Getting editors, spotting mistakes, publishing across many genres and author control! 4 questions from a self-publishing conference

Yesterday I gave a mini-course in self-publishing at the Jericho Writers Summer Festival. These are some of the most interesting questions that came up in the Q&A.

Should I hire a developmental editor before giving my manuscript to beta readers?

I wouldn’t. I’d polish the book as much as possible before you bring in the professionals. Show the book to your beta readers, get their feedback, work on it again yourself. When you can’t find anything more you want to change, or you don’t know what to do next, that’s when you’ll get the best value from a developmental editor.

Your beta readers might bring up issues that you can’t solve or don’t agree with, so you can then take those to a developmental editor. Often a beta reader has half the picture – they feel something isn’t working, but can’t tell you why or what to do instead. That’s where a developmental editor is gold.

So the more polishing you do with your own resources, the better value you’ll get out of the professionals. And the more you’ll grow as a writer. Here’s more on how to find the editor who’s right for you.

But what about spelling and grammar problems? I’m worried these errors might distract my beta readers…

Great point. Spelling and grammar glitches are infuriating for any reader. So are factual mistakes. I always say you want a book to be so perfect that it looks as though it came out of a machine, not a fallible mind. This lets the reader trust in your prose. With a really good book, the reader forgets they’re looking at words. They fall into the spell.

As far as possible, you want your beta readers to concentrate on the book’s content. If the manuscript is littered with literals, they’ll probably correct those instead, even if you tell them to ignore them. That’s a waste of their contribution. So if grammar and spelling are your weaknesses, find one beta reader who’s willing to clean it up for you, then give a sparkling manuscript to the others.

You mentioned that self-publishing allows us to publish whatever we like, across a variety of genres if we want. How do we do that without confusing readers?

This is where your platform comes into its own. Explain it in all the places you talk to readers – your website, your blog, your newsletter, Facebook. Make a virtue of this variety, make it part of your evolving artistic identity. If you develop a new direction, include them in the big adventure. A few years ago, I found myself writing a travel memoir. At first, this seemed ridiculous – who’d read a memoir by me? Here’s how I introduced it, collywobbles and all ‘A book I didn’t expect to write’.

A month later, I was more confident that it wouldn’t be an embarrassing mess, so I felt able to share details.  ‘That book…’

Because you have this direct contact with readers, you can take them with you as your interests evolve.

When you update the back matter of your existing books, explain that you have a varied catalogue.  For instance: ‘As well as contemporary fiction I also write light-hearted travel memoir and books on writing.’ Or: ‘I have an alter ego as a grief counsellor…

You could make a distinction by using a pseudonym or a variation of your name with initials. There’s more about this in this post. In that post I considered the extra burden of running multiple names or variations, but David Gaughran adds another consideration in his book Amazon Decoded. He says the ‘also boughts’ list on Amazon can be confused if you use the same name for different kinds of book, and that this might mean Amazon recommends your work to the wrong kind of readers, and then notices the conversion rates aren’t good and stops recommending your book at all. But a simple change to your name, such as an initial, can make you look like two different people to the algorithm.

How much difference is too much? That depends. Not everyone will be interested in all your work, especially if you write strictly within fiction genres. You might want to separate your newsletter list, for instance, because your lighthearted contemporary romances might not appeal to readers of your Transylvanian historical sagas. But if you’re less easily categorised, your work is more about you, your outlook, your curiosities and your voice, so a reader of one of your books might well enjoy all the rest.

You talked a lot in the course about how self-publishing allows you a lot more control than traditional publishing… Where do you most like having control?

Everyone’s different! Some indies like being in control of the marketing and presentation. For me, I relish the detailed process of making the book and passing it for press. I’m lucky that this is also my job in non-writing life – I’m a magazine sub. So I don’t like someone else to have my text files or make changes to them. I want to make the corrections myself so I know they’ve been done – and that they haven’t spawned any unintended consequences, which often happens. That’s my favourite part, aside from the writing.

(Thanks for the manuscript pic, Muckster)

Your turn! I’m taking more questions about self-publishing… and anything else you’d like to contribute on the questions I’ve answered here. If you’ve self-published, what’s your favourite part? What parts of the process do you not enjoy?

And how is my latest book shaping up? More here in my newsletter


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