A Guide to Self-Publishing: Editing

The digital self-publishing revolution is upon us. In fact, it’s been upon us, going on for about three years now. And it’s showing no signs of slowing. Meanwhile, traditional (or legacy) publishing is declining.

Not only are high profile authors starting to jump ship from their contracts with the Big 6, but would-be authors are suddenly discovering – either through friends, news stories, or blogs like mine – that publishing their books is not only attainable, but potentially lucrative, if not simply freeing.

Self-publishing – what was the scarlet letter worn by authors who were “not good enough to get a real contract” – has now become the elite status symbol among authors who know. Meanwhile having a profit-gouging, creatively restrictive contract with a corporation has become the symbol of the unsuspecting author who may or may not be aware of the cruel fact that they’re getting sucker-punched over and over and over again.

If you still need convincing about the merits of publishing your own manuscripts versus getting an agent to shop it around for you in the hopes of landing an 8-15% contract of limited distribution and print life, overpriced digital editions, no marketing dollars, semi-annual reporting, and profits that need to be split with said agent, then I suggest you look elsewhere. I don’t have time to convince you; I’m too busy working on my next manuscript and watching my ebook and print books make money everyday.

Rather, this series of blog posts will be dedicated to those who understand the merits of self-publishing and need a how-to guide of sorts. Granted, I’m far from proficient, and I welcome additional ideas and counterpoints in the comments sections. But I do know that I’m answering enough email on the subject to justify pointing people to articles that have a permanent home on my website.

A last caveat before we get started: this is the way I’ve published my books and found success. No doubt there are other means and methods. But after much research, the following actions are what I decided upon. All that being said, I fully expect these posts to be obsolete within 12-months. Which means that authors in 2012 and beyond have a responsibility to educate themselves in a new way. You need to be reading, learning, and making Google your best friend. There are many brilliant self-publishing authors out there seeing varying levels of success. Find them, bookmark them, learn from them, and then set off on your own adventures.

Amazon continues to place Kindles in the hands of millions (stress millions) of readers around the world. They’re innovative. That’s why they are the new post-publisher. As an author you have unprecedented, life-long access for your titles to hit that audience. And there’s no end in sight.

I plan to cover all the things a traditional publisher used to do (and some of what they didn’t) with an enormous staff and high overhead that now technology has made accessible to you and me for a fraction of the cost and time, including: editing, interior design, cover design, publishing and distribution through CreateSpace for print, publishing and distribution through Kindle Direct Publishing, PubIt!, and Smashwords for digital editions, and promotion. At some point, every author wakes up and realizes either a) they can do all these things themselves, or b) find ways (friends, favors, or other companies) to do them more cheaply and efficiently.

Please note that in order for any work to be published, you have to have a manuscript, which means you have to have written something. And if you want to be successful, it has to be written well. You can not blame your audience for a lack of sales, nor can you blame your marketing campaign (or lack-thereof). Good books sell. Period. So before you do anything else, make sure you have a good book. (Writing will be post-fodder for another day).

If there’s something I don’t cover that you’d like me to, please leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to either answer you or make it into a post. You can also easily read all of these posts by clicking the Self-Publishing category list option at the end of any post.

Why am I doing this? Because I love seeing people succeed in their dreams. It’s part of my job as a Christian, as a father, and as a pastor. Some of you reading this need to have your voices heard, especially in Christian circles. For far too long our literary voice has been limited to a handful of over-tapped, over-published authors saying the same thing but with a different cover. Valuable, but done. Some of you have a best seller in you. Others of you will realize you don’t have the capacity for what I’m going to outline and need to focus your energies in other pursuits altogether. And some in the middle may recognize you want to put your work out there but don’t want to bother with all the steps I’ve outlined, in which case you should look into hiring someone else to assist you in part or whole; even if you subcontract out everything aside from actually writing your book, you’ll still be better off then signing away rights and percentages. (Yes, my company New Life Media, LLC is a marketing firm and can serve you in most everything I’m outlining over the next few days; I’ll also be making lots of recommendations for other companies I trust and use myself).

How can you repay me? Assuming the information actually helps you first, the best way to thank me is not by leaving a comment (although that’s kind and helps the blog-ego), but by buying my books in print or on your favorite ereader, and then tell your friends. My kids and my wife thank you.

So without further ado, let’s get to the main course.
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A Guide to Self-Publishing: Editing

The lack of editing in my first novel, Rise of the Dibor, about ended my career before it even got started. While I was extremely grateful (and I am to this day) for the magnanimous leap of faith that Tsaba House Publishing took on me, two mistakes were made.

