Voxate Writing & Editing

South African Writer, Copywriter and Editor
Browsing Writing Tips

The True Story of How My Client Refused To Pay My Invoice and I Agreed

July18

The work had taken the better part of a week and was as boring as that time my library teacher taught us how to use the card indexing system. Repetitive, uninspiring, completely the opposite of creative. Still, it wasn’t hard to do. So, on the crisp, bright Friday morning, I happily sent the invoice through to my client, glad to get that project off my shoulders. But then came her reply. Strange, it was unlike her to comment on an invoice. She usually paid it immediately (she’s a gem, she really is).

But, this time she had a problem with the invoice. I hadn’t charged enough, she said. Eh? Not enough? Nope. She refused to pay me what I invoiced her because, she said, it wasn’t what the work was worth. At this point, the bad voices started – You didn’t work that hard. It was so boring and repetitive, a chimp could probably have managed it. You even stalled a bit, taking longer coffee breaks and indulging in that afternoon snooze. How could you justify charging any more?

MONEY

More along the lines of what I’d hoped for in those early years. Credit: Pocketpress

But, she was right. It had taken me almost a whole week. In that time, I had to put other projects on the back-burner, I had to invest less time and energy into my online presence and marketing, and I had to spend longer hunched over a keyboard. Even if I’m being a little dramatic (and obviously I’m not), it occupied the better part of my mind and time during the course of five days. And why wouldn’t that be worth something?

Knowing my worth is something I’ve struggled with right from the beginning. Starting as a freelancer, I was desperate for the business, terrified of a rejected quote, and determined to undercut anyone (even the chimp).

Today, though, almost a decade down the line, things are different. I know what my time and expertise are worth, I know the value that they add to my clients, and I know that what I charge is fair and reasonable for what they get out of it. And, now that I’m charging real rates, I’m enjoying real jobs with real clients, as opposed to those who don’t care how little they pay you because they never put much value to your work anyway. Because, if you didn’t, why should they?

 

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14 Tips for Top-Notch Professional Emails

July12

Writing is magical. Ok, I’m being dramatic. At the very least, it’s powerful. It can paint a picture, convey an idea, and leave the reader with a lasting impression. And that’s the point – a lasting impression of you, your company, and your product or service. The world of electronic communication with autocorrect and spell-check has changed our writing abilities and styles, though. And the fast pace around us means that we scarcely proofread, nevermind edit what we’ve typed.

But, since your emails may be the first or only contact you have with others, it’s crucial to get them right. Here are some quick tips to writing and sending top-notch emails:

  1. No text-typing – use full words, not “r u comin 2 da meetin?” That’s an exaggeration, I admit. But avoid the temptation to shorten words like about (abt), regarding (re:) , with regard to (WRT), and so on.
  2. Remember that, once you’ve sent an email, it’s out there; on servers and in inboxes. Don’t ever include something that you’re not prepared to publish in a newspaper.
  3. Emails don’t convey emotion. So, if it’s a sensitive topic or a situation in which the recipient needs to know context or nuance, rather phone or meet with them to convey your message and everything that goes along with it clearly.
  4. Bullet points tend to clarify things. Try to bullet-point your email to break it up into smaller, more manageable sections, if necessary.
  5. Read your email through the eyes of your gran, or someone else that isn’t tech-savvy. Would she understand it? If not, be clearer, without being patronising.
  6. Reply within the day of someone sending you an email, even if only to tell them that you have received it and will reply to it by xyz (be specific – tomorrow, Tuesday, etc…)
  7. Read your email before you send it. If it is a professional email, read it twice.
  8. Use a neat, clean font and ensure that your signature is professional and not too busy.
  9. Create standard replies for questions that you often get asked or issues with which you’re frequently dealing. Pay attention to the grammar and spelling, and then simply tweak them when the need arises. This saves time and minimises the opportunities for errors.
  10. If you need to ask a question or request feedback, try to keep it to one item or issue per email. This makes the issue easier to understand and quicker to resolve.
  11. Don’t put the recipient’s email address in until you’re absolutely sure that the email is ready for sending. This eliminates the possibility of sending it accidently before you have proofread or even finished it.
  12. Use your subject line to convey the essence of your email in just a few words. Good examples include, “Request for printing quote”, “Rescheduling tomorrow’s meeting” or “Signed contract”.
  13. Make your sender name relevant and appropriate so that the recipient knows the source of the email and has a personal connection to it.
  14. My personal favourite – don’t misuse uppercase letters (DON’T MISS LUNCH AT BARNEY’S TODAY) or exclamation points (Sorry the report is late!!!!!). There should never be more than one exclamation point and, even then, no exclamation point is even better for professional emails.

These simple pointers will make a massive difference to the quality of the emails you’re sending out and the impression that clients (existing or prospective) form of you.

