Make Art. Make Money. Lessons From Jim Henson With Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. Podcast Episode 189

In keeping with the author entrepreneur focus of the blog recently, today I’m discussing making art and making money with Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, who wrote a book about Jim Henson’s career, which was both creatively and financially rewarding.

makeartmakemoneyIn the intro, I talk about my awesome Thrillerfest experience, Kindle Unlimited, the new Kindle pricing tool and my German book launch and first experience with a traditional publisher.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Elizabeth Hyde Stevens is an award-winning fiction author, and she teaches fiction at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She also created the Muppets, Mickey and Money LizHSresearch course at Boston University, and today we’re talking about her book, “Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on fueling your creative career.”

You can watch the interview on YouTube here, listen above or on the podcast feed on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the transcription below. We discuss:

  • Liz’s background in literary fiction and her interest in understanding how a writer could be both creative and earn good money
  • An overview of Jim Henson’s career – from early days as a puppeteer to multi-millionaire creator of TV, film, merchandising and more
  • How Jim Henson made peace with making money as an artist as it enabled him to fund further creativity
  • How larger creative projects require more people and more funding e.g. the making of the Dark Crystal or the Muppet Movie
  • The importance of owning copyright and how that enables bigger projects but keeps the control with the creator. How authors can protect themselves through contracts.
  • How time makes a huge difference and we just don’t know where we will end up, let alone where our books and characters might take us. The importance of the long game for creatives.
  • On loving your work, when work is your fun and redefining workaholism for creatives
  • How failure is just part of the creative path, and how we can learn from our failures
  • “Pure art don’t sell, you need a handle.” On learning marketing and pitching as a creative.
  • Reframing “selling out”

You can find Liz at and on Facebook/Make Art Make Money. Twitter: ElizHydeStevens.

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Writing Thrillers. 50 Lessons Learned From Thrillerfest 2014

My head is still exploding with everything I learned and everyone I met at Thrillerfest this year!

ITWBelow is a mega-post full of lessons learned about writing, marketing, mindset, self-publishing and the FBI, but I wanted to start with an intro to ITW.

Why I love ITW and Thrillerfest

I have now been to Thrillerfest twice (you can read my notes from 2012 here), and I can definitely say that it is the only conference where I really feel at home – and ITW is truly the tribe I belong to.

I can sit in the bar talking about ways to murder people and weapons of choice and not feel weird. I can learn from some of the biggest names in the business, whose hours of writing experience number in the many thousands.

The education program is absolutely the best in the thriller business. I can fangirl like a geek with big name authors who are actually just a load of bookish geeks too. I can have a drink with people I have only previously worshipped from afar. I also feel absolutely accepted as an indie, with no judgement around my business choices. Five days of conferencing and not a single negative comment or sideways look about being an indie author. So I love ITW and I absolutely loved Thrillerfest!

face off thrillerIf you want to find out more about the ITW, check the details here. It’s an international organisation and I am trying to encourage any thriller writer to join as a Member, or an Associate if you’re getting started. If you like reading thrillers, you can also subscribe to the free magazine, The Big Thrill. You can also get the awesome FaceOff thriller compilation, with short stories that pitch famous characters off against each other here.


David Morrell JFPenn

J.F.Penn with David Morrell, Rambo’s Daddy :)

This year there was an extra day with some big name authors, where we spent 10 hours going through manuscripts and learning detailed craft information. I was in David Morrell’s class, and even after reading his great book, The Successful Novelist, and interviewing him a few weeks ago, I learned an incredible amount. Here’s some highlights:

  • What are the underlying themes of your life? The secret to being a writer is to understand your own personality. Be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer. Self analysis will help you work through your schedule. “The hardest thing is to know what to write based on who you are. Work on yourself and the writing will get better. Example being Ludlum’s Bourne based on his amnesia from alcohol. The underlying truth in a story is what resonates emotionally.
  • Writers are born with greater awareness than others. Not everyone daydreams, but you need to grab yours and let your subconscious reveal your stories. “Maybe we’re mutants.”Other people aren’t like us. [I loved this as sometimes I really do feel like a mutant and people just think I’m crazy doing this writing job!]
J.F.Penn with Ian Rankin, Chelsea Cain, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner

J.F.Penn with Ian Rankin, Chelsea Cain, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner

  • Keep your day job until you have 3 years worth of income saved that will keep you in the standard of living that you are used to. It takes time to get to the point of mastery in your craft.
  • Write a genre book that doesn’t feel like a genre book. Do you want ‘stained glass’writing where the point is to look at the language? Or ‘windex’writing where the reader sees clearly through to the story and the language vanishes in the experience.
  • A flashback on the first page is easily the number 1 mistake David sees. Forward motion in your book is critical. You better have a damn good reason for a flashback. Too many flashbacks stop forward motion. Look for ‘had’and versions of to check for multiple jumps backward in your text. How else can you write it so you are moving forward in the story?
  • Use multiple senses, not just sight. Judicially added detail gives the work depth. When you move characters from one location to another, note the changes in the physical space as well as their inner sense.
  • The purpose of a simile or a metaphor is to help people understand what they couldn’t do otherwise. In these days of Google and multimedia, there are not many things we don’t understand. Check all your ‘like’and ‘as a’clauses.
  • Check for clichés and remove them. [The Cliche Finder is a handy tool for this!] If you let imperfections start to stray into your manuscript, they will only proliferate.
  • TV and movies have ruined dialogue for writers as they need to use names more often, as they don’t have dialogue tags. But we do in books – so stop using repeated names within dialogue. Are you writing dialogue for the characters, or to fill the reader in on what you can’t explain another way?
  • Don’t do introspection whilst driving. Don’t have people sitting around thinking.
  • Create a checklist of things to watch out for in your second draft. What are your writer’s tics?
  • Even when it’s good, it isn’t good. Perfection isn’t possible in this business. Learn and move onto the next book.

Day at the FBI


We all got cool name badges at the FBI :)

These comments are my own based on an interpretation of the day and my handwritten notes. They don’t in any way represent the FBI and I may well have got some things wrong. Please check the FBI website for further detail.

  • The FBI want to help authors who write about them in order to ensure accuracy in books, films and TV. The public is the best partner for solving crime, so there needs to be trust and respect. Popular culture shapes perception, and that can turn into reality in people’s heads. You can contact the Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit if you want to apply for project assistance which is reviewed on a case by case basis.
  • The FBI uses active brand management through a press office, social media and online tools. “If we don’t tell our story, someone will tell it for us. I found this particularly fascinating as so many authors resist branding and telling their personal story, but it’s critical to take control of it yourself. People will always judge you based on what you put out into the public eye – taking control of your branding is the best way to manage it.
  • FBI agents have had jobs previously, with the oldest recruitment age being 37. Analysts and other roles may be recruited straight from college. The agent’s previous jobs and background go into the decisions around where they will work. So, if you’re writing such a character, their previous life will be important in their FBI work. One Italian-American retired agent talked about going undercover in Las Vegas, with his looks, accent and cultural background being critical to the role.
  • We were given a breakdown of all the different departments and an (unclassified) glimpse into what they do there. You can find out more here. The counterterrorism talk was one of the most popular, as would be expected in a room full of thriller writers. The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria was discussed, as well as the ‘dark net’and gamified content that is so immersive it has changed the radicalization model.
  • Listening to agents talk was fascinating in terms of the words and phrases they use. The sheer number of acronyms was mind-boggling, but having come from the mega-corporate world, I understand how that happens! These types of details in dialogue can bring your writing alive. Here’s some I wrote down: ‘deadly force policy,’‘threat driven organisation,’‘capabilities of the adversary,’‘advanced persistent threat,’‘there are categories within top secret,’‘OCONUS’- areas of responsibility outside the US, ‘Guardian squad’- first response to threats and judging what response they need. ‘patriots or sovereign citizens’- Americans who think they aren’t subject to government.

If you’re interested in learning more about the FBI, hopefully the day will be repeated at Thrillerfest 2015 so keep an eye on the website around November. They also have a Citizen Academy you can apply for.

Face off Peter James

UK mega-crime writer Peter James

More writing advice

  • Your characters don’t have to be likeable, but they can’t be all bad. The trick is to have them love something e.g. Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs has a poodle. Or, make them express emotion e.g. Frankenstein’s monster says he didn’t ask to be created. From Peter James.
  • There are no rules around how to get the book written. Lee Child won’t plot at all, doesn’t know the end and just writes until he’s done. “I don’t want to type out a story I already know the ending to.”Jeffrey Deaver writes a 350 page outline. Everyone else is somewhere on the spectrum.
  • “You don’t commit to writing one book. You commit to being a writer.John Lescroart. Most authors write at least 5 books before anyone wants to read more of their work. Even when you’ve ‘found your voice,’some people won’t get it.
  • “A novel must be novel, or there’s no point in publishing it. Mark Tavani, Editor. An editor is looking for something they can sell. The concept may have similar elements to other books but it must be fresh. Get the little details correct– in an age of Google Maps, there’s no excuse. Anything that jars the reader will end their experience of the book. The editor is thinking about whether this is the beginning: of a series, of a business relationship, of a new career for this author. “Start as close to the end as possible. Stop flashing back – keep moving forward. Readers react to lag time negatively, so a book a year is recommended.
  • “The fact is: authors die. Peter James on why there’s always room for more authors! This made lots of us feel better. When faced with huge mega-famous names in the room, it can feel as if you’ll never make it – but many of them have been writing for 30+ years. I’ve been writing fiction for 4 years now and I’m 39. I have time!
Killer swag from Karen Dionne

Killer swag from Karen Dionne

  • On film. “Don’t fall in love with your investment. Tony Eldridge, film director. The film is unlikely to match the book, even if it gets made (which is highly unlikely). “A producer’s favourite author is one who has just died. Ben Mezrich (presumably so they don’t have to deal with the author’s opinion on the screenplay!)
  • “If you sell something in publishing, it usually comes out. If you sell something in film, it almost never comes out.”Ben Mezrich.

Marketing tips

  • Chelsea Cain talked about doing book events, instead of signings. She teams up with Chuck Palahniuk and they do ‘Bedtime stories for grown ups’evenings at alternative venues like an abandoned library. People dress up and they encourage pictures, social media and sharing. Chelsea also said that, for her, Facebook sells books, and Twitter gets people to events.
  • Lisa Gardner talked about the importance of the book cover. Her ‘overnight success’came after 15 years of writing when an iconic cover of a burning wedding dress helped her book take off.


With all the kerfuffle around self-publishing at the moment, and the fact that Scott Turow was a ThrillerMaster this year, I was concerned that there would be grandstanding around the Amazon/Hachette discussions. But actually I didn’t hear anything at all – it was all business as usual. I heard no negativity

Rebecca Cantrell J.F.Penn

J.F.Penn with award-winner Rebecca Cantrell

around being indie, and in fact, lots of people asked me about it, or told me about their own indie experiences, and plenty of the panelists talked about being hybrid authors.

  • David Morrell talked about the “pre-2009 reality and the post- 2009 reality”of publishing and how different things are now; how there are many ways into publishing. Peter James mentioned self-publishing as a way into the industry and the many choices available now to authors.
  • Lee Goldberg led a panel on self-publishing and hybrid models, explaining how the mid-list authors dumped by traditional publishers are finding a new and vibrant living as indies. A passionate Jon Land said: “Big publishers created the current environment by cutting advances – so an author used to living on a certain amount has to make up that income somehow. If you don’t take charge of your career as an author, you’ll be stuck in a past model where revenue will decline. Hybrid publishing creates new revenue streams.”We don’t know what will happen in the next 5 years. Trying to be a better business person is part of being an author.
  • Rebecca Cantrell won the Best eBook Original Award for her book, The World Beneath, which is indie published. She also has books with New York publishers, including the brilliant Sanguines series with James Rollins.

So I had a brilliant conference! But there’s one more thing I need to share – and hopefully I will listen to my own advice at the next event.

Know thyself, introvert author!

Introverts get their energy from being alone, and being with people for too long is draining and exhausting. I’m an introvert – I’m not shy, but I am INFJ Myers Briggs and it shows! I made a mistake in that I scheduled Mon – Sat pretty much back to back sessions, meetings, events and oh yes, some drinking too. I couldn’t cope with it all in the end and had to duck out for renewal and time alone in silence, as well as skipping the gala dinner to head home early as I essentially collapsed near the end of the conference. Note to self and other introvert authors – schedule down time at conferences!

Do you have any comments or questions about ITW or Thrillerfest? Please leave them below and join the conversation … and perhaps I’ll see you there next year!

How To Find The Right Editor For Your Book And More Editing Questions Answered

These days I’m objecting to the term ‘self-publishing,’ because we all need a team to put a great book out into the world. This is not something you do by yourself.

editingI currently work with a number of people to publish my work, but the one person who I have to trust the most is my editor.

Finding an editor is a bit like dating – you have to try a number before you find someone who is the best match.

I’ve been through a number of editors in the last few years, and I’m thrilled to now be working with Jen Blood, who is a brilliant editor but also writes the same type of thrillers as I do. She gets my style of writing, and she understands my violent streak and doesn’t try to rein in what makes me me. What she does do is help me to craft a better book by suggesting structural changes and then doing detailed line edits. Jen is my type of editor – of course, that doesn’t necessarily make her the right person for you! Here’s a list of resources for you to check out if you need to find an editor.

As I get so many questions about editing, I’ve asked Jen to answer some of the most common ones. Over to Jen!

What are the different types of editing that authors should consider?

In addition to the job of the final proofreader, there are three primary types of editing: Content, copy, and line editing.

Content editors are concerned with the big picture in your novel. Structural issues like plot holes, wandering timelines, character inconsistencies, excessive exposition, lagging pace… All of these fall within the purview of a quality content editor.

Copy editors do basic fact checking and help with the readability of your novel, ensuring that the prose is smooth and the style consistent. Line editors focus on punctuation, grammar, verb tense, spelling, and all those niggling things that drive most sane people mad.

At the end of it all, the proofreader takes your final, final, final manuscript and ensures that every comma, colon, and umlaut is exactly where it should be.

In most instances today, you’ll be able to hire one person to do both copy editing and line editing for one price, and there are content editors out there who perform all of the above, though they are rare. Personally, I have a graduate degree in popular fiction and have spent most of my life deconstructing plot and pacing, so content editing is my specialty, but I’ve also worked for over a decade as a copy and line editor for traditional publishers, businesses, and individual authors. Consequently, I offer all of the above through Adian Editing.

What if I want an agent or traditional publisher? Should I get an editor then?

Absolutely! There will never be a tougher audience for you to try and sell your book to than an agent or publisher. Back in the good old days when publishers could afford editors for their authors, this was less of a concern. Today, however, it’s up to you to present a publishable manuscript to the agent or publisher right out of the gate. A good editor is crucial to that process.

How do you find the right editor/s for your book? How do you know they’re any good?

(1)   Ask yourself what you’re looking for.

Do you just want a line editor to make sure you’ve got everything in the right place and you haven’t made any egregious punctuation or spelling errors? Do you need a content editor who will address big-picture issues? Are you looking for someone who follows all the rules laid out in the Chicago Manual of Style, or are you hoping for an editor with a more creative flair? Are you hoping to learn something during the editing process, or do you just want to send your manuscript off for editing and be done with it? There are no wrong answers here, but you should have a clear sense of what your goals are in the process before you begin contacting editors.

(2)   Don’t go to the yellow pages.

Rather than doing a general Google search, ask writers you respect whose work has been well edited for recommendations. Visit Writer’s Digest, the World Literary Café, or other popular writing sites, and visit the message boards there. There are frequently areas where editors can advertise their services. Keep in mind, however, that there is a difference between advertising on a site and being endorsed by them. Just because an editor is listed on a particular website doesn’t automatically mean they are great at what they do. Due diligence on your part is still crucial.

(3)   First contact.

When you have two or three or five names of prospective editors, check out websites and contact them to find out if they are taking on new clients. You should receive an answer within two to three days at the most (remember—editors are busy people, too, but they should get back to you in a reasonable time frame regardless). Find out whether they specialize in content, copy, or line editing, what genres they are most enthusiastic about, whether they offer a sample edit, and—of course—what their rates are. Many editors will offer either a free sample edit of your first chapter or one for a small price, say $25.

(4)   What to expect.

During your initial contact with a prospective editor, don’t expect them to wow you with some kind of incendiary insight into your work and how it’s about to set the world on fire right out of the gate (though wouldn’t that be nice?). Settle instead for prompt, courteous, professional responses from an editor who takes the time to find out a little bit about you and your work. I have a standard questionnaire I send to anyone interested in my services, which gives me an opportunity to get to know the client and ensure that we’re a good fit and our expectations for the process mesh. You want someone who shows at least a little bit of enthusiasm for you and your work.

(5)   What to look for in a sample edit.

If you are able to find an editor who offers a free or inexpensive sample edit, take them up on it. There are a few things you should look for when the sample edit is returned. First and foremost, is it back to you within the time frame the editor promised? Missing that first deadline is a giant, flashing red flag. Your editor may be the best on the planet, but if she consistently misses every deadline you give her, the experience is bound to be frustrating. Once you have the sample back, what kind of changes have been made or suggested? Does the editor offer insights you may not have thought of before? Does she give you a reason for why certain changes have been made? Is she enthusiastic about your work? These are all signs that you’re on the right track in your quest.

What is the price range for editing? What should I expect to pay? How do I know I’m getting a good deal?

There is a huge price range for editing services these days, but in general for a quality edit you’re looking at between .75 – 2 cents per word for proofreading, 2 – 4 cents per word for copy editing and/or line editing, and upwards of 2 – 6 cents per word for a good, qualified content editor. You’ll want to find out up front if the cost includes revisions, or if you’ll have to pay extra for the editor to look at your work again once you have made changes. As for whether or not you’re getting a good deal, ask yourself what you hope to do with this novel. If you want your book to sell, whether to a traditional publisher or by publishing it yourself, how well do you think your unedited manuscript will do? A good editor can mean the difference between critical accolades and scathing reviews. How much is that worth to you?

I don’t have much money and editors are expensive. What should I do?

Editors can be pricey, there’s no way around it. If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and just don’t have the cash, look to your peers. At the very least, you need to have a circle of beta readers who will go through your work, and in exchange you can offer to do the same for them. Some editors—including myself—will offer a partial edit of the first few chapters of your novel for a reduced price, providing you with at least a starting point so that you have an idea what to look for yourself in the remainder of the manuscript.

If you have a valuable skillset like graphic design, web design, or marketing knowhow, you might offer a bartering arrangement with an editor. Or, visit a nearby university to find out if there are any qualified students (or professors, even) who would provide an inexpensive proofread or copy edit. There are ways around the cost issue, so never let money—or the lack thereof—be your reason for putting out a subpar novel. You’ve written a book, the equivalent of running the marathon of your life. Hiring a qualified editor means the difference between you limping across the finish line or soaring past the competition.

What if I disagree with what the editor says? How much of their advice should I take on board?

Ideally, your editor is seeing your work after (or at the same time) you’ve had two or three trusted beta readers go through the manuscript. If, however, the editor is the first person besides yourself to read the novel and they return it to you with suggestions you believe are completely off the mark, you can do a couple of things. The first is to give the unchanged manuscript to the aforementioned beta readers. If they come back to you with the same suggestions, you’ll know that your editor may have a point, much as you might not want to see it.

