’s just more likely.    

To paraphrase: Go to the publisher (with agent or not) with a knife in one hand and a money bag in the other. Don’t settle on a boilerplate contract—they are not written in your favor. Never be overwhelmed and giddy with the prospect of publication and sign a contract in haste and then swoon ohhhhhh…mighty God, it’s Random House, or Tor, or Baen!
Never, ever be afraid to stand up for yourself and play hardball. State your wishes to your agent, if you have one. The juggernaut publishers have heard it all before–they are professional negotiators–they do not flinch. If they say no, you backtrack a bit and start over. Take your time. They will never say that your demands are unreasonable and that they’ve changed their mind about giving you print (small press has been known to do this, BTW). The largest publishers come from a place of power–you don’t. That means you upscale your importance and worth. They will actually respect that attitude. Besides the talent, it means they have a serious business partner on their team. Business...sound familiar? That’s what publishing is first and foremost.

Back in my day, the (stated rumor) average advance was about $5000. King got $2,500. Anne rice pulled an astonishing $12,000. So you can see the amounts can vary wildly, even today, depending upon the expectations of sales and the budget of the house. But we all thought that five grand was pretty cool back then. Anything over that, damn, we were rich and bragged it up! Takin’ about the 1970s here.

Advances today? I’m going out again on that long limb that might break, but I’d say that $7,500 is a common, general average for most categories and genres from the advance-paying Big 5. Marketing has more say-so about this upfront money than any division of the publishing company. And never forget the importance of rights sales; they can often top out over everything, but it might take a little time. Case in point; Jo Rowling’s reprint rights to America were $105,000, where her Bloomsbury advance was $1,275 pounds. King’s paperback rights went for $400,000, giving him a 50/50 split. These are examples of big houses, big deals and what it could mean to you.

Happy hunting. 

Editing: What’s Your Bag?

Once again, another topic arose at AW which I thought might be an interesting foray. The answers to proper editing technique is diverse—everyone has their own way—a technique that works best for them. There are two basic approaches and either one is fitting. There is no wrong or right way. There is a third, more complicated way that we can touch on. 


I really feel the fun and excitement in writing a first draft novel. I get totally zoned out and focus on my world. I demand to be left alone for three months when this happens. I don’t outline–my next scene/scenes are popping in my head as I write the current one. The book leads me where it wants to flow. The characters make me take dictation–it seems they want to run the show and do what they want. I don’t let my characters run rampant, but install little checks and balances for them. The plot wants to go where the conflict is heaviest. For my pace, I can’t have any lengthily dinner scenes, shopping, walks in the park, with meaningless character dialogue–I’m very guilty of this in the past and it kills my pace. So once I’m in my new world, I’m trapped there until I find my way out. That means THE END.

First editing draft: I’ve taken Anne Rice’s advice and adopted her writing ritual. I’ll write in a fever then back up about four or five pages and edit the hell out of it. That means as much structural and copy-editing (and other areas) as I can stand. Structural problems mean I’ve made a big goof somewhere, but I’ll still go to the source and try and fix it as best I can. Then I forge on and repeat. I’m simply accelerating and then hitting reverse. That way, the first editing draft doesn’t fill me dread and I can still move along fairly fast. For me, storytelling is fun–editing is blistering work. I want the easiest transition I can get between the two. I’ve heard lots of people say that they edit while they write–I think it’s the same thing.

There are some who might take this approach and go back to edit a chapter, or maybe two or three and then pick up again. That means a break in the writing and a chance that you could lose the momentum and thread. But it also means there will be less “work” in the following editing drafts. So you can relax a little more and not fret over the “monster that is to come.” Caveat: I’m still going to make several editing passes, but I’m knocking out as much as the hard stuff as possible in the backward pass.    

