Archive for category self-publishing
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
How to un-self-publish: can you remove a book from self-published channels if you want to do something else with it?
I’ve had this question:
Can I free my book from Amazon CreateSpace? I want to seek a traditional deal. I published my first book a few years ago through CreateSpace. It’s a prelude to the one I’m now writing, and I am trying to find a publisher. Is there any way to free it from Amazon to match it to whoever I finally publish with? Sue
If you’re an experienced self-publisher you’ll know this is easy-peasy – so I’ll just say cheerio and see you next time. If not, read on….
Many writers might have an early book on a self-publishing platform, and now want to remove it. Perhaps to try for a traditional deal. Or to rework the material now they’re in a new phase of their writing life.
Here’s how to un-self-publish.
Do you have to ‘free your book’?
There are several aspects to this.
First: the rights. Big question: Are you allowed to unpublish the book and republish it elsewhere?
Let’s subdivide this further. Did you
- use the publishing platform directly, setting up your own account?
- use a middle man?
You published directly
The main direct platforms for print books are CreateSpace (which is now KDP), Lulu and IngramSpark. For ebooks, the main platforms are KDP, IngramSpark, Lulu and Kobo. There are also aggregators who send your books to multiple retailers – examples are Smashwords, PublishDrive, Streetlib, and Bookbaby.
If you have accounts with any of these, then you have complete control. You can remove the book yourself. Each platform has its own instructions.
So…. You don’t have to ‘free your book’. You are not under contract to these platforms. You simply used them as a printer. It’s not like a publishing deal. So you can do whatever you like with the book.
If it’s an ebook it will disappear from the sales channels.
If it’s a print book, the sales page will remain on Amazon but customers won’t be able to order it. There’s no way around this because it was assigned an ISBN so it forever exists in the limitless memory of book databases.
This might be irksome if you wish to bury the whole thing, but actually, it’s as good as buried. Only the cover, reviews and blurb will be visible to shoppers. In theory there might be second-hand copies available, though that’s unlikely. Even then, the system will probably help you as bots will know the book is scarce and will price the book at hundreds of dollars. (Really.)
So… although the book will look like it’s available, you can be pretty sure no one will buy it. But you can look at the page from time to time and laugh.
You went through a middle man?
If you went through a middle man, such as a publishing services company, they will have handled the uploading process through their account so you’ll have to ask them to remove the book. They probably printed through the exact same channels – CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Lulu or KDP, so the process at their end will be simple.
They might tell you the book can’t be taken out of the catalogues or off Amazon, but they’re referring to the situation I’ve explained in the previous section. The book will be visible but to all intents and purposes, not available (except for a handsome, bot-inflated sum of $700).
But… there are cowboy operators in the self-publishing world. Here are two hitches to be aware of.
- Some try to tie up your rights so that you can’t publish the book elsewhere.
- Others will make you pay for formatting and then not release the files for you to use yourself unless you pay a further fee. This situation won’t trouble you if you’re going to reuse the work anyway, or bury it for ever. (Here’s a post where I wrote more about this.)
Check the fine print of your agreement with them. With luck, everything will be straightforward. But if there’s a clause you’re unsure of, ask an expert at a professional body such as the Society of Authors or the Authors Guild. You could also try the Alliance of Independent Authors or Victoria Strauss’s blog Writer Beware.
Once you’ve freed the book, and you want to seek a traditional deal, what then?
A publisher probably won’t be interested in a self-published book if it didn’t do very well. Unfortunately! But if you’re substantially changing it, or re-presenting it as part of a bigger project, then it’s not the same work. When you query it, be clear about its history, and stress how your new use of it will be viable and different.
Lock up after you!
And don’t forget to block off the pathways to the book you’ve unpublished. Check through your blog, social media descriptions – anywhere you might, once upon a time, have laid a pathway for readers to find the book. There will be more than you think! Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… unpick whatever you can.