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How Cape Town Inspires Work-From-Homers

June14

What is it about Cape Town? There’s a kind of magic that infuses every part of her. From the moment I peek over Sir Lowry’s Pass or at the first site of MY Table Mountain, its ethereal allure grabs me in a way that I just can’t get enough of. The Mother City is the perfect place for writers and other creatives to stay inspired, even when inspiration is sorely lacking and motivation follows closely behind it. As a work-from-home writer, Cape Town gives me my creativity boost.

I’ve put together a list of Cape Town-based places I’ve gone and things I’ve done, as well as those I haven’t, that may just give others the kind of inspiration kick-start they need:

The Drawing Room Café and Gallery

I can’t wait to try this quirky spot out. As a self-described ‘social space’, this coffee shop and meeting spot sounds ideal for those wanting to break the mould and enjoy something new. The gallery showcases stunning design work by locals and the coffee shop and restaurant encourages creativity in every way. There are even colouring-in books. For adults. Adults that can pay for their own coffee get to colour in. #LoveIt

SUP on the Waterfront Canals

I learnt to SUP in Mauritius, motivated to stay on my board by the 30cm spines of the urchins that lay in wait for my untouched tootsies. That was not inspiring. That was scary. Exploring the canals on a SUP at the V & A Waterfront, though, will be something memorable for all the right reasons. A short lesson and all of the necessary equipment are provided. After spending time on the water with views of Table Mountain and the warm South African sunshine on your back, your mind will be cleared, ready to dive right back into work.

Township tours

Experiencing other cultures can be incredibly special. Their customs, music, language and hospitality can reboot the mind and spirit, casting old thoughts and feelings aside and opening your eyes to new possibilities. What more could a stagnant creative project need? There are many tour operators in Cape Town that offer trips into the massive informal settlements and townships around the city. Many of these include a visit to a shebeen, restaurant, and school; and traditional song and dance performances.

 Yoga and Hike Combo

Views from Table Mountain - perfect after a long hike and a relaxing yoga session

Views from Table Mountain – perfect after a long hike and a relaxing yoga session

Yes, yes, yes. This is the perfect combination of exercise and relaxation to get the juices flowing and the sparks flying. Inmotion offers a combo package that involves a hike (the length depends on the package you choose), finished off with a yoga sesh atop the mountain and, if you’d like, a glass of wine while watching the sunset. Good for your mind and body. Bliss.

 

 

Enrich yourself

One of the best ways to clean the cobwebs and awaken new pathways is to try something new. Take a class for something unrelated to your work; like cooking, kitesurfing, beading, or writing. Cape Town is brimming with courses and classes. These are also great places to network with corporate folk and to meet other work-from-homers.

Published Author – Meet Angela

February13

Angela Shearer has gone the self-publishing route twice, and shares her experience.

Angela Shearer - author of The Scarlet Letter and Mad Mischief

Angela Shearer – author of The Scarlet Code and Mad Mischief

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the book(s) you have written, including the genre you prefer:

The Scarlet Code was my first book, a non-fiction book which is a guide on how to re-invent yourself as a woman and become financially and emotionally independent of other people. The book teaches us how to remain relevant in a changing world and how to give ourselves permission to live the lives that we sometimes only dream about in secret.

My Second book is called Mad Mischief and its total fiction, a throng of short stories that touch on many contentious topics and ideas.

I don’t really have a favourite genre when it comes writing. I love to tell stories and have discussions and I believe that it’s important to write about anything, no matter the genre, if we have something of substance to say.

2. Why did you decide to self-publish? What was the process leading up to this decision?

I initially submitted my book to one of the big publishers and it took them over six months to respond. When they did respond they said that they were not publishing “that genre of work” and recommended that I try a few other publishers instead. I then submitted my manuscript to another two traditional publishers and waited for over six months to follow up. The one publisher gave the same response twice, over a year period, which was “We are busy reviewing the manuscript and will let you know the outcome”. The other publisher never even responded to my follow ups.

In the end, neither of the two publishers ever came back to me with an outcome or feedback. I went on to do some research and realised that going via a traditional publisher isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I came to understand that there is actually a massive down side to publishing through them in terms of rights to your books, reduced royalties and various other compromises that come with giving power over to someone else. This lead me to look at the Independent publishing option through Amazon. I haven’t regretted it for a minute.

3. What kind of feedback have you had from your readers and editors?

I’ve received great feedback from my readers on the Scarlet Code specifically as they have found it to be very useful when making big changes to their lives. Their comments and feedback can be viewed on my website.

4. We’d like to know the results of your decision. Would you consider it successful? Why? What does success mean to you?

I published both books in 2016. One was published in April and the other in August so it’s still early days in terms of sales but, that said, they are selling via Amazon in both Kindle and hard copy and they are also selling out of two book shops in SA. I retain complete control over my sales distribution and I also control the price and the profits. I absolutely think its successful. I realise that any author needs to play a very active role in marketing their books whether independently published or published through traditional channels. There are so many writers out there and so many books, you can’t expect to make it big overnight. Writing the book is one part of the journey, marketing yourself and the book is the second part of the journey. I personally prefer to retain control.

5. If you knew then (before embarking on the journey of self-publishing) what you know now, what would you tell yourself?

