Category Archives: Editing

Beta Readers? You betchya!

So we’ve talked about editors and how to find them, now let’s chat about the unsung heroes and heroines of the publishing process: BETA READERS.

You’re damn right I put that in caps ‒ they deserve all the accolades they get.

For those unfamiliar with the term, beta readers are those who provide feedback on unpublished work before it goes to an editor. They are an essential cog in the machine that is publishing. Beta readers provide an objective overview from a reader’s perspective while giving insight into character(s) arc, plot, world-building, narrative style, and any inconsistencies.

So when should you engage betas?

You’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story, you’re probably sick of the sight of it, and you’re at that point where it needs another set of eyes (or three) to see how it’s holding up. Enter your beta readers. Now it’s imperative to point out that beta readers are not editors. You may be lucky enough that one of your betas is an editor, and may pick up spelling and grammar issues, but that’s not their role and it would be pretty uncool to ask them to do so while also providing story feedback.

There are a couple of ways to approach beta reading. You can make a list of things you’d like your betas to look for: eg. character agency and development, any plot holes, narrative style, and even something as simple as: does it make sense. Super-organised writers sometimes provide their beta readers with a checklist or a framework from which to work. Others just let their beta readers have at it, where they can provide feedback via electronic notes on the document, or just provide an overview at chapters’ end or at the completion of the tale.

The thing here is to be clear about what it is you’re looking for from your beta readers, and can they do so within a time-frame. Yes, a time-frame is necessary, especially if you’re working to a deadline. Just be realistic.

 

superhero_t_shirt_by_bangbangtshirts.jpg

Art by BangBang Tshirts

 

So where do you find these mythical creatures?

I’m hoping you have a community you can tap into. This is a big ask of someone, and generally it’s an unpaid project. Reciprocity is your friend here – if you ask someone to beta read for you, don’t be a twat and decline if they ask it of you.

There are groups on Goodreads that offer beta reading, but like with anyone you engage to assist with your book, be discerning in your choices. Hit up your social media sites, ask for recommendations. There are also paid sites that have beta readers; again, be discerning.

You’ll have noticed that I’m using the plural here, because you’re going to need more than one beta reader. I’d suggest at least three, but no more than four. Having too many eyes go over your story and the waters may start to get muddy.

When it comes to choice, try to find those who read in your genre (or alongside it), and even one who doesn’t – mainstream readers will give you insight into readability across the spectrum. Don’t ask a relative unless you’re sure they’re going to give you honest feedback, not just what you want to hear.

And that leads into the next part of the beta reader process: YOU.

If you ask for honest feedback (which is a given, right? Right?) then don’t get all precious, don’t take it personally, and for the love of all things holy and unholy, don’t get angry at them or their feedback. They’ve given freely of their time, provided honest insight in a bid to help you with your book. Be professional. Should you not agree with some of the feedback, you don’t have to take it on. Although should more than one of your beta readers pick up the same thing, then you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed.

Again: don’t be precious.

In the end, it will be your decision what to take on, and what to let go. But you’re cultivating relationships here, be professional. And be thankful. Beta readers are helping you. Appreciate and respect that.

So we’ll end on some bullet points:

  • Find at least three beta readers – some that read in your genre and, if you can, one that doesn’t. Tap your community (writer community, social media et al.) for beta readers or suggestions; check Goodreads, or websites that offer the service.
  • Be discerning in your choices, clear in your decisions.
  • Ask for honest feedback and mean it – don’t be precious.
  • Provide guidelines for what you’re looking for with the beta read, and ask if it can be met within a realistic time-frame.
  • Reciprocity is your friend – if someone you’ve approached is a writer, offer to beta read for them (and mean it).
  • Be professional. You may not agree with/like the feedback you receive, but this isn’t about you, it’s about getting the best out of your story. Leave your ego behind.
  • You don’t need to take on every point your beta reader makes; the decision to move forward with alterations or not, rests with you.
  • If more than one of your beta readers points out the same issue – it’s an issue.
  • Don’t be precious (yes, it needs reiteration).