Then, ask the editor about the reasoning behind their changes. Is the story lagging? Was there a plot hole you forgot to fill in? Or do their changes feel more about stylistic differences related to your unique writing voice? If that’s the case, it is a much more subjective issue, and I recommend making a list of the suggested changes with which you disagree. Then, talk to beta readers or fellow writers who know your work. Don’t approach this as a b**chfest where you go off on the editor and your friends assure you that you’re a genius. Instead, approach them with, “My editor has some changes I’m not sure about. Can I run a few things by you, and see if you’ve had similar reactions you might not have noticed, or if they’re off the mark? I just want the novel to be the best it can be.”

As for how much advice you should take on board, I don’t know any author who takes every single suggestion their editor makes. The choice is yours with respect to stylistic changes, but hopefully your editor isn’t doing a lot that you feel impacts your writing style, anyway. Simply look at the editor’s reasoning behind some of the more significant suggestions they’ve made, weigh the validity of their argument, and then make your decision. We’re not gods, we’re just editors. You won’t get struck down if you choose to pass on a few of our ideas. J

My manuscript came back covered in red ink/littered with Track Changes. I’m really upset by the comments. How do I cope with the difficulty of being edited?

Okay, here’s the sad fact: If your editor is not returning a manuscript covered in red ink/littered with Track Changes, you need a new editor. That’s our job. Our number one goal is to make your work look brilliant. We aren’t judging you, we aren’t trying to make you look bad, and we certainly aren’t saying your writing isn’t fabulous. We’re saying: “Hey, good manuscript—here are the things you can/should do to make it even better.” Because that’s what you’re paying us to do.

It’s hard to divorce yourself from the emotional element of producing this creative work, and to begin to view your novel as a product (I know—I used the ‘P’ word) rather than the flesh of your flesh. The editing process, however, is a great place to start doing that. How are you going to handle negative reviews from readers if you can’t handle constructive criticism from someone you’re paying to give it? Take a deep breath, recognize that all writers go through this pain, and try to listen objectively to what your editor is saying about your work.

With that said, you should never feel like you are being persecuted, diminished, or mocked by your editor. This is an important relationship, and you should feel first and foremost like your editor is in your corner. She wants you to succeed. She loves your work. She is enthusiastically plugging your books when they come out, and talking to you about your characters like they are mutual friends. You don’t have to be BFFs who hang out online every day—in fact, chances are slim that that will be the case—but you should definitely feel a high level of trust and mutual respect. If that’s lacking, it may be time to look for someone new.

Do you have any comments or further questions about editing and editors? Please do leave them below and join the conversation.

Jen BloodJen Blood is the bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries, and owner of Adian Editing, where she offers comprehensive content and copy editing services of plot-driven fiction, as well as writing coaching and classes on writing and self-editing. She has worked as a freelance editor for Random House, Aspatore Books, Hyperink Press, Maine Authors Publishing, and individually for a long list of independent and traditionally published authors. Jen is currently accepting new clients, with a few spaces available through the end of summer and into the fall. Visit to learn more about her services, or contact her at to schedule a $25 sample edit of your first chapter.

Contact Info:

Twitter: @jenblood

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Nic McPhee

Digital Only Deals, Translating Into German And The Launch Of Desecration-Verletzung.

The adventures in translation continue apace … and this one is a little different!

Desecration VerletzungToday, I’m excited to announce the launch of Desecration-Verletzung in German, which is part of a debut set of crime/thrillers from a new German digital-only imprint, Midnight by Ullstein. This article includes my thoughts on working with a publisher as well as an interview with my translator.

Digital Only Deal for Desecration with Ullstein Midnight

As part of my 50:50 royalty split deal with my translator, Hans Maerker, we discussed the possibility of pursuing a traditional deal as well as self-publishing. When the opportunity came up to work with Ullstein Midnight, a new digital imprint of a well-known German publisher specifically for crime and thrillers, we decided to go for it. I can’t go into specifics on the contract but here are some thoughts from the process:

  • midnight ullsteinWhile I wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a digital only deal for English language, it makes sense to work with an established publisher with great relationships and merchandising opportunities in a new territory and language. After talking with the great team at Midnight, I was keen to work with them to see what we could accomplish, given that J.F.Penn is unknown in Germany. I believe being an indie author is about making decisions that benefit your business, and partnering with publishers can definitely be worthwhile. I’ve had several skype calls as well as email conversations with the Midnight team and I’m impressed with their energy and willingness to try new things. That’s the kind of partner an entrepreneurial indie wants!
  • The process involved an extra layer of editing, which was great in terms of quality control and also made sure the book fitted the ‘voice’ of the new imprint. You can never get enough editing imho :)
  • The title is interesting as it is an English word and a German word together. Germany has copyright on book titles, so many international books use English words in titles. Verletzung can mean ‘violation’ which was my original title for the book anyway, so I’m pleased with it.
  • The cover design was redone and I did have some input into the process. I actually like this cover a lot!
  • Lesson learned: When I self-publish for free on the digital platforms, I just click ALL when it comes to countries for distribution. Traditional publishers don’t have the easy choice to just click the ALL button as there are more costs involved, so although Midnight have all the digital rights to German, the ebook isn’t available in Canada, or Australia for example. The thinking is that there aren’t enough German readers in those countries to warrant the cost of distribution. This surprised me, as of course, this is all free for indie authors and distribution has no overhead for us. How lucky we are!

