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Evaluating Your Editors

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All editors are not created equal.

     It is virtually impossible to find professional-level editing for bargain-basement prices. This handy checklist will help you determine if you’re looking at an experienced editor or a green freelancer. You may not have the funds, desire, or need to hire a top-notch editor, but this checklist will help you avoid untrained and unqualified individuals.

These guidelines are for editors who work on a sentence-by-sentence basis. They may call themselves line editors, copy-editors, or even proofreaders.

Experience

     Look for experience specific to editing. Degrees in English and published books are nice, but they do not constitute copy-editing training.

     Writing and editing are related skills, but not interchangeable, kind of like being good at running and being good at soccer. If you are a fast runner, that will help you in playing soccer. However, you can’t simply run around the field and expect to spontaneously learn the rules of the game. Editing is the same.

     Check to make sure that your potential editor has training or formal experience in editing and he’s not just running around the field. An English degree is not enough. Look for education directly related to editing as well as in-the-field experience, such as editing for a book publisher or newspaper.

Rates

     Editors may charge by the hour, by the page, by the word, or by the project. Low hourly rates start at $15/h. The average rate is around $45/h, while high hourly rates reach $80/h or more. The lowest per-page rates start at $1, with an average of $6 and a high of $12. Per-word rates range from half a penny per word to ten cents per word.

Here’s the basic philosophical difference:
     Inexperienced editors try to compete on price in order to gain clients, especially when their skills are lacking. Established professionals know the fair market value of their work

One more warning:
     Beware of decimal points! I’ve seen more than one editor with rates of .005 cents per word. That’s 200 words for a penny, or $3.75 for a document of 75,000 words. Fork over a few dollars for fun, but otherwise avoid editors with such egregious mistakes on their own websites.

Elasticity

     Experienced, established editors tend to stick to their rates. They may offer discounts in rare cases, like if you’re offering multiple long-term projects.

     Willingness to compromise on any assignment is a hallmark of inexperienced freelancers. They’ll offer discounts, samples, refunds, free work, and more. Beware: this new breed of editors often thinks of your document as practice, not work. They’ll exchange cheap work for the ability to count your manuscript as ‘experience’. To return to the soccer analogy, this may work for backyard soccer, but it won’t help you reach the writing big leagues.

Focus

     Publishers should make their money from the sales of books, and editors should derive their income from editing. Watch out for editors who also offer marketing services, website development, cover design, ebook formatting, and their own books for sale. Multiple services shouldn’t necessarily deter you, but it’s a warning sign of an editor spread too thin. If you want a top-notch editor, look for one who only edits.

Flash

     A business website is expected to have a certain amount of style and an intentional design. Look for personalized URLs (like popularsoda.com, not popularsoda.blogspot.com).

     With an editor’s website, the focus should be on the text, and the text should be easy to read. You should easily be able to find out the editor’s rates, experience, and contact information. Watch out for websites that are image-heavy and rely on animations, slideshows, and multimedia elements. Ask yourself if the site is selling the strength of its services or a flashy image. That’s a good rule of thumb for evaluating any company, not just editors.

So…

     Is it ever appropriate to hire a new, inexperienced, or untrained editor? Of course. If you’re having a hard time finding beta readers, need someone to commit to your full novel, or you simply don’t have the funds for professional editing, a less-experienced editor may suit your needs just fine.

     However, you should be aware that hobbyist editors do not provide the same level of service as professional editors. You are getting what you pay for. It’s your money, but you should go into negotiations with your eyes open.

Increase Your Writing Productivity By Breaking Down Your Day

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     “As a freelancer, do you ever have the time/energy to work on your own writing projects?”

     Joe asked this question on the blog about two weeks ago. I thought about it during vacation and decided to write a new post with my answer.

     As a full-time freelancer, it often gets difficult to slog through thousands of words every day while sitting at the dining room table. Unlike a proper office, I never get to pack up and leave. Even when I’m not working, I’m still in the same house, in the same space, and I can still see my work area.

     These are my top tricks for breaking up the day and maintaining focus while working on multiple writing projects. These tips are for all writers, not just full-time freelancers.

