On Being a Professional Writer #amwriting

I participate in a few forums and chat rooms where people ask a lot of amateur author questions. Before I go any further, I have nothing against these people. I had all these questions when I started too. The entire reason I hang out in this places online is to be helpful, and hopefully pick up a few kernels I didn’t know along the way. Sometimes, people who know less than me ask questions in areas I haven’t encountered or considered, and then I learn something when others answer. It’s also a good way to discover new cover artists and editors, and to find people to join online book release parties.

Several questions are asked over and over, and they’re very basic questions.

Q: Do I need to hire an editor for my first book? What kind?

A: Yes. Absolutely. Whether you’re self-publishing or not, do it. It’s usually best to blow as much as you can afford on structural editing and copyediting. Your first book will be your worst book. This is simple fact. Your first editors will show you all things you need to integrate into your writing to make it better. You can get away with only copyediting if you have a very good writing group or use an online critique source, but you may still want to consult with a structural editor for this initial book to get the feel for what they look for and how they work. After your first book, if you’re traditionally published and continue to be so, you don’t need your own editor anymore. If you’re self-publishing, you will never not need some kind of copyediting.

As a secondary matter, if your storytelling approach is mostly instinct, you’ll find that, over time, you come into contact with enough professionals that you learn things you didn’t know before and try to incorporate them into your stories. This is where you’ll have problems, even if you had a smashing first, second, even third book. At some point, you’ll enter the category of knowing enough to be dangerous, and that’s when you really need an editor.

Q: How much should I spend on a book cover?

A: It depends on your tastes, skills, and genre. The first thing to do, regardless of who makes your cover, is to check the covers of the top 25-50 in your genre, on a few different platforms. Those are the conventions readers expect to see on your cover, which tell them your book fits into that part of the store. That’s what you want to emulate without copying. If you–or your significant other/close relative/BFF/whatever–know how to use advanced techniques in a robust graphics editing program like Photoshop or GIMP, and you can find or produce images to manipulate of appropriate style and quality, give DIY a try and see how your best effort stacks up. It costs you nothing but time.

If you have no idea how to do any of that, your cost will depend on who you go to and how custom you need your cover to be. High quality pre-made covers can be found for less than $100. Custom stock image covers–that is, no illustration is involved–can be found for about $250 and up. Quality illustrated covers start at about $500. Make sure you know if your artist expects to do your font work or not, as some prefer not to.

Q: Should I self-publish or go traditional?

A: This is a really personal matter. The basic, underlying issues:  the type of books you write and how much control you want/need.

For the type of books you write, there are many subgenres and styles that traditional publishers won’t buy. Traditional publishers will buy whatever they think they can sell. It’s not necessarily about quality, it’s about what they can market. If you’re writing epic fantasy in the Tolkien style, you can probably find a publisher for that. If, instead, you’re writing Bronze Age steampunk, you might have trouble shopping that around. If a subgenre is established and your writing is a good example of it, you have a decent chance. If not, you’ll get a lot of rejection letters.

Regarding control, this is often the most important facet for authors. A traditional publisher takes your manuscript, pays you, and then you get to approve or deny content edits. They do everything else. Until you’re a big name who makes them a ton of money, you have zero additional input. Medium-sized or smaller presses may allow you some control, such as providing input on cover images. With self-publishing, it’s all on you. Everything. You come up with the cover, the back cover copy, the formatting, the marketing, the pricing, all of it. You pay for it all too, and you get no payments upfront. But you get 100% of the royalties, compared to a pittance per copy from a traditional publisher.

Q: What is “head-hopping” and why is it bad?

A: Head-hopping is the practice of switching point of view without a section break of some sort. It’s not the same thing as using an omniscient POV, because omniscience typically has a one-step remove from the characters and conveys information the characters cannot know. In other words, there’s a narrator who isn’t a character in the story. Omniscience requires a great deal of effort and practice to make a compelling story because it’s very easy to fall into telling rather than showing. This is why it’s not popular as a technique in modern novels.

Head-hopping is taking a 3rd limited POV and applying it to every character at the same time. While technically an omniscient POV, it’s jarring, confusing, and generally reads like the characters are all psychic. For most writers, especially newer writers, your best bet is to pick one character and stick with their POV for any given section.

Have a question? Ask! If I can’t provide an answer, I guarantee I know someone who can.


  1. Thanks for the post. The part about head-hopping was good for me to read. There are a few sections of my WIP that I will have to check on this to make sure I didn’t create that sort of confusion for the reader.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.