The first is my own. I sent them a horribly proofed manuscript. In fact, it wasn’t proofed by anyone. And as someone who naturally struggles with spelling and homonyms, errors common to every other author I know were merely exacerbated.

The second is that they only had one editor on staff at the time, and even the best writer needs more than one author when a manuscript is 125,000 words long. While the editor caught her fair share of errors (something I honor her for), she still let over 250 errors slip through into the finished book. (Yes, my accountant is one of my biggest reading fans and counted them all. It’s a gift).

The simple fact is, a manuscript needs multiple sets of eyes. One reason a traditional publisher takes such a large cut is they employee line editors and proofing staff. And rightly so – it’s a tall order, and when done right, it’s labor intensive, tedious and time consuming.

But there are new tools for the self-published author.

Firstly, instead of mortgaging your editing costs over the length of your book’s sales life by giving the publisher a fixed percentage, you can pay for it up front. Like anything else, costs can vary according to the services you need, and the notoriety of the editor you hire. Either way, it’s cheaper than giving a percentage away.

I am going to always recommend my editor, Sue Kenney of Kenney Editing Services. Not only is Sue a brilliant editor, avid reader, and professionally educated in English, but also she’s fun to work with and knows how to give just the right amount of structural feedback without becoming overbearing. She’s also a member of my church New Life, which means I have even more trust for her. She is beyond fair in her pricing, and can do as much or as little as you need.

While I compose in Scrivener, I assemble in Microsoft Word. Yes, I loathe Word. It’s bulky, cumbersome, and adds more bogus code to the backend of a document than Congress earmarks legislation. But it has one great feature for editors and authors which is Track Changes. Sue and I can communicate through passing the manuscript back and forth, all the while comments, suggestions and corrections are helping refine the book until she passes off on it.

Once Sue is done, I create an InDesign file and paste the text into it. From there I’ll format the print version of my book (which I’ll discuss tomorrow), and create a PDF. The reason for the PDF brings me to my next level of editing:

My Proofies.

Whether you’re debuting your first work or you’re a well-established writer, someone, somewhere would love the bragging rights to read your book before anyone else does. If you have a presence online, then Facebook, Twitter and your blog are great ways to solicit at least ten of these kinds of people to your aid. (I ran a contest and randomly selected comments on a specific post. Certain Proofies turned out to be more prolific and accurate; I plan asking them personally for a repeat performance in the future and leaving less to chance). If you don’t, your favorite aunt and her book club, your co-workers, or a few friends in your church’s Life Group would probably be honored by the opportunity. And who doesn’t like their name in the credits of a book?

(This same tactic is also great when you’re developing your writing craft. A group of end-readers giving you honest feedback will do more to refine your abilities than almost any other activity).

I call my proof-readers my Proofies. Aside from a first-look, they get direct, personal correspondence with me, their names forever in print, and bragging rights for life. They also act as wonderful promoters and reviewers for when the book is released. I’d like to think there is a small friendship that develops too; after all you’ll spend a lot of time communicating with them. The Lord knows I’m forever indebted to their watchful eyes as they’ve caught plenty of plot snags and spelling mishaps.

Operationally, I send them the PDF via DropBox (they receive an invitation via email to this free file-sharing system for both Mac and Windows OS and have access to whatever I place in the shared folder). I give them a time frame to read the PDF within (usually 2 weeks), and then invite them to a Google Documents spreadsheet that I have pre-formatted with the criteria most useful to aiding me in the proofing process. (Here’s a good tutorial on making a spreadsheet with Google Docs).

The reason I send a PDF and not a Word.doc is because a PDF has fixed page numbers and text size. (You don’t need InDesign to create a PDF; Word will export a PDF just fine if that’s what tool you have easiest access to). While reading a PDF may be a pain for them, it creates a finite way for me to track what they are seeing regardless of what platform they are reading from: my PDF will look the same printed as it does on their screen. Likewise, using a Google Doc allows me and them to see what’s being posted as a “needed change” in real time. Before, I’d have Proofies send me emails with their changes. But I found I was re-reading hundreds of the same changes; that was more work for me, and more importantly, more work for them. Instead, the cloud-nature of the GoogleDoc spreadsheet eliminated work, and even allowed them to chat online with one another.

Here’s a screen shot of the first few changes on Rise of the Dibor. You can see, The Lion Vrie and Athera’s Dawn each have their own spreadsheet as indicated by the tabs at the very bottom.

[Right click and open in a new tab to enlarge]

From here I’m able to go back into the document that I created my PDF from and add valuable changes by people who love my story and have its success in mind. Once this process is complete, I’m ready to finalize my interior design.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the art (and sometimes mind-numbing repetition) of laying out out your book’s interior for print. ch: