Start With Why

A friend pitched me on this book. The book isn’t as good as the ideas, but the ideas are fascinating. It’s good brainfood if you can detach message from messenger. More like message from handwriting, because Sinek just seems like a better talker than writer.

The basic premise, start with why you’re doing things, appeals to me. I’m very good at the how and what, but those whys are difficult. So the seeds dropped on fertile mind-soil. What’s more, having a distinct why makes doing things easier. Frankl talked about this, and that book affected me deeply. Frankl wasn’t very pragmatic, Sinek was, so it came across as a useful harmony.

Whys can either be so broad as to be meaningless, so narrow as to be meaningless, and the modicum in between is both useful and frustrating. Suppose Alice’s objective is ‘Make the world a better place.’ That’s the former. She can work in a soup kitchen, make a ton of money and support a soup kitchen, or go buy and eat soup. Soup makes her world a better place, she’s in the world, therefore Alice eating soup makes the world a better place. Yay! That’s the lowest positive increment.

Conversely, if Zara decides she’s going to give a can of soup to a charity, and then congratulate herself for accomplishing her life goal, she’s also done something positive. The soup got donated. Yay! Lowest positive increment.

The stuff in the middle is the kicker.

With apologies to the Moody Blues, I’ll give a couple thoughts I cannot defend. The way to do great things is do small things that lead in the direction of greatness. 90% of the time you focus on the small things, 5% you focus on the goal, and 5% you focus on who you are. Nothing works without the rest, but that’s a decent proportion. You can probably see why I liked and disagreed with Start With Why if you’ve read it.

Starting from there, one needs a concrete, action-verb why. It should point in the direction of making the world a better place, but should be a distinct thing. Some people will agree, some won’t, and water will remain wet. What I’m working on right now with the C-IED/C-LM robots and the books is ‘Take some harm out of the world.’

If I remove a few, that’s less landmines. Landmines are bad, so fewer of them is less negatives. I think there is such a thing as positive evil, evil existing as something not just the absence of good, and landmines are bad. Reducing the landmine counts reduces the bad.

In the books, I often think about people coming to bad circumstances or bad situations, and not fixing things but reducing the harm. I struggle with this notion: how do you make things less bad? And yet there’s meaning in there.

Hiring an Editor

A big problem I had was hiring editors. How does one go about it, who to hire, how much to pay, etc. This is how I do it now.

First, I rely on some people I’ve used before. If you click on the credits link up top, all the people who edited any of my books are listed. All of them are fine. For content editing, I try not to stick exclusively to that list, as other, varied opinions might be useful. Copyediting is a bit different, as Wordy has a rotating slate of copyeditors and they bid on and accept jobs among them. Wordy’s a little expensive, but I’ve been generally pretty happy with the results.

I want to say each of the content edits of Mara was about a thousand, a little lower or a little higher. Copyediting was significantly more, and proofreading was less (around half). Mara was about 65k words, and in published form, it’s ~280 pages.

Secondly, looking for people I haven’t used before, I turn first to EFA (Editorial Freelance Association). That works like this:

Prep:

Have the thing done Do not use this as a deadline to force yourself to finish the book. The book is done. It’s ready. I’ve stared at it until my eyes bleed, and as far as I can tell, I’m ready to publish the stupid thing right now.

Make a style sheet. This cannot be overstated. It’s important, I hate doing it, it’s critical, it takes forever, I never do it right, and it’s absolutely vital. Write down all of the weird little things you want kept intact. Mara’s worldview is very small, so locations in her house (the House) are proper nouns. The Kitchen is a proper noun. Editors need to know that.

The style sheet also forces me to be sure I’m spelling everything the same way, so I ctrl+F a lot and make sure everyone’s name is spelled one way, I hyphenate consistently, etc. My readers all talk about this. If there’s an inconsistency in name or room spelling, it’s one of the first things they mention.

Make a sample. For content editing, I put up about ten pages of fairly typical stuff, usually a recent orphan. Copyediting or proofreading gets a few pages (~500 words). (Wordy does it a little differently, so read their rules carefully.) Content should be provided in MS Word and pdf. MS Word is the standard, but the next time I do this, I’m going to have someone look at the actual final product in pdf to be printed, what’s known as a galley. Many editors only do MS Word, so that’s something to be aware of. The orphan is always one I turned my hand to recently, within the last few months or during the writing of the live work. Style naturally changes with time, so it helps both of us if the applicants are seeing material indicative of what I want them to edit.

EFA and Wordy both have sample length requirements, so read those carefully. I have never had a problem when someone limits the sample length, but the above numbers are my defaults.

