Friday, September 26, 2014

How To Help Budding Authors (without killing their spirits) by Aaron Lazar

copyright Aaron Paul Lazar, 2014

If you’re a published author, chances are you’ve been asked a hundred times to critique or review a newbie’s book. They might ask to send you a first draft, or sometimes they’ll ask you to endorse them by writing a blurb for their book cover. Frequently, they may be angling for an introduction to your publisher or agent.

How do you respond? You were in that position once upon a time. You remember how hard and confusing the whole industry was to understand. How scared you were of rejection and failure.

So, if you have a little extra time, you might be willing to take a look. But be careful what you promise, because no matter how great or awful you expect this book to be, you could inadvertently fall into a time-consuming nightmare.

I love to help new writers. I really do. And I try like heck to make time to read and comment on a few pages of their manuscripts. I usually ask to see a page or two before I make any promises to review or endorse. But sometimes I’m just in a nice mood and agree without thinking. This can be a mistake if the writing ends up being abysmal.

When I’ve read the first few sentences, I’ll know if I’m dealing with a well-trained writer or a rank beginner. When it’s the former, I read on with glee, making small suggestions where necessary. When it’s the latter, I usually put in an hour or so with deep edits, adding careful comments about grammar, sentence structure, skills needed, etc. It’s a lot of work, but I do believe in giving back after so many writers helped me in the beginning of my career, so it’s all good.

I have done this more times than I can remember, and I believe (hope) these efforts have helped.

It’s really hard when both the story and the writing skills are lacking. But I always try to find something nice to say, followed by a gentle but honest list of suggestions.

Here is an example of a recent letter I wrote, trying to accomplish what I referred to above. (all names are fictitious)


Dear Stanley,

Thank you for letting me take a look at the first chapter of your book, The Biggest Boy on the Block. I know it takes a great deal of courage to "open up" to the world after working so hard on your book, and I am honored that you trusted me to do so.

I've gone through a few pages and marked them up with writing advice. I've suggested grammar, sentence structure, and alternate word choices, etc. Please don't be discouraged by all the markups, because in the beginning all writers need to learn these skills, and it just takes time. It took Dean Koontz time, it took me time, and it'll take you time, too.

You have a wonderful imagination, and I can see your mind is very fertile! You've created fun characters and an interesting setting. Although I don't normally enjoy urban street crime novels, it was interesting to see how you set it up. I liked the way you moved your readers into the story through the old man’s memories.

Now for the hard part. Please take this in the generous spirit it's intended, okay?

Your book (including formatting) needs quite a bit of work before you think about submitting it to agents or publishers.

You might consider a few things to help you move to the next level where you'll be able to compete with the thousands of authors also trying to "break through." Following are some possibilities.

1) Join some writing forums and ask for critiques from fellow writers. But be careful of this, however, because sometimes there are very nasty people who like to tear down other writers. Check it out and see what kind of comments they make. Be sure they are decent people involved who use constructive criticism.

2) Befriend a few writers in your genre and swap chapters or books with them on a regular basis. You can learn from each other and this is a win-win situation if you choose the right partner.

3) Hire a writing coach (if you can afford it), or better yet, take some community courses on creative writing.

4) Read constantly. Find and read at least 50-100 books in your genre. With Kindle deals these days, you can probably find most of them for free or 99 cents. I have newsletters I subscribe to where you can sign up to get daily notifications of free or discounted eBooks, targeted to your genre. Let me know if you want the list. I get these “deal alerts” in my email inbox and search for the most interesting books I can get for free or cheap, even though as a writer it sometimes bothers me that it's come to this. But as a reader, I love it. LOL. I would recommend you spend the next year or two devouring books as fast as you can. Listen to the voices of these authors and learn from them. (Another way to accomplish this is #5.)

5) Audiobooks. You can download the files to your Kindle (Fire), iPad, iPod, PC, laptop, smart phone, etc. just like music files. No more messing with CDs or going to the library to pick up and drop off. You just join and you're in. That way you can listen while you drive, work, do dishes, exercise, etc. I even listen while I do laundry. I now get many more books in my head every week, thanks to audiobooks.

6) Last of all, I would buy some basic grammar and writing books. Better yet, visit The Grammar Girl's website to use her free articles on grammar whenever you have a question. She is great! My favorite writing book of all time is Stephen King's ON WRITING. It's fantastic. You could also consider listening to my writing guide, Write Like the Wind (3 short volumes). You might pick up some new tips there as well. No pressure, naturally. (btw, I am revamping the eBooks for this series and they'll be out in a few months.)

7) When you are ready and feel your book is as good as it possibly can be, I highly recommend hiring an editor for your final manuscript before you submit.

I'm happy to keep offering advice - I love helping new writers. So please, let me know what you think and if you have any questions. Hard work will get you there and your wonderful imagination should fuel that process.

Best wishes,



How’s that? How would you feel if you received a letter like this when you were starting out?

In the beginning, I think I would have crumpled, in spite of the “nice” comments that precede the truth. It would have killed me. Matter of fact, I did get a few aggressive critiques in my early days, and it really took me ages to grow a skin thick enough to handle such criticism. But I needed to hear the advice back then, and I’ve become a better writer because of it.

I encourage you all to help out newbie writers whenever possible. Be kind, be helpful, and give them sound advice.

Best Always,

Aaron Lazar

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How to Catch Those Pesky Typos

How to Catch Those Pesky Typso Typos

copyright aplazar 2014

It’s one of the hardest parts of being a writer, don’t you think? Editing your own work, running over the same pages over and over again…and still, if you’re human, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss a quotation mark here, an extra space there, or worse, a typo.

