Self-publishing tip #5: Hire professionals to design and typeset the interior

This post is part of a series on self-publishing. You’ll find links to all posts in this series in the first post.

Try this: flip through a half dozen books from your bookcase. What do you notice? How do the pages look? What about the fonts? Are they intrusive, or do they match the subject of the book? How do the paragraphs look? Are they too crowded, or too far apart (either of which is a mark of an amateur layout).

Just as your book’s cover needs to be professional, the interior of your book also needs to be professional. Even if you don’t consciously know the difference, you’ll subconsciously know whether a book is professionally designed and typeset. Something will feel off, or the book will be hard to read because it isn’t professional.

Interior book designers and typesetters know things that you don’t, and know how to do things that you don’t, all of which make the difference between “terrible” and “professional.”

Those professional touches tell people how much they can trust the author. Lower trust, less credibility. Higher trust, higher credibility. That’s just how it is.

Another reason for having your book’s interior professionally designed is that then your book is unique—it won’t look like all the other independent authors who used a Microsoft Word template.

How does interior book design and layout work?

At the 10,000-foot level, a designer creates the template, and a typesetter brings the manuscript into a design tool and lays it out. (Most magazines, newsletters, and publishing houses use Adobe’s InDesign for layout.) Usually the designer can also lay out your book.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How big do you want your book to be? 6″ x 9″ is a typical paperback size, but you may want a different size. The designer must know the finished size of your book in order to make the text fit.
  • Do you want to use any color in your book? In the publishing trade, printers charge for one color (usually, people use black). If you want, say, your headings to be blue, that’s considered two-color printing (blue for the headings, black for the text), and printers will charge for two colors. (Though you could have your entire book in blue instead of black if you wanted, which can be a nice way to add some uniqueness without extra costs.) If you have photos you want in full color, that’s going to cost more. I’ll talk more about colors when I discuss printing, but you need to decide at the design stage what you want to do about color.
  • How do you want your book to feel? Friendly? Formal? Historic? A good designer will choose and offer you fonts and an interior design that will convey a certain feeling.

How much does it cost?

A lot. For a 200-page book, probably a few thousand to have someone design and lay out your book.

Why is it so expensive? Typesetting is painstaking work that requires a lot of meticulous care and attention. Even if your book is simple. If you have more complex needs (images, sidebars, other special formatting needs), your typesetter is going to work a lot harder. I won’t go into the details, but trust me, it gets gruesome. Designers/book layout specialists can afford to charge so much because it’s a difficult job that requires a lot of skills that are honed through experience, and not many people want to do the job.

Yes, you can find cheap book designers, but the resulting design/layout will be horrible. In this field, like so many, it really is “you get what you pay for.”

If someone offers to both design and typeset your book, they might charge a flat fee to design your book, then $35 per page (and up!) to typeset it, or they might just charge a flat fee based on the number of pages. A flat fee is usually better.

Some people will offer a package deal: cover design, interior design, and lay out, all for one fee.

Working with a designer and typesetter

When hiring a designer/typesetter, get bids from three different people/companies, then pick the one that you feel most comfortable and sympatico with. Give them as much information as you can: number of pages, whether you have any images or special requirements, whether you want to use color, whether you have a favorite font you want them to use.

In their bid, they should specify how many rounds they’ll do on the design before finalizing it. After they lay out your book, they should prepare it so it is ready for the printer.

Once you’ve selected a designer/typesetter, it can be helpful to pick a book whose layout you like and show the pages to the designer to give them an idea of your taste.

You could just hire someone to design a template for you, then you could lay out your book yourself. The advantage of that is that you can then use the same template for your other books of the same size, though you may want to vary some things to keep the look fresh and unique for your book. See the next section for going the do-it-yourself (DIY) route.

Cutting costs by doing it yourself

If your budget is super tight and if you know what you’re doing, you can get away with not using a professional. Instead, you could use a premade template and your book will likely look okay. But if you choose that route, take the time to find an excellent template (and be prepared to pay for it).

Or you could take the path of total DIY and make your own template and lay out your book yourself.