I’d tell myself to research more about what other authors do and the channels that they use to market their work and then put a comprehensive marketing plan in place. I’d also tell myself not to expect instant gratification.

6. Please give us a quick list of pros and cons for the self-publishing route:

Pro’s

· You retain control over your work.

· Your set the price.

· You control your distribution channels.

· You don’t have to share your profits.

· You aren’t limited by contracts or personalities.

· Nobody tells you what you may or may not do or say.

Con’s

· There’s no comfort zone. You are completely on your own.

· You can’t blame anyone else but yourself if your book doesn’t sell.

· You don’t have other resources to draw from like design, printing, legal, marketing or logistics. You pretty much have to know how to do this yourself or outsource it to freelancers or small companies. Outsourcing could prove to be expensive.

7. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

· Editing and proof reading advice – Edit, edit and edit some more. Get hard copies of your final draft printed and then get as many people as you can to proof read them for you. Understand that even after they have been proof read by numerous proof readers there will still be some landmines hidden between the lines. Use an electronic review tool like Paper Rater to proof read it again because it picks up errors that we don’t see as humans.

· Make sure that you know who your target market is and that there really is a market for your product. Align your marketing to this target market.

· Build up a reader base using social media. Get an account on all social media platforms.

· Never ever become that sleazy sales person trying to peddle your books because it just comes across as desperate. People will buy your books if they get good reviews, can benefit then in some way or if they are entertaining.

· Don’t include your friends, family, acquaintances or colleagues in your reader base. They should retain their rightful roles in your life without feeling like they owe it to you to buy and read your book. They are not a reliable reflection because they know you and will either judge you too harshly or be overly kind. Aim to have strangers as your readers and market your books to the great audience “out there” because when they buy your books, you know you have something to sell.

Then, just some fun questions:

8. Do you try to be as original as possible? Or do you prefer to stick to what you know readers / publishing houses are looking for?

I like to be more controversial and original in my thinking and writing. I enjoy contentious topics for non-fiction and totally warped and twisted ideas or stories for fiction.

9. When did you first experience the power of literature?

When I was about 9 years old I remember writing my first script.

I enjoyed writing it so much that I just kept on writing and then I finally discovered that I had to write even if nobody ever read what I wrote down.

10. How much time do you spend writing per day / week?

It depends what I’m working on. If the book needs a lot of research, then a lot more time is spent on that. A lot of writing takes place in your head like while you are in the traffic, waiting in a queue or lying in bed. That said, when the book is formed in my head then I can write from 4 to 8 hours a day until I meet my target. When I’m between books, like I am at the moment, then I don’t write much more than work emails.

11. What do you tend to edit out of your books after the initial writing?

I tend to edit out lots of extra words that aren’t really necessary. Sometimes dialogue also sounds stupid when you read it out loud so I edit that a lot to make it sound more authentic and natural.

12. What are the hardest scenes for you to write?

Love scenes are my most difficult just because I think they give a lot away about the person who writes them.

13. What could you have done as a child or teenager to ensure that you were an even better writer today?

I could have read more. The more you read the more you develop original thought and also pick up on different styles and understand what works and what doesn’t.

14. How long (on average) does it take you to write a book and how many times do you edit it?

Four months and you don’t stop editing – there really is no ideal number of times to edit. You just keep searching for those little typos, grammer and spelling gremlins and exterminate them one by one.

15. What else do you do, if you aren’t a full-time writer?

I’m a Project Manager in the Cyber Security space for a financial institution.

See this video on The Scarlet Code

Published Author – Meet Melissa

January26

I loved being a small part of proofreading Melissa’s first soon-to-be-published novel. I love her style. But, more than that, I appreciate her approach to life, love and literature.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the book(s) you have written, including the genre you prefer:

Meet Melissa - author, blogger, beauty therapist, mom, and watersports enthusiast

Meet Melissa – author, blogger, beauty therapist, mom, and watersports enthusiast

I am a writer, blogger, recycler and beauty therapist; also the slave of one presumptuous cat. I live in Cape Town with the aforementioned feline, a patient husband and two smart daughters. I am a serial defaulter on Kayla’s bikini body programme and I surf my SUP when the ocean allows me to.

I have written two books. One was rejected by all the publishers in the Southern Hemisphere and a smattering of those in the North before I gave up and ate chocolate. The second, A Fractured Land, was *yay* requested by publishers in both hemispheres before I was offered a contract by Literary Wanderlust of Denver, Colorado. I write eco-romance. A Fractured Land has a few scenes set in Texas, but it’s mostly on a farm in the Karoo. There, Lexi Taylor is peacefully managing a guesthouse,until the land is earmarked for shale gas exploration by the brusque, yet intriguing Texan geologist, Carter O’Brien.

