Category Archives: self publishing

Riding out the self-publishing journey

WorldRider Press, Sacramento editor, Twosongbirdspress, Robin MartinI’ve enjoyed being a small part of this project: FORKS.Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection by Allan Karl.

In FORKS, Allan shares the discoveries, cultures and connections that he made on a global motorcycle adventure. Through stories, color photos and flavors of real local food, FORKS brings the world to your table and this adventure to life: the kindness of strangers, beauty of humanity, colors of culture and the powerful gift of human connection.

He has launched a Kickstarter campaign to presell the book and to raise funding for printing of the first edition. Here’s the Link. You can see sample pages, photos and more from the book as well as the story of why he is crowdfunding through Kickstarter.

This client recognized that the scope of his project was too broad for traditional publishing out of the gate. It is a travel book, a coffee-table photo book, a cook book – all rolled into one. Fortunately for him, he is not just a great observer of human nature, he is also a smart businessman, and built his own publishing company to support the production of this book. In the same way that he carefully planned and stocked up for his 62,000 mile, 847-day motorcycle journey, he stocked his self-publishing saddlebags with everything he might need.  He learned about the process in its entirety. He began building his platform early. He hired a developmental editor, a book designer, a copyeditor (that’s me!), and a printing company – all the bits that are required to produce a high quality product.

He worked for more than three years on this project. Isn’t it beautiful?

WorldRider Press, self-publishing, Sacramento editor
Allan Karl’s Forks

I’d like to send many thanks to Carla King, director of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp for introducing us.

NaNoWriMo? No. No.

Did I write the first 50,000 words of my novel? Is that why I’ve been MIA from my blog for so long? Sadly, no. And, happily. Instead of writing a pile of you-know-what, I’ve been working on some excellent projects with some excellent clients.

Brad DeHaven, Sacramento Editor, Robin Martin

November 1st saw the release of The Addict Among Us, my second book as a developmental editor with prescription drug abuse activist Bradley V. DeHaven. In this picture to your left, the completed proof sits upon some of the hardcopy work I did, as we took the manuscript from 100,000 words of stream of consciousness writing and copied/pasted emails to an organized self-help book about how to prevent, detect, treat, and live with opioid (or any) drug addiction. This is another excellent book on the subject by Brad, who has been on the go spreading the word about how this epidemic sneaks up on the most unsuspecting of families, and of course, spreading the word about his book as well.

The Under the Gum Tree editorial staff selected the next group of pieces for Issue 6 from a nice batch of submissions. The mag is getting designed as we speak and will be on the newsstands in the first weeks of the new year.

During November, I also began a substantive edit on a 600-page mainstream fiction manuscript with an author I began working with in November of last year. At that time, I did an evaluation and critique on an earlier draft, which he took to heart and spent nearly the next year revising. I really enjoy seeing a writer develop his or her craft, being receptive to feedback about plot and character, point of view, and the finer points of language. And I enjoy seeing the result of hard work on the page. While this writer was planning on going directly to self-publishing, I am going to encourage him to seek a traditional publisher because I think the manuscript could attract interest in the current market and he doesn’t really seem that interested in becoming a publisher/marketing professional.

Speaking of this, I have two other clients heading on a traditional publishing path. Of course, I’ve advised them to stop querying agents now, because agents like to have a holiday too, you know. But these writers have had some promising attention and I have high hopes for them.

Meanwhile, three of my former clients have successfully self-published their novels in the last few months, and my friend and mentor Andrea Hurst has done so as well. There are many paths to publication, and everyone has to do what feels right to them. I don’t want to spend time here discussing the choice between traditional and self-pub, as there are so many excellent bloggers out there doing it for us. Let me just say I believe there are very good reasons to pursue either one, depending on one’s goals and resources. The debate is, frankly, getting pretty stale. Just do what you’ve got to do.

I guess I feel the same way about NaNoWriMo. For some people, attempting to meet a writing goal with 300,000 other people is the way to go. Just the motivation they need. For others, not so much.






Ready for this Book Release

 sacramento editor, editor Robin Martin, Rob Mahan

Just Released!

An Irish Miracle by Rob Mahan is available for purchase in both print and electronic versions.

 My copy, signed by the author, who just happens to be my client, arrived in the mail this week and it looks great.

  He first contacted me in January of 2011 looking for an evaluation and critique, and over the year he worked on a substantive edit. He launched his publishing company, Marietta Book Works, earlier this year, commissioned some pros, and now he’s in business.

Congratulations, Rob.

                Check out his beautiful book and learn more here.