1) Go to the-efa.org
1a) Create a login in necessary
1b) Read their rules for new authors and regarding samples

I always require samples. Always. Unless I’ve worked with someone before, I want to see an example of their work. Some editors don’t do that, and it’s fine. I just won’t hire them. EFA is big on not asking for a sample of ‘live work’ including the MS in question. That’s why I use segments of orphans from my hard drive.

2) Write up the bid request or RFQ
2a) Make sure request a price and turn-around estimate. A good timeframe for turn around is a month or two. Less might incur rush charges, more is a little slow. I do use someone who gives turn-around in months though, and she often requires scheduling four or five months out. I aim for a month or two, but anything below six months is pretty reasonable for me.
2b) Put the sample online somewhere.
2c) In the RFQ, ask for a sample edit. This can go here, or in a reply letter to the quotes that pass the first filter. It takes longer to put it here, but filtering becomes easier. Be sure to include link to sample.

3) Read everything. Everything. It takes weeks. A job post might well get hundreds of replies, and I read all of them.
3a) Especially read credits and references.
3b) Send nice, single-sentence emails to people I’m declining. “Thank you for your interest, but I’ve decided to work with another professional.” I hate this part, but when I’m applying for jobs, I hate the silence more.
3c) Hopefully narrow it down to one person.

4) Send them the document. Pay any deposit.
4a) Deposits of $100 or 50% are common. The rest is due on completion.
4b) The pity here is that freelancers do get burned, so some are particular about their pay schedule. My goal is a deposit of no more than $100, and that’s my opening offer. EFA and Wordy both have some measure of protection for the hirer (me), so I’m flexible.

Cost isn’t the only factor, but it is a factor. Experience, credits, and the format of their reply also count. If someone doesn’t provide a turnaround estimate, they’re eliminated, and an estimate that’s too foggy (‘I can get it done soon’) is also a DQ. What does ‘soon’ mean? I don’t know.

Reply: “This should take me two weeks, and I’ll start at the beginning of March.” (say I get this reply in January)
Great answer. It’s an estimate, so I slot that mentally as ‘send follow up email March 15th, but don’t really expect something until later in March.’ Something always comes up.

Costs vary, but if I get 50-100 replies or more, I should get a sense of the land. These are estimates, so they go up or down. I plan for a 10% slide.

Some people do lower final charges vs estimates, so it does happen. But some people say some bits took longer than they expected. 10% up or down reasonable. Especially with content edits, I want the editor to do the best job. If they need to go back a few pages and check something to make sure they’re reading it right, I want them to do that, and I also want them to tell me they had to do that. But that’s hard to plan for on their end, so I’m flexible.

Some people don’t really change their style to suit my needs. Returning to Mara’s worldview and capitalization, I want that and intend to keep it. A few sample edits corrected all of her proper nouns to common, because to an adult (us), kitchen is a common noun. That’s fine, but it’s not what I’m looking for, so I don’t hire someone who does that. This is why a style sheet is so vital.

Free ebooks

I mentioned I didn’t know if the free ebook promotion for Mara was permanent or like a rental.

It’s permanent. I just checked, and I’ve got it through the account. So if you want Mara for free, Mara and the Trolls will be free again at the end of this month.

Also the paperback is going back to full price, $14.99 on Feb 1st, so if you want a tangible book to hold in your hand, it’s three bucks off now.

Happy New Year, 2021

This year had good parts and bad parts. Let’s talk about the good ones.

I published my first full-length novel, Mara and the Trolls. I started writing it in the 2011-2012 timeframe, and it started appearing online in 2013. If you look at the copyright information, that’s where the 2013 comes from. Around 2017-2018 I started submitting it to publishing houses and agents, and got nothing. The places that advertise ‘we respond to all submissions!’ didn’t reply to mine. So be it.

I started editing it for real in late 2017 or early 2018, I forget when exactly. Initially I had mixed intents, either traditional publishing or self publishing, but as time went on, I decided the heck with it, I’m self publishing. I knew I could get that done on bile and determination alone, whereas with traditional publishing, my work was in someone else’s hands.

You can control inputs, not outputs. Having a traditionally published book is an output. Self publishing a book is an input.

Between 2016 and 2018 I was working at as an engineer at what was probably the best job I’ve ever had. I liked my boss, I liked my coworkers, I liked the work. The pay was good. I was miserable. I realized at the time that this was as good as an engineering job involving me working for someone else was going to get, and if I didn’t like this, it was my problem not the job. I still believe that. Bloodharvest and Mara were both close to completion, and it was just so easy not to do anything. I gave my boss two months notice (I really did like the guy) and set the company up for success as best I could. Then I moved to Denver. I finished Bloodharvest, published it, and learned basically how to do the deed.

