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 …

Jetzt kaufen

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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

Writing Thrillers And Lessons Learned From Forty Years Of Writing with David Morrell

Most authors dream of creating a character that escapes from their books and becomes part of popular culture. Today I’m interviewing David Morrell, who created Rambo and whose writing career has spanned four decades, and we get an insight into David’s research process, his work ethic and his mindset.

In the intro, I mention my research trip to Barcelona and you can see the pictures on Flickr here; I also mention the launch of Pentecostés in Spanish and the Spanish book trailer that promotes it. Coming this month are also the German version of Desecration, and Delirium, plus I am off to New York for Thrillerfest, so expect a roundup of that mid July.

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.

David MorrellDavid Morrell is the multi-award winning and many times bestselling author of 35 books, as well as many short stories, essays and collaborations that have sold millions of copies and are available in many different languages. He has a Phd in American literature and was a Professor of Literature at the University of Iowa. His novel ‘First Blood,’ became the Rambo franchise, his latest novel is ‘Murder as a fine art,‘ a historical thriller, and today we’re talking about his book for writers, ‘The Successful Novelist,’ recently updated and released in ebook format as well as print.

murder as a fine artYou 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:

  • The themes that David returns to in his writing
  • A thriller author who actually lives a thriller life. On taking research to extremes
  • On the inspiration for Murder As A Fine Art
  • David’s writing process
  • The precariousness of life. Don’t spend time writing books that are aren’t worth writing.
  • Writing a letter to yourself before you start a book
  • Screenwriting and Rambo
  • Movie contract clauses you should watch out for
  • The business of being an author. Even after so many years, David spends an hour a day on marketing
  • On The Architecture of Snow and publishing
  • Longevity in the business

You can find David at and his books at all stores. You can also connect with him on Facebook/DavidMorrellAuthor

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The Author Mindset. Researching And Marketing Non-Fiction. The Obstacle Is The Way With Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday has worked with some big names in the non-fiction book world, including Tim Ferriss and Tucker Max, and I’m thrilled to bring you this interview with him around his own latest book, “The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage.”

In the introduction, I mention the latest Author Earnings report, plus how our indie panel went at Bristol CrimeFest and why you should read ‘Opening up to Indie Authors‘ if you want to get into literary festivals as well as bookstores, libraries etc.

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.

ryan holidayRyan Holiday is a media strategist for corporate brands and best-selling authors like Tim Ferriss and Tucker Max, as well as the Wall Street Journal best-selling author of “Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a media manipulator,” and today we’re talking about his new book, “The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage.”

the obstacle is the wayYou 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:

  • What is Stoicism anyway and how Ryan integrates that into his life
  • How to find an emotionally even keel as an author in this crazy up and down life
  • Crafting stories and how to use that in non-fiction books
  • Creating a body of work and what really matters over the longer term
  • Definitions of success
  • How reading is changing and how it impacts authors
  • How Ryan researches his non-fiction books and how he tracks quotes using index cards
  • The importance of figuring out what you want to say, and why a proposal can help with that
  • The best ways to market a non-fiction book right now, and some of the biggest time wasters
  • Thoughts on the future of publishing

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No More Excuses About Writing. Fire The Muse And Go To Work.

At Harrogate Crime Festival last year, I heard Lee Child being interviewed on his incredibly successful Jack Reacher series.

hard hat area

When asked about his writing process, Lee mentioned being like a trucker. A trucker doesn’t get up in the morning and wonder whether or not to get in the truck and do his job. He just does, and off he drives. So, Lee said, he just gets in his version of the truck and writes. It’s a job, just do it.

This workman attitude also resonates through Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Turning Pro,’ which sits on my desk and which I re-read every new year.

In today’s guest post, author Anthony St Clair expounds on this theme, opening with a casual chat that sparked the idea.

“So, you what, sit down and wait for the muse?”

My father-in-law’s question made sense. A master electrician and project manager, he heads up the installation of massive industrial electrical systems. But when he asked me about how I write and work, something clicked.

“No,” I replied. “When you get down to it, my job actually has a lot more in common with yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“I view writing as less of an art and more of a craft or trade,” I said. “The ‘electrician muse’ doesn’t need to show up so you can do your job. You get up every day, put on your hard hat, and get it done.”

“I always thought writers need to be inspired.”

“Not anymore than you do, really,” I replied. “You plan out big projects and work on them piece by piece, day by day, until the larger whole is done. It’s the same for me. I plan out a project in advance. Then in the moment I deal with what’s happening on the page in a scene. I don’t wait for the muse. I don’t need a muse. I know what I need to do, so I work at it every day until the book is done.

