What Should You Pay for When You Self-Publish a Novel?


One reader asked me to write about, “Self-publishing, whether to use editors, cover designers etc and how much is a reasonable amount to pay them.”

This is a big and important question, and one I wanted to tackle on the blog. (I normally run reader questions in the weekly newsletter – if you’re not already receiving that, and the various bonuses that go with it, get on board here.)

Here’s the quick answer to the question – one that virtually everyone writing about self-publishing will agree with:

  • If you’re going to self-publish, you should definitely use an editor.
  • If you’re going to self-publish, you should definitely use a cover designer.

Let’s dig a little deeper into that, though.

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How to Blog Consistently and Build Your Audience: Eight Simple Steps


I’ve got a confession to make.

I had five different blogs before Aliventures that I started, worked on for a while, then abandoned. (One got ditched after two weeks; my best attempt lasted a year and a half.)

With all those blogs, I made the right call. They weren’t on topics that interested me enough to stick with them for good. They weren’t “me”.

It definitely didn’t help, though, that as I lost interest, I barely posted at all.

However much you love your blog’s topic, you’re not going to get far if you don’t blog consistently.

If you don’t publish posts regularly, you’ll find that:

  • You get out of the habit of writing for your blog, and feel a lot of resistance towards getting going again.
  • You lose any momentum you’ve built up – your readership and traffic levels may not drop dramatically, but they’re certainly not growing.
  • You feel discouraged, and eventually, give up on your blog. That might be a deliberate decision to stop blogging, but more often, it just happens. You don’t blog for a few weeks … then a few months … and eventually you realise you stopped years ago.

Of course, the easy answer here is to just blog regularly – every week, or twice a week, or three times a week – without fail.

But it isn’t really as easy as that.

Life gets in the way, for one thing – even the lovely bits of life. In the past six years of blogging on Aliventures, I’ve had two house moves, a wedding, two pregnancies, two babies … none of which have exactly been conductive to the smooth running of the blog.

And for many bloggers, writing itself is hard at times. Perhaps you struggle to stay motivated, or you never seem to have any ideas. Even when life is going reasonably smoothly, it can be incredibly hard to stick with your blog, week in, week out.

But …

It’s possible.

One of the key things that helps me is to have a clear blogging workflow. In the past – particularly pre-kids – I just wrote posts on the days when I wanted to publish them. That works well for some bloggers, but for me, it became all too easy to let busyness take over.

These days, I have a system – which I’ll share in a moment. Before I get to it, though, a couple of important notes:

#1: While you’re working through this plan, it’s okay to hit “pause” on your blog. Don’t worry about publishing new content until you’ve got well ahead with ideas and plans. If you leap back in too soon, you’ll just end up back at square one.

#2: Feel free to tweak this plan to suit you. I’d definitely recommend giving it a go as-is to begin with, but if there’s something that isn’t quite right for you or your preferred way of working, feel free to improve on it! You might want to leave a comment below to let us know what you’ll be changing, in case your tweak would work well for someone else reading.

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What if You’re Just Not Good Enough to be a Successful Writer?


What if you’re not good enough?

What if you enjoy writing … but you’re actually pretty rubbish at it?

What if any success you’ve had so far has just been a fluke?

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only writer who’s ever had those thoughts – more times than I care to admit.

Perhaps you feel that way too.

It’s easy – and tempting – to say here of course you’re good enough; who am I (or anyone else!) to tell you that you aren’t?

But I think that invalidates a deep, difficult fear for a lot of us.

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Join Writers’ Huddle Today (Because I’m Closing the Doors Tomorrow)


Just in case you’ve missed the news over the past couple of weeks …

… Writers’ Huddle is currently open for new members.

If you’ve not heard of Writers’ Huddle before, it’s a private members-only community of writers. We’ve got novelists, bloggers, freelancers, short story writers, and more; some are very new to writing and others have been writers for decades. Whatever your goals are for your own writing, you’ll find a warm and friendly home with us.

maria-smithI joined Writers Huddle a few years ago, and what a good move it’s been for my writing, and for me as a writer. Of course the resources are very good. There’s lots to keep you busy, but there’s much more on offer. Sometimes you just want to connect with someone else who is going through the same stuff as you. Someone who can identify with your writerly woes, and is on hand to give you advice, or feedback.

Being a member of the Huddle makes me feel part of a writers’ community. I like that, and know if something is bothering me, I can pop into the forums, ask a question, and before long, someone will respond, and offer advice on POV, character, or writers block! Whatever it is that causes us angst can be eased. It’s great to feel part of something, and to feel supported.

Maria Smith

This is also a particularly good time to get on board because I’ve added a couple of special bonuses for new and existing members.