That’s exactly what it sounds like—writing through the first draft as quickly as possible, staying filled with that white-hot fit of inspiration—blasting through. Some writers have to do this or else they’ll fall off their pace and let the story go static for even a short amount of time. They haven’t got the time or impetus to worry about editing at this stage. These people are sometimes loath to stop, believing that the first novel draft presents the most difficulty. It’s a great strategy, and I’m sure we’ve all heard the comment from the pros and instructors: “you have permission to write shit. It’ll be cleaned up in the editing process.” This is a very popular style, if not the most popular one. 
There’s no doubt that getting that first written novel draft completed deserves a medal valor, and it really does. These writers actually like/love the first (and subsequent) editing drafts because it gives them a great feeling of accomplishment in fashioning a diamond out of a lump of coal. This is also the time for them to cut or add words, chapters, characters, and scenes as they see fit or if it’s needed (structural). Writing the book is the difficult part for them. That’s where most of the doubts, foul-ups and blocks are experienced. Even if they’ve outlined, they view that first novel draft as a daunting task, wondering if they will ever finish it. If they decide to pull out and trunk the project after they’ve hit the end, hey! There was no harm done and certainly less work invested.


There has to be something said about concentrated editing in different areas and making those first, second, third, fourth and fifth editing passes, suffering through individual stages. Actually, “suffering” is kind of a strong word. I think we all make multiple editing passes. There are only a select few professionals who can edit as they go and come out with a shiny manuscript that is near perfect. Anne Rice is one of them. We’re not Anne.

What stages are important? Well, what’s important to you? Where are your weak spots? This can include passive/active, continuity, copy-editing, proofing, structural editing, pace and so on. I’ll make about three editing passes, taking up two of these areas in one pass. Or I’ll go right on down the line and hit all six each for six edits. But they will be very light and fast because I’ve already been there. You can really specialize and concentrate on one, and only one area from the very beginning, and I’ve done this before to really focus on special problems. I call it target editing. I have a problem with passive and active, so that one is a slow, precise go for me. Continuity is another.

With a large book, multiple stage editing can take a VERY long time. If you don’t mind the process, chances are your final copy is really going to shine with a high gloss finish. There are some writers who love this type of editing and they don’t mind the time invested.
Yeah, I hate to admit it but writing is rewriting. It’s my necessary evil and I hate it.   
Whatever you decide, keep a positive attitude. Try not to listen to those little Debbie Downer muses that hang around and tell you that your story is nothing but a crock and you’re wasting your time. Always remember that another pair of eyes will see something totally different in what you’ve scribbled.  

RANT to Mr. Marketing Guru

Hello, Mr. Sales Marketing Guru. (I’ve got a bone to pick with you).
Since you continually besiege me with your adverts, I thought it was time I responded to your claims and declarations.

As an opening salvo, I will tell you right now that I’m not interested in any pay-for-review services. No matter how you disguise or slice it with claims of guaranteed reviews and sales, you cannot convince me that your costly services are worth these extravagant amounts you are asking for. Calling it “fast-tracking”, “special social media services” or individualized marketing plans, will not alter the fact that what you are proposing is a cost-for-service advertisement which preys on gullible and desperate authors.  

You will have to convince me that eager reviewers are alive and well out there, ready to review books. After 1,650 personalized and custom book review requests (pitches), I received 160 requests for my recent release. Out of that acceptance total, I have, so far, received 34 Amazon (foreign and domestic) reviews, and this has been over a five-month period, soliciting for eight hours a day, 24-7, with no let up. BTW, a great percentage of reviewers are buried, quit or have rebranded themselves. You’ll see that notation on their contact or review request page. Most of these listings are not currently tagged as such.

Simply listing a book as available for review on a database or promo site (for one day in most cases), is GROSSLY ineffective at the present. The one-week or one-month programs are equally ineffective if you lack precise targeting. We are experiencing a swarm/glut of new books in numbers that have never been reached in the history of this industry. If there are willing reviewers out there, I have had to seek them out and then go on a TBR pile that is higher than K-2–backed up two, three and four months or more.
There is no way you can guarantee one review, let alone several, for any book at this time.