 

Remember, beta readers are the heroines and heroes of your publishing journey, be respectful to and thankful for them – they’ve earned it.

Finding the right editor, and when to run like hell

This post is brought to you by a Twitter thread I came across yesterday about the importance of editors. I recently wrote a post on just such a thing. If you’re disinclined to read that, I’ll break it down quickly: YOU NEED AN EDITOR.

Right then. Within this Twitter thread was information that needs to be addressed, so I’m chucking on my ranty-pants (they’re fabulous, by the way), and I’m going to give you some insights into what to look for in a good editor, and how to help find the right editor for you. Yes, not all editors will be the right fit. (I had a whole thing about editors being like pants, but it just got… weird.)

Aaaanywho, what had me don my ranty-pants was a writer explaining they’d been quoted $10,000 for an edit. I’ll just let that sink in. Ten grand. For an edit. Of one book. Oh, hell no. HELL NO. I don’t know who the so-called “editor” was who thought this was a reasonable quote. If I did, I would call them out on their bullshit. Because bullshit it is. I can’t even fathom an instance where quoting or even charging someone this amount is even within the realm of possibility. That, folks, is a scam. Run far. Run fast.

On the flipside, if you’re quoted say, $200 for a full edit of a novel – run far, run fast. No editor worth their salt would charge this little for a full edit. There’s a lot of skill that goes into editing, and most editors study to gain qualifications, to understand the nuances of English and its building blocks that go into great storytelling. Their qualifications and experience are worth more than two hundred bucks.

imagination

So, let’s break down the two types of editing (I’m not including manuscript assessments as that’s a whole different ball game). Deciding which is best for you depends on where you are with your book.

Developmental (substantive/structural) editing: This is detailed editing for structure, plot and sub-plots, story arc, characterisation, character arcs, and chapter arrangement. It’s your ‘big picture’ side of editing that looks deeply into motivations and conflict, agency and forward movement of both story and character(s). Story elements are broken down to ensure there is cohesion and clarity, as well as looking at pacing, premise, and world-building.

Copy (line) editing: This concentrates on style, tempo, language, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Copy editing goes through line-by-line to ensure syntax is on point, passive vs active voice, run-on sentences, and dangling participles et al. It checks the mechanics of the writing to ensure it’s on point. (Note: copy editing is not proofreading.)

Now, depending upon where you are with your story, it’s a matter of deciding which type of editing is best for you at this stage of your draft. You can ask for a combined structural/copy edit, but be aware that this would cost more as you’re asking for two separate types of editing to be applied – it’s a bigger job, therefore a higher charge.

Once you’ve decided which type of editing you’re after, how do you find an editor? A good editor. Nothing beats word of mouth. Those writers who’ve worked with good editors will happily sing their praises – ask around. However, this doesn’t mean their editor will be the right fit for you. And it is about fit. The author/editor relationship can be magic when you find the right person. It should be. It’s a meeting of minds to work toward a common goal – making your story the best it can be.

Your other option is to put out a call on social media for editors, but understand you’re probably going to be slammed with offers. And not everyone who says they’re an editor should be calling themselves such. I’ve heard horror stories of “editors” putting errors into work. It drives me to become Sweary McSwearface, as it gives those of us who love what we do, a bad name. Fuck those guys.

Here’s a checklist of things to do/ask when you want to engage an editor:

  • Seek out at least five editors to find the right one for you. Can’t find them in that first five? Contact another five then another five until you find the editor you click with. You’ll know. Trust me.
  • Try to find editors experienced in your genre. They’ll have a better feel for not only the market, but for what works (and what doesn’t) in the story you’re telling.
  • Ask for their qualifications, what formal training they’ve had and where they studied. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions; this is your baby they’re working on, and your money you’re parting with. Note: some fantastic editors don’t have formal qualifications, but their industry experience is beyond reproach, so don’t rule out every editor who isn’t formally qualified, just be discerning.
  • Those who edit for a living will have a website. Check the projects they’ve worked on, then mosey on over to Amazon and hit that ‘look inside’ option and see what you think. Do your research. It will pay off.
  • Ask for a sample edit. This allows you to see if the editor knows what they’re doing, if you like the way they edit, and if their editing style would work for you. If an editor says they don’t provide sample edits, walk away.
  • Cost is the main reason some writers choose not to engage an editor, and I get it, I do. But a lot of editors are quite happy to discuss and work with you on a payment plan. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