If you have a blog or website, you might want to write a brief post explaining that you’ve now retired the book. If you have exciting plans for it, write about them. This will help make your site look current – readers are put off if they come to a site that looks unloved and out of date.
Thanks for the keyboard pic Ervins Strauhmanis on Flickr
A friend has turned into a writer. Unbeknown to me, she’s been chipping away at a novel and her husband just sent this email.
Her novel is more or less finished!!! I may need to pick your brains about marketing! We also think we need to get it professionally proof-read. We tried doing it ourselves with Grammarly, but realise it’s way more complex than it seems …’
Ah bless. If you’re well seasoned in the author world, you’ll already be counting the many erroneous assumptions. Carts before horses. Running before walking.
But we all have to start somewhere. And even if you’re already wiser than my beginner friend here, you might know a writer who’s effervescing in a similar state of enthusiastic, ecstatic, multi-plinged euphoria. High on all those well-earned Es, they can’t possibly know what’s coming next.
So this post is a gentle reality check, a bit of tough love, a bit of hand-holding and a jolly, genuine thump between the shoulder blades to say: well done, welcome to the club.
Marketing? Proof reading?
Let me explain about those production processes.
This post is angled for self-publishers, but it explains all the work that a publisher typically does on a book. Including proofreading etc
And here’s another post about production processes
NB Do NOT rely on Grammarly! To proof-read a book, you need a knowledgeable human. Also, you need to develop good grammar skills etc yourself. This may seem unsympathetic, but if you’re not sensitive to grammar, spelling and language use, how will you learn the linguistic and lexical control to write well? Seriously, would you expect a person who is tone deaf to play a musical instrument to a listenable standard? Here’s where I rant about that
But even with all that natural prowess, you’ll still need copy editors and proof readers because they read in a highly specialised way. They look for the mistakes you never dreamed were possible.
Did you say ‘self-publish’?
Are you going to self-publish or try for a traditional deal? Is this the first time you’ve ever been asked to think about it? Here’s a post about self-publishing vs traditional publishing – the similarities and the differences. They’re no longer mutually exclusive either – there are many options in between. And as you might expect, you’ll need to spot the rip-off merchants who are eager for your £££s, so I’ve pointed to some tell-tale signs.
You’ve heard of crowdfunding? Here’s how my friend Victoria Dougherty is using crowdfunding to support a creative departure
Do people still send manuscripts off to publishers and literary agents? Yes they do. And you can. But before you send your manuscript anywhere, read on.
Before you can walk….
Now you know how a book is made. But first, is the book really ready? Have you rewritten it until your fingers are in tatters?
Here’s a post about beginning with a muddle and rewriting into glory (with a dose of disco)
When you decide to work with an editor (and I recommend you do at some point), here’s what they can do for you
How much should you budget for an editor? And how should you choose one?
If those costs make you boggle, here are some low-cost ways to boost your writing skills
Will your editor trample all over your style? No, a good editor helps you to be yourself
Have you looked for feedback and ended up in a pickle? Here’s how to find your way again.
Will your editor laugh at your naïve efforts? Au contraire. Here’s why they admire you and appreciate what you’ve already achieved.
You asked about marketing. It’s not really my sphere of expertise, and each type of book and writer will require different approaches. But yes, you do have to make time for it. Here’s a post about finding a good balance
If you’re going to get on Twitter, for heaven’s sake use your author name. Here’s why
Wait, I’m overwhelmed! There are so many books already out there….
Yes there are. But the world still needs new voices. There’s never been a person like you, with your experiences, your perspective, your curiosities. You might have the unique outlook and insight that a reader needs to hear.
PS If you’re curious about what I’m working on at the moment, here’s the latest edition of my newsletter
PPS You should start a newsletter.
A report of the Frankfurt Book Fair in The Hot Sheet caught my eye this week, and I have to admit it’s got me a trifle narked. See what you think.