San Francisco Writers follow up

After spending the weekend with a wide representation of the writing and publishing community, I am more excited than ever to be a part of it.  The SFWC has changed form even in the short time that I’ve been involved with it. Just a few years ago, the workshops and presentations focused exclusively on writing craft and traditional publishing strategies. This year it felt almost as though the offerings were heavier on alternative publishing routes and social media/self promotion strategies. Perhaps it is the sign of the wind going out of the sails of traditional publishing, or maybe it is a sign of the money and resources that are being funneled into self-publishing platforms.  In any case, it is certainly a very dynamic place to be, with all the change swirling around us.

On the one hand, editors from traditional publishing houses and the agents who are the gatekeepers for them are still treated like movie stars, and getting them to read and acquire your manuscript is still presented as the capstone of the writing process.  Talk of their demise still, too often, largely sounds like sour grapes. Yes, the trad model is being forced to change by digital options. Technology has always forced change. That’s the way it goes.

And, yes, on the other hand, this change is allowing for the democratization of publishing, and it is allowing more great stories to be made available to the public. All the financial benefits, if there are any, fall to the writer. It doesn’t take close to three years for a book to get to an audience. And. And. And.

Here’s one side of what I came away from SFWC with:  Self publishing is still the less-favored stepchild, despite all the popular rhetoric to the contrary. Self-publishers (and the editors who assist them) are still seen as less trustworthy, even by the most outspoken advocates of self-publishing.*

Part of the reason for this is the same reason that so many writers flock to self-publishing.  Anyone can do it. And with no gatekeepers, lots of shit gets through. Agents and editors at publishing houses continue to serve a valuable function when it comes to debut fiction–they filter a lot of stuff that is not ready to be read. They filter first drafts and keep them off of the bookshelves.

If you are a writer intent on publishing on Amazon, the onus is on you to help change the bad reputation of self-published books. I heard a lot of talk about this at the conference, and I loved to hear it, both as an editor (duh) and also as a voracious reader.

If I buy a book I want it to be better than the first drafts I am being paid to edit. I will only buy so many bad self-published books before I decide I won’t waste any more money. I have heard this a lot. Many people still don’t trust self-published authors.

If every wanna-be writer keeps publishing the books they write without the benefit of writing classes or critique groups or editorial services, the quality of the books….  An old rant.

The reason I’m excited to be a part of publishing now is that I believe this is changing.  At SFWC I heard a lot about writers taking responsibility for the publisher role, and this means if you’re going to be a publisher you have to think like a business person.

Publishing is in a state of flux. Traditional publishing has to modify itself and knows it. Self-publishing really has nowhere to go but up. Ride with me on the front of the wave.


*I am basing this on the answer I received to a question I asked Alan Rinzler at the conference.

Editing, writing, digital publishing, from textbooks to fiction, meetings and events…

This has been a wonderfully busy first quarter, with a cornucopia of activities to keep me sharp.

The Nor Cal EFA hosted speaker Judith Horstman in January, and she provided the participants with insider information about writing for magazines and talked a bit about her new book.

I attended the California Writers Club and met Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who confirmed for me the importance of digital publishing and presented a convincing argument regarding the obsolescence of the old publishing model and its gatekeepers. While there, I ran into an author whose debut novel I had just downloaded to my Kindle, at the suggestion of a mutual friend, but had not yet started reading.

Uploading a correctly formatted document into Smashwords was actually more difficult than the founder purported it to be, but getting it to work was a technological learning experience that didn’t kill me and therefore made me stronger.

Completing a substantive edit on a statistics textbook for a non-native English speaker contracted to Wiley allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief, and confidently say that my comprehension of statistics increased tremendously!  It also allowed me to use my APA knowledge, neglected in the fiction world.

San Francisco Writers Conference orientation was held in January and the event is next weekend, February 17-19.  I’ll be there. Will you? Come visit me at the Cafe Ferlinghetti, where I’ll be hanging out early Saturday morning and throughout the afternoon on Friday.

I’ve got fiction manuscripts lined up all quarter; working with a 630 page suspense novel currently, and this will be followed right away by a suspenseful love story, then a contemporary fiction/social justice novel, then Brad’s sequel comes in to me, then a mystery.  Phew!  Gotta love it. Thanks to Mark Coker and others like him, there are a lot of people out there taking the bull by the horns and going for it.  Thankfully, they are embracing the need for an editor before they put it out to the world.

Two recent articles talk about the importance of an editor in the self-publishing process.  This one, in Huff Post, and this, in the San Francisco Book Review.

You keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading. And writing.

Why a self-publisher needs an editor: Other uses for an editor

Developmental edits. Substantive edits. Line edits.  A self-publisher could use professional assistance in all of these areas.  There are other uses for an editor as well.

editorial assistant, electronic book formatting, e-book formatting, publication, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press




Why you need an editor: Developmental and Substantive Editing

We believe we know everything there is to know about our characters. We believe we have created a compelling read, a clear conflict, characters the reader can either love or fear for, a satisfying resolution.  But the problem is, we’re too close to it. No matter our credentials, we must have someone else read our work. Depending on what they discover, we may need further editing, and might seriously consider hiring a professional to help.

