YA Indie Carnival: The Importance of the Wolfpack, Beta Readers, Cover Designers, Editors, etc.
Wow, as important as the writing itself is, making sure that what gets out there to readers is good is equally important. I had a blast writing Pazuzu’s Girl. That was the fun part. The real work part came when I needed to turn it into a real book. Fortunately, we have lots of skilled people to help us do that, or at least we should.
The first thing should be to get someone else’s eyes on it other than yours. As writers, our words are like our kids. We fall in love with them no matter how cranky, pimply, or dorky they can be. But words aren’t kids. And when they suck, we need to cut them from the story or change them. We can’t see that, because we’re busy reveling in them, like parents poring through every inane picture we’ve ever taken of them. So we need someone else to make suggestions about how to make the story better. That’s where editors and beta readers come in. If you are a writer, get in a critique group. Free beta reading and sometimes free editing help too. This is critical, getting critiques. I go to the Denver Fiction Writers Critique Group, but it doesn’t matter where you are, there are usually groups in your area, and if there aren’t, yay internet! There are online groups too that are awesome. The one thing that is the most important about a critique group is that it is honest and constructive. You don’t want people who are just going to tell you you’re wonderful and pat your ego because that won’t help your story, and you don’t want a group that will just tell you that you suck either because that is discouraging and doesn’t make writing very much fun. You want people who will tactfully point out what’s wrong with this or that part of the story and maybe even give suggestions on what might make it better. On the other hand, it’s still your story. If you feel strongly about a feature of the story even after being really honest with yourself, it’s okay to stick to your guns. Writing by committee doesn’t work because it erases your voice and changes your story into something that isn’t yours, or what you were trying to say. But the bottom line is, make editors and beta readers your best friends when you are trying to clean up your story and make it good.
Cover designers are equally important when you are ready to get people interested in picking up your book. They must say in one picture, for a two-second glance what you took a 100,000 words to write. Or at least, they have to convey enough information to make someone, preferably lots of people, pick up the book and go, “Ooh, this looks cool, I wonder what it’s about?” Artists tell a story too, so what story they tell on your cover is the representation of you and your work. They are highly visual, and so they can identify whether simple is better, or more complicated. Sometimes the simplest images are the most elegant and communicative. Other times, more elaboration is needed, but your artist will usually be the one who has the most expertise on what would represent your book visually the best. That doesn’t mean that you should just go with whatever they think. It is your representation, so you approve and make suggestions based on your knowledge of the book, to make sure that the picture conveys what you want it to.
Formatters are, for me, the wizards of the word processing world. The best book can be wrecked if the format is confusing to read. And maybe it’s just my generation, at the beginning of the personal computing wave, or maybe I’m just kind of neo-Luddite, but formatting myself has always been a challenge. I have 15 years of experience with Word, and still, every time they come out with a new version, I might as well be reading the Handbook for the Recently Deceased from Beetlejuice for all it takes me to figure out how to do things like format, all over again. So I am eternally grateful to people who can work formatting magic and make it look like it wasn’t written by a computer-illiterate 2nd grader, though my 2nd grader is probably more literate than me, given that she’s never even seen a television that you had to change channels by hand, or an old-fashioned rotary phone.
Ultimately, getting a book out is a group effort! Yay wolfpack!
So, see what other tips and stories our carnies have and their experiences with working with the wolfpack?
And see what’s new and being released soon at the YA Author Club!