Whether you buy a pre-made template or go all out with doing it all yourself, you absolutely must teach yourself the basics of design and typesetting.

That way you won’t make rookie mistakes that shout “amateur” to anyone looking at your book.

In case you’re thinking that you’ve seen a lot of Microsoft Word templates hanging around, and you’re wondering why you can’t just use one of those,

I don’t recommend using a Microsoft Word template. It is impossible to get a professional-looking interior using Word.

Word is a fantastic tool when you’re writing (though if you’re up for learning a new tool, Scrivener is also a fantastic for writing, just for its organizing capabilities alone), but Word is not capable of doing the sorts of things you need to do. Even Microsoft, back in the days when they were producing printed manuals for their products, didn’t use Word. They used FrameMaker, which is InDesign’s more techy sibling.

If you get someone to design an InDesign template for you, you’re going to have to learn how to use InDesign. Santa Rosa Junior College offers excellent online courses in InDesign (online means you can take them from anywhere), and so does Lynda.com (check out courses by David Blatner, Anne-Marie Concepción, and Nigel French).

Are you an author?

Hey, if you are self-publishing (or if a publishing house is publishing your book), feel free to post a link to your book in a comment to this post (or any of the other posts in this series). Thanks!

Self-publishing tip #4: Hire a professional to create your cover

 

This post is part of a series on self-publishing. You’ll find links to all posts in this series in the first post.

You know that expression, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”? And yet we all do it when it comes to books. Your book cover is part of your marketing. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Your book cover is your first chance to intrigue people enough to pick up your book and look inside.

If you want your book to look professional, and if you don’t have the graphical chops to create your own cover, hire a professional cover designer/firm.

A cautionary tale about bad covers

As a favor to a friend of mine who is the friend of an author, I once read that author’s self-published book. The cover is terribly amateurish. Because of the cover, I expected the book to be as badly written as the cover was drawn.

Surprisingly, the book is good. Not just passably good. Good in the sense that the author could go places with her writing. But, because of the cover, I would never have read the book.

To make matters worse, the writer skipped the step of hiring a professional editor, and it shows. From page one, typos and grammatical errors abound. Again, if I hadn’t been reading the book as a favor, I would have stopped after the first three pages because of the numerous grammatical errors.

Don’t be that author. Give your readers a reason to open your book. Don’t skimp on the cover.

Book covers for softcover and hardcover books

Your book cover needs depend on the type of book you want to self-publish.

  • If you’re self-publishing a paperback book, you need art for the front, back, and spine. (If you want flaps, you’ll need art for those as well.)
  • If you’re publishing a hardcover book, you won’t normally need art for the book’s cover (though you might), but you will need art for the dust jacket: front, back, and spine, plus flaps.

You’ll also need to decide what size your book is going to be (6″ x 9″, for example). You’ll need to know this for the cover, for the interior, and for the printer. A cover designer can work with you before your book is typeset, but will need to know your book’s final page count before they finalize the spine, because the size of the spine will vary depending on how many pages in the book.

Finding a professional cover designer

Shop around and find several people or companies who do good work. A quick Google search using the keywords “book cover designers” results in thousands of cover designers. Skip past the ones marked “Ad” and choose the top ten. Browse those sites, look at their samples, then get competitive bids from at least three to five designers (more, if you want).

Once you have the bids in hand, compare what’s being offered and choose the one you feel the best about. Notice I don’t say “choose the cheapest.” Instead, I recommend choosing someone ethical (as far as you can determine) and whose work draws you.

Once you decide to go with a bid, I strongly advise you to do the following:

  • Get the agreement in writing. A signed contract is best. Make sure the agreement spells out every detail.
  • As part of your agreement, ask the artist to give you at least three options to choose from initially. After you see those options, choose one and ask them to start refining it.
  • Make sure you have the right to ask for a reasonable number of revisions. (“Reasonable” can vary, but you should be able to ask for at least three major revisions and a larger number of minor revisions.)
  • Super important: in your agreement, specify that this is a “work for hire,” which means that you are buying the copyright; that is, you are buying all rights to use the work as you see fit. This means the artist can’t use the work in any way without your permission. If the artist balks at this, ask them why. If they just want the right to show it as an example of their work (for example, in their portfolio), they only need your permission to use it in that way; they don’t need the copyright. If they refuse to do the work as a work for hire, look for a different designer.
  • Make sure they agree to deliver their own original work and not clip art. They might need to purchase a photo, which is fine, but the photo should come with the right to use it.
  • Make sure that when the work is delivered to your satisfaction, you will get the source files so you can use them again. For example, if you are writing a book series, you may want to use similar covers.