At the recent Self Publishing Boot Camp, I spoke about the need for an editor before self-publishing. I focused particularly on a novel or memoir, because the whole purpose of a book like this is that it engages the reader. If it doesn’t engage the reader, your book will not be successful, or worse, it will attract negative reviews and make you sad.

Someone who has a background as an acquisitions editor at a literary agency or publishing house or who selects and acquires fiction for literary magazines that you like to read might be a good fit for you. I talked about professional readers in my last post. I also talked a bit about Brad. I want to come back to him.

Brad DeHaven hired me to read what he had tentatively titled, “Beyond the Picket Fence.” It was a 65 page memoir of his life. He was 50.  The manuscript began before his conception, at the conception of his brother, took the reader through his dysfunctional family situation, his mother’s re-marriage to a Greek mobster who beat him, his drug use and violent teenage years, his brother’s incarceration, meeting the woman he would marry, the upbringing of his children, and culminated in the tale, essentially, of how he went undercover to bust his son’s drug dealer.  All this incredible story in 65 pages. Like a freight train headed from point a to point b, it barreled through telling the reader this happened then this happened then this happened. It was a great story, and he has a fantastic voice. The book, the way it was put together, was ineffective.

We had to find the real story in all of that. What did he want the story’s takeaway to be? Where was the hook? The real story was how despite the experiences from his own youth, he was unprepared to deal with his son’s addiction to a powerful prescription painkiller.  We worked together on a developmental edit.  It became Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Into his Son’s Oxy Addiction.

A developmental edit is what you hope your book doesn’t need, frankly.  It takes the most time and costs the most money.  It doesn’t know what kind of story it wants to be yet. A professional can help a writer uncover this. If it has no focus, it probably needs a developmental edit. If the reader can’t tell who the story is about, it probably needs a developmental edit.

A substantive edit is more common.  Sometimes this is called a heavy line edit. The writer understands what the story is and has a decent story arc, cast of characters, resolution. The writer may not have well-rounded characters, there may be inconsistencies with narrative voice or point of view, there may be needless layers of filtering or instances of telling where it really needed to be revealed in a scene.  Most manuscripts have these problems, which interfere with the emotional connection the reader makes with the story.

The ability to eliminate these problems is what separates the writer whose self published book languishes on even the shelf of his best friend and the writer whose book is read and recommended and passed around and receives favorable review.

Common problems that necessitate a substantive edit (via pptx nee jpg):

editing, editor, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press, developmental editing, substantive editing, novel reviews

Why you need an editor: Professional Read

At this past weekend’s Self Publishing Boot Camp, I was privileged to speak on the topic of editing for self-publishers.  I had only 30 minutes to speak on the topic, and I wanted to cover the nuts and bolts of what an editor can do and how to find an editor who will work best with you and your work (and your budget).  I think I succeeded, but there’s always more to be said. I will focus in this post on the professional evaluation and critique.

As you know, I am a writer and an editor, and in that capacity have taken projects from the idea stage to local celebrity, have helped make good manuscripts better, and bad manuscripts a little less embarrassing for the author. Editing is not just about catching those embarrassing spelling and sentence structure errors.

I framed Saturday’s presentation with my history of working with Brad DeHaven, author of Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Into his Son’s Oxy Addiction. (Originally titled Beyond the Picket Fence). Brad is a financial planner who brought me a 65 page manuscript, a memoir, that was a chronological telling of his life until that point. He was 50. Everyone kept telling him he should write his story, so he did. He hired me as a professional reader and I provided an evaluation and critique of his manuscript.

 professional reader, editor, developmental editor, Two Songbirds Press, Robin MartinIdeally, you have been receiving critique from readers all along. Ideally, this critique has been free or in exchange for critique on their work, such as in a writing group or a workshop class.

If you were to complete a manuscript to the rave reviews of your beta readers (none of whom you were having sex with or otherwise emotionally attached to) and if you were planning to send it to an agent and go the traditional publishing route, your manuscript just might be ready. The agent, in this case, might be your first professional reader.

You couldn’t expect to receive a personalized letter about why they reject your manuscript, however. You could trust that it was almost there if they request the first fifty and then the rest of the manuscript before refusing to take it on.

When I worked with Andrea Hurst, the agents there often took on manuscripts that they loved but that still needed editing. The agents took on authors with whom they would work to refine and shape the story until it was ready to pitch to publishing houses.  This was a tremendous benefit for the author. The agent knows the audience to which she’ll be trying to sell your manuscript. That knowledge makes an agent a particularly valuable editor. Andrea Hurst Literary Management, The First 50, editor, writer, agent, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press

The downside of this is for the agents– who might work on a manuscript for six months or more (as I did on two occasions) on spec, hoping that the financial reimbursement will come when the book sells with a large advance.  Something that ultimately lies with the CFO of large house X.