You know that reading your own words is the most difficult scenario for proofing, don’t you? Your big, beautiful brain is so good at translating what you physically “see” on the page into what your mind “knows” you “meant” to type, that it usually will glide right over an extra “the” or a missing “a.”

Yes, it purposefully corrects the errors, without even notifying you!

You can read the same sentence a hundred times, and it’ll look great to you. Your mind interprets it as you intended it. And when the first person to take a look at your book finds a glaring omission, or an extra word in that lovely prose, you may feel like an incompetent idiot.

You thought you were careful. Right? You worked so hard to catch those typos.

When it first happens, it's embarrassing. But over time, you’ll learn you cannot catch all of the errors by yourself.

I’ve written twenty-two books, so I’ve been through this process a few times. (you can see them at, including my newest release, Betrayal.) Over the years, I’ve had publishing house editors go over my manuscripts. They found errors, I fixed them. And I tried not to make more errors when I made the corrections, which is all too common.

We had the first and second edits, then copy edits in the end to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Once in a while, in spite of our best efforts, an error would creep through. Humiliated, I’d beat myself up for this one stupid error and swear it would never happen again. 

Because, you see, I, like you, get upset when I see typos in a best selling book. I used to think, "How can they have missed them?" "How hard can it be to find them?" "Didn't they even READ this thing?"

It was very humbling and illuminating to discover that sometimes, in spite of heroic efforts, these pesky mistakes can make it through to the final version. It happens to the best of us. 

As time went on, I learned that beta readers were an amazing asset. Not only were they excellent at finding and spotting typos, but if you found talented readers or writers with a knack for literary insight (like my beta readers!), they would point out inconsistencies in a scene or even mention when they thought a character went beyond their natural boundaries. My beta readers have helped my books become the best they can be, and I love them. ;o)

Over the years I’ve developed friendships with writers and readers, and I’d offer them the job of beta reading my manuscripts before I submitted the book to my publisher. It worked out very well, and I always felt better when they’d read through my books. On average, I have 10-12 people read the manuscript before I consider it “close to done.”

Of those twenty-two books, I’ve published fifteen through a traditional small press since 2007, and have recently moved on to self publish (through Kindle Select) seven more that were waiting in the publishing queue in the past year. Polishing and proofing all of these manuscripts was a real challenge, and my beta readers did me proud. But believe it or not – they didn’t catch all the typos.

I have discovered there is one more essential step to proofing one’s manuscript: reading it aloud.

Yes, it’s something you can do yourself. It might take you a whole weekend to get through it. But it’s worth the effort. Better yet, if you have a narrator who is recording the audio book version, this is where the final catches will be found. Aside: I recommend that authors release all books in this order: eBook, audio book, print.

I have found that my best narrators (actors, really, with great attention to detail) have consistently isolated a couple of leftover “extra or missing letters/words” which are the hardest to find. Sure, with a real typo, like a misspelled word, MS Word underlines it for you in red. Those aren’t too hard to find. It’s harder when you have an extra preposition in a sentence, or a misused word like “here” instead of “hear.” MS Word doesn’t often catch those mistakes.

I find these errors creep in at the end of a work in progress, when I’ve gone through to beef up a sentence or make changes in general. Then I don’t always “cut” fully or “paste” fully and that’s my downfall! Creating typos because you’re fixing another typo is annoying, but pretty common.

Does that happen to you?

Here’s my advice on how to produce a typo-free book.

1) When creating your book, try to find a writer or reader friend who will swap chapters with you as you write it. You read their stuff, they read yours. You help them, they help you. It’s all good. They can help you cull out that first crop of errors, right off the bat.

2) When you’re done writing the book, go through it until you feel you are satisfied. This may take multiple read-throughs. It all depends on how careful you were the first time around when creating the story.

3) Ask another good friend to check it over, so you can be sure you didn’t make any really embarrassing faux pas.

4) Draft beta readers to help you. This may take years of cultivating friends and readers, but it is worth its weight in gold.

5) Review it a few more times yourself after you’ve incorporated beta edits (remember, just use what makes sense to you, you don’t want to lose your focus!)

6) Release the book as an eBook.

7) Find reviewers. Watch the comments come in from readers. Notice if anyone mentions typos! If so, go after them immediately. In this day and age, it’s easy to fix a file and reload it up to your seller’s page. Repost the eBook with the changes. (easy peasy if you are on Amazon)

8) Post the file on ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) to find the perfect narrator. Choose him/her carefully.

9) Send the manuscript to your audio book narrator to read before they begin production. 

10) When they find a few mistakes – fix them. Reload the eBook to correct these things.

11) Let the narrator finish the audiobook recording. If they find anything else (at this point it might just be a missing quotation mark, or an extra space), then upload the corrected eBook again. Now it should be close to perfect.

12) At this point, it’s safe to start thinking about creating your print version. I use Create Space and have been very happy with their quality and support. 

13) Order a proof (or two, or three, depending on what you find and fix!) before you finalize the manuscript. NEVER just review it online – you need to hold it in your hands, go through it page by page. Formatting can be tricky at first, so make sure you focus on page numbers and margin spacing before you let it go live. And read this printed version one more time – you might find another error! 

14) Send an autographed copy of your print book to all your beta readers – they worked hard for this, and they deserve a special treat!

Even with this painstaking approach, once in a while something slips through. It’s disappointing if it happens, but it’s probably God’s way of keeping us humble. ;o)

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And remember, if you love to write, write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar