Friday, March 25, 2016

Self-Publishing: Are You Ready?

A popular post from May 2012.

by Annette Lyon

Often I find blog post topics thanks to questions people direct at me. This week is no different; I've had several people, from aspiring writers to professional editors, ask me about the self-publishing boom, and specifically, about whether it's worth hiring an editor before uploading a book.

The short answer is YES, absolutely! I don't care if you're a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. You must be edited. Everyone needs to be edited. (Go back to THIS POST for a refresher as to why!)

But for the longer, more detailed answer:

The biggest mistake I see with writers eager to self-publish is that they publish too soon, without taking years to develop the writing chops to create a great book. Some authors also jump in feet first without learning about the market and the industry, not knowing that self-publishing isn't for everyone, and that traditional publishing is still alive and well, and may be the better option for them.

The truth is, waiting is hard. I get that. I really do. But it's worth it. Even the biggest successes with self-publishing (like the crazy successful Amanda Hocking) spent years writing multiple books to learn the craft before hitting that publish button.

So here's my advice for any writer starting out, geared particularly for those considering the self-publishing route:

1) Write your story. Then: revise, revise, revise. A lot.

2) After you've gotten it as good as you can make it, get critiques.
This means having people read it who will be honest. Note I said people. That's plural. You need several people to weigh in so you get a well rounded view of your work for both its strengths and weaknesses. And that doesn't mean Mom.

3) Revise, revise, revise, again. 

You may end up doing this for several complete manuscripts before you're really ready for the public to read your work. There's the famous 10,000 hours you must put into a craft before you master it. There's the million words you must write that a lot of people quote as saying you must put in before you write anything good. While those numbers are daunting, and possibly not true for everyone, they're a pretty decent benchmark.

Even if you have talent, there's a good chance you need to learn, and that means writing tons, getting lots of feedback, reading books on writing, attending conferences. You know, all the things we've been talking about on this blog for, oh, forever.

Feel you're ready for a professional edit? Whether you go through PEG or someone else, here are some things to keep in mind:

1) Consider getting a content edit first. 
This means that you won't be getting the nitty-gritty stuff with fixing comma splices and dangling modifiers. This is like a professional critique on big-picture issues: The plot sags here. This character's motivation isn't believable there. That description doesn't work. The conflict is weak. And so on.

After a content edit (and you may be lucky enough to have skilled friends who can do that for you), revise again.

2) Get a line edit.
This is the nitty-gritty, where the editor smooths out your sentences, gets rid of passive voice, fixes grammar and punctuation, and so forth. Basically, where the editor makes you look even better, polished.

Here's something you may not want to hear: It's not a bad idea to get more than one line edit. Publishers often do two or more on one book. If you hope to have a successful self-published book, you need to put in the same resources and effort into polishing it as the pros do. (Because you want to be a pro, right? Right.)

3) PROOF the book.
I've known people who get a professional edit, accept all the tracked changes, and immediately upload the book for sale.

Bad, bad, bad idea. 

For one thing, you may not agree with every change the editor made. For another, mistakes will creep in, no matter how talented the editor (who is human and therefore fallible). You must proof the book. Preferably, you'll have at least three skilled people go through it. If you're doing an e-book, do another proof on an e-reader to make sure it looks right on the device.

In an editing class during my university studies, my professor said that a good proofer will catch about 80% of errors. This is why she required three students to go over any manuscript destined for the university press. The hope was that the 20% any one proofer missed would be caught by the 80% from the other two.

A great example: I recently proofed Abel Keogh's self-published book, Marrying a Widower. I consider myself to be a good proofer, but he wisely had more than one person proof it. (Was I offended? Heck, no. When I heard he had another proofer, I thought that YES! Abel gets it! He's a total pro!) In both of his non-fiction self-published books, readers have found a couple of minor typos, even with all the (professional!) work put into them. And that's a good error rate.

His books are doing very well, and they've been received with respect. That's partly because he's written a couple of great books with wonderful content, but it's also because he took the time (and money) to create a professional presentation for them.

I shudder to imagine what what the result would have been had he cut corners. But he didn't, and as a result, he's a self-publishing success story.

Doing it all yourself takes time, not only with editing and proofing, but with layout and cover design. (Another place to absolutely not skimp!)

So is the investment worth it? 
Unequivocally, yes, that is, if you hope to be taken seriously and have any kind of sales or success.

On the flip side, if you think that hiring professionals for these services is too much, you simply won't sell many books, and your reviews will be awful, which feeds the low-sales problem. In short, skimp on editing, proofing, layout, and cover design, you'll end up with a sub-par product.

For that matter, self-publishing in the digital age has gotten a bad rap because of people doing everything I said not to: they rush the process, too eager to upload work that simply isn't ready.

While you're unlikely to have the success of JA Konrath or Amanding Hocking, you can still sell books and get royalties . . . but only if you put in the necessary work to make sure your book shines.

This is one more reason why a large number of successful self-published e-book authors are the ones who were traditionally published first, who then put up their back list as e-book titles. Those books had already been through professional editing and  had already gone through the vetting, revision, and proofing process.

Need more convincing? Read this post by Elizabeth Craig and her teenage son's experience with a poorly edited e-book.

Don't be tempted to cut corners. It's not worth it!


Abel Keogh said...

I have to second pretty much everything Annette says here. If you want to succeed at self-publishing you need to have a professional final product. I can't count the number of self-published books I've downloaded and been unable to get through because they either weren't edited or were poorly edited. If only they had contacted Annette first... :)

For me it was very worth the extra time and money to get two edits and two proofreads done on my books because I have a final product that I'm proud to have my name on. Self-publishing is a business and if you don't treat it as such, you're not going to go very far.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Hear! Hear!

I'm more interested in writing someone fun to read than making bank. But I don't want readers to be distracted from the story because I didn't take the time to do it right.;

Ten thousand hours. I'm tired . . .