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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tip #2 for Fiction Writers: 5 Mistakes Indie Authors Make

Tip #2: Five Mistakes Indie Authors Make

By Peter Gilboy

There is no reason an Indie novel cannot be as spectacular as a great, traditionally-published novel. 

No reason at all. But typically Indie novels are not so spectacular. Why not?

I’ve been published by both a major publisher and an Indie publisher. How they work is very different – not just in the publishing, but also in the preparation for the publishing. This article is about the important things that we Indie authors typically aren’t doing that major authors are doing.

Briefly, my story:
My experience selling my first book to a publisher is not typical. I contacted an agent on a Tuesday, she called back me on Wednesday, told me we could sign a contract on Thursday, and that she’d have the novel sold to a major publishing house by Monday. (And she did.)

Was I a great writer or just lucky? Probably the latter. But I got a publisher and a darn nice advance. I was a happy guy.

I also had the chance to work with one of the best editors in the country. When I say “editor,” I don’t mean someone who puts the commas in the right places and reminds me that “i” goes before “e” except after “c.”  No, this was a story editor—someone who understands the concept of story telling; knows which things make a story work and which things don’t. In general the story editor improves the story. In this case it was my story.

I’ll back up a bit and add that before I signed with a publishing house I had a chance to interview two editors with different houses who wanted the story. Part of each interview went like this:

Publishing House ‘A’
Me: How can you help make my novel better?
Editor: Peter, you are the writer. You’re the artist. We don’t want to interfere.
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Publishing House ‘B’
Me: How can you help make my novel better? 
Editor: Well, the first half of your story is stronger than the second. The potential is there, but we have to work on it.

Then the editor at Publishing house ‘B’ went on to make some suggestions that I immediately found helpful. Light bulbs were going off. I signed with that publisher, even though the advance was less. Why? Obviously I wanted to make the novel as good as possible. This guy could help.

Before I spoke to him I had no idea that my story needed work. I thought it was great. And I had an agent, didn’t I? And now someone was buying my novel, weren’t they? So what’s the problem?

Consider this: There are two kinds of things we don’t know.

-        There are things that we know we don’t know – for example, I know that I don’t know how to operate the space shuttle. That’s something I know I don’t know. Call it a “known unknown.”

          Thene there are things that we don’t know that we don’t know – for example…well, I can’t give an example. Since I don’t know that I don’t know something, how can I give you an example of what that something is?  Call it an “unknown unknown.”  Kapish?   

Adam Snow says 
he didn't do it. 

Obviously every novel writer does the best that he or she can. But it’s not enough. There are things about writing a novel that we don’t know that we don’t know. Yes, our friends have told us that our story is fine, or even great. Mom said the same thing. Sister Sue liked it too. If we have beta readers (Google it), they’ve made their suggestions.

But we need to go outside the circle. In short – we need help.

Lesson #1: A good story editor can be of immense help to us. Find one. (Note: Story editors are not equal. That’s why I emphasize the word “good” above.) 

The advantage of a major publishing house is that they have accomplished story editors right there to work with authors. That’s what they get paid to do, and if they don’t do it well, and the books don’t sell, they are gone. The publishing house has invested in their author. They want to make money. They really want the story to be good.

A mistake many Indie authors make is to not use a good story editor. A good story editor can make the difference between an average story becoming a good one, or a good one becoming really good or even great.

If you’re taking writing classes or seminars (and I hope you are), ask the instructor who they’ve used for a story editor, or who they recommend. You have to start somewhere.

Maybe you are thinking, “But I don’t need a story editor.” Then please see above about not knowing what we don’t know.

In my case, I worked hard with my story editor. He had a fresh eye on my story and was very experienced. I learned to expand my writing ability because of him. He made my book much better.

For example, at one point he said, “Peter, if you lose pages 9 through 11, only one person in the world will miss them.” He meant me, of course. I looked at the pages. They were well written, even clever, and flowed nicely. I liked those pages. I was proud of them. But I could now see that they weren’t necessary. They didn’t advance the story or develop its characters. Result: The pages were gone.

I could give a ton more examples. In some instances my editor made suggestions that I simply didn’t agree with. I fought him on it. And often I won. But now as I look back with more experience in writing, I see that in almost every instance he was right.