They are:

bloggers-guides-4-pack-small#1: My four Blogger’s Guides – you get the full, premium ebooks (plus their associated extras) as part of your membership. These normally cost $29 each or $66 for all four; Writers’ Huddle is $19.99/month, so this is by far the cheapest way to get hold of them!

#2: A personal critique of 2,000 words of your writing – often, the fastest way to grow as a writer is to get feedback on your work-in-progress. I no longer offer critiques or coaching to the general public, but I’m offering a free critique to everyone in Writers’ Huddle. You don’t have to take advantage of this right away, if you’re not quite ready – you’ve got a whole year to send me your work.

Of course, you also get all the usual benefits of Writers’ Huddle membership too, including:

  • A new seminar each month about an aspect of writing (you get both the audio and the nicely edited transcript, plus a worksheet with a summary of key points).
  • Access to the full archive of all 50+ past seminars (you can download these and keep them, even if you decide to leave Writers’ Huddle).
  • Three full-length ecourses, “Blog On”, “Launching Your Freelancing Career”, and “On Track” (you can go through these at any time, or join in as part of a small group working through the material together).
  • Full access to me via the forums, the Writers’ Huddle contact form, email, and my weekly “office hours” on Skype (where you can chat to me via video, audio or text – whatever you’re most comfortable with).
  • Lots of opportunities for group support, encouragement and accountability – through our friendly members-only forums, our new “buddy” system, our Sunday evening “writing hour” and our regular Writing Challenges. (All of these are completely optional: you can join in as much or as little as you want!)

Writers’ Huddle costs just $19.99/month.

You’re not tied into any minimum term, either: you can leave at any time. In fact, if you decide Writers’ Huddle isn’t for you, just contact me within your first 30 days – I’ll cancel your membership and issue you a full no-quibbles refund.

Sounds like it might be right for you? Get all the details of everything that’s included here.

Not sure if Writers’ Huddle is a good fit? Feel free to drop a comment below or email me (ali@aliventures.com) to explain your circumstances. I’ll be completely honest with you about whether I think Writers’ Huddle is right for you at this point in your writing life.

Important: I’m closing the Writers’ Huddle doors at the end of Tuesday 31st May. (I want to make sure new members are fully settled in before we start our Summer Challenge in late June.) Head on over there now to make sure you get your place!

How to Get Back On Track When Your Writing Plans Go Awry


So you’ve made a plan for the next seven months.

For a month or two, everything goes fine. You’re writing regularly, hitting your targets, and feeling great about your progress.

And then something happens. You’re knocked off-course. You’re understandably discouraged, perhaps ready to give up.

Plans do go awry, more often than not. That’s not your fault, and it’s not necessarily a problem. You just need to be prepared in advance to deal with things not going quite according to plan.

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Are You Planning Your Writing Career … or Winging It?


If you’re a novelist, you’ve probably come across two different camps of people: the “plotters” and the “pantsers” (seat-of-the-pants writers).

While there’s no right way to approach a novel, I’ve definitely started moving from the “pantser” to the “plotter” end of the spectrum over the past few years. I like plenty of room for exploration and spontaneity … but I don’t like having no clue where I’m going.

In your writing life, too, having a plan makes it much easier to actually get somewhere.

I got lucky in the early stages of my writing career. I got into blogging on a whim, then started freelance blogging entirely by accident.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me … but I realise now how fortunate I was to be in the right place at the right time.

These days, I’m a lot more strategic. I don’t plan in obsessive detail, but I do set goals and take conscious steps towards them.

If, like me, you want to do a bit more planning and a bit less winging it, here’s how.

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Reviewing Other People’s Writing: How to Use Comments and Track Changes in Microsoft Word


At some point in your writing life, you’re going to be invited to workshop, beta read or even edit someone else’s work.

Maybe your friend has written a novel, and wants feedback. Or you’ve joined a local writers’ group and swapped short story manuscripts with another writer there. Or you’re a blogger, and a fellow blogger asks for your help with an important guest post. Or you decide to take on some paid editing work to supplement your writing income.

Whatever the reason for offering feedback or editorial changes, you need to be able to give the author your comments in a way that’s easy and efficient for both of you.

You could simply print their manuscript and write in red pen in the margins or between the double-spaced lines – this is how I used to critique a decade ago. But these days, you’re likely to have a digital copy of their work … and there’s a considerably better way to give feedback.

In Microsoft Word, you can insert “Comments” alongside the text – just like writing a note in the margin, but neater and easier.

You can also use “Track Changes” to make alterations to the text itself, without completely overwriting the original.

