Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Do I Write?

Judith Lachance-Whitcomb
Another rejection letter followed closely by another notification deadline passing without any “you’ve won” for me.  I was so sure this one would have gotten some recognition.  The story was one that when I was finished (rewriting for the twelfth time) made me think, “This is really good!” These recent submission results lead to a ‘no good writing news’ Thanksgiving for me.
As I plop down on the couch with my current read, I’m distracted by the question, “Why do I write?”   When working full time, I looked forward to a time that I could be devoted to writing. I engaged in quite a bit of professional writing during my career: a number of co-authored research papers, science education magazine articles, and even a chapter in a book. However, writing creatively was what I wanted to do when I had adequate time to apply to it. In my mind, words would flow freely to create engaging stories that would enchant. It would be easy.
Oh, yeah, easy.  Even as a hobby writer, I find that rarely do I feel something I’ve written is finished. The re-read/re-write cycle seems to go on endlessly. Since I choose to primarily write for children, the constant pressure to utilize appropriate vocabulary to challenge but not frustrate the target audience becomes very difficult.  Additionally, I constantly struggle with editing, both for grammar and content.  My mind works so much more quickly than my fingers.  Regardless of the number of times I re-read, my mind insists on seeing that which it had intended rather than that which appears on the paper. Finally, I’m never quite satisfied with the story line. How can I make it more engaging, exciting, fun? The end project of all of this will be seen only by a few pairs of eyes belonging to my supportive peers in my writing group. So, why do I write for a hobby? Other hobbies require an equivalent amount of “work.”  I knit.  Figuring out patterns or developing patterns of my own challenges me.  The craft requires skill and a significant devotion of time. At least when I finish with those projects I have something that I give away or wear. The artifact will be seen and valued, unlike my writings that languish in stored files on my computer. So, again, why do I write?
I leave my musings to look at the book I’ve chosen to take solace with, I am Malala. This is the story of the young girl who has come to represent the plight of young women who are denied an education. The answer to my query begins to unfold. My love of language – reading and writing – was nurtured as a young student. Through the tedious diagramming sentences to the excitement of sharing weekly writing assignments of essays and stories, a love of language grew. The way words could be manipulated to evoke feelings from sorrow to glee was a wonderment. The excitement of explorations of worlds I would never encounter became accessible to me through the words of others. I wasn’t denied an education that allows me to read and write; I was immersed in one. Why I write becomes clear.
I don’t need to be published or win a contest in order to feel fulfilled from writing.  I write because I want to…and because I can.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Self-Publishing: Understanding ISBNs

Kathryn Page Camp
Even a self-published book needs an ISBN. But do you know what that is?
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a thirteen-digit number (ten digits before 2007) that functions as a social security number for books. Every book should have a unique ISBN to help bookstores, libraries, and other purchasers locate it and to distinguish it from other books with the same name.
The ISBN identifies the title, the publisher, the edition, and the format (binding) for a work. This means that you may need multiple numbers for a single book. For example, a paperback and an electronic version should have separate ISBNs. (The specific rules for e-books are beyond the scope of this post, but you can find information at Significant changes to the content of the work are considered a new edition and require a different ISBN. Fixing typos and making other minor changes make it a reprint rather than a new edition, but adding a foreword or appendix or reorganizing the book are significant changes that require a new ISBN.
As noted, the ISBN identifies the publisher. If you use CreateSpace and allow it to assign the ISBN, that makes CreateSpace the publisher as well as the printer and distributor. If you purchase your own ISBN, you are the publisher and CreateSpace is just the printer and distributor. So if you want to be the publisher, make sure the contract with the printer allows it, then buy your own ISBNs.
Why does it matter? If you want to use a different service to print your book and the printer has assigned the ISBN, the reprint will need a new one. If you are the publisher, a change in printers is irrelevant. Having more than one ISBN for the same version of a book can also be confusing to buyers.
Then there is the question of transparency. Do you care how easy it is to discover that the book is “self-published”? Those in the know can look up the ISBN and discover that it belongs to CreateSpace or that you purchased a single number, either of which can be a hallmark of a self-published book.
There is nothing wrong with letting the printer provide the ISBN and become the technical publisher. In fact, it may be your only option if you are on a tight budget. But you can’t make the decision that is best for you unless you understand how ISBNs work.
For those buying their own ISBNs, even one is expensive—$125 at the time of this post. But for twice that much, you can buy a block of ten. And if you plan on publishing your book in other formats or are considering a sequel, you will need additional numbers, anyway. Since ISBNs have an indefinite shelf life, you might as well buy a block of ten and keep the others in reserve.
U.S. publishers purchase their ISBNs from R.R. Bowker LLC at Once you have bought the ISBN and assigned it to a book, you register it to that book (or format or edition) at the same website.
The ISBN goes on the copyright page and the outside back cover of a print book. For an e-book, display it on the title or copyright page.
You can find more information on ISBNs at
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Self-Publishing: Should You Hire an Editor?