In 2019, Mara evolved into her current form. I was in California when Ms. Fawkes sent me the second edits, and I realized the book was largely done. I got those edits around June, and over the next six, seven months finished. I hate editing. The ending was rewritten about 10 times. Other people went through it.

The artwork was done by Fergal O’Connor. He sent me scans in late 2019, and sent the originals to my permanent address outside DC. I’ve still never seen them. My living arrangements in Denver were not so good.

Mara went through copyediting and went to the layout people, and that took until around June 2020. It was published in collected form the first time on Amazon in June.

Within a month, it was down again. Misspellings, errors, duplicated words, and words that shouldn’t be there abounded. There were just problems. I’ve read a fair number of self-published books, and everyone who said they ‘didn’t need an editor or proofreader’ was wrong. Many wives and husbands, parents, boy- and girlfriends, and friends in general did editing pro bono. All the books needed more. I’d had the (professional) copyeditor and a parent go through the MS, but frankly, it just wasn’t enough. A lot of people touched the MS after the copyeditor, and I’m happy with her work. But Mara needed more professional help.

So two more proofreaders went through it, it got laid-out again, and republished in October and November as an ebook and paperback respectively. I was having problems in life, but Mara went live again.

If you do find a typo, please let me know, but I hope you don’t.

Total cost to me was about $10k, quitting my job, a fulltime year of my life, and a lot of questioning. BH cost about half that. Here we are.

In early 2020, mid-first-lockdown, I moved and started a PhD program at the University of Denver. I’m not enamored of DU but it is a good school. In 2011-2013 I did my Masters in Physics at George Mason, and that was not a good school. DU isn’t perfect, but I’ve got lab access here. I can work on projects. I can do research, and the faculty is helpful. A foot behind me a test apparatus is curing, and with a little luck I’ll be taking data within a week. I like it here.

Covid hit DU hard. It’s a challenge.

Through all that, 2020 happened. This was just a hell of a year, wasn’t it? I played very small parts in world events. A lot of people tell me they feel like side characters in their own lives. They talk about the USA as if it’s full of other people, the doings of roommates. They, and I, feel like we’re doing little. My part in the pandemic was little more than wearing a mask and avoiding family, and my role in politics, protests, and confrontation was no bigger. Yet in a country of 330 odd million (census is coming out soon), everyone’s small actions cause huge changes. We the bit characters are the players. We are drama before Thespis.

As a premise, I discount the notion Covid 19 was human caused. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and I haven’t seen it. But everything else was people being people, and the huge majority of those people were people like me, doing little things, not doing little things, struggling. People, little people, made up the events of this year. People cast the votes, took to the streets, and spoke their minds.

And the people who took the other side are people too. The people who voted against me have reasons they hold as seriously as mine. The people who refuse to wear a mask have reasons, and controlling their actions isn’t given to me. Nor is argument terribly useful.

Ever been on Twitter? Did you say anything? When someone told you ‘No, you’re wrong, you’re stupid, educate yourself,’ did it persuade you of anything? I suppose that’s fine if you’re playing to your base, but it’s not a useful thing to say if you’re trying to persuade others. If you want to do something with people, beating or arguing them into agreement just doesn’t work.

It doesn’t matter if it’s as objective as .. + .. = …. or subjective as ‘do you like this individual?’ You can’t force agreement. And if you’re right but you burn that bridge, that person will oppose you in every potential conflict forever more. Humans live 60-100 years on average. That’s a lot of future potential conflicts.

People are all of their past history projected at once. The present is a cutaway of our histories, laid out like geological sediment suddenly exposed by a fault. We see each other as we appear now, and yet we see ourselves as all of the moments we’ve ever been, drawn together into a line.

I’m still the little kid at Herndon Elementary, looking up at colorful posters on the walls. They hang signs on the walls at DU, and they’re eye level for an average person, so I look down at them. To me, I’m still that kid. And I’m me now. Recently I met a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in ten years. He didn’t recognize me.

2020 was a heck of a year.

Good luck, everyone. Happy New Years, and I’m rooting for you.

Mara

Mara is free on Kindle starting at 1201 am PST Dec 31, in about 1.5 hrs as of this writing. It will be free for 72 hours.

I’ve never done this before, but I think you get to keep it forever. So if you ‘buy’ it for zero dollars/euros, it’s permanently yours.

If you like it, please leave a review or stars.

Mara is live

It took a week or two, but every day a weight has been lifting slightly from my shoulders. It’s funny how tense I was about that.

Drawing little bits of maps for Elegy, and starting to play around with ideas for another kid’s book. Been kicking a few scenes around between Corwin and Julian. Finals are this week. I’ll be happy when they’re done.

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Mara’s back.

This weekend? Please, powers that be, let me get it done this weekend.

Mara and the Trolls in paperback coming soon.