The above points are going to help you weed out the charlatans from the true, but trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or seem quite right, then move on. There are plenty of good editors out there, you’ll find them.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, charging ten grand for an edit is egregious. It makes me want to find that person and slap them upside the head… a lot. Charging too little for an edit… well, you get what you pay for.

So what should you expect to pay? Well, it depends on the type of edit you want, the word count (or page count, editors price either way), and the amount of work involved. If we’re basing this on a novel of approximately 100,000 words with no excessive work involved, you should be looking at anywhere in the vicinity of $800-$1500. And even low-balling at $800 is a stretch. That’s a lot of money, yes, but it’s an investment in not only your story, but you as a writer.

Editing should be a teaching experience, and I like to use it as such. If I can explain to you why active voice works better in a high-action and/or high-tension scene, you’ll employ that in your next story. If I explain that shorter sentences convey tension better than longer, drawn out sentences, you’ll take that into your next tale. If I can show that the bloody mist spattering your protag’s face as their enemy chokes on their last, gasping breath craps all over ‘dying in their own blood’, then I’m doing my job right.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, and don’t be afraid to walk away, because when you find the right editor, you’ll find the magic.

To market, to market

Following on from my previous post about how you should edit your work (aka you’re an idiot if you don’t), I want to talk about markets and how subbing to particular ones may do more harm than any good you think a publication credit of any kind may be (I’m looking at you ‘for exposure’ and ‘token’, you asshats).

As you may have figured out, I have no love of ‘for exposure/token’ markets – it’s predatory, making money off writers by having them buy the anthology they have a story in, and having family and friends do the same. These markets are effectively making money off you ‒ you don’t see a damn cent… or very few cents. Fuck that noise. PAY THE CREATIVE.

There’s no reasoning or excuse for that bullshit. The ‘oh, but we’re just starting out’ crap doesn’t fly. Those who are serious about the publishing industry will ensure writers are paid for the work they do. Don’t have the money to pay writers? Get out of the business until you do.

And ‘token’ markets? $5 for a 5000-word story? If that’s the value you expect me to place on my story and the work and imagination, the craft, I’ve put into it? You can bite me.

Thing is, there are writers who are desperate for publishing credits, not understanding that it’s not about the amount of publications behind your name, but who those publications are. Those who target ‘for exposure’ markets for publishing credits are doing more harm than good for not only their writing but their reputation. Why? Because the ‘for exposure’ bar is pretty damn low. If (and that’s a big if) your story is edited, it won’t be by someone who knows what they’re doing, so there’s no growth to be had, no understanding of how successful storytelling works. It creates a cognitive dissonance that your work is great the way it is when that may not be the case at all.

Now if you sub to paying markets (which all writers should), sure there’s a chance of rejection, but that’s part of the gig. It’s always been part of the gig. Trying to avoid that won’t make you a better writer, it will make you a stagnant one.

exposure 1

When I’m slush reading for anthology subs and your cover letter lists a plethora of markets I haven’t heard of, and Google struggles to find said markets, then those publishing credits mean squat – it reeks of desperation. If another author’s cover letter has one publishing credit listed as Clarkesworld, for instance, I will sit up and take notice. Why? Because that shows me the author values their work, it means they’ve laboured over it, and gone through the process of story rejection that is imperative to improving your craft.

Rejections make you look at your story again, see where you can improve and how. And if feedback is provided, then this is a brilliant step in making your story better for the next market to whom you send your baby.