With all these translation adventures, the view is more long term and I would expect to report back on how it’s all gone in a year’s time. Still to come in 2014, the Italian version of Desecration and possibly the Spanish Desecration.

Interview with Hans Maerker – translator for Desecration-Verletzung

You can also read this interview in German on Hans’ site here.

Hans Maerker

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing & translating background

I was raised in Germany, but my grandmother’s sister – who lived in the same house with us – was British. She exposed me to English when I was a little boy, and so I grew up with both languages. It helped me tremendously during my engineering career in aviation later on. Aviation requires precision, and I never liked to do things half-hearted anyway. It was a perfect combination. I was all over the globe, needed to immerse in English whenever I was outside Germany, and one lead to another. Prior to Airbus, the civil aviation scene was dominated by American aircraft manufacturers. So, I went to Berlitz, perfected my English, and focused on American English ever since. My passports looked like impressionistic paintings with all their stamps over the years.

Being in Quality Control shaped my ability to write precise reports and to do in depth research. I had friends in Singapore, Australia, and America over the years. I lived like a cosmopolitan, but that changed when I finally left Germany and moved to America. That’s where I met my wife, and worked as an avionics instructor for an US airline. The airline changed their aging fleet at that time, and that required not only teaching aircraft systems in a classroom, but those maintenance technicians needed training manuals for the new aircraft types as well. It was a totally different ball game but I had the knowledge, and felt the satisfaction, writing gave me. Even if it was technical writing and editing. It never changed from that moment on, and shaped me as a writer.

Returning to Europe after so many in the States happened just at the time when Germany changed the grammar and punctuation rules. I was thrown in the middle of it and had to learn the new rules. It was sort of a forced brush-up course on my mother tongue, but definitely benefitted my knowledge about its correct usage. My wife’s mother tongue is American English, and so we stayed in Germany for a while, but eventually moved to an EU country where maltaEnglish is spoken and German needed. That’s how we ended up in Malta, where we currently live.

What are some of the particular challenges about translating from English into German?

It depends on what needs to be translated. Technical instructions, actually any non-fiction, is more or less cut and dry translation, where you have to be precise in every shape and from. There is not much room for interpretation.

That’s completely reversed when it comes to fiction. Every language has its own special phrases and usage, to express the same thing. You need to be aware of the country, the habits of the people who live there, and more. Fiction lives off emotions and tension, created by the author. Having a dictionary next to you, or on your computer, doesn’t cut it as a translator. Sure, you can translate any fiction that way, but you risk to have a dull and boring story.

The ideal situation for fiction and non-fiction is, to have lived in this environment yourself. That you’ve talked to the neighbors, waited in line at the post office, or got stuck in traffic on an highway. The feeling and understanding for this different environment, its people, and their use of the language is something that shows in your translation of a story. No language school and no dictionary can teach you this experience. In my opinion, a good translator should have global experience, and not just doing the job after learning the ropes at school.

Why did you want to translate Desecration? And were there any surprises on the translation journey?

I think it was a combination of several facts. One was that I like crime or thriller stories. It’s because of the puzzle that needs to fit logically together. The other fact was that dark and extraordinary mood. The way how Jamie coped with her own emotions and problems.

As for surprises, yes, there were a few. However, they were more on the intellectual side, and not technically related. Pretty soon, I was deeper in this story than I expected. I basically immersed in the story, lived through Jamie’s emotions, and felt them while translating.

Why did you want to do a royalty split deal with an indie author? What are your tips for translators who want to do this kind of thing?

Two good questions. The first one is based on an emotional decision. I believe in myself and feel confident to tackle difficult situations. Those are the benefits when you’re around the block for a while. You know, you’re not only willing to give your best but you’re capable of doing it. If you do any work without really standing behind it, then it can turn into a disaster. No success, no payment. You work on a profit base, and that’s a challenge. It’s fair to your client too, but requires that both ‘click’. It’s based on trust and confidence on both sides. The chemistry between author and translator need to match. That’s not always given.

As for some ‘how to’ tips for other translators, I would say to them, ask yourself first whether you’re an entrepreneur type. Full time freelancers usually are, otherwise they wouldn’t make a living. Go for those authors who write the stories that you would like to write yourself. Look at the author’s website or blog. Read up on their history, and see whether you both have something in common. Trust your feelings in such a case, and approach the author. The final decision comes when translator and author communicate with each other.

How should indie authors find a good translator for their book? How do they evaluate it when they don’t speak the language?

That’s the most tricky part. Not so long ago, I read an article about the small world of translators. Never really thought about it until then. Usually it goes the other way round, and translators are approaching authors or work through word of mouth reference.