The last bastion of hope is to give away books to accumulate a half-way decent rank on Amazon, and those are not sales—those are freebies—not deserving of a “Best Selling” connotation. All of these listed (*) below companies have failed in click-throughs for my book when it was priced from $4.99 to a drop of $2.99. After trying again, I garnered no better results at my current KU and .99 cent stage. I can attest to the fact that my book has a great title, cover and hook/blurb—AllAuthor stats are through the roof at over 3,040 views and about 550 clicks in four months, and a first place contest win. Not too shabby, considering it is the first in a series. I’ve had 18 full-length interviews and several guest spots—more ink than a dozen octopi.

Supply has eclipsed demand, plain and simple. AMT is on a southern slide, FB and Twitter booster ads are completely glossed over by readers and ineffective, while the Amazon, FB and Twitter book clubs and genre sites are flooded with the same solicitations—a “buy my book” barrage from thousands upon thousands of members. It is even difficult for GoodReads to keep up with such a relentless showcase of author’s books, stories, series and collections. GRs is for readers anyway.

People are not buying reading devices like they are buying books, as you so stated. The only way readers can make room for new book purchases (or freebies) is to wipe their inventory of accumulated books they will never get around to reading anyway. Unfortunately, this also seems to be a standard practice for many reviewers who need to “clean house” so they can choose titles for the next year. Out with the old, in with the new.  

I am the owner/poster of Guerrilla Warfare For Writers, an advocacy writer’s/blog site aimed at watching the industry, and I have been doing this type of analysis for 14 years, out of my 30-year career. Roughly (35%) of the current listed review site/blogs are now refusing to review self-published authors. They profess to be swamped. This was not the case two-three years ago. I’m not even an indie author (only a hybrid), but this trend has come around to bite all those who believe that writing to market with quick release has always been the answer to garnering sales and a reader base. I blame not the Indies. I’m upset with a program that allows the world to publish, when we don’t have a world to read the published material.  

The largest feature and most expensive ads on BookBub, are now showing a slow decline in conversions because of a traffic jam to gain access into the program. Albeit, BB still seems to show returns on investment, which is astonishing in itself. Other ad groups have raised their prices and modified their guidelines. Some of these major marketing sites do work—all is not completely lost—but you have to find them first.  

Fiverr*Fussy Librarian*Bargain Booksie*Robin ReadsKindlebooks ReviewBook Barbarian*Booksends*BookDealioEbook DiscoveryE-Reader IQEntBook Reader Magazine*Just Kindle Books*Pretty Hot Books*

Those sites marked with a “*” brought zero results to me—hundreds/thousands of engagements and NO conversions, prompting two of them to refund me in full. Out of pocket loss = aprox $550 before refunds which were in the neighborhood of $70.00. Granted that my price was a straight $2.99, and I was told this was the reason for the lack of interest/response. However, when implementing the Kindle Unlimited and .99 cent strategy and applying it again to several sites, there was zero change in rank and reviews. My sales continued on a flat line. I’m not alone in this festering no-man’s-land.

Why are book tours collapsing now?—Just recently I had two tours cancel on me. There was a time when book tours were popular and worked.  Answer: there doesn’t seem to be enough tour participants to carry an author through an extended promotion period, and that was the reason I was given for the failures. Sure, it depends upon who you are using. But you better have a long gap between appearances with any one given site because you can’t sell to the same readers who’ve already picked you up.

The largest book tour sites are not only expensive and claim to garner successful results, but express the opinion that nothing is really wrong in this slow market, it’s just that the timing and individual book may be the culprit for the lack of sales and reviews. This blanket statement is tired, worn and continuously used as an excuse. Blame the cover, the blurb and the sample pages, or even the author for that matter. That’s much easier to say than we’ve overpopulated the system. What was next on the hit list? “NO SALES? YOUR KEY WORDS ARE RESPONSIBLE!” So now we have apps to hunt down super-selling keywords, guaranteed to get that lost audience you somehow missed. Or was that eager-to-buy audience really there to begin with?

I hired a promotion manager/PR director who has tried everything humanly possible for sales, but has come up with limited results—prompting us to change our tactics and come into social media circles from a different angle. BTW, this is no fault of the manger whatsoever—she is fighting it out with her own competitors. Again, the problem is glut.