‘For exposure/token’ markets do nothing to improve your writing or your writerly-reputation. Why? Because the bar is pretty damn low, and the reason for this is to make money off you – that’s it. It has nothing to do with putting out quality – the cover art alone should tell you that. Money won’t be spent on a professional editor either. If (and that’s a big if) your story is edited, it won’t be by someone who knows what they’re doing, so there’s no growth to be had, no understanding of how successful storytelling works.

When it comes to marketing, don’t worry, they’ve got that sorted. It’s you. You and your family and friends. ‘For exposure’ and ‘token’ markets count on you and your circle to make them money. Money you won’t see, and money (if they’re ‘token’) that will far exceed that minimal outlay.

And they’ll do it again and again and again because people who aren’t serious about the craft of writing, about getting better at it, will keep subbing. All they want is credits against their name, not to become better writers.

Look, I can’t make you not sub to these markets, what I’m saying is that you should place value on your writing, value that what you do is worthwhile. If writing is truly what you love, then give it the respect it deserves.

And if rejection scares you, buckle up sunshine and take that plunge, you’ll be a better writer for it.

If not, then… happy swimming at the murky bottom of the pool.

TO EDIT OR NOT TO EDIT? (A STUPID QUESTION ANSWERED.)

To write is human, to edit is divine. ~ Stephen King.

You need to edit your work. Let me say that again, just in case you missed it the first time:

YOU. NEED. TO. EDIT. YOUR. WORK.

It’s not a difficult concept to grasp – even the above words are simple, but it appears a lot of writers believe this is a stage that can be skipped or is entirely unnecessary (I shit you not). They’re wrong. So very wrong. Like, drowning in oceans of wrongness. I recently saw someone proclaim they didn’t need to edit their story before subbing; they’d written it in one sitting and it was good enough to sub without an edit.

No.

Just no.

And fuck off.

There’s a certain level of arrogance and ignorance tied into believing your work, your stories, don’t need another set of eyes to go over it. Forget the fact that you might have misspellings, verb tense issues, punctuation and dialogue anomalies; that your plot isn’t on point, your character is inconsistent, or, hell, that the story just doesn’t makes sense. How do you know the tale you’ve visualised has transferred to the page? Do you just not care? Or, are you so sure of your own “perfection” that no other input is necessary? That’s some high-level cognitive dissonance right there.

There are some stories that do just flow from your fingertips onto the page, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need at least a beta reader, someone to give you feedback, to ask questions of plot or dialogue or story direction. Things that will make your story better. Why would an author not want that? Why would you not want to improve not only your story, but your writing?

I’m a professional editor (yes, got the certificates and the industry experience to prove it), and I’m also a writer. Do I edit my own work? Of course I do. Do I send it to others to beta read? Damn straight. Do I have someone else edit it? Hell yes I do. Why? Because I’m too close to the story to see any issues it may have, because I want to know whether it makes sense, because maybe a question or note will make the story stronger, clearer, more kick-arse. Because I want MY BEST WORK out in the world, not just my: ‘fuck it, this’ll do’ work.

Of late, I’ve seen a surge in this ‘fuck it’ submission process, the belief that you just write and your subs will be accepted. Sure, there are places that will accept that “work”, and if ‘for exposure’ markets or ‘contributor copy only’ markets are your thing then… well, okay. You keep doing you. But why not aim higher? Do better?

It comes down to how you value what you do. How you value your readers. Writing is a craft, it needs to be honed, practised, built upon, and you never stop learning. EVER. If you believe you don’t need to edit, that you don’t need beta readers or those rejections that make you look again at your story and better it, then stagnant you will be, stale your stories will become.

edit all the words

Look, I can’t make you engage beta readers, I can’t make you use an editor or hell, even make you edit your own work, but I can guaran-damn-tee you, you won’t hit any of the success you’re wanting. Having a bibliography of pubbed stories in mags or anthologies no one’s heard of doesn’t up your author profile as much as you’d like to think it does. Give me a story published in Nightmare Magazine, or Grimdark Mag, Apex or Clarkesworld over multiple stories published in markets even Google would have trouble finding.