This small chat between me and my father-in-law evolved my understanding of my writing and of my role as an author entrepreneur. Over the past year I’ve published 2 books and have a third coming out later this year. All my stories are based in an ongoing, non-sequential series that already has more material than I could write in one lifetime. And 5-6 days a week I get up, put on my metaphorical hard hat, and go to work.

It’s easy to think of fields like electrical work or plumbing as being inferior to writing. They’re not.

As John W. Gardner, former president of the Carnegie Corporation, once said:

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

The same holds for writing. So today I’m going to share four things that help me get my writing done. My goal here is to help you kick the habit of the muse and inspiration, and to motivate you to show up, write, and get it done, every day, in the manner that works best for you.

Put on your hard hat and go to work

Authors have an ongoing destructive love affair with the idea of the solitary, spontaneous creative binge. Our media love it too. You know how it goes:

OMG. Jane McWriterpants had this brilliant idea, locked herself in her room, drank 4 bottles of scotch and 20 pots of coffee, didn’t eat for 3 days, and came out Monday morning with a finished book. And did you see how many zeroes were on the check a publisher had sent her as an advance by lunchtime?

Isn’t that a great story? It’s something else: nonsense.

Architects don’t design buildings overnight. New houses aren’t built over a long weekend because the carpenter had a brilliant dream about lumber. Writers are no different.

At best, the spontaneous creative binge is an outlier. Mostly it’s just a lie.

It’s like the muse, which trips up many writers. The muse is counterproductive. You don’t need one. If the muse doesn’t show up to work every day, then fire the muse and keep showing up yourself.

Getting your book done means making it happen every day. Just like a building, there’s a lot to do. Part of your job is breaking down a massive project like a book into smaller pieces that you can work on every day, according to your needs and schedule, until you arrive at the end of the story.


Another lie of the spontaneous creative binge is that no planning is required. Some authors can pull this off. One of the best modern examples is Tom Robbins, who famously writes with no plan, but word by word follows the story until he’s done. You can just about typeset his first draft.

You are not him.

At least, I know I’m not. I’ve tried to just sit down and write. I fail. Most writers fail. Then they think they can’t write at all.

All that matters in writing is understanding—and applying—what works for you. What works for me is meticulous planning, but it’s also the planning that helps me be creative, find insights, and take new directions.

Planning a book does not mean an inflexible, unwieldy outline. Nor does it mean you have to know every minor character’s first job and second cousin. Planning a book means you have enough of an idea of what your book is about, who is part of the story, and why the story needs to be told, so that you can get up every day and keep making the book happen.

Believe it or not, planning also means being flexible.

Deal with what comes up on the job

Planning is important, but things don’t always go according to plan.

This is similar to working through problems on a construction site. You can have all the blueprints and meetings in creation, but until you’re actually working on the site with the real materials, you don’t know how things are going to go. You have a plan to rely on, but you also have to expect changes, be flexible, and adapt.

Each of my three books had points in the manuscript where what the story needed to do was not what I originally planned. I had to make changes not only to what I was working on, but sometimes to parts already written and parts I hadn’t written yet

Changes make me grateful for all the planning I’ve done. When I get to something that needs to change from what I originally planned, I can roll with it, adjust other parts of the story as needed, and keep going. By knowing in advance where I think the story will go, I can adapt when the story turns in a different direction.

Get it done

As Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship.” Here’s what he meant: you can tweak and rework forever unless you stop yourself and decide you have reached a point where the book is good enough to release.

Or to put it another way, popular in American culture, “Get it done.”

We can wring our hands forever about a piece having flaws. Then an old journalism adage reminds us: “Done is better than perfect.”

It’s true.

Our job is to tell our stories truly and wholly, and to the best of our ability. If we can say confidently that we’ve done that, then it’s time to write “THE END” and celebrate.

Then it’s time to go through the next steps of getting the story into the world—beta readers, editors, designers, you name it. But for now, fire the muse.

Make your book part of your every day. Get it done.

Do this, and you stand a far greater chance of getting your flawed but finished story out into the world.

You can always do a better job on the next book.

And you will.

How do you get your writing work done when inspiration doesn’t strike? Please share your thoughts below in the comments and join the conversation.

home sweet roadGlobetrotter, homebrewer and writer Anthony St. Clair has walked with hairy coos in the Scottish Highlands, choked on seafood in Australia, and watched the full moon rise over Mt. Everest in Tibet. Anthony’s travels have also taken him around the sights and beers of Thailand, Japan, India, Canada, Ireland, the USA, Cambodia, China and Nepal. He and his wife live in Oregon and gave their son a passport for his first birthday. His latest book is Home Sweet Road, out now on Amazon and other ebook stores.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons hard hat area by Jason Eppink