2. What was the process of getting published like?

The road to publication is paved with rejection. Also desperation, self loathing, great sadness, crocodile-thick skin and mediocre wine. When you feel you are ready to query your manuscript, it must be complete, edited and so polished that it gleams. In South Africa, if you would like to go the traditional route, you query the publishing houses directly. You write a letter that contains a bit about the book, a bit (a very small bit) about you, and then you attach the first three chapters and a synopsis. There are about 5-7 major publishing houses in South Africa and a couple of independent ones. You submit your query and wait. It can take 6 weeks to 6 months to hear back from them, if at all. And then they might ask for a partial (half the manuscript) or the full, before they decide whether to publish it or not. Some don’t take unsolicited submissions, except during certain windows stipulated on their website, so you need to stalk them a little and time it right.

If you would like an international publisher, you need to find an agent. The query process is similar, you send out query letter, 3 chapters and a synopsis, if that is what they indicate on their website. It is important to review their submission requirements before you submit.

Then you wait. Soon you begin to empathise with Miss Havisham at her wedding table. You may even channel your inner Mrs Rochester and wail in your attic.

If you would like to go the self-publishing route, you must be sure you are at peace with not traditionally publishing your book. Because you can’t go back. Also you need a bit of cash, as you are going to have to pay for the cover design, editorial process and all the behind-the-scenes stuff that produces a book. Staging Post (the self-publishing imprint of Jacana) recommends crowd-sourced funding like Thunda Fund or Go Fund Me.

A Fractured Land got lots of interest straight up, from all areas of traditional publishing: local publishers, an agent and two international publishers. I knew I was onto something straight away. (Unlike the previous manuscript. That manuscript had so many rejections I lost count. One agent said there was nothing about the sample chapters that made her want to read further. Which was like a kick in the teeth after my editor and writing teacher told me it was so good.)

3. What made you decide on the publishing house you did?

I think you have it the wrong way round. What made them decide on me? I entered a Twitter contest, where you pitch your book (ie. query your manuscript) in 140 characters. (It was the fourth time I have entered such a contest, for you to get a sense of the mountain of rejections). Literary Wanderlust was among the respondents who liked my pitch and asked for the full manuscript. They were first to send me a contract. (Which is basically the best love letter you can send a writer.)

4. What kind of feedback have you had from your readers and editors?

My beta reader, a prolific and talented writer, gave me some tough advice, which I followed. It was hard to do, but it turned out to be the right advice. I am thankful to her. My editor found a huge hole in the plot, which we fixed, and since that, I have had good feedback. I’m stoked.

5. We’d like to know the results of your decision. Would you consider it successful? Why? What does success mean to you?

I feel it’s a success because I worked so hard to get the manuscript to a standard that interested publishers and I didn’t give up despite the odds and the difficulty. It’s also terrifying. The thought that the things I wrote in private are now going to be in the public domain is paralysing. But I am pleased that I no longer feel like a fraud when I say I am a writer. I am stoked that I have the credibility now.

6. If you knew then (before embarking on the journey of publishing through a formal publishing house) what you know now, what would you tell yourself?

Stock up on wine, chocs and tissues. And a nice comfy chair because you are going to have to own that desk if you want to get a book written in the first place. I would also tell myself not to let the rejection define me. I was determined to view the rejection, not as a rod that beat me down, but rather, as a mollusc treats any irritation inside its shell. It uses it to create a pearl.

7. Please give us a quick list of pros and cons for the traditional publishing route.

There are no cons to a traditional publisher offering you a contract. Stephen King sank to the floor when he was finally offered a publishing contract. I nearly did too. Literary Wanderlust have been amazing, so professional and supportive, from the editorial and marketing perspective, as well as the art and cover design. It’s been a fantastic experience working with them. After I received the contract, I was invited to become a member of PEN South Africa and I am really excited about that. I feel that the personal validation afforded by traditional publishing is invaluable.

8. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Write the book. Even if it’s terrible. It’s kind of like sculpture. If you don’t have a big ungainly hunk of marble, you will never be able to refine it to the Venus De Milo. Your first draft will be big and ungainly. Edit it, shape it, take out the rough spots, polish it, but if you never throw it down in its large ugliness, you will never have a book. Social media can be helpful to build a platform. But you need to be authentic on social media, mind your manners and know your lane. Bitter rants are best avoided. Writing and publishing can be a small community, so good online (and offline) behaviour is paramount. Nanowrimo is also useful if you need a kick in the writing pants. It gets you going or back on track. Also, do not let rejection define you.

Then, just some fun questions:

9. Do you try to be as original as possible? Or do you prefer to stick to what you know readers / publishing houses are looking for?

I write what I like to read. Writing is such a consuming thing, you must enjoy the process. And half of writing is reading what you wrote. I know I’m writing well when it moves me emotionally, even though I made it up and knew it was coming.

10. When did you first experience the power of literature?

I loved all the Little House books when I was a child and, for years, our garden was my mind prairie. I remember being deeply upset by Csardas when I was a young teenager. I think when you have a more intense emotional experience in a book than you do in real life, you feel the power of literature.

11. How much time do you spend writing per day / week?

I’m a binge writer. I write in clumps. I should write a regular 2 hours a day. Successful people like Stephen King do that. Instead, I write when I have blocks of time or I when I am on a roll. I think a lot about plotting while I drive.