Writers are readers, we know the markets that accept only the highest possible standards, and those are the markets professional writers want to crack – and by professional, I mean those who take the process of writing and all it entails, seriously. Who know there’s more to writing than just words on a page.

It all really comes down to choice:

Be the writer who wants their work to be the best it can be, who wants constructive criticism for the sake of the story, who wants to be better, do better, and to break into those pro-paying markets who have the high standards for which you strive. To have publishers ask you to sub to them because they’ve seen your work and want it; to have readers search for your work because your tales resonated with them, because they love your storytelling.

Or…

Don’t.

Tag, you’re it.

My absolute loathing of the dialogue tag ‘opined’ is no secret. (By all the gods, Baxter, if you start tagging me with that shit again, I will steal your dogs.) If you’re using ‘opined’, or another wankerish dialogue tag to push home to the reader some kind of pretentious point your character is making, then you need to take a look at your character’s dialogue because it should be pretty clear they’re voicing their opinion.

Dialogue tags serve a few purposes. For example, they identify the speaker, they break longer pieces of dialogue, and they can also be used to further enhance emotion. And yes, that third point should be used sparingly – if you can’t convey emotion through dialogue and action, then a dialogue tag telling the reader so, doesn’t really cut it.

Use ‘said’. Almost always use ‘said’. Of course there are going to be exceptions to this ‘rule’, but the beauty of ‘said’ is that it’s invisible. It ensures the emphasis is on the spoken word, on the emotions put forward within those words, and the honesty and/or sub-text behind it.

Dialogue is the voice of your characters, and I’m not just talking accents and inflections here, I’m talking a deeper sense of self. When a character speaks, they reveal a lot about not only themselves but the situation/scene they find themselves in (do not use ‘he/she revealed’, if the characters says it, trust me, it’s revealed). You don’t need a fancy-shmancy dialogue tag, it’s distracting, and removes focus from speech.

Sure, there are times when ‘said’ isn’t going to cut it, but choose words that impact the dialogue, eg. whispered, muttered, shouted, screamed. These dialogue tags up the ante, but use them sparingly or they’ll become repetitive. No, put down that Thesaurus – use ‘said’.

Opine

Same applies with ‘asked’. If there’s a question mark at the end of your dialogue, it’s safe to assume the reader understands a question is being posed – ‘asked’ becomes redundant (don’t use ‘posed’ either, that’s redundant as well).

Look, I understand there are a lot of ‘rules’ to writing and grammar and all that comes with storytelling, but as an editor and a reader, I’m telling you: let the dialogue do the work for you, and let the dialogue tag (if you need one) become invisible. It’s the characters’ voices we want to hear, not the way you tell us they spoke.

Show the reader through dialogue, through action. It falls in line with ‘show don’t tell’. You want the reader to know the character is angry? Don’t use: ‘he/she said angrily’, show us through the narrowing of eyes, the gritting of teeth, or punching a wall, for example. Then use ‘she/he said’. The emotion and/or sense the character is trying to put forward is far more visual, far more visceral, and the reader will be far more engaged than having a character opine at them (you use that, and I’ll cut you).

For a far more polite understanding of the above, check out Devin Madson’s vlog on this very subject: Almost Always Use Said, it has some wonderful insights as to why you shouldn’t fancy up your dialogue attributions.

So, the next time you’re writing dialogue, remember to make that attribution invisible so the voice of your character holds the power it should.

(Seriously, Baxter, I will steal your dogs.)

Character Motivation: May it Burn with the Fury of a Thousand Suns

Today’s post is brought to you by motivation. Mine, to actually write the post, and that of the characters you put into your stories – be they short stories or long. Characters are the heart of your tales, they’re who the reader connects with, and they must be on point. Motivation is key to bringing that connectedness to the fore.

Characters are also essential to driving plot, and every character you put into your tales (yes, every) needs to have motive. There needs to be a reason your protagonist makes the decisions they do, there needs to be intent behind your antagonist’s choices. The reasons and intent don’t have to be honourable or dastardly (gods, I love that word), and they don’t have to sit in neat little boxes ‒ protagonist = good, antagonist = bad ‒ they just have to be real. Flaws and all.