Time

     The easiest way to break up the day is with time. Don’t just set aside time to write: set aside a specific time. Make it a permanent part of your calendar and as non-negotiable as your job. Work from 9-5. Spin class 6-7. Write 8-9.

     If you have an unpredictable schedule, you can still use the clock to increase productivity. Set aside 15-minute chunks multiple times a day or week. Even the busiest person has at least 15 full minutes a day to devote to working on a story, whether you’re writing in a notebook during lunch, typing on your phone on the subway, or talking into a tape recorder as you drive.

    I start every morning by checking out Twitter and replying to email. Then I make my coffee and work for two hours. I take a break to play with my dog and take her outside. Then I work for another two hours, and repeat until I’ve finished my to-do list. For me, the placement of the time chunks is not as important as the number of them. I might finish my work early and have time to work on a non-writing project. I might have a morning appointment, so I simply work later into the night. My two-hour chunks allow me to focus on my work because I know I’ll have a break to take care of other stuff.

Space

     Multiple studies have shown that you get the most restful sleep when you use your bed for sleeping. Not reading, not eating, not watching TV. Use the same principle with writing.

     Set aside a space just for writing. Be serious about it. Don’t browse the web or eat lunch in your writing space.

The deadline chair

     Half of my dining room is set aside as a work station. In my living room, I have my deadline chair. I only use the chair when I need to work in a hurry.

     Separate furniture isn’t a necessity for a writing space. Turn your favorite chair sideways when it’s time to work. Choose one seat at your kitchen table for eating, but sit in a different place when it’s time to write. This small change in perspective kicks your brain into writing gear.

Entertainment

     Use multimedia to get yourself into the writing mood. Runners have a running playlist. Put together a writing playlist that suits your current project. Grooveshark lets you create playlists without purchasing each song. You can play movies or TV in the background instead if music isn’t your thing.

     I have multiple playlists on Grooveshark. Strangely, I do my best editing work to loud, fast, angry music like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. If I’m working on dreamy poetry, I’ll play Sarah Fimm and Tori Amos. If I’m just plodding away on a general assignment, I try to pick songs and artists with upbeat, dancey music, like Beyonce, the Pussycat Dolls, Ke$sha, and Shakira.

     One caveat with using a multimedia playlist: check your final draft to make sure no lyrics or dialogue sneaked into your work.

Topics

     This one is a bit controversial and harder to pull off. If you find it difficult to balance your work with your own writing and your personal interests, you may want to pitch articles on topics separate from your favorite areas.

     As a freelancer, I write a lot about writing, editing, social media, businesses, technology, and taxes. I specialize in the intersection of these topics. 

Costume and crafts

     However, I also have personal passions for video games, arts and crafts, and making costumes. I choose not to write professionally about these topics. I don’t need to monetize everything I do or like. Everyone has multiple interests: reserve a few just for fun.

 

 

What are your tips for breaking up the work day and increasing your productivity?

Of Elves & Editors: Explaining Self-Publishing with Lord of the Rings

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     ((A quick refresher on the story: The Dark Lord Sauron is searching for the One Ring of power. It’s currently held by Frodo, who sets out to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom. He’s helped along the way by many, including hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards, and kings. Forgive us any oversimplifications: we’re trying to write an article about LotR, not rewrite LotR.)) 

Beginning the Journey 

     In this analogy, you are Frodo with one manuscript to rule them all. Your goal is to scale Mount Doom, which is the bestseller list. You aren’t going to destroy your manuscript in the end by throwing it into the fire (though we suppose if you have a best-selling book, you can celebrate however you wish).

     But Mount Doom is on the other end of Middle-Earth. How are you going to get there?

Networking (The Fellowship of the Ring)

     Frodo would have been dead before leaving the Shire if he hadn’t had help. Similarly, successfully publishing a book requires other people. Start with building a publishing team of specialists. You’ll need a trained editor, a great cover designer, maybe a marketer, and a wizard if you can find one.