12. What do you tend to edit out of your books after the initial writing?

I edit out about 15% of the first draft, most of which is from the first few chapters. I think I set the stage for myself and my writing process by a long involved beginning which is a death knell for any book. So I end up cutting most of it out.

13. What are the hardest scenes for you to write?

Dialogue is quite tricky. It’s hard to make it sound natural but still be the literary device that shows character and drives the plot forward.

14. What could you have done as a child or teenager to ensure that you were an even better writer today?

I read a lot as a child and a teenager. I guess I could have read more but I should have written more. I didn’t know that all first drafts are terrible. I just assumed my writing was bad.

15. How long (on average) does it take you to write a book and how many times do you edit it?

It takes me about a year to write and a year to edit.

16. What else do you do, if you aren’t a full-time writer?

I work as a beauty therapist in my home salon. It’s a great job. I love the people I meet. Writing can be a lonely business, so I enjoy the human interaction in my day job. I thrive on the energy my clients give me.

You can find me on twitter @MissyAnnV my blogs are missmelissawrites.com and sunrisebeautyblog.wordpress.com

*Note: all interviews are published as submitted, and not edited*

I am on Instagram @sunrisebeautystudio.

Published Author – Meet Paula

January25

I loved hearing about Paula’s experience of the publishing and self-publishing scene in South Africa.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the book(s) you have written, including the genre you prefer:

Paula Gruben; author of Umbilicus

Paula Gruben; author of Umbilicus

I am a writer, inspirational speaker, mom, and wife. I live in Jo’burg and self-published my first book, Umbilicus: An autobiographical novel, in mid-2016. It’s a coming-of-age story, set in Durban 1995, and is based on my personal journey as an adoptee going in search of and reuniting with my birth mother. I am currently working on Incomer, which is due for release in late 2017. It’s a direct follow-on from Umbilicus, although both can be read as stand-alone stories. Incomer is set in 1997, and is based on real events, which took place during my two crazy years living in London and working in an adult store in the heart of Soho, the city’s red light district. Umbilicus is marketed as Young Adult (YA) realistic fiction, and Incomer will be marketed as New Adult (NA) realistic fiction. My preferred genres for both writing and reading are autobiographies, memoirs, crime fiction, and psychological thrillers.

2. What was the process of getting published like?

Like most budding authors at the start of their careers, I was lured by the thrill of potentially securing a contract with a big name traditional publisher, which supposedly meant utter validation of my worth as a writer. But after about six months of querying and not getting any joy (there were exciting flashes of interest, but no firm offers), I grew increasingly impatient and finally decided to call it a day. I figured I could spend the next year, two years, five years even, embroiled in the submission process, with absolutely no guarantee of ever securing a contract. Or I could take the bull by the horns, stop the soul-destroying cycle with immediate effect, and self-publish instead. It was a no-brainer. I don’t regret the traditional submission experience one bit, as I learned an awful lot about the industry, and grew a much thicker skin. But, in retrospect, I’m so glad I decided to go the self-publishing route, as it is far more in line with my more maverick ‘indie sensibilities’, which extend to just about all aspects of my life.

3. What kind of feedback have you had from your readers and editors?

Mercifully, Umbilicus has been extremely well-received. These are just some of the words that readers have used in reviews to date: affecting, authentic, beautiful, bittersweet, brave, candid, captivating, compassionate, consuming, emotive, engaging, enthralling, exhilarating, fascinating, fearless, gripping, heart-rending, honest, humbling, important, informative, insightful, inspiring, interesting, motivating, moving, open, original, poignant, powerful, raw, real, refreshing, relatable, remarkable, revealing, sad, soulful, thought-provoking, touching, truthful, unforgettable, unique, uplifting, well-crafted, and well-paced.

4. What are the publishing houses looking for, based on your dealings with them?

Unless you are a Trevor Noah or Helen Zille or Chris Hani’s daughter, you stand a snowball’s chance in hell of a local non-fiction publisher picking up your memoir. You will have to fictionalise your story and try submitting to their fiction imprints instead. Even though I ended up self-publishing, I am grateful for the advice and insights I gleaned from traditional publishers, mainly about current market trends and optimal shelf positioning for a story like mine. Although I didn’t take every single bit of advice on board, I did end up changing Umbilicus from a memoir to an autobiographical novel, from non-fiction to fiction, and it’s worked out really well.

5. We’d like to know the results of your decision to self-publish. Would you consider it successful? Why? What does success mean to you?