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’ve put down a book because the characters were wandering aimlessly looking for a plot, or waiting for said plot to impact them. It doesn’t work that way.  The story cannot act independently of the characters. You don’t read a story solely for plot, you read it for those who live, who try to survive the world you’ve created. Don’t sell them short.

Ray-Bradbury 1

So what is motivation? Merriam-Webster defines it as: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence. Incentive. Drive.

That. Right there. ↑ Now ask yourself: what is the incentive, the influence that drives your character(s)? It’s that inner motivation, that sense of self that impacts the plot, the story. And will continue to do so. Every decision (good or bad) your characters make will influence the story – some of these decisions may essentially backfire, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing should be easy.

Motivation doesn’t need to be complex, it can be simple but it needs to be that driving force. Yes, FORCE. Motivation can be: you killed my family, payback’s a bitch. Simple, yes? But the depth comes in the decisions and choices your character makes to achieve this end.

Let’s take a look at how this works. Your protagonist, now alone in the world, is driven almost blindly for retribution. Do you: a) have them stumble across a magical object that by chance provides them with the exact location of the antagonist and off they go? Or b) have them make a pact with a shifty character whose motivations, while at odds with their own, can get them closer to their target ‒ but in doing so compromises the protagonists morals?

You know which one I’m reading. Character motivation can (and should) cause all kinds of issues that influence plot/story. Characters are the driving force behind your storytelling, and what motivates them is what will connect to the reader. Give them lives and loves, sins and secrets, and have all of that be the heart of your story.

Motivation and conflict of that motivation is what can make a good story great. Don’t waste time on overly-detailed physical descriptions. Sure, physicality is important to a point – it’s nice to know what a character looks like, but is it essential to the story? Rarely. Ah, but give conflict to motivation and you really set the bar high.

So your antagonist has green eyes. Cool. Does she burn with the fury of a thousand suns because your protagonist was born into a family that subjugated hers? Your protagonist has hair the colour of silver? Nice. Does she practice her fighting skills to the point of exhaustion to not only kill the antagonist who wreaks havoc on the realm’s stability, but to take her place and destroy the father she hates?

You see where I’m going with this? By giving your characters motivation to achieve their ends, by adding conflict to that motivation, you make them real to your reader, you make them believable, and you create a story that has depth and layers and soul. It’s what brings readers back to your writing.

Motivation. It makes all the difference. Have it make the difference in your story.

It Takes A Village (To Raise A Book)

You there, about to load a first or second draft to a publishing platform. Yes, you. Don’t you hit that upload button. Back away from the keyboard nice and slow. That’s it, sit back, relax, we need to have a chat. Look, I know you’re excited about getting your baby out in the world, of having it read and getting those sales, but is it the best version of your baby? Or, are you sending it out half-formed and with shitty clothes? I said back away from the keyboard.

Okay, I understand that writing is mostly a solitary endeavour but the processes of getting your book out to readers is not. Doing that alone is a fool’s errand. I’ve listened (somewhat) patiently to authors telling me they don’t need beta readers or an editor or a cover artist or a cover designer or layout artist – they can do that all themselves and not have to worry about expenditure. Technically they’re right. With the advent of self-publishing and the associated platforms you most certainly can do this alone. The question is: should you? The answer is: no.

Expenditure is an issue, I get it, but if you don’t invest in your book, don’t expect readers to invest in it either. With the traditional route, your publisher will take care of this: the editing, the cover, the proofreading et al. (Note: with traditional publishing you shouldn’t pay for any of this – money flows to the author, not away – but that’s a subject for another post.) Author-publishers? Yeah, you need to pay for this yourself.

So let’s take a look at the processes you need to put out the best damn book you can. So you’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story and you’re pretty happy with where it is – characters are on point, plot is kicking-arse, sub-plots are woven nicely, narrative is killer. Time to get that baby out in the world! Yeah… no. What you have in your hands is a ‘rough draft’, the foundation upon which you will build. A strong foundation it may well be, but a foundation is what it is. Write, edit, redraft. Rinse and repeat.