The author population has grown by the millions and the number of books listed with just Amazon are staggering and increasing every month. This is a saturation issue that will not go away and only get worse. We have NOW reached the tipping point.
 Personal reading devices across the board (globally) are overloaded with free books (hundreds or thousands) per device and there is just no room for new books even with the most severe low-cost offers. (Readers jammed up their devices when the freebie gold rush hit—this begat the age of Indie superstars, and this constant rotation has never stopped). Now authors are currently offering complete books for .99 cents and lower for an entire series. Many of the A-list Indie superstars and high-ranking mid-listers are reporting 50% cuts in revenue in the past few years. If this is happening to the best-selling brand name authors, what is happening to the rest of us? In the day, Wall-Mart was cursed for providing loss-leaders. Now we understand their reasoning. Sacrifice. For profit.

There are so many books listed for free (no gimmicks), via the small trade publishers and Indies, that it is not necessary to purchase a high quality read or audio book anymore—the reader has only to put themselves on a waiting list when the book hits a free or discounted status. This desperation is playing out full-tilt in front of us, forcing authors to compete with each other for even the slightest name brand exposure. We never had a world of “Permafree” before this massive influx. Welcome to costless books, the wave of the future.

Giving away free books is the surest way to dilute and saturate your reading fan base. And yet you claim this is the ideal strategy. Those who might have bought your book already have it because of free and borrow offers. Your solution: pick another loss leader until you’ve run through your entire inventory. Then what? Write to market with faster releases. Really? Call novellas that are 20.000 40,000 words long, “books.” Give away as many books as you can to draw some type of word of mouth or organic sales. This strategy gives legit Indie authors a bad rap. They can’t sell their books for true value. Small trade publishes can’t recoup their investments on give-away prices.

Mr. Marketing Expert, I sincerely hope that you address this problem and make some type of arrangements and/or policies that will show some, or any type of success, regarding the horrid situation we are (collectively) encountering at the moment.

I am not a crepe hanger or doom peddler. These are indicators which cannot be swept under the carpet or displaced by claiming this is a cycle or a normal glitch in the book sales industry. If you would like to discuss this matter with me, I would be happy to engage in a truthful and honest disclosure. I feel terrible when I see my fellow authors wallowing in despair because they have no sales or reviews for their midlist or even new titles.

The real crime is author/writers spending money on worthless campaigns that produce zeros on a royalty invoice or check. The newest, debut authors are the worst hit. Their despair is tangible when they express their desperation in the writing groups and forums.   

Contests and Awards

I’m celebrating an unexpected victory at the moment. Trying to grasp what happened. I was just informed that my book Screamcatcher: Web World took first place in the N. N. Light Book Awards contest for best Young Adult novel of 2019. Not a huge event, nor a teeny one either. I must have been auto-entered in this running because I had no idea such a platform was part of their yearly program. I take it that about 1,750 books in 25 categories/genres were considered because of their highest reviews. I wasn’t even forewarned as a finalist position. Since this was a no-pay entry contest, it made it all that more significant and relevant to me. I really attribute most of this to luck and timing.

This is the third time I’ve won or placed in anything literature related in 29 years. I think we all know how impossible the odds can seem. Yet when it happens, you sit there in a stupor and wonder the why of it, rather than the whole “Oh hell yes!” of it. Needless to say, I’m humbled and grateful to be called out for a little book that I thought was nothing more than a little slammer beach read. The heck with me—this is a win for the First Nation’s Tribe, a salute to our North American Indian cultural history.

I would encourage others to adopt the feeling that this could happen to you too when you least expect it. And isn’t that always the way it seems to work? Victory always seems to sneak up on you with no pre-warning. I’ll have fond memories of this day and time in my life. It felt like somebody wrapped their arms around me after a long period of loneliness. And in the writing world where rejection is 99% of our existence, these are the moments that make it all worth the insufferable effort to accomplish and carry on. On the upside, this contest required no payment or commitment to enter. These types are far, few and in between. Many of them are small and barely register a blip on the “who won what” radar. Yet even the smaller ones can have a huge reader base and attract the curious. 


