Friday, October 9, 2015

Planning to Self-Publish? A Check List

A popular post from February 2013

by Annette Lyon

In the last couple of years, the publishing industry has seen a huge rise of e-books and the ability for any writer to publish their own work. This is both wonderful and awful.

It's wonderful because writers whose work is a square peg that doesn't necessarily fit the round hole of a traditional publisher can get their work out there for readers to find.

Bad, because any Tom, Dick, or Harry can publish so much virtual dross.

It's great because the gate keepers of agents and editors no longer keep writers out.

Yet they're no longer there to vet the quality, either.

The result is a huge spectrum of quality in indie e-books. In my experience, the most successful, and the highest quality, indie e-books tend to be by writers who already have years of experience and who likely have several traditionally published books already. (Not necessarily, but it's common.)

A big part of the reason for their success is that they have been writing a long time. They've learned the ropes through countless revisions. They know from experience how to take hard feedback. They've experienced the rejection/acceptance process, and (possibly most importantly) they've been professionally edited and proofed.

This doesn't mean that you can't have success with indie publishing if you can't check off all of those items. What it does mean, however, is to be careful if you plan to indie publish. Take your time. Don't rush it just to get your book online.

For starters, get lots and lots of feedback from trusted sources (tip: not Mom). When your story is as good as it can be, get it professionally edited. Consider doing both a content edit (the pace is sagging here; the MC's motivation doesn't make sense there, and so on) as well as a line edit (smoothing out the language, fixing grammar and punctuation). Make the needed changes, and then get proofed by several people, including at least one professional.

Even then, you're still not ready.

Get your book formatted correctly. You can find instructions online, or hire someone to do it for you. Some websites have very picky formatting rules, so be sure to follow them. Then send your book file to your personal e-reader and look at it to be sure the formatting isn't weird and distracting.

Be sure your file starts with the first page of the story. Don't clutter it with acknowledgments, explanations, or other content; for e-books, you'll want all of that stuff in the back. The reason is that readers typically sample e-books, and they may give your work only a click or two before dumping it. The one exception would be non-fiction or an anthology, both of which benefit from a table of contents at the front so readers can see what the book is about and use the links to jump to specific chapters.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, don't skimp on the cover art. Hire someone specifically trained in graphic design and book covers. Don't create your own cover with PhotoShop and stock photos unless you really truly know what you're doing. Even then, it's probably a good idea to hire someone who has a fresh set of eyes. Potential readers will be able to spot an unprofessional cover, and they won't buy the book.

Before finalizing your cover, look at it as a thumbnail. Can you still tell what image is? Can you still read the text? If you're too close to your project to be objective, ask someone else. Remember that potential readers will most likely see your cover as a thumbnail first, and bigger than that only if the thumbnail image has sparked their interest, making them click over to the larger image. Don't use a bunch of fonts; two is plenty. And make sure the font or fonts are professional looking and easily readable. So no Comic Sans or Papyrus.

Often, cover designers will put together a few mock-ups to get a feel for the direction you want to go. This a great chance to ask trusted industry friends and avid readers what they think: which mock-up draws them in? Which image is most intriguing? Which font style and/or placement is most pleasing to the eye?

To sum up: Take your time. Polish your work, using as much feedback as you can find. Get a professional edit or two. Have your book proofed by multiple people. Hire a cover designer to get a truly polished, professional look.

Need convincing on the cover issue? Spend some time scrolling through the Lousy Book Covers Tumblr.

That site will make you cringe and laugh. (Warning: some of the commentary has language and other content.) What's unfortunate in these cases is that most readers will never know if the story behind the cover is any good, because readers do judge books by their covers.

While the rule doesn't always hold, it often does: If a writer didn't care enough to put forth a professional-looking cover, they may not have cared enough to be sure the book is on a professional level either.

Give yourself and your book the best shot by doing it right.


Luisa Perkins said...

I wish I could post this post EVERYWHERE. It's LIKE GOLD, only BETTER.

Christina Dymock said...

Thanks for the list - good thoughts and great reminders.

Josi said...

Comic Sans and Papyrus are my two very favorite fonts! This convinces me to hire a professional if I ever need a designer, obviously I am not to be trusted. Great article, Annette.