The average novel written in English by a South African will sell 600 – 1,000 copies [http://gbas.bookslive.co.za/blog/2016/08/10/how-many-books-get-sold-in-sa-every-year/] in its lifetime. Taking into consideration I’m about halfway there already with Umbilicus, just seven months after its release, I guess I’m not doing too badly. But, to achieve my goal of seeing this book included as recommended reading in high schools around the country, much work still needs to be done. Perhaps with the clout and connections of a traditional publisher behind me, I’d have achieved this goal by now. But, there’s no way of knowing. For me, over and above not-too-shabby book sales and phenomenal reviews, surprising personal fulfillment has come in the form of a steady stream of invitations to do author talks. This has not only created another income source for me in the form of speaker fees, but also a valuable platform to engage with and sell my book directly to readers at each event. I use Umbilicus as a launch pad for all my talks, but I tailor the content and the message to suit the unique needs and intended outcome for each audience. The feedback from these talks has been incredibly gratifying.

6. If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell yourself?

Stop doubting yourself! Your story does matter. You are a good writer. You are a good public speaker. Your testimony will touch hearts and change lives.

7. Please give us a quick list of pros and cons for the traditional publishing route:

Sure, there’s still an element of ‘prestige’ attached to being offered a traditional publishing contract. And it’s nice having someone handle much of the marketing and publicity on your behalf, leaving you more time to actually write. But realistically, your odds of landing a publishing deal in the first place are slim to none. And, even if you do, there’s no guarantee of commercial success. As a writer, you have to decide what you want most – the ‘prestige’ of a traditional publishing contract, perhaps only years after you start the submission process, or the reward of seeing your work in the hands of readers, now. For me, it was the latter. And thanks to technology, plus lack of ego, I was able to embrace the idea of self-publishing as a truly credible alternative. During the process of birthing my first book baby, I acquired a whole new skill set, which I can use again and again in the birthing of all my future book babies.

8. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Read, read, read! You cannot write unless you read. Attend writing workshops and courses – online or in real life. Write like you speak; simple is always better. Dialogue makes up about seventy percent of contemporary novels so learn to master the art of writing dialogue and you’re well on your way to producing marketable material. Go to book launches and don’t be shy to ask authors and publishers questions. Put yourself out there – network, network, network! And use Google – Google is your friend, as are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – to connect with other writers and potential readers down the line. If you’re like me and write in ad hoc chunks rather than full, chronological chapters, then yWriter is a marvelous little tool. It’s a free downloadable programme that helps you sort and structure your work into scenes, chapters and, eventually, a complete, coherent whole.

If you decide to try your luck with the traditional publishing route, be prepared for rejection, and probably lots of it. To help soften the blows, follow @LitRejections on Twitter. Their daily tweets of ‘inspiring rejection stories’ (not an oxymoron, believe it or not!), motivational quotes, and genuine empathy will encourage you to persevere, and most importantly, remind you of why you started this publishing journey in the first place.

If you choose to go the self-publishing route, make sure to outsource the services of professionals, like Staging Post and MyeBook, for areas where you know you lack expertise. Very few authors are able to single-handedly see the entire process through from start to finish, from first draft to physical paperback. From the editing, proofreading, and typesetting of their manuscript, to ebook conversion, cover design, website design, distribution, marketing, and publicity, it’s a pretty Herculean task, by anyone’s standards.

Luckily, I had the experience needed to do everything myself, but what I didn’t have was the capital needed to do my first print run. I used Indiegogo to raise enough funds to cover the costs of my first print run (200 units), and I used the profit from the sales of those books to bankroll my second print run (another 200 units). If I need to crowdfund again, I will give Thundafund a go. It’s apparently the leading crowdfunding platform for South Africa (it wasn’t around when I used Indiegogo a couple of years ago).

9. How much time do you spend writing per day / week?

When my son is at school, I try to spend at least two to three hours every morning working on my books – either marketing the first, or writing the second. During school holidays, however, this routine goes out the window. Then I take whatever free time I can get – an hour here, half an hour there. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Like Franz Kafka once wrote: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

10. How long (on average) does it take you to write a book and how many times do you edit it?

With Umbilicus, the research, writing, and assembling of all the puzzle pieces into an identifiable narrative arc probably took around two years. Although the end result is a work of fiction, the book started life as narrative non-fiction, and I wanted to get all my facts straight. The sociopolitical setting of the story, and details of the locations and historic events narrated by the protagonist are all factually sound. It went through at least a dozen edits, maybe more. Now that I’ve got templates to work from and systems in place, I’m hoping Incomer will take around 18 months. Being the perfectionist that I am, I reckon this manuscript will also go through around a dozen edits to get to the point where I am completely satisfied. But, I know that, in the end, it will all be totally worth it!

Check out Paula’s website and Facebook page for more.

 

Umbilicus

Umbilicus

*Note: all interviews are published as submitted, and not edited*

Published Author – Meet Sizwile

January20

Sizwile is a vibrant young South African author, and I’m thrilled to have her be part of the interview series.

Sizwile is the self-published author of The Good Girl

Sizwile is the self-published author of Good Girl

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the book(s) you have written, including the genre you prefer:

I am an accountant by profession but I love reading. I read all types of books, and particularly like inspirational books and romance novels. I have only published one book so far, and it is novel. I would classify it as a romantic drama, if such a thing exists!