J. A Konrath, the successful Indie guru, is noted for saying that contests “aren’t worth sh.t.” That they have no relevance or significance when it comes to notoriety or impact on sales—particularly sales. He goes on to say that they are a gimmick or scam at best. Nearly all of them. He has a point, to a certain extent, and I don’t and can’t disagree with his logic and opinion. Our senior population is a favorite target of contest campaigns because the contests come in so many venues and guises, covering a multitude of subjects.

Contests and awards can be an enticement, and yet they can be an entrapment. Ergo an addiction. This, by the way, applies to just about every contest or award out there for a multitude of products and services—books, jewelry, appliances, gift cards, cars, vacations, artwork, poems and the like. There’s no end to the array of prizes and circumstances by which you can enter with the possibility of placing, becoming a finalist or winning. Wouldn’t you know that many of them include honorable mentions as kind of an afterthought. The more divisions to win in allows the host to pander and cater to many more participants. First, second and third placements are the most common winning sequences, with sometimes a hats off to the overall grand prize winner of the entire field. Honorable mentions usually bring up the rear, and make no mistake about it, those little wins won’t go unrecognized by participants and can be just as important as the larger award positions. What’s important is that you got ink!

We definitely have some legitimate and noteworthy contests that can pull in lots of interest from industry professional watchdogs. These contests are mostly free but require nominations to be included in their lists. They are considered premium awards and are usually sponsored by huge organizations and companies each year. Among the best known book awards and competitions are: (Including fee entries)

General Book Awards Contests

1. TCK Publishing Readers Choice Contest

Website: Contest details: www.tckpublishing.com2019-readers-choice-awardsFee: Free

2. Benjamin Franklin Awards

Website: www.ibpabenjaminfranklinawards.comContest details:www.ibpabenjaminfranklinawards.comentry-formFee: $95

3. Best Book Award (American Book Fest)

Website: www.americanbookfest.comContest details: www.americanbookfest.comamericanfictionawards.htmlFee: $69-$89

4. Beverly Hills Book Awards

Website: www.beverlyhillsbookawards.comContest details: www.beverlyhillsbookawards.comrules-beverlyhills-book-awards.htmFee: $75

5. Colorado Book Awards

Website:www.coloradohumanities.orgContest details:www.coloradohumanities.orgprograms/colorado-book-awardsFee: unpublished

6. Georgia Author of the Year

Website: www.authoroftheyear.orgContest details: $60

7. Hollywood Book Festival

Website: www.hollywoodbookfestival.comFee: $75

8. International Book Award Contest

Website: www.internationalbookawards.comContest details: $69 ⁠–$89

9. National Indie Excellence Award

Website: www.indieexcellence.comContest details: www.indieexcellence.comentry-formFee: $75

10. Nautilus Book Awards

Website: www.nautilusbookawards.comFee: $165–$185

11. NextGen Indie Book Awards

Website: www.indiebookawards.comFee: $75

12. Reader’s Favorite

Website:www.readersfavorite.comContest $99 – $119, discount on multiple genres/book

13. The National Book Awards

Website: www.nationalbook.orgnational-book-awards/submissions/Fee: $135

14. The Wishing Shelf details: $89

15. Woodson Book Award

Website: www.socialstudies.orgawards/woodson/nominationsFee: unpublished

16. Rubery Book Award

Website:www.ruberybookaward.comFee: unpublished

17. 2019 Foreword Indies

Website: www.forewordreviews.comContest details:www.publishers.forewordreviews.comawards/#why-registerFee: $89

Children’s Book Awards Contests

18. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Website: www.moonbeamawards.comContest details: www.moonbeamawards.com38/guidelinesFee: $55

19. The Royal Dragonfly Book Awards

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.compurple-dragonflyFee: $60

20. The Golden Kite Award

Website:www.scbwi.orgContest details: www.scbwi.orgawards/golden-kite-award/Fee: unpublished

21. Mom’s Choice Award

Website: www.momschoiceawards.comContest details: unpublished

22. The Purple Dragonfly Book

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.compurple-dragonfly/Fee: unpublished