     In the Fellowship, the members have diverse but complementary skill sets. Legolas has superior elven vision and proficiency with a bow. Gandalf has his magic. Frodo isn’t the best fighter, but he is fully committed to the mission. That kind of drive benefits you in any long-term project. In the same vein, your publishing team should be composed of multiple people who each have a specialty. Your editor should not also be your cover designer and publicist. That would be like Frodo setting off with only Aragorn at his side. Frodo would certainly get farther with Aragorn than he would alone, but the full Fellowship of the Ring is best equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.

Creating a Fan Base (Assembling an Army) 

     Besides the core nine members of the Fellowship, Frodo has many more allies who are not named. Theoden, King of Rohan, fights on the side of the Fellowship, but Theoden also brings the armies of Rohan, the largely nameless and faceless mass of riders. Aragorn may be the heir to the throne of Gondor, but he needs the ordinary soldiers to defend the walls of Minas Tirith against Sauron’s armies.

     These faceless fighters are like your readers. You will not get anywhere without readers. Your readers probably won’t be willing to die for you, but they should be willing to act on your behalf: buy your books, tell their friends, retweet and reblog your work, leave glowing (yet realistic and helpful!) reviews. In return, you provide engaging, immersive, enjoyable stories. It would be nice, but nearly impossible, to learn the names and stories of each reader. However, you can treat them with respect, keep them in the loop, and remain grateful for their support.

Bringing in the Big Guns (The Ents and the Eagles)

     Frodo has his Fellowship, and his Fellowship has allies, but not all allies are created equal. The Ents and the Eagles have power far beyond that of a mortal. The Ents are giant living trees that shake the earth itself during battle. The Eagles can swoop in for a rescue or survey the terrain ahead.

     In the publishing world, the Ents are the big, influential book reviewers. They’re hard to track down and they don’t particularly like outsiders. They are also slow to respond. If you manage to engage their interest, they can be an extremely powerful force. But you have to trudge through dark forests and sit around waiting for a response (which is likely not going to be the response you want).

     The Eagles are the popular writing-related blogs. They make it their business to know what’s going on in the world of publishing. Besides providing you with news, they can temporarily elevate you above the rest of the online writing world with a positive review, interview, or guest post on their sites. They have the ability to help you, but they can also peck out your eyes or drop you in the ocean, so be careful. 

A Multifaceted Approach (Strategy during the War of the Ring)

     The original Fellowship didn’t simply charge at Mount Doom. Even though that was their intent, they had to break apart in order to succeed. It is Merry and Pippin who bring the Ents to fight Saruman. Aragorn commands both the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Rangers. Elrond, the elf-ruler of Rivendell, sends emissaries to fight with King Theoden of Rohan at Helm’s Deep, and Theoden, in return, takes his armies to the aid of Gondor.

     Luckily, you don’t need to cross any mountain ranges to enlist help from around the world. Instead, look for writing communities on various sites. Pinterest, Tumblr, Wattpad, Twitter, and Facebook all have resources for writers. Independent forums like those at Absolute Write and the Kindleboards are also good choices. You don’t have to recruit support and maintain  a presence in every online community; pick a few favorites to focus on. 

Play to your skills and interests other than writing. If you’re a good cook, invent a few recipes for food specific to your world. If you make jewelry in your spare time, create items straight from your book. Tolkien’s universe is full of these minor details (like lembas bread and the Evenstar necklace) that can become real-world objects.

Online Bullies (The Nazgul)

     Though you’ll find many good guys in the online self-publishing community, you’ll also find some bad ones (and some very bad ones). Online bullies use tactics like spamming a page with one-star reviews, leaving aggressive comments on your site, publicly calling others to destroy your reputation, and, from the particularly dumb and tasteless, sending death threats. They are like the Nazgul, invisible, lurking in the shadows and incredibly hard to eliminate.

    Run away from a Nazgul? It gets a horse. Shoot its horse? It gets a FLYING horse (well, it’s more like a dragon, but still). Similarly, if you block an online bully on one site, he can come back with a new account or on a new site. In the War of the Ring, the only way to truly get rid of the Nazgul is by destroying the One Ring. And that’s what the online bullies want, too. They want you to give up, lie down, go home, stop writing.

    Obviously, you’re not going to do that. So rally your friends, find your own Fellowship, and prepare for the adventure.