The worst part is probably the evaluation. References don’t mean a thing, as every non-fiction translation is different because of the author’s different style. Best evaluation might be the route similar to editing. I would ask for roughly five pages of a translation sample, and hand the translator a more difficult passage of my manuscript. If you don’t know the language, then you have to hand those translated samples to some experts for an evaluation, and rely on their opinion. If the difficult passage got translated to your satisfaction, then the easier ones will pass the test anyway. However, this can be an iffy situation already. Hand the same [fiction] translation to three experts for an analysis, and you will get three different opinions.

How do translators work with authors during the translation process?

It depends where they are located. Most of the time, author and translator live far from each other. Yet, in our digital world, this is no problem anymore. The standard communication routes are email and Skype. The more important one is probably email, as it is quick, can be sent at any time, and allows attachments.

You can find me at and on twitter @h_maerker


Hans and Joanna both use Filofax diaries!

Note from Joanna

I found Hans brilliant to work with as he has a strong work ethic, translating faster than anticipated to meet the launch deadlines for Midnight. He’s also very organized and responds promptly to emails and work requests. I’ll admit to a little control freakery in my approach to my business, but our emails and skype calls made me feel confident that this project would go well.

We have also kept honesty and openness as our guiding principle around feedback and money discussions. Critical in any business relationship! I schedule most of my meetings months in advance, and Hans was comfortable with that – we even share the same habit of using an old style Filofax as our diaries.


Der Tod ist erst der Anfang!

desecration germanDie junge Frau ist reich, schön – und tot. Inmitten der alten medizinischen Ausstellungsstücke des Royal College of Surgeons liegt ihre sezierte Leiche sorgsam aufgebahrt. Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke sucht einen ungewöhnlichen Mörder und ahnt, wieder einmal muss sie bei ihren Ermittlungen ungewöhnliche Wege gehen. Denn sie hat nur eine einzige Spur: Eine kleine antike Elfenbeinfigur, die neben der Toten gefunden wurde. Nur Blake Daniel, Hellseher wider Willen, kann Jamie jetzt noch weiterhelfen.

Als ein schrecklicher privater Schicksalsschlag Jamie zeigt, wie nah der Mörder ihr mit seinen makabren Phantasien schon gekommen ist, ist es beinahe zu spät. Denn je tiefer Jamie und Blake in eine dunkle Welt aus Grabräubern, Missgeburten und rituellen Zeremonien tauchen, desto gefährlicher wird es für ihr Leben …

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Midnight Ullstein

Do you have any questions or comments about publishing in German or any suggestions for marketing ideas? Please do join the conversation and leave a comment below.

Filofax image: Flickr Creative Commons Heudu

The Arc Of The Indie Author Journey. From First Book To CEO Of Your Global Media Empire

When you first have a yearning to write a book, you’re not usually thinking of running a global media empire!

winding roadSo don’t worry if you’re not ready to assume the mantle of CEO of your own business just yet.

You don’t have to know everything now. You can learn on the job. We all have to. None of us are born with the knowledge of how to do these things – we just find out along the way.

This is the story arc of the author’s writing and business life as I have experienced it (so far) and the main challenges at each stage, as well as how to overcome them. I’m currently writing a business book for authors, and this is an excerpt from the work in progress.

Stage 1: “I want to write a book”

You’ve always been a reader and now you’re reading all the ‘how to’ books on writing. You’re attending seminars and conferences on writing. Perhaps you’re writing lots already, or perhaps you’re learning about writing without doing it yet.

Maybe you’re scared that what you write will be terrible. Maybe what you’re writing is terrible. But you know you want to be a writer, and you’re going to put in the effort to write that first book. You have a huge learning curve ahead but you know you will persist.


Actually writing and finishing a book. You can read all the books on writing but until you actually sit down and write, you won’t get black on white and you’ll never finish a book.

How to overcome it:

  • birdbybirdThe realization that ‘it’s OK to suck’ in your first draft (as discussed by Mur Lafferty in her podcast, I Should Be Writing and in this interview). This is also the theme of ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott, where she advocates writing “shitty first drafts.” My own metaphor for this is Michelangelo’s statue of David – Michelangelo said he saw David within the marble and he just had to cut away the excess and then polish it until it was perfect. Authors have to create the block of marble with that first draft and then editing and rewriting will shape the statue. Creating that block is a hell of a lot of work.
  • Do timed writing exercises, in a class if you don’t have the discipline to do this alone. Set word count goals. Do NaNoWriMo. Use Write or Die software. Do anything to get a first draft done. It’s hard work people. Writing a book is not easy, otherwise everyone who says they want to write one would actually do it!
  • Go through the learning curve while actually writing. Don’t read a book on self-editing until you’re actually editing. Invest in a professional editor to help you with your writing. I learned far more from paying an editor to work on my manuscript than sitting in classes talking about other people’s work. You also need to write a lot. You won’t improve unless you write more.
  • Learn about editing and your publishing options – but don’t obsess too much about the latter until you have at least a first draft. I often get questions about publishing from people who haven’t even starting writing yet!