Christian Book Awards Contests

23. Cascade Contest

Website: www.oregonchristianwriters.orgContest details: www.oregonchristianwriters.orgcascade-writing-contest-2019/Fee: unpublished

24. Illumination Awards

Website:www.illuminationawards.comContest $85

25. Christian Indie Awards

Website: www.christianaward.comContest details:www.christianaward.comeligibility-guidelines/Fee: $45

26. Christian Book Award

Website:www.ecpa.orgContest details:www.ecpa.orgpage/cba_1_overview?Fee: unpublished

27. Carol Awards

Website:www.acfw.comContest details:www.acfw.comcarolFee: $45 for members, $115 for non-members

28. The Inspy Awards

Website:www.inspys.comContest Free

29. Christianity Today Book Award

Website:www.christianitytoday.comContest details:www.christianitytoday.comct/2019/may-web-only/nomination-instructions-2020-christianity-today-book-awards.htmlFee: $40

30. CPA Book Awards

Website:www.catholicpress.orgContest details:www.catholicpress.orgpage/CPABookAwards?Fee: $36 for members, $76 for non-members

31. The Christy Awards

Website: www.christyawards.comContest details: www.ecpa.orgpage/christy_submissionsFee: $175

Self-Published Book Awards Contests

32. The IndieReader Discovery Awards

Website:www.indiereader.comContest details: www.indiereader.comproduct/indiereader-discovery-awards-entry-2020/Fee: $149

33. The Best Indie Book Award

Website: $50

34. Foreword INDIES Book of the Year

Website: www.forewordreviews.coContest details: unpublished

35. Indie Reader Discovery Awards details: www. $150

36. The Independent Publisher Book Awards

Website: www.ippyawards.comContest details: $75-$95

37. The Eric Hoffer Award

Website: www.hofferaward.comFee: $60

38. Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Website: www.indiebookawards.comContest details: $75

Crime and Mystery Book Awards Contests

39. CWA Daggers unpublished

40. The Edgar Awards

Website:www.mysterywriters.orgContest unpublished

E-book Book Awards Contests

41. ELit Awards

Website:www.elitawards.comContest $70–$90

42. Global E-Book Awards

Website:www.globalebookawards.comContest $4.97

43. Digital Book World Awards

Website: www.digitalbookworld.comContest $59

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Book Awards Contests

44. Bram Stoker Award

Website: www.thebramstokerawards.comContest details: unpublished

45. Fanstory Horror Writing Contest

Website:www.fanstory.comContest unpublished

46. Hugo Awards

Website:www.thehugoawards.orgContest unpublished

47. Nebula Awards

Website: www.nebulas.sfwa.orgFee: unpublished

Business Book Awards Contests

48. Axiom Business Book Awards

Website: www.axiomawards.comContest $75-$95

50. Financial Times

Website: www.ft.comwork-careers/business-book-awardFee: unpublished

Other Book Awards Contests

51. TipTree Award

Website:www.tiptree.orgContest details: www.tiptree.orgabout-the-award/the-processFee: unpublished

52. Spur Awards

Website:www.westernwriters.orgContest details: unpublished


Website:www.womenwritingthewest.orgContest details: $65

54. Royal Dragonfly

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.comroyal-dragonflyFee: $60-65

55. Stonewall Books

Website:www.ala.orgawardsgrants/awards/177/applyFee: unpublished

56. Living Now Book Awards

Website: www.livingnowawards.comContest $95

57. Green Book Festival

Website: www.greenbookfestival.comFee: $50

58. American Fiction Awards (American Book Fest)

Website: www.americanbookfest.comContest details: www.americanbookfest.comamericanfictionawards.htmlFee: $69–$89

59. PEN/Faulkner Awards

Website:www.penfaulkner.orgContest details:www.penfaulkner.orgaward-for-fiction/submission-guidelines/Fee: unpublished

60. AICP Cookbook Awards

Website: www.iacp.comContest details: www.iacp.comawards/cookbook/Fee: $150–$200

Among this list are free contests that carry a lot of weight—the Hugo, Nebulae, Booker Prize, Pulitzer, Bram Stoker and other such notables. However, take note of the fees associated with most of them. Name your category or genre and you’ll probably find yourself eligible in one or more of these offerings. Some are for unpublished manuscripts. How deep are your pockets? What are your realistic expectations?