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Five Freelance Writing Tax Deductions

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     It’s now the month of May, which means you should push April’s tax troubles out of your mind for another 11 months, right? Not if you want to be a financially savvy freelancer. Start keeping track of your deductions now for a fiscally fruitful year. 

     Here are the top five categories of tax deductions related to freelance writing in the US. If you have insight on another country’s laws, email admin[at] popularsoda [dot]com. Check with your tax professional to make sure you’re claiming all appropriate deductions (and avoiding problematic ones).

1. Office Supplies

     What writer doesn’t keep a pen and notebook handy at all times? These expenses are generally tax-deductible. 

Collection of Notebooks

To keep everything kosher, consider buying “work” notebooks separate from “fun” notebooks, then use work notebooks only for writing directly related to work. Outlining plots, planning blog posts, and writing short stories are tasks related to the business of writing. Making grocery lists and keeping track of doctor appointments are not.


2. Tools of the Trade

     Remember when Duotrope went paid and everyone freaked out? Well, it turns out that a Duotrope subscription is actually tax-deductible. Do you use Scrivener to outline your books? That’s deductible, too. You may also be able to deduct your subscriptions to writing and publishing magazines like Writer’s Digest: magazines, journals, and newspapers used solely for business purposes are tax-deductible.

 

3. Professional Memberships

     Memberships to professionals organizations (like the Editorial Freelancers Association or American Copy Editors Society) can be expensive for independent freelancers. However, the cost of these memberships is tax-deductible.
     
     Pick one to three organizations to join. Fewer organizations means you can be more active in your chosen groups, leading to a stronger professional presence and a better return on your (tax-deductible!) investment.

 

4. Classes, Conferences, and Conventions

     These are actually two separate categories, but they often overlap. Expenses related to education that “maintains or improves skills needed in your present work” are deductible. If you’re a traditionally published author looking to take a class on digital publishing, that’s deductible. Similarly, if you’re a writer who wants to take a class on editing, that class should be tax-deductible because it improves your writing work even though editing might technically be a different field.

Conference photo

Breakout session at ACES 2013.

If you join a professional organization and want to go to a writing-related conference, you can deduct some of your expenses. Conference registration fees are almost certainly deductible. Check with your tax professional about travel expenses like hotels and plane tickets. Meal expenses are generally deductible if you are going out with a business associate; meals for yourself are usually not. One quick tip: take pictures of receipts with your phone so you don’t have to worry about holding onto those tiny bits of paper.

5. Self-Publishing Expenses

     If you’re like most self-publishing authors, you pay for your own editing and book covers. If you’re smarter than most self-pubbers, you deduct these expenses from your taxes. Fees associated with maintaining your professional website may also be tax-deductible. Tax deductions shouldn’t be used to justify expensive services out of your price range, but deductions might ease your mind about the cost of (completely necessary) editing and design fees.

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     Keep in mind that the IRS stipulates that these expenses must go toward a legitimate business venture that has a realistic chance of making money. That is, if you pay for the noteboks and conferences and covers but you never actually publish a book, you can’t deduct writing-related business expenses. Just one more reason to stop dreaming and start publishing.

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Do you have insight on another country’s freelancer tax structures? Got another question about freelancer finances? Send us a tweet @popular_soda.

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8 Tips to Get the Absolute Best From Your Cover Designer (Guest Post)

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     (Hello again, ebook lovers! Due to personal and family issues in March, Lila has been on hiatus. Luckily, Westin Lee stepped up to the plate with this wonderful guest post on working with a cover designer. Look for the link to his site at the end of the post.)

    Graphic design is a medium that might be totally alien to you. However, it is a necessary part of creating a polished ebook. Don’t panic! There are tons of graphic designers and cover artists willing to work with self-publishing ebook authors. With the right approach, it can be a positive, exciting experience. And more importantly, the resulting cover will look great.

 1. Finish your book.

     If you’ve ever undertaken a massive project before, you know that siren call that comes to you way ahead of the finish lineThe voice says, “Let’s get the cover made!” even though there’s not a finished work to put inside that cover. It seems innocent enough, right?

     Don’t do it! That’s putting the cart before the horse. And besides what you may think about carts and horses and their relative position to each other, there’s another really good reason you should wait:

  •  You may not REALLY know what the book is about, and that might be the idea you want on the cover.

     I have a manuscript undergoing revision right now for a book, and I have done a bad job listening to my own advice – I have a couple dozen sketches of cover designs already. But sure enough, last week I had a revelation about a theme in the book that I had never thought about. And it’s so prevalent, I think it has to be on the cover somehow.

 Back to square one! 

2. Make sure your designer has the right information.

      A good designer will always sit down with you (electronically or otherwise) and ask you questions about your book. We will ask about important scenes or characters in your book, what the story is, and what the themes are. We might ask if you have a cover in mind, and if there are any covers that inspire you.

     Regardless if we ask, make sure we have the answer to the following question:

  •  What story do you want the cover to tell to a potential reader?

     The answer to the above is your mission statement. Whatever you know (or don’t know) about cover design won’t matter if you know what message your cover needs to convey. It’s easy to get lost in the details of a cover (no, that’s all wrong, her hair is shoulder length!!), but with this question answered at the very beginning of the process, you and your designer will be on the same page. Try answering these next two questions to flesh out your ideas:

  •  What do you want the reader to feel when they look at your cover?
  •  What questions do you want the reader to have when they look at your cover?

 

3. Be responsive!

     The normal process of working with a designer goes something like this:

  • Designer gets information.
  • Designer sends a proof design over to you.
  • You tell the designer what you think.
  • Repeat as needed. 

     The faster we hear back from you when we send a proof, the more quickly we can work for you. Cover work can drag on sometimes, especially as we’re refining the design, and we know you’re going to be busy. If at all possible, try to respond in one business day to any proofs or questions. If I can’t send an updated proof in that timeframe, then I get in touch and let you know when you’ll see the changes or revised proofs. 

4. Be specific!

    When you provide feedback, do your best to not only say whether you like or dislike something, but also why you like or dislike it.

     We know the visual language and the written language are different beasts. We’d never expect a client to start naming fonts or mentioning that they want an analogic color scheme. But it helps to know what you like and don’t like!

     On a recent design, my first round of feedback was ‘The back is fine, but I don’t like the cover.’ Um…Can…can you clarify that? Even saying, ‘I don’t like it but I’m not sure why,’ is helpful. A good designer will be able to listen and ask questions and figure out what’s not working.

     And a final note – it seems less necessary to point out why you like something in a design, but if you know why, please tell us! That information could help down the line. Maybe we know you’re not happy with a design overall, but we know that you liked the pattern and one specific element of it. That might be all we need to make your perfect cover!

 5. Collaborate.

     Let’s be honest – I’m a person that knows what I want most of the time. If I go into a project where I’m working with a freelancer, I can get very specific about what I want. Perhaps you do the same thing? ‘Okay, I want this.’ ‘Do this.’ ‘Move this here.’ That’s great! See tip #4.

    Regardless of your approach, think of the relationship as collaborative. That’s going to get you the most for your money and time. The best, most surprising results have been from work where a client has encouraged suggestions and improvisation.

     Whenever possible, ask your designer what they think, and more importantly, ask them to try things. I can build a specific cover if that’s what you want, but if I have the right information and the space to think, I might come up with something awesome that you’d never have thought of.

      And if you don’t like it, cool! We’ll try something else.

 6. Be a jerk.

      Okay,please don’t be an actual jerk. What I mean is, this is your money and your project, and even though I just said to think about it as collaboration, the designer is ultimately working for you.

     Speak your mind. Say if you don’t like something. Say if you do like something, even if it’s not feasible for your cover. If you’re feeling any doubts, say so!

     Maybe this is easy for you. Maybe you are a loud writer who hits tables a lot to make a point and told your friend just now that their hat is stupid. If so, this tip is not for you. My tip for you is, ‘Please do not yell at us.’

     This is a tip for those of you who might let something go by that you don’t actually like, because the conversation might be uncomfortable:

     We want you to tell the truth. We want happy clients. What we don’t want is to spend hours and days hammering out a design, and you secretly never really liked that butterfly image in the first place.