The novel is called “Good Girl” and follows the journey of a young woman navigating life away from the safety of home, and going through heartbreak and some very bad decisions. Anyone who has studied at a tertiary institution will most likely identify with some of the behaviors and challenges.

2. Why did you decide to self-publish? What was the process leading up to this decision? 

I realized that it would be difficult to get a publisher to publish my book, because it does not fit any mold of what has been previously published by publishing houses. I am not a celebrity or public figure, and I had nothing to sell myself with. I did not have the money to use a self publishing service, so when I say I self published, I mean I did everything myself, including ISBN, editing, formatting etc.

3. What kind of feedback have you had from your readers and editors?

I have received an overwhelming feedback from readers. I sent out a sample of the book before publishing it, and the readers immediately requested information on how to purchase the full version. I then published an e-version on Kindle, but I still got a significant amount of requests from people who want the hard copy. I realise that Kindle is not as common as I thought, and am researching other e book platforms that could work in South Africa.

4. We’d like to know the results of your decision. Would you consider it successful? Why? What does success mean to you? 

I think this has been a success. I am motivated to publish more of the stories I have written. The social media feedback suggests that readers are hungry for the hard copy of the book.

5. If you knew then (before embarking on the journey of self-publishing) what you know now, what would you tell yourself?

Do what I do best, and leave the rest to professionals, in particular issues to do with design. I attempted to design my own book cover and ended up with a cover that looked like a manual. I then approached an inexpensive service provider who did a sterling job. Next time I will not even attempt to do that. Also, I would be kinder to myself, because with this novel I second guessed myself a lot and even though people love the book I am still second guessing myself.

6. Please give us a quick list of pros and cons for the self-publishing route:

Pros: Control of your own work, ownership of the rights, no publisher deadlines and demands, no heart break of being rejected by a publishing house

Cons: Having to pay for everything from your own pocket, no marketing support

7. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I don’t feel qualified to give advice, but I would say don’t be in a hurry to publish, take your time, and be happy with your own work before putting it out there. Also, be prepared for negative feedback and don’t take it personally. I was a little hurt when a few people close to me disapproved of the novel as they felt it clashed with my Christian faith, but had to quickly recover and remind myself that they were saying it from a place of love.

Let professionals do the work, where you can afford it. In future, if I afford it, I will engage an editor to deal with all those little grammar mistakes etc

I would also say research extensively for service providers, you will be surprised at the price variations for the same quality. My book cover cost me R70 on fiverr, but I had quotes of up to R450 per hour.

Then, just some fun questions:

Good Girl

Good Girl

8. Do you try to be as original as possible? Or do you prefer to stick to what you know readers / publishing houses are looking for?

I try to be original. I don’t want people to start thinking ” what’s so different about this book?”

9. When did you first experience the power of literature?

Probably at about 7 years of age when I started writing (with Dad’s help) public speaking speeches for school competitions.

10. How much time do you spend writing per day / week?

I have no set time. I can go for a whole week without writing, or write everyday for hours!

11. What do you tend to edit out of your books after the initial writing?

Dates and times, I worry if they do not make sense for the story line.

12. What are the hardest scenes for you to write?

Scenes to do with the loss of a child. I cry my eyes out!

13. What could you have done as a child or teenager to ensure that you were an even better writer today?

Read more!

14. How long (on average) does it take you to write a book and how many times do you edit it?

I wrote my first book in a week but I did not publish it. It left me emotionally drained. It took me a month to write the second one, which I published, but I lost count of the number of times I edited it.

15. What else do you do, if you aren’t a full-time writer?

I run a kids cooking club called iCook Kids Club. I’m also an accountant.

Keep in touch with Sizwile via Facebook.

*Note: all interviews are published as submitted, and not edited*

Getting Published – A Series of Interviews

January16

Over the years, I’ve been approached by loads of aspiring or actual authors. Some have an idea for a book, others have ventured into actually writing the book. But all of them have one thing in common – they want to get published. And, the more writers that I meet or chat to, the more I realise how vague, misunderstood, complex and maybe even frustrating the publishing process can be.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be interviewing a number of authors that have been or are being published. Some have opted for publishing houses, others have gone down the route of self-publishing. I’ll be chatting to them about their experiences, and gleaning some valuable advice from them so that those wanting to head down this very exciting course have some sort of direction, and a better idea of what to expect.

I’m excited to share these insights with you.

SEO For Dummies (We’ve All Been Dummies At Some Point)

November27

Writing websites and blogs for a living, I meet with plenty of different people, selling different things to different target markets. Still, every one of them needed great Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO). It’s what gets your website noticed, drives traffic.

Wikipedia says:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results – often referred to as “natural,” “organic,” or “earned” results.

In the “old days” (you know, three years ago, or so), we used to cram the site and its content with keywords and phrases. If it was the website of a guesthouse, we would make sure that there were (sometimes gratuitous) mentions of “guest house, tourism, accommodation, holiday accommodation, cape town accommodation, beach house, destination, travel, south african accommodation” and so on. This led to a repetitive style that was sometimes jarring and didn’t always flow well.