Note: Although I’ll be giving instructions and example from Microsoft Word in this post, many other word processors have Track Changes and Comments functions – including Google Docs and Open Office’s word processor.

Comments and Track Changes are used by professionals and publishing companies as well as by authors reviewing peers’ work.

For instance, when I wrote Publishing E-Books For Dummies, I got the manuscript back from the editorial review process with comments added into the text in a special font, using Track Changes.

My freelance editor Lorna Fergusson also uses Comments and Track Changes to mark up manuscripts. Here’s a bit of Oblivion at the editing stage:


So, if you’re likely to work with a publisher or a freelance editor in the future, it’s worth getting to grips with Comments and Track Changes, as they may well use these to mark up your manuscript for you.

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How (and When) to Develop Multiple Streams of Writing Income


How many different sources of writing income do you have, right now?

Maybe you’ve got a novel up for sale on Amazon.

Maybe you’ve got a blog that brings in a little bit of advertising or affiliate revenue.

Maybe you write occasional articles for a magazine.

Maybe you’re a full-time freelancer with a couple of major clients.

One big danger in the writing life is only having one or two sources of income. If all your money comes from one particular client, you’ll really struggle if that client suddenly no longer needs your services.

(If you have a day job, then only having one source of writing income is obviously less of a problem, but it can still make it difficult for you to build towards a writing career.)

I’ve been writing for a living (ie. without a day job!) for nearly eight years now, and one of the ways in which I’ve made it work – particularly during the past three years of motherhood! – is to develop multiple different streams of income.

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Your Two-Year Plan for Writing, Editing and Publishing Your Novel (However Busy You Are)

Have you ever told yourself something like this:

  • “Once I have a bit more time, I’ll start work on that novel.”
  • “Once life is less manic, I’ll get back to my novel.”
  • “If only I could take a year off work, I could finally write my novel.”

A novel is a major undertaking. But it’s also one that can fit around a busy life.

You don’t need all day, every day, to write.

If you can find just 30 minutes each day, you could finish a novel (to the point where you’re sending it out to agents, or self-publishing) in just two years.

If, like me, you know some super-prolific novelists (like Joanna Penn and Johnny B. Truant), one novel in two years might sound a bit slow.

But … one novel in two years is definitely better than no novels at all.

The Quick Version

If you want the quick version of the “novel in two years” plan, plus simple tips on making it work, here it is in a slideshow format:

In case you have a particular aversion to slides, or want to see everything in one place, the rest of this post covers the same ground but with a lot more explanation.

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Want to Write a Novel? Here’s How to Get Started

You’d like to write a novel … but how do you even begin?

I’m not thinking here about ways to write a great opening (if that’s what you’re after, check out this excellent article from The Write Practice). The issue of “getting started” deals with more fundamental questions like:

  • How do you come up with a novel-worthy idea – one you want to work on for months, possibly years?
  • How do you grow that idea into an actual story – with a setting, plot and characters?
  • How do you find the courage (and the time!) to sit down and start writing?

I imagine that if you spoke to a dozen different novelists, you’d find their novels had a dozen very different starting points. You’d probably find that some of those seemed unpromising or simply odd.

Chances are, though, you’d also find some common ground between those starting points. Here are some potential ways in which novels can begin

#1: With an image. C.S. Lewis’ famously said that The Chronicles of Narnia “all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” Perhaps you have a particular scene, or part of a scene in your head. Like Lewis, you might have carried that image with you for years, even decades.

#2: As a short story. The second novel I attempted began in this way (and the short story, as I recall, began with an image). I finished the short story, then realised there was a lot of backstory to it that I wanted to write about.

#3: From a prompt. My very first novel, when I was 14, started in response to a competition entry … and kept going. If you’re coming fairly new to creative writing, try spending a few weeks playing around with prompts and trying out some freewriting – you might find that a particular idea catches hold.

#4: With a concept. My novel Lycopolis began with one clear concept: “a group of online roleplayers summon an evil demon into their game … and into the world”. A ton of things changed from planning to drafting to second draft, but that core idea is still central to the novel.

#5: With a character. Some authors come up with a compelling character then develop a story around them. If you enjoy character-driven fiction, this could be a good way to make it work. (Most often, though, you’ll probably find that a character comes to you along with a concept or an image.)

#6: From other art. (“Art” here including literature, music, etc, not just what you’d find in an art gallery.)  Perhaps something you’re reading inspires you – it could be a particular character, a plot point, or even a single line of dialogue. Maybe the lyrics in a piece of music speak to you, or there’s a photograph or painting that you keep returning to. A novel could grow from that seed.

(If you want to read several authors’ descriptions of where their novels began, check out What Inspires Authors to Write Their Novels? on the Huffington Post.)

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