     Don’t let that happen! Be a jerk! We demand it! 

 7. Ask for fewer options.

     If a designer offers ‘unlimited’ revisions as part of his services, take advantage of that by limiting the number of proofs you get at one time.

     The idea of getting twelve proof covers at once may sound appealing, but there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that too many choices make your job harder. Looking at two or three designs at a time is going to let you really give your attention to each one.

      Here’s the other important part of this tip: By asking for just a few proofs at a time, you are asking us to cull the herd and take responsibility for the work we send. If we know we can only send one design, we’ll be extra focused on making it as good as we possibly can.

 8. Have faith!

     A good design takes time. And that’s if a book is about something relatively simple, like a man going on space adventures. Or a woman who is working for a terrible boss

   I’ve seen book descriptions that blew my mind. I read what the book was about and instead of that initial flood of colors and images and ideas, it’s like my mind opened its wallet and a fly buzzed out. Some book ideas are very, very hard to get across well in a cover design.

     But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We have the tools; we just need to work through the process. If you see something that you don’t like, make sure you use tips #3 and #4. If you have fears that this is all going south, politely be a jerk and use tip #6. Talk to your designer and keep working at it. Like a problem passage in a book, eventually you’ll get it right.

 

Westin Lee is a cover designer and author. Have any questions about cover design or design services? Head to westinbookcovers.com.

Three Important Lessons Learned from Freelance Writing

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      When I tell people that I’m a freelance writer, they immediately have a bunch of questions for me. Where do I work? What do I write? What kind of money do I make? Can I get them a job? Everyone (from cab drivers to business owners to drunk tourists) wants to know.

      I see the light in their eyes as they imagine putting words to paper, seeing their books in stores, and receiving praise while the money rolls in. Every time, that bright light turns into careful consideration when I explain the reality of a freelance writing career.

1. It’s not you, it’s them. But it’s on you.

      This is something I didn’t figure out until I began my freelance writing career: your ideas are only half of writing. Whenever you are writing with the intent to publish, you are writing for other people. These mysterious and faceless people determine the success of your work. They must be able to understand your writing.

      Reader comprehension trumps personal expression. Do I hate it when my carefully constructed sentences are deleted or shortened or ripped apart? Of course I do. But I just shrug and move onto the next assignment. It’s nothing personal. 

 

2. Being your own boss means kicking your own ass.

      My income comes entirely from freelance writing and copy editing. I literally cannot afford to take it easy. Sure, there are mornings when I want to lie in bed and watch TV, and days when I want to ditch work and go to the zoo. That’s the worker side of me. The boss side doesn’t allow it.

My boss is like a separate character in my head who tells me what to do. If there are a ton of deadlines coming up, she tells me I need to stay in and work late. An article I really don’t want to write? The Writer can whine and cry and sulk at the keyboard, but the Boss stands over her shoulder with a grim smile and says, “Write.” She’s not mean, though. I do get vacation time and days off, but I have to earn them. Just like time off from any other job.

3. Panning for gold means throwing out a lot of dirt.

      It doesn’t matter what I write: I throw out material every time I create something. If I’m lucky, I’ll just ditch an introduction and a few sentences, then write new material. If I’m having an off day, I end up throwing out more words than I use.

      Right now, I’m writing in WordPad. I put the good material at the top. If I don’t think a paragraph fits here, but it might work somewhere else, I put it at the bottom of the document in a sort of writing graveyard. This article has 378 words in the graveyard, not counting the few paragraphs I scribbled by hand and the sentences deleted forever.

      When I’m writing for myself, I don’t mind a big graveyard: I can work the material into another post. If I’m writing for someone else, it’s time-consuming and counterproductive to have a graveyard bigger than the finished document. However, I have no hesitation about killing off paragraphs. The more you write, the less attached you are to individual sentences.

Ready to be professional about your writing? Grab a free copy of The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover by our friends at Duolit by tweeting about it or signing up for email updates. Toni has graciously allowed PopularSoda to provide an exclusive preview of the book’s contents. Take a look!

Preview from The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover by Duolit

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