In recent years, though, the search engines (such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing) have demanded a far more reader-friendly approach to online content. In fact, it’s almost all about good quality, relevant, readable content these days. Instead of scanning the content for keywords and phrases, these search engines actually research websites for useful, informative content that is engaging and accurate.

This means that, as content writers, we have a massive responsibility to understand the target market of our clients, research the material well, and write really good content.

Here are some tips to ensure that your site achieves the best in terms of SEO:
content writing, search engine optimization

  • GOOD content is first and foremost – updated it frequently and focus on information that is 1) useful and 2) beneficial.
  • You still need intelligent, well planned keywords and phrases, but they should be used wisely and in a way that flows. This takes research, as you will need to understand what your target market is looking for, then use these words and phrases in the body of your website / blog as well as in your meta info.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of your title – don’t be cute or obtuse, write titles that contain your keywords and give readers a good idea of what they can expect. Include your title in your title tag and in your top level heading tag.
  • Steer clear of Flash or splash pages – these can sometimes block the search engine’s crawler. Rather, use images that have relevant descriptions, making use of your keywords.
  • Keep your coding clean – this makes it easier for the engines to crawl. So, keep your titles in the title / heading tags, the paragraphs in the paragraph tags, and so on.
  • Put your readers first– if you put your readers first, consider what they need and want to know, and are committed to providing them with this, the process will be organic. The search engines are far more likely to notice and rank your site. There are no shortcuts or cheats.
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    How Writing Helps

    April20

    So often, I have experienced the sense of awe that people get when I tell them that I am a writer; as if it’s not only an intangible dream to them, but something quite extraordinary. Now, I do agree that different people are good at different things. I’m not a numbers person. When I see numbers, I get sad and frustrated. My self-esteem plummets as I realise that my brain simply won’t cooperate. Words, on the other hand, are my thing. I get them.

    Still, I do believe that writing does something good for the soul. Even below-average writing. And, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Writing is frequently recommended by those in the know – from Oprah, who suggests a daily gratitude journal, to business moguls and international hotshots that have seen how this form of self-expression pays off.

    Here are a few benefits to writing (not writing well, just writing):

    You learn to organise your thoughts and ideas – writing necessitates some sort of structure. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. This makes even big projects, ideas or problems far more manageable.

    You develop your own style – this alone goes a long way in giving you writing confidence. If you’re planning to make writing your career, your own identity is crucial. Some people will love it, some won’t. But, it’s not something you can neglect or evade.

    Whoosah! – it’s no secret that writing makes a big problem more manageable and an idea more tangible. So, in this way, writing actually helps to ease stress and anxiety, and even promotes happiness and contentment. Writing is an outlet, and who doesn’t need one of those?

    You learn to communicate better – in a world of social media and immediate gratification, communication has taken on a very different ‘face’ to what it was just a decade ago. Added to this is stress, a lack of time, and social awkwardness or discomfort. These combine to make lengthy, meaningful chats very difficult, which has compromised our ability to talk…just TALK. Writing is an effective way to communicate feelings and ideas that you may otherwise struggle to articulate.

    It keeps the mind strong – using your brain to create and express is mental exercise, and is essential to creating and maintaining neural pathways.

    Write regularly to reap these benefits, but don’t overdo it. This will only make it a chore that is begrudgingly soldiered through, rather than being enjoyed. Rather, schedule it for a time at which you know there is relative peace and quiet so that you can enjoy the mental retreat and succumb to your creativity.

    Time Wasters

    December5

    Time is precious and every second counts. Heard these worn-out cliches before? Never have they been truer than for a freelancer. Although I am great at wasting time, wastage of any other kind is a pet hate of mine. I’m writing this article in an effort to harness my own weaknesses and to help us all to identify the weak spots.

    Here are some of the time-wasters that occupy our time, minds and energy:

    Unnecessary meetings – clients may have time to sip languorously at frothy cappuccinos, but you need to reign them in and take control of your time. Email is a wonderful resource. Use it. What can be achieved in a 90-minute meeting can, usually, be accomplished in an email that takes less than 10 minutes to type.

    Social media – Facebook and Twitter are no longer just ‘social’. They actually accomplish a lot in the spheres of business and advertising. However, logging into your accounts to check your business pages or profiles will likely distract you to check your personal messages, contacts and updates. It takes an enormous amount of discipline, but it is absolutely non-negotiable to stay away from social media during times in which you should be concentratng and churning out reams of inspired work.

    Saying yes – just don’t. Learn to decline jobs that are not worth it for you and learn to delegate.

    Untidiness – *guilty* The truth is that piles of paperwork and jumbled notes is just plain wasteful. It wastes our time and mental ‘space’. Nothing irritates me as much as not being able to find a quote or a brief, and it happens on almost a daily basis. It hasn’t quite reached ridiculous proportions yet, and I’m hoping that this article is the antidote to my untidiness. Can you spot the magic wand yet?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you do to use your time as efficiently as possible. I need all the help I can get.


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