What to expect to pay for a cover design

On average, cover designs range from about $500 to $700, though prices can be as low as $150 and as high as a few thousand, depending on what’s involved. (Dustjackets, flaps, and so on will cost more.)

For example, text plus a solid-color background and maybe a stock photo should be less expensive; original artwork, as in drawings and paintings, is going to cost the most.

A cautionary tale about paying upfront

Learn from my mistake: I strongly recommend that you do not pay anything until the work is done to your satisfaction. Many years ago, I got burned by a logo designer. He demanded $600 up front, then delivered crappy options, which I naturally rejected. I’m not a graphic artist, but I know bad work when I see it.

Two very similar logos--the original on teh bottom and the copied version on top--show what can happen if your designer isn't ethical

A logo designer delivered the top logo to me. I found the bottom one on the Internet. The two logos have too many points of similarity: if I had unknowingly used what he delivered, I would have risked a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Then suddenly he delivered a wonderful, professional logo (at the top of the figure). I loved it and was quite ready to pay the balance of his fee. Only problem was, he had delivered a logo that was a copyright infringement of someone else’s logo.

Fortunately, I found this out before I paid him anything more. I don’t think he expected me to find the original, though I still shake my head at the fact that he submitted something that would have gotten me into deep legal trouble had I accepted and used it.

I asked him to stop working on the project and to refund my money, but I never heard another word from him. I was out hundreds of dollars that I could ill afford. In retrospect, I should have insisted on only paying after delivery of an acceptable draft.

Of course, the flip side is that sometimes people take advantage of a designer: they make the designer do a lot of work, then don’t pay them. So if a designer asks for a down payment, be cautious but reasonable. Get references from others who have worked with them (and make sure the references are genuine clients, not the designer’s cronies). If the references pan out, consider giving some earnest money upfront, with the balance due on acceptance and a guarantee that you don’t have to pay if the work isn’t to your satisfaction. (But don’t think to refuse the work, then copy it yourself. That’s dishonest and unethical.)

Some resources

I know someone who used JD&J for his nonfiction text. The results were crisp and professional and the price quite reasonable.

The Creative Penn is a great blog-based resource for all things self-publishing, including lists of cover designers she recommends.

If your budget is super tight, you might have some luck on Fiverr. However, use extreme caution. You might hit pay dirt, but you’re more likely to get what you pay for; that is, cheap, disappointing, and unusable work, work that is most likely a ripoff of someone’s copyrighted work.

On the topic of logos, if you want an excellent, top-notch, professional logo from an ethical designer, you can’t go wrong hiring Jeff Fisher LogoMotives. I can’t afford Mr. Fisher yet, but when I can, I am totally going to hire him to design my logo. (He’s also ferocious about protecting his designs, so when he designs that killer logo for you, he’ll do his best to find and challenge the miscreants who try to copy it.)

Working with a designer

Be very specific about what you want, but also give the artist leeway to apply their expertise to the job. If they are truly professional, they know what they’re doing, and they know what works and what doesn’t. Yes, graphics are a matter of taste, and there’s nothing wrong with having taste that is different from the mainstream. But you want to sell your book. Unless ransom is a key theme in it, you don’t want ten different fonts on the cover (for example).

If you and the designer really can’t work together, don’t be afraid to walk away and keep looking.

Are you an author?

Hey, if you are self-publishing (or if a publishing house is publishing your book), feel free to post a link to your book in a comment to this post (or any of the other posts in this series). Thanks!

How to self-publish step #3: Get your book professionally edited

Imagine your doctor has written you a note recommending a course of treatment. It goes something like this:

U r going 2 b ok. Eat tree meels a day, and take tow tablets of this medecasion with each meal.

This doctor may have the best credentials in the world and may come highly recommended, but instinctively, you’re not going to trust them. Like it or not, typos, grammatical errors, and inappropriate use of text-speak give the impression of ignorance and a lack of intelligence.

Just as with this hypothetical doctor, you’ll lose credibility and your readers’ trust if your book has typos or grammatical errors in it. Enough errors, and you’ll lose all credibility and trust. You might be the greatest writer in the world, but that won’t matter.

Publishing secret: you’d be surprised at how many excellent writers have terrible spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Their editors make sure those errors never see the light of day.

You might plan to use your writing software’s spelling checker, but a spelling checker won’t tell you that you wrote “lightening” when you meant “lightning.” That’s one reason to hire an editor to read your material: to find the words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong words. A human eye can spot what a computer can’t. A good editor will also find all the other errors you’ve made, and, depending on what kind of editing you’ve asked them to do, will suggest some wordsmithing—that is, smoother and clearer ways to say something.

You might think you can edit your own writing, but it’s extremely rare that a person can edit themselves. One reason is that you are so familiar with what you wrote that your eyes will glide right over the mistakes—the typos, the missing words, the bad punctuation—because you know what you meant when you wrote it.

Having someone edit your work is one of the distinctions between a professional writer and an amateur. So if you want to be a professional writer (and be perceived as one), hire someone else to edit your work.

This post focuses on

  • what editors are and what they can do for you,
  • what a style guide is and why you should use it, and
  • if you are writing nonfiction or fiction based on facts (say, historical fiction), why you need a fact-checker or even a researcher.

I cite some resources throughout.

What editors do for you

Editors come in several flavors; here are four major types:

  • Developmental editor. A developmental editor helps you plan your manuscript from the start, gives you suggestions on organizing your material, gives guidance on storytelling (if you’re writing fiction), and (if your agreement allows for this) encourages you and does their best to keep you motivated. A developmental editor might also do everything an editor (described next) does, but that varies. You hire a developmental editor at the start of your writing project, and, assuming it’s a good match, you keep working with them until your book is done. If you feel you need help putting your ideas together, consult with a developmental editor. Even a one-time consultation when planning your book can save you a lot of time and trouble down the road.
  • Editor. An editor fixes typos, grammatical errors (including English as a Second Language errors), and unclear or awkwardly written sentences. They use your style guide and make sure your writing matches that style. An editor also digs deeply into your writing and makes suggestions on organizing your material. Your developmental editor might also edit your manuscript, but that’s separate from the developmental tasks. You hire an editor when your manuscript is almost done, then you make one last revision based on this editor’s suggestions. After that, your manuscript is ready for the copyeditor.
  • Copyeditor. A copyeditor (CE) does much of what an editor does except for the digging deeper part. A CE fixes typos, grammatical errors (including English as a Second Language errors), and unclear or awkwardly written sentences. CEs make sure your writing matches your chosen style guide. You hire a copyeditor when your manuscript is ready to be typeset.
  • Proofreader. After your manuscript has been typeset, a proofreader reads through your manuscript looking for typos and punctuation errors. They pay no attention to grammar or how you word things or whether anything you’ve written makes sense or is accurate, but they are ferocious on typos and punctuation errors.

When you look for an editor or developmental editor, look for someone who is familiar with the genre or topic of your book. And make sure you’re compatible; if you aren’t, it won’t be a productive relationship. Feel free to fire an editor and hire another if it isn’t working out (and make sure your written agreement—which you will have, right?—leaves room for either of you to exit the relationship).

I’m an editor and developmental editor, so you can hire me. And I can recommend a few excellent copyeditors and editors; just ask. You can also check the Bay Area Editors Forum to find an editor and to learn more about the different kinds of editors. These are just some resources; I’m sure you’ll find many more with a little Google fu.

How much should you expect to pay an editor?

Expect to pay a fair price for editing, though “fair price” is regional. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I charge 4¢ per word to edit a manuscript. For a 50,000-word manuscript (about the size of a small novel), that would be US$2,000. In other parts of the US, you can expect to pay a lot more. Though it’s surprisingly hard to find out what people charge upfront. Most of them want you to contact them to get their rates.

I and many other editors charge by the word. Some editors charge by the page or the hour.

Like charging by the word, charging by the page is straightforward: if your manuscript is 200 pages, and the editor’s rate is $20 a page, you’ll pay $4,000 to get your manuscript edited. There should be no surprises.

A “by the hour” rate tells you nothing about how much you will eventually pay. Excellent editors can be slower than other excellent editors (or much faster), so a “by the hour” rate is the least fair way to bill a client. For editors who are slow, the client ends up paying much more than if they had hired a faster editor. Conversely, the faster editors get paid much less than slower editors for the same amount of work.

If an editor wants to charge by the hour, ask them to instead quote you a per-page or per-word rate. If an editor balks at giving you a per-page or per-word quote, ask them to add a “not to exceed” amount. A “not to exceed” quote would look like this (where of course you negotiate the not-to-exceed amount with the editor):

Editor’s name will bill your name $20 per hour for a 200-page manuscript (about 50,000 words), with the total not to exceed $2,000.

But don’t abuse that “not to exceed” amount. If you hand your editor a 200-page manuscript, then add another 100 pages, you can’t expect them to do half again as much work for the original amount. Be fair and honest. It will serve you well in life.

Also in your written agreement, specify

  • how many passes the editor will make through the manuscript (usually one pass),
  • how they will bill for it (every two weeks? at the end of the job?),
  • if you want another pass, how you will pay for it (normally you pay for it as though it were a new pass, though possibly you can negotiate a reduced rate for a second pass),
  • how they will deliver their work (I like to use Dropbox to exchange files, though Box is also good), and
  • what happens if you write new material (normally, you add that new material as an addendum to your contract, and you pay additional for that work).

And spell out schedules and deadlines. You don’t want your editor to cause you to miss a deadline because they’re moving too slowly.

Cautionary tale about editors who charge by the hour

I once contracted as a technical writer with a major software manufacturer. As always, I familiarized myself with the company’s in-house style and followed their rules. After I wrote some material, the in-house publications department handed my work over to a contract editor who charged by the hour. She was unfamiliar with the house style, and she “corrected” everything I had done to things that were not to the house style or were even grammatically incorrect. When I pointed out to her that she’d introduced many errors per page, she laughed and said that she was paid by the hour. She said she’d just fix her errors and bill the company for the time she took to fix the errors she had introduced. In other words, she got paid to mess up a manuscript, and then she got paid to fix it. That seemed to be her modus operandi. It was unethical, of course (she should have fixed the problem without charging for it), but she didn’t care.

You don’t want that editor.

And sorry, no, I don’t remember her name, and I wouldn’t say it anyway. That was a long time ago, she was young, and she might have grown some ethics since then.

Cautionary tale about inexpensive editors

Tempting though they may be, those cheap, cut-rate editing houses aren’t going to do a good job. A few years ago, I designed and typeset the interior of an author’s book. He couldn’t afford my editing rate, so he paid a big-name self-publishing service to edit it for a bargain-basement price.

When he sent the edited pages to me for typesetting, I found an average of five errors on each page. In most cases, the errors had been in the original manuscript and the editor missed them (and so didn’t fix them, which is bad). But in too many cases, the editor introduced new errors. The author could have avoided this if he had realized that

if a quote for editing sounds too good to be true, it isn’t going to be worth the price

(As a special favor for that author, I fixed the errors as I typeset the book and didn’t charge him extra.)

Use a style guide

The English language is marvelous and strange. You can say things in many different ways, and punctuate them in many different ways, all of which are grammatically correct. A famous example is the Oxford comma (also called the serial comma) versus the open comma. People get quite emotional over which is “correct.”

I’m sure I’m going to catch flack for saying this, but they are both correct. It’s simply a matter of which style you prefer.

The same goes for many other punctuation and word-related choices, so in order to be consistent, people use style guides. A style guide spells out a set of guidelines on which styles to use (Oxford versus serial commas, for example). When you use a style guide, you follow its guidelines all the time. So, for example, if you use the serial comma once in a piece of writing, you use it every time.

Why do people care about being consistent? Consistency

  • shows that you know the field of writing,
  • builds trust in your readers, and
  • reduces the cognitive load on your readers (especially if you are writing nonfiction).

If none of those are convincing, here’s another reason why you should care about consistency:

Consistency is another mark of the professional.

To attain the goal of consistency, every professional group or company that produces written material uses a style guide as a basis, and usually has an in-house style as well. The most-used style manuals are

  • the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). Most publishers and software companies, along with many academic communities, use CMOS. CMOS is firmly in the serial (Oxford) comma camp.
  • the AP Stylebook. Most periodicals (newspapers and magazines) use the AP Stylebook. The AP Stylebook is firmly in the open comma camp.
  • the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (usually referred to as the APA format or style). Many academic communities (especially the behavioral sciences and social sciences) use the APA. The APA is firmly in the serial comma camp. If you buy it for no other reason, the APA has excellent guidelines for non-biased writing on gender, race, disabilities, and so on.

I recommend you buy each of these. (I own all three, though the astute reader will have already figured out that CMOS is my preferred style guide.)

Instead of buying the book, you can subscribe to CMOS, and/or you might be able to find what you need from the Chicago Manual of Style at this site. (Mostly for fun, but also to learn a lot about tricky style questions, see the CMOS’s Q&Q site.)

When you hire an editor, copyeditor, and proofreader, tell them which style guide you use.

If your book is nonfiction, hire a fact checker

If you are writing a nonfiction book, you also need to check your facts. I don’t mean by doing a quick Google search and trusting the first source you find. And no, Wikipedia is not a reliable source either. I mean checking your facts with solid, reliable information sources. Depending on your topic, this might mean poring over some scientific research papers, or reading some reputable books on the topic. If your book has any possibility of influencing someone, especially in relation to their health and safety, you owe it to your readers to make sure your facts are impeccable.

When you hire an editor, you can also ask them to check your facts, but be prepared to pay more for that service. Fact-checking is a job in itself. When done right, fact-checking takes a lot of time and isn’t easy. You can also find a list of fact checkers at the Bay Area Editors Forum. Fact checkers usually charge by the hour.

Cautionary tale about fact checking

I once started reading a book on improving one’s health through dietary changes. The book was obviously self-published and unedited: the design was amateurishly done and the text was filled with typos and grammatical errors. I kept reading it because I know that typos don’t mean someone doesn’t know their stuff, and I thought I might learn something new.

However, when the author stated that humans only need to eat three ounces of protein a week, I closed the book and stopped reading. We need about 2 ounces each day, not per week. I knew that fact was wrong, but what about readers who didn’t know? I had been willing to put up with the typos, but if she had also neglected to fact-check herself, or to have someone else fact-check her book, then nothing she had to say could be trusted. Possibly some of what she had to say was correct, but I would have had to fact-check everything to find out which parts were correct.

It was supremely irresponsible of her to publish a book on health without checking her facts. If someone trusted her information, they could have seriously injured their health.

Don’t be that writer.

Using a researcher

In the step 1 post in this series, I said that if you need to research, you should research while writing (not before, except when you need the information in order to write). But what if you just don’t know how to research?

Depending on how much you need to look up, you can rely on your local reference librarian to look up some facts for you. Whether Vikings wore horned helmets, for example. But if you need more in-depth information, and you don’t have much confidence in your ability to do the research, you can hire someone to research for you. Again, this is going to cost you (by the hour), so it might be better to learn how to research yourself. And no, you can’t just Google it or rely on Wikipedia. Really.

Some resources for finding researchers (be sure to ask your researchers what sources they use)

How to self-publish step #2: get your book reviewed while you’re writing it

When you’ve completed a draft of your book that you feel good about,

  1. Ask people to review it.
  2. Decide how you want to manage your reviews.
  3. Pay attention to the feedback.
  4. Consider using a survey tool to get feedback.
  5. Keep track of your reviewers.

Find reviewers

Ask twenty to thirty people, a mix of family, friends, colleagues, and strangers, to read your manuscript and give you feedback. It should