‘The acceptance and progress of self-publishing (or, rather, the sluggish acceptance and progress) in most countries (the US, the UK, and Germany are the exceptions) was probably best represented by Guillaume Dervieux, vice president and CEO of France’s Albin Michel publishing house. He said that self-publishing is all but anathema to “what we are doing” in the trade. In self-publishing, he said, every manuscript “is accepted and each title is invested with the minimum amount of means. We do exactly the contrary. We reject a lot of manuscripts, and we concentrate all our means and effort only on the ones we choose with passion.” ‘
Oof. (Before we go any further, let me state that I find The Hot Sheet to be a useful, worthwhile round-up of news for authors. I’ve found several important opportunities because of it. They are reporting attitudes they have observed, not their own attitude to self-publishing. That’s why I included the paragraph in full.)
Back to Mr Dervieux. Here’s the point that worried me. In self-publishing, every manuscript “is accepted and each title is invested with the minimum amount of means”.
Here are some sows, with ears.
There are many authors (indie and otherwise) who’ve sought my editorial input on a book and been sent back to the drawing board – kindly, with constructive directions. That’s what they hire me for. Some of them come back with a greatly improved script.
Anyone who’s hung around this blog will know that I frequently post about the long process of getting a manuscript right. The time taken to edit for nuance. You’ve also heard me plead for writers not to rush because we can set our own deadlines, and that is our great artistic advantage, if we want it. A book will be out for ever, and although we can nip into the back channels and edit the snarlies, we can’t edit a reader’s memory of a bad experience.
But here’s something I’ve never talked about – the care that then goes into the editorial and production process – which I think is one of Mr Dervieux’s contentions.
So, by way of example, let me take you through the editorial process for my latest book, Not Quite Lost.
For reference, Not Quite Lost is about 38,000 words.
- Rewriting/developmental editing December 2016 to April 2017
- First beta reader April 2017
- More drafting, second beta reading, start of June 2017
- More drafting, third reading, end of June 2017
- Final drafting
- Copy editing, proofing and formatting to August 2017
In parallel with this, the cover was being developed. Work on that began in January 2017. Three full designs were considered and discussed with close advisers. The final design emerged in July 2017.
And no publishing job has been done properly unless there is marketing and publicity. Preliminary work on that began in May, with 3 weeks of campaigning in August, and work is still ongoing as leads arise.
To recap, the production calendar looked like this:
- Conceptual and developmental editing from first draft to final manuscript 7 months
- Proofing & formatting 2 months
- Cover development 7 months
- Marketing/publicity 4 weeks concentrated work, then as needed
Of course, these months weren’t exclusively spent on the one task. I was doing other work in between, just as a traditional publisher would. And the breaks allowed time for new ideas to present, minds to be refreshed and new possibilities to be considered.
This is not the schedule of a book that was ‘invested with the minimum amount’, either financially or in terms of time. Indeed, I’ll wager my book had more care than it would get in a traditional publishing house. How do I know this? Because I’ve worked for them as well. Here’s a post that discusses some of the quality compromises I’ve seen in traditional publishers.
I’m heartened that Mr Dervieux chooses his projects carefully and invests each one with utmost effort. I would hope for nothing less. I hope it’s clear that I, a self-publisher, take just as much care.
Here are those pigs again.
What of Mr Dervieux’s first point, that plenty of self-publishers put sows’ ears in the sewing machine? Bien. Before I decided Not Quite Lost was fit to publish, I tried to find people to talk me out of it. Like a publisher with their editorial board. The story of that is here. And were they right to let me go ahead? The reviews can do the talking.
I realise this post has become a little ratty.
Apols, people, but Mr Dervieux’s generalisation is wildly unfair. It’s as bad as dismissing all of traditional publishing as ghostwritten celeb books or Dan Brown trudge with copycat covers and slapdash editing. Yes, of course, everyone’s mileage varies, and anyone and everyone can self-publish. Yes, self-publishing is done by amateurs. It’s also done by responsible, professional authors who nurture a book properly and take care in its production to create a book that’s worth a reader’s time.
Some of us would say that’s what it’s all about.
Thanks for the ratty, Mrs Airwolfhound on Flickr