Kathryn Page Camp
What do you think of when you hear the word, “self-published”? I think of substandard work. While there are many great self-published books, they aren’t the ones I remember. As a self-published author myself, I’m ashamed of anything that gives the category a bad name.
I like to support my fellow authors, and I’ve bought my share of self-published books. I also download those “free” Kindle books when the description sounds interesting. And some have been a pleasant surprise.
But most are riddled with typos, inconsistencies, and just plain bad writing.
That’s why every self-published author should hire a freelance editor.
Yes, I know it’s expensive, ranging anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for a 60,000 word manuscript. The actual price is based on a number of factors, including the type of edit and the experience of the editor. And the poorer the manuscript, the more it will cost to edit. But if your goal is to produce a professional-quality book you won’t be ashamed of five years from now, it’s well worth the money.
What types of services do editors provide? For our purposes, we will concentrate on three.
Proofreading is the cheapest and most basic service that editors provide. A proofreader looks for typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. If your book has been typeset or reformatted, a proofreader can also check the final copy against your original manuscript to make sure they match. The cost to proofread a 60,000 word manuscript may average from $500 to $950.
Copyediting is probably the most common. I always pay for a copyedit before finalizing a book manuscript, even when I am submitting to a traditional publisher. After all, why wouldn’t I want to submit my best work?
Like proofreading, copyediting looks for typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. But it also looks for inconsistencies and for words and sentences and paragraphs that are confusing or awkward. I own a self-published non-fiction book that is easy to read and gives me interesting information, but it mentions that a woman was 12 in 1817 and 76 in 1871. That means I can’t trust the facts without double-checking them with another source.
That error is evident on the face of the manuscript, and a good copyeditor would have caught it. If you request it, a copyeditor will also check other sources to verify facts and references. Obviously, however, the more you ask a copyeditor to do, the more it will cost. For that 60,000 word manuscript, a copyedit may average anywhere from $750 to $2,500. 
Substantive editing—sometimes called line editing—is the most expensive, but it is also the most comprehensive. Although it includes some of the elements of a good copyedit, a substantive edit also looks at the contents and tells you what works and what doesn't on both a macro and a micro level. The editor may go so far as to recommend that you reorder your chapters to make the plot more suspenseful or eliminate your favorite passage because it’s irrelevant. For a 60,000 word manuscript, a substantive edit will average between $2,000 and $10,000.
What type of edit you need depends on your human resources. Do you belong to a writers’ critique group that includes knowledgeable members and provides honest feedback on both craft and clarity? Do you have someone (preferably not a family member or good friend) from your target audience who will give you candid comments from a reader’s perspective? And do you take full advantage of these resources? If so, you may not need a substantive edit.
I’m a grammar geek and, given time to do a careful read, am also good at catching typos and confusing words and phrases. Even so, it’s hard for me to edit my own work. I know what I wanted to say, and my mind reads it that way. And I’m not alone. Very few people can edit their own work and end up with an acceptable product.
Of course, not everyone has the financial resources to hire an editor. Still, there may be a way. What about giving up that cappuccino you always buy on the way to work? Or do you have skills you can barter?
Start by asking yourself why you are writing and publishing. Because if you want to produce your best work, you will find a way to polish it before releasing it to the public.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book to Movie: A Cautionary Tale

Heather Stamper
            We’ve all thought it.  We leave the movie theater and say the book was better.  But what do you do when your work is going to the big screen?
            I have a tradition with my second graders.   I read the novel The Tale of Desperaux by Kate Di Camillo every year.  For most of the students, it is their first foray into complex literature.  The book is a labyrinth of overlapping timelines, multiple character-driven plots, and deep connections with the text.  My students chuckle when the mouse Desperaux tries to be a knight in shining armor for the princess he loves. They sympathize with the rat Roscuro when he accidentally scares the queen to death by landing in her soup.  There’s a palpable sadness at the abuse of the servant girl Mig, and a standing ovation when I read the sweet but realistic ending.
            I was very excited, as were the students, when the film came out in 2008.  That excitement turned to disappointment, as this gorgeously animated movie with its all-star vocal cast had a dumbed-down script.  Very few of the events that developed the characters were included and those that avoided the cutting room floor were made into a farce.  Several times during the showing, the students piped in, with “that wasn’t in the book” and “what happened to (insert character)”.
            What took the students by surprise was the added bit that not only did Desperaux bring peace to the kingdom by saving the princess and returning the outlawed soup to the land, but he also ended a drought.  After the showing, one of my English as a Second Language students said, “Did they really want us to think that soup makes the rain?  The movie people must think we’re not smart.”
            I have prefaced my reading every year since with, “Kids, I’m going to read the best book and the worst movie in the world.”  It sets the stage for an excellent compare, contrast, and critique experience.
            As the author, you or your agent should make sure that you have say in the final screen adaptation.  Some things you can’t prevent, a change in a character’s appearance or cuts or additional dialogue.  The central message of your work should stay the same.  After all, that underdog overcoming insurmountable odds is what brought your work to Hollywood’s attention.  Make sure your story is told correctly.