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!
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.
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!