Do you think for one minute those sponsoring agencies are losing money by bestowing huge cash prizes and publication upon you? You would be wrong. They are making money hand over fist. The question you have to ask yourself is…is it worth the expense and nail-biting to anticipate or expect a win of any kind in any of them? With thousands or tens of thousands of applicants, tabulate your odds of picking up a win. It’s worse than a crap shoot in Las Vegas. If you are a contest chaser and think that you can even your odds by entering many or most of these contests, you’ll end up sitting on the curb with your hat in your lap begging for living expenses. If you happen to feel good about your odds in a certain competition, it doesn’t hurt to enter. Just do so with the full knowledge that everyone has the same hopes and dreams and the playing field is level. 

I’m sorry, but I can’t see myself as a wunder talent since I might have edged out a runner up because of a dropped run-on sentence or a POV slip. Final decisions could be that close.  

How much does talent have to do with copping a win? Fortunately a great book will stand out whether it is picked by a panel of judges or a reader’s poll. It is subjective and a matter of personalized opinion. Yet the wheat will win over the chaff. Every time. 

There are and have been instances where an applicant can actually sway the votes by using huge marketing campaigns (more expense) aimed at fans, readers and relatives. This happens a lot with book cover contests. Get somebody to click on you as a favorite and wallah! You start stacking up the votes. This happens. It’s a little desperate, but if the cover really is great, it’s justified. People can go to extreme lengths to win—you’ve heard of those authors who have bought thousands of copies of their own books to hit the NYT, USA Today and Amazon top-seller lists. The same thing happens in the contest and awards arena. 

What’s in it for you if you pick up a substantial or even moderate win? Besides publication and a cash prize (if it’s offered), you have bragging rights. Sometimes you get permission to wear the contest badge, usually a star with the logo displayed prominently on your book cover. Does it help? Money and publication is fine. Wearing the badge? That’s up to you. A little gold star might give you a second look. It is NOT a guarantee that your sales and reviews are going to skyrocket. Your win is not an earth-shaking event and, except for the most prestigious awards, don’t expect front page news, radio interviews or TV spots with the major networks. This kind of news goes over with fans, friends and relatives more than other segments of the populace.

So you won something…consider it a personal best. Take pride, include it in your diary and remember it fondly. You certainly did something right and, no, it really wasn’t all luck. It was pluck and you just happened to be there with a beloved book that made an impact on somebody who cared enough to draw you out of the crowd. Good luck with your future entries, and may we all have our 16 minutes of fame!

Opposite Gender Pen Name?

There are so many instances of neutral initial pen names, also called non de plumes, that it’s rather ordinary and taken as a normal happenstance in the literary world. Jo Rowling is perhaps one of the most famous examples. C.S. Lewis and D.L. James come to mind. Pretty ordinary stuff here. What about a gender flip-flop though? During the last generations of literature, dozens of women have taken on male pen names to approach a reading crowd that might not have given them the time of day had they revealed their true gender Identity. They were certainly justified in adopting this theory. Nothing wrong with that at all. It worked out for them. They could adventure, crash, bang and boom with the best of them. We didn’t care. That’s the point. We loved them and became one with their universe.

Robin Hobb–she’s a gal

George Eliot is a gal

Isak Dinesen is a female

Alas. Leigh Greenwood is a guy! And so is Jessica Blair!

These authors chose a gender flip-flop pseudonym, and their reasons were varied: identity cloaking, privacy, restart failing careers, outright deception (a few), testing purposes–insert your reason. A few didn’t have to change their names–Nicholas Sparks, being one of the talented male authors who writes very believable female leads and characters, had no reason to cloak his real identity. He had the experience and formula down and the women readers readily accepted his talent. Such wonderful things happen when you get it right, and you more than often than not, should get it right consistently. Because if you stumble, it might raise suspicion about your motives. You have to feel very comfortable with the switch and feel justified in your decision to use it. Now Rowling and King used a different approach, swapping gender author names to test the waters as a new, or unknown talent. They wanted to distance themselves from their famous brands. It worked for only a little while until they were found out. Their questions were answered, though.