Now, I understand, agents are feeling the pinch and doing this less and less because they end up working hard without a paycheck.  So even if you were planning to pursue traditional publishing and obtain an agent, it would behoove you to have a professional read/evaluation before querying.

One of the things you give up by electing to go the self publishing route is even the possibility of built in professional readers who will “fix up” your book along the way: the agent, and the editor at the publishing house (who are also doing this less and less according to popular wisdom). When working towards being a self-published author, you need to hire an editor. 

If you self publish a book without an external, objective, professional read, you open yourself to harsh public criticism of your writing via reviews of your book.

The appropriate editor can evaluate and critique your manuscript, revealing shortcomings you didn’t know existed as far as character, plot, narrative voice, point of view, exposition rather than scene.  So you can fix them before you either send it to an agent or publish them to your later dismay.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about common issues that necessitate a substantial edit. For now, I want to leave you with this:

In a prior post I mentioned some blogs I enjoy . Here is another blog I follow. Today Jody talks about why you need an editor.  I enjoy receiving the RSS feed from Jody Hedlund. Check it out, because you might enjoy her insight on the writing process too.

Robin Martin, editor, developmental editor, Two Songbirds Press

What does Success look like?

The big Success, with a capital S is elusive. You do know this, don’t you?  Success a la big time fame and fortune, cover of People magazine, tooling around Nob Hill in a Maserati, that kind of success. Slim chance. I’m saying this not to be cynical or mean, but…yeah, I guess I’m cynical. Or maybe let’s call it incredulous.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was pursuing a career in modeling.  Another long shot career, another long shot to Success with a capital S.  I could pay the best make-up artists and pay the best photographers to do my portfolio. I could pay a personal trainer, starve myself, etc., but when push came to shove, I could not make John Casablancas or Eilene Ford give me that contract. I didn’t have what they were looking for.  It didn’t mean what I had wasn’t fine in its own right, just that it wasn’t seen as marketable right then. Having said that, though, if I had gone to the Madison Ave. agencies carrying 25 extra pounds and a Polaroid shot, I never would have even had a chance with these people. Was I disappointed that I didn’t become the next Linda Evangelista? Heck yes. Was I devastated because I spent my retirement money trying to get there and didn’t? No. I didn’t spend more than I could afford to lose on a long shot.

I just have to say that even if you get the perfect book- you pay for the best cover design, buy the best interior layout, hire the industry’s best editors, there is no guarantee, in fact it is not likely, that you will end up driving a Maserati down California Avenue.

All I ask is that you be truthful with yourself. Have a sit down with a mirror and a cup of coffee. What are your goals? What does success look like to you? How will you know when you are successful? What resources will you reasonably commit to get you there? Don’t set yourself up for devastating disappointment. Do you have the diligence not to quit halfway? Create a business plan or a book proposal.  Who will buy your book? How will you reach them to sell it?

Just go into it with your eyes open and the rose colored glasses off.  And eat healthy, and get regular oil changes for your Toyota.

For goodness sakes, have SOMEONE proofread your website

Breathe, Robin. Breathe.

I just clicked away from a website for a elementary school teacher/tutor down in Southern California that a friend sent me with a single question:

Would you allow her to teach writing?

Cheez um crow, NO WAY!

The headline on her home page:

Take charge of your childs education:

This is not a joke. At least she’s consistent, or perhaps she hasn’t got an apostrophe on her keyboard, but she never uses the possessive on the entire site. The content is redundant and unclear. Most embarrassing, perhaps, are her steady references to her “Masters in Education degree in progress”. Doesn’t bode well for higher ed in America, does it?

I have an acquaintance who runs a home staging business. Business is not too good for her right now, primarily because of the housing market, likely. But could it also be the homepage on her website? It reads:

[NAME OF BUSINESS] believes first impressions are everything. We give your home a distinct advantage over the competition. Our goal when staging your property is to place the home in the best showcase condition by defining each rooms purpose

Okay, I’ll admit that perhaps only an English major would notice the lack of apostrophe in that last sentence. But again, if there are problems with redundancy and common errors throughout the site, it will be noticed by potential customers. Perhaps you disagree? Is the written possessive dead? Am I obsessing over exceedingly trivial matters?

Okay, okay, I have to admit,  I would totally still hire this company for staging my home. They have recently redone this site and found most of the errors I noticed the first time I checked it out. Good Job! They have great before and after photos in their portfolio and the site looks professional.  The only problems are minor.

But, for certain know that I would NEVER hire that tutor. I would RUN in the opposite direction.

For as little as $35, a skilled proofreader can be your second set of eyes and can save you public humiliation and lost business. Even if it isn’t me, find someone!