Posts Tagged 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
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
Editing seminar snapshots: How much should you budget for editing your book? And how should you choose an editor?
This very good question came up when I spoke at the Writers & Artists selfpublishing summit a few months ago. And my answer… deserves a post.
First, there seem to be two modes for charging: by the hour and by the wordcount or page. With the wordcount, writers can be quoted a fixed price, so everyone knows where they stand. With an hourly rate, it’s much more difficult for the writer to know how much they’ll be spending.
The convention seems to be that developmental editing is quoted by the wordcount or page, and other phases are priced by hour. Here’s a post that describes the different editing processes and the order to use them in.
Second, editors set their own fees. Does a low price indicate good value? It might if the editor is starting out and doesn’t yet have a reputation. But might they also be lacking in experience? Indeed, might they be a complete amateur?
Conversely, if an editor’s charges are high, does that mean they’re good?
I think everyone can see it’s a buyer beware situation.
How do you tell? Here’s how to navigate the maze and spend your ££$$ wisely.
Establish that the editor is right for you.
For developmental edits, you need a specialist in your field. I would be useless to a fantasy author because I don’t read fantasy. But I can edit its close cousin, magic realism. I can’t edit genre romance of the Mills and Boon variety, but I can edit any number of stories that feature a romantic relationship. So find out what if their tastes are in tune with yours.
Find out where they got their experience.
There are a lot of people setting themselves up as editors. Are they just someone on the internet who’s been to a few critique groups and thinks they can edit? Are they writers whose only experience is helping out their friends? They might be great – everyone has to start somewhere – but they might not at all.
The best editors will have done the job for publishing houses or literary consultancies. Even if they mainly work with indie authors or authors who haven’t yet published, they’ll have that background.
Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, narrative non-fiction?
This may seem obvious, but make sure your editor has developmentally edited your kind of book. If they’ve chiefly worked with non-fiction, or even scientific and technical books, they might be too pedantic to allow for the artistry in a more narrative manuscript.
The fussy quotient: will the editor’s approach suit you?
Do you want an editor who’ll be good at explaining how to fix problems? This is where an edit from an experienced professional is far more useful than a critique group. Your beta readers might say ‘the characters are thin’. A good editor will identify why and offer suggestions for fixing it. They’ll spot other potentials in your book too – which you may be surprised about.
Why do charges vary so much?
There are various industry recommended rates (see Writer’s Market, as quoted by Writer’s Digest here), but developmental editors have to set their fees according to how long a project takes them. I spot a lot in a manuscript, so the work takes me more time than it takes a less pernickety editor – because I find there are a lot of points I need to raise. Some authors are eager for this, and some aren’t. Do you want an editor who will approach your work in that depth? You might not. But you’ll pay according to the depth of the work.
Should you ask for a test edit of a small portion of your book?
Opinion is divided. Personally, I’ve never had to do a test edit. All my clients have hired me after an email conversation. But they’re not acting on blind faith because I can demonstrate my approach and degree of thoroughness from the posts on this blog, my books and my video interviews. Some editors might offer a test edit, or they might have a pre-prepared sample that illustrates the kind of comments they make. Be worried, though, if they send a report they wrote about someone else’s book; that should stay confidential.
Copy editing and proof reading
These are less specialised, and tend to be charged for by the hour. How long will it take to edit or proof your book? It depends what shape the manuscript is in. The copy editor has to take charge of consistency and clarity. So if your use of language is imprecise, the copy editor will have more to do. If your plot is complex, and especially has a lot of time shifts or locations, they’ll have more checking to do. If you’ve been woolly about any of these details, you’ll multiply their workload.
Should you ask for a sample copy edit or proof read?
Unfortunately, a sample is no gauge of how long it will take to do the work because the second half of your book might fall apart, and the copy editor will have to hammer it together. I recently copy-edited one 50,000-word book that took 50 hours, and one that took more than twice that time. What I tend to do is to charge in blocks of 20 hours, then keep the author informed of progress so they at least have a warning of the cost.
So… how much?
But I still haven’t answered that question: how much will editorial services cost you? For a 50,000-word novel, budget GBP£1000-2500 for the developmental edit, the same for the copy-edit and the same for the proof-read. Minimum probably £2000 if your manuscript is really clean. Maximum (depending on the quality of the editor and the manuscript) £7500.
Phew, that looks like a lot, doesn’t it? If you were traditionally published, you wouldn’t see these costs, but this is part of the publisher’s investment in your manuscript. And yes, there are people who manage to produce good books on a much smaller budget (I have tips here on low-cost options for getting good help ). The sums can be a bit of a shock when the rest of our writing activity seems so cheap and free, unlike, say, skiing or learning to fly. But I hope this post has helped you to see how to get good value.
POSTSCRIPT I’ve had a few emails since I published this post, so a clarification might be helpful.
One reader remarked that copy editing and proofreading don’t usually cost as much as developmental editing. Generally, that’s right. The costs all hinge on how much time the editor has to spend, and that’s related to how much has been done to the manuscript after each stage. But in real life, if a developmental edit leads to a lot of rewriting, that might leave a lot of tidying for the copy editor. Once we get to proof-reading, it should be a fast and final read with minimal changes … but again if a lot has been altered this will slow things down. I’ve had manuscripts where so much had changed after the copy edit, that the proof read was in fact another copy edit. Which is why I made the point that everything hinges on the cleanness of the manuscript.
Thanks for the money pic, Pixabay and soccerlime for the scrumpled page
Any questions? Fire away!
BTW, my Nail Your Novel books are distilled from the issues I most commonly find in manuscripts. Much much cheaper than getting me in person!