You’ve spent a good lot of time and effort to get to this point, so you’re well past being able to see any issues with it. You don’t just hammer out a first draft and upload it. I suppose you can do that if you like (plenty of people have), but be prepared for any reviews to point out exactly where you went wrong. Plot holes? You got them. Spelling and grammar issues? Kill me now. Point-of-view hops? What’s happening! Layout all over the place? My eyes!

gouge eyes

It’s bad reviews for you. And bad reviews, especially when it comes to poor spelling and grammar, clichéd story, Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu characters will guarantee low-to-zero sales. Readers take note of bad reviews, especially those that cite all of the above. Remember, there’s that ‘look inside’ option, and you’ll lose that potential sale right there. Not only will you not get sales, readers tend to not give you a second chance. Why would they when there are plenty of other authors doing it the right way.

Because I love the point form, here’s a breakdown of who you need in your village (just step over the books strewn about the place):

  • Beta readers: the unsung heroes of the writing/publishing process. You’ll need at least two (but no more than five), and ones with differing skill sets ‒ someone who reads in your genre, and someone who doesn’t (librarian, book reviewer), someone who has an understanding of grammar and/or story mechanics. Not your nanna. She may be lovely, but… no.
  • Editor. And by editor I mean someone with qualifications (ask to see these), industry experience, and one who understands the genre in which you write. Beta readers are not editors. Editors know structure and syntax and speech, they know consistency, cohesion, and characterisation. They understand foreshadowing, and herrings, and Chekov’s rifle. They know subjects and predicates, showing versus telling, and they know dangling participles and why you shouldn’t have them. They know language, and they will tighten the crap out of your narrative.
  • Cover artist/cover designer. These can be two different people, so make sure you know what you’re getting. I won’t go into too much detail here as I’ve covered this in my previous post: Art of the Cover.
  • Layout artist. Yes, you need someone who understands desktop publishing and has the right tools for the job. No, you should not load a Microsoft Word document to a publishing platform ‒ the internals will be off-kilter, as will your kerning and typography. You don’t want bland and vanilla internals. With the right desktop publishing tools, your book becomes a reading experience. Layout is only noticeable when done poorly. And if someone tells you differently, run far and run fast.
  • Proofreader. This will be the final point at which you can catch any small issues eg. errant spaces, widows and orphans, correct page numbering etc. This is usually done with a PDF file called a galley proof. Best suggestion is to have someone other than your editor do the proof. New set of eyes means they’ll pick up any missed issues.

Now you’re probably bemoaning the processes and the associated costs, but if you want to put out professional product and be taken seriously then it needs to be done. Some editors will be happy to work with a  payment plan (and if asked will provide a sample edit), beta readers may ask for reciprocity, you can find reasonably-priced good cover artists and stock images, cover designers as well. These are processes you can’t skimp on if you want to do self-publishing right.

Check out Devin Madson’s episode on ‘Storywork’ about the 5 Steps to Professional Publishing. As a self-publisher, Devin has gone about this the right way. She gathered a village of beta readers, editor, cover artist, cover designer, layout artist around her and put out a book that rivals any published by the Big 5. Just take a look at one of the covers for her Vengeance Trilogy.

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This is author-publishing done right. Devin talks about your reputation as an author, and she’s not wrong. As I mentioned earlier, if you put out sub-par work don’t expect readers to return to your books, to buy them. Reputation can make or break you. Have it ‘make’ you.

Now before I let you return to your keyboard, think about all I’ve said, and think about the work you want the world to see. Professionally done books will bring readers back; the poorly done books will not. First impressions last.

It really does take a village to raise a book, a good book, a professional book… and when done right, you get a whole other village – readers, fans, those who will market upcoming releases for you, and who are willing to party with you for every book to come.

** Special shout-out to Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the suggestion for blog-post fodder — you rock, dude! Oh, and check out Grimdark Mag, they know their stuff!