I wanted to write as a female because of the genre I wanted to specialize in–YA fantasy and paranormal. I needed to distance my real name from my SF and adult thrillers. I even wrote an erotic romance that went belly up when I used my real name. I was switching my category, changing to all female leads and using a unique or catchy new name. I settled on Chrisy J. Breedlove, because my first real name was in the mix and I just happened to love the last name Breedlove. I’d first heard the Breedlove last name in a move decades ago, and if was called Hamersmith is Out. A sub-character in that movie was called Billy Breedlove. There I had it.

My reasons? I wasn’t hiding under a skirt and pretending to be a woman. That would have been easily discovered by my group display site fans and friends. With close to 5,000 followers on FB, who did I think I was kidding? I would be found out instantly because of the hints and bios plastered all over the Internet. If you played cross-the-links in my profiles, it would be more than easy to find me out. Most did. Some, however, did not and refused to believe I was not a gal writing gal characters. They were in the minority, though. Ninety percent of the reviewers and readers really didn’t give a flying you know what. “Oh, is she strong, with great leadership capabilities, courage and brains. She also has athletic prowess! What a woman! We love her! She is my favorite in the whole story.” What a wonderful reception. Almost like a vindication.

I always had a gut feeling I could write the female side. It did come naturally for me and I never had any complaints about it. Well, except for being dog-piled on my erotic romance. Oh, I didn’t hear the end of that one. It served me right. I’d always written sweet romance in all my books. Taking it too deeply into the sexual desires of women drew a lot of fire–machine gun fire. Even though the book was co-written and passed muster with a female co-author, I still took the brunt of harsh critiques, EVEN BEFORE THE WHOLE BOOK WAS READ. That’s another story, though.

My motives were simple and logical, to my mind. It was a business decision as well as anything. It’s true that nearly 65% of all books bought and read are by women. Romance has dominated the genres since forever, it seems. Just like the male writing fraternity, the sisters had a close group of reading fans, only much larger and just as discerning. I only planned on spontaneous sales, those who looked at the cover, read the blurb, blitzed through the sample pages and adored the title. That was a primary hook. After that, I didn’t care who outed me. The point was, I had a better chance of discovery. I’d always thought that women possessed more of a realistic and emotional accuracy in writing YA fiction. I don’t have to name the super blockbusters for you–you know them, have read them and certainly heard of them. I so wanted to tap that market without being intrusive or offensive. How could I do it honestly and what was the secret?

Men have a female side and women have a male side. They can delve into it and explore anytime they want. Yet, the MOST IMPORTANT ingredient was and always has been the fact that they are both human beings. They have the same likes, desires, fears, needs and feelings. They are basically the same animal. They have only nuances and traits that are specific to them–microcosms of separation. In other words, there are certain things that men and women don’t ordinarily do. Yet this is highly subjective too! Why? Because we have the basic human being as the main ingredient, and then we have the individual who calls out to be recognized. These are personality traits. You can explore all this territory without being stereotypical and sexist. Just remember: Human beings.

How has it worked out? That’s the big question isn’t it? For such a bold move, one would expect bold and unforgiving mistakes. Christy is only about six months old so I had to look at it with stats in mind. I’ve never had more reviews, clicks, raves, sample reads and other kudos. Sales came a little heavy in the beginning. (Of course, you have to stay on the marketing and promo wagon). As far as popularity, it has out-shined the other books. It’s only the fresh beginning. I don’t know what I’m on to, but I’ll let Christy take the spotlight. But more importantly, I want the story to take the spotlight. Judge ye not the author, but the story that he or she tells. The story is the real driving force for any author, and the end game is for the reader.

Chris J. Breelove–“Blue shift to me. Or check out the second star on the right.”