This article was first published in the April Edition of Southern Writers Magazine.
Let Collaboration Take Your Writing to the Next Level
Synopsis: In this Southern Writers interview, prolific writers Steve and Cherie Miller challenge the stereotypical solitary writer.
Susan: You’re married and you’re writers. Blessing or curse?
Cherie: A bit of each. On the curse side, Steve e-mails me a constant barrage of articles and chapters to edit. But on the blessing side, I get free editing for my writing and we incessantly bounce ideas off each other. It’s fun – a special codependence that we relish.
Susan: Many writers bristle at criticism. Can you really be ruthlessly honest without hurting your relationship?
Steve: We think a lot alike, so we take probably 80 percent of each other’s suggestions. The other 20 percent we ignore as personal opinion and don’t make the other sleep on the couch over editorial differences. We’re all about getting candid input, and not just from each other. We’d much rather discover our weaknesses before we get published than wait for readers slam our faults with two star Amazon reviews. I’m amazed at how, after decades of writing, we still make horrific mistakes that are obvious once someone points them out. It’s hard to pay attention to all the components of good writing – factual accuracy, logical flow, clarity, rhythm, word choice, riveting content, etc. Early readers catch what we miss.
Susan: So how many early readers do you normally get?
Cherie: If it’s an article, I self edit relentlessly, get input from Steve and maybe another before turning it over to the publication’s professional editor. For books, it’s not unusual to get 30 or more readers.
Susan: Thirty readers! Where do you find so many?
Steve: We find people in our target readership who are already interested in the topic or genre. For my book on personal money management, I found experts who were passionate about the field, such as CPA’s and financial counselors. But I also got input from regular folks of all ages who might be interested in financial wisdom. Since I wrote it in story form, about some diverse students trying to get their financial act together, I got a critique of my opening chapter from a racially diverse eighth grade advanced writing class. They loved meeting a real, live author in person and I made several important changes due to their input.
Cherie: For Sell More Books!, we offered an early digital copy, free of charge, to participants in a publishing list serv. We knew that many of them would be interested in practical tips for low profile authors, and we were eager to see if our recommendations dovetailed with their experiences as writers and publishers. Again, their input led to some significant changes.
Susan: This challenges the traditional “write it in solitude and mail it to my editor” model. What motivated you to take this extra step?
Steve: Every writer is different and needs to discover what works for him or her. For us, the model comes largely from studying successful businesses. We’ve found that successful businesses are typically idea-driven – relentlessly gathering ideas from anywhere and everywhere. Rather than trust in his own judgment, Sam Walton constantly asked advice from customers, cashiers, and his managers. Early Saturday mornings he’d give free donuts to his truck drivers and get their input on the strengths and weaknesses of his stores. King Solomon recommended this strategy when he wrote that in the abundance of counselors there is victory. For some reason, writers have been content to consult one or two counselors/editors. After our experiences of getting so many great ideas from early readers, I’d feel like I was publishing naked, risking embarrassing exposure, if I were to fling my writing out there without sufficient early input.
Susan: Do you pay early readers?
Cherie: For Sell More Books!, we promised a free e-book copy in their choice of format through SmashWords once it was finally published. (It’s free and easy to set up a discount in Smashwords. For Enjoy Your Money!, we offered a free hard copy.
Susan: How do you decide which advice to act on?
Cherie: Some input is obviously on target – factual inaccuracies, unclear sentences, etc. Other input is more subjective, so that we have to make the executive decision of whether to trust our own judgment or theirs. Often they offer conflicting advice. If enough early readers don’t like something, we’re likely to assume we’ve got a blind spot and go with their gut feelings rather than ours.
Susan: In Sell More Books!, you mention how these early readers also give you early reviews.
Steve: That’s a tremendous benefit! Publishing resembles football in that first quarter touchdowns can build momentum. Let’s say I’ve got 20 early readers who loved the book. After publication, when I give them their free copy, I say, “Hey, if you liked the book, would you mind doing me a huge favor and writing a review on Amazon and copying it to any other book-selling sites that you might frequent?” Since they’ve already read the book, they can get up their reviews quickly. If half of them follow through, this helps tremendously to jumpstart our marketing.
Susan: Any last words?
Steve: Humility can be an asset. I’m very aware that a paragraph I see as pure genius just might be crap in disguise. In taking a manuscript from good to great, getting candid input helps me to see through the disguise.
Cherie: Enjoy the writing process; discover what works for you and never stop learning from others!
Susan: Thanks Steve and Cherie!
Bio: Steve and Cherie Miller love to write and help fellow authors through their books and seminars. Connect with them at
Their books on writing include:
Sell More Books! Book Marketing and Publishing for Low Profile and Debut Authors
Writing Conversations: Spend 365 Days with Your Favorite Authors, Learning the Craft of Writing
Publish a Book! Compare over 50 Self-Publishing Companies
Social Media Frenzy: Why Time Consuming Facebook, Twitter & Blogging Strategies May NOT Work for Your Business