Lesson #2: Listen to your story editor.

I’m not saying change everything according to your editor’s wishes. Just listen carefully. Unless your
What happens when the CIA
gets inside your mind 
last name is Steinbeck or Hemingway, you still have a lot to learn. Just like I do. Use the story editor’s suggestions as a way of examining your story from top to bottom and more deeply so that you can grow in your writing ability.

You can be sure that John Grisham, Lee Child, and Toni Morrison are listening to their story editors. You should too.

Lesson #3: Don’t fall in love with your words.

You’ll hear this from every good writing teacher. It’s good advice so I’m saying it again. Get out the red marker. On every page ask: Do I need this? Can this scene go in a different direction? What opportunities am I missing here to make the character deeper, the scene more compelling, the action more interesting; in short, how can I make my story better?

My editor and I worked on the story for a year. (Yes, a year!) We went back and forth and the story got better, stronger, more interesting. Better written. Then it took another 6 months for it to come out.

That’s a year and a half! Of course I was chomping at the bit, eager to get my story into print. It’s a great story! I’ll be famous and rich! Get that baby out there now for the world to see!

If I had been going Indie then, and without a good story editor, I likely would have brought my story out too soon. It wouldn’t have been as good. Trust me. I’ll say it again – It wouldn’t have been as good.

Lesson #4: Don’t bring your novel out too soon.

Even if you don’t get a story editor (which I think is a mistake), sit on your story for a while. Go on to other things, whether it’s your next book or your day job. Take a month or a six month break from your story. Try not to be antsy. Then come back fresh and look at it anew. Be critical – by which I mean, look closely at each line as well as the overall story.  See how it advances. Can you strengthen a scene? Would this character really talk like that? Do you have enough backstory on this character to explain his or her actions? 

Lesson 5: If you don’t make significant changes after sitting on your novel for a time, then you’re not trying hard enough.

There’s a saying among poets: They never finish a poem. They finally abandon it.
It should be the same with us. Our stories can get better and better and better. And yes, even better. They can probably get better forever. So if after I spend months away from my story I still can’t see ways to make it stronger, maybe it’s because I don’t yet understand story telling well enough. 
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Yes, the problem may be me. And it’s time for me to get busy learning.

I’m going to add one thing. While I’ve been addressing story editors here, don’t forget the important line editors, or copy editors. These are the people who check spelling, correct grammar, find not be your own copy editor. I’ll say that again: You should not be your own copy editor. You are too close. Too familiar. And no, your best friend might not be right either.
misplaced tenses, and correct a hundred thousand other little things that may already be in your story. You need this done right. You should

One complaint I see over and over by Amazon reviewers is: “Didn’t anyone edit this?”  The answer is that a number of people probably did edit it. But not an accomplished editor.

You can be sure that if someone doesn’t catch your inadvertent mistakes, your readers will. Probably every one of your readers will. Nothing distracts a reader more from a story than an error in print. It will jerk the reader away from your story. Now he or she is thinking about you, and how you didn’t do your job.

So, get a good copy editor. That doesn’t necessarily mean use the copy editor at the Indie publisher. They may charge $300 to $500 or so, but there may be better ones out there for more or less money, and there probably are.

"A shocking suspense novel"
To wrap up, I’ll repeat that there is no reason an Indie novel cannot be as spectacular as a great, traditionally-published one. No reason at all. But typically Indie novels are not so spectacular.
Yours can be, though. However, making it really good will probably be harder than you first thought; will take more time than you first thought; and you’ll need more advice than you first thought.

I also want to suggest that you’ll probably be a better writer this time next year than you are now. Why? Because you are growing in your writing abilities. Hopefully we’re all still growing, usually by baby steps. But at least we’re growing; and we need to keep those baby steps up.

 Now go do it.  And if you like, let me know how it’s going.

Happy writing and best wishes     --- Peter.

You can say hello to me at

Also, see my website at
"Uniquely Gripping"
"This won't be your usual thriller or mystery read"
Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at

1 comment:

  1. I like what you said about story editing. It is so important to get the story right and THEN worry about and clean up the details of grammar.