Stage 2: “I am a new author”

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel!

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel!

You’ve learned the process to get from words to first draft to finished product, and you’ve worked with an editor to improve your book. You’ve learned how to self-publish, or you’ve made it through the lottery process of agent and publisher. You’ve got the book out into the world

There are many people who say they want to write a book, but never actually get around to it. So congratulations if you have your first book!


Realizing that very people actually care that you wrote a book, and that you have to learn about marketing or no one will ever read it. Realizing that you’re not an instant millionaire and that the income from one book is not significant. Realizing that this is just the beginning of the next step.

How to overcome it:

  • Make a decision on whether there will even be any more books. Was the process of writing a book worthwhile for you? Are you brimming with ideas for a new one? Are you excited about being able to reach people with your words? Are you enthusiastic about learning more?
  • Start writing the next book. If you have the bug, the ideas will be plentiful and you’ll be ready to tackle the next book. You might need a bit of a rest, but after a while, you’ll get that itch again. So, get writing!
  • how to market a bookLearn about marketing. Unless you are one of the very few authors whose publisher will do ALL the marketing for the rest of your life, as well as for the first month, you will need to learn about marketing. I started to learn when I had two thousand copies of my first book sitting in my house. I had thought they would sell themselves, but of course, they didn’t! Most of them went into a landfill six painful months later. Don’t make my mistake! That initial failure kickstarted my own journey into learning marketing and over time, I’ve discovered I actually enjoy my marketing activities. After all, it’s about connecting with readers who enjoy the same things you do – your tribe.

Stage 3: “I am an established author”

Once you’ve written a few books, especially if they are within the same genre or category, you know approximately what you’re doing. It’s still hard work, but you understand the process.

hourglassIf you self-publish, you know the ropes and publishing takes very little time. If you have a publisher, the procedure is established and takes longer. You’ve got to grips with at least some aspects of marketing. You have a website and an email list. You get fan mail from readers.

Perhaps you still work a day job, and you’re wondering how to take it to the next level and become a full-time writer, or perhaps you want a side business that brings in extra money.


Balancing your time between writing more, marketing what you already have, real life and probably another job as well as family. Trying to decide whether to give up your day job for the full-time writer’s life, and potentially conflicting with family around this. You’re making some money but perhaps not quite enough to pay all the bills and have some comfort margin.

How to overcome it:

  • Use a diary/schedule to plan your writing time and focus on becoming more organized.
  • Get clear on your brand and what you are delivering to what customers. This will help focus what you write and produce.
  • Turning Pro Steven PressfieldEstablish criteria for going full-time e.g. Income level of $2000 a month from books before quitting the day job. Reduce your risk e.g. Downsize, save six months income, go part-time at work.

Stage 4: “I am the CEO of my creative company”

There is a tipping point where you go from being an author to running a business as an author.

You can now write for your living and you need to take the business side seriously, instead of your writing being just a hobby. The penny drops around rights exploitation and you realize how far your work can go through the opportunities available to authors now.

Whatever the catalyst, you decide to take control of your financial destiny and career as an author.

This may mean you go full-time as an author-entrepreneur, or you allocate a proper chunk of time to the business. To step into this phase means you are seriously about being an author-entrepreneur. You assume the CEO role – you’re in charge.

Challenge: Learning business skills so you can work on your business, not just in your business. Juggling the writing, the marketing and the production side, as well as trying to think about strategy, release schedules and more. Trying to keep track of all your products, the rights you want to exploit, the multiple projects you have going at once and keeping an eye on other opportunities as well as managing the contractors who work for you on various things.

How to overcome it: I’m currently writing a book about this level of the author journey, and stems from my own attempts to manage the challenges, but there are some overarching principles.

  • Get clear on exactly what you want for this business and your life. Look after your physical and mental health as well as your business. Say ‘no’ more so you can focus on your core target market and what enlivens you.
  • Establish your professional team. You need a team in place at this stage, and preferably an assistant, or someone else full time in the business as well as contractors. One of the first people I hired was a book-keeper to help me with the (dreaded) accounts!
  • Streamline your processes. If you have a production plan and you know what books are coming, you can book editors, cover designers in advance and tell fans what to expect. If you know where all your revenue streams are coming from, you can make sure all are reconciled to sales. If you manage your time, you can juggle being creative and being an entrepreneur.
  • Learn some business skills. Check out The Business Rusch posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and watch this space for my new book coming in the next few months! If you want to reach this stage, or you already have and are finding it difficult, I’d love to know what your specific questions are, or anything you definitely need covering in the book. Please click here to add your questions or comments and I will use them to shape the final content, as well as naming you in the Acknowledgements if your contribution is used. Or you could add a comment below. Thank you.

Do you agree with these stages on the author’s journey? Where do you fit right now and where would you like to get to? Please do join in the conversation and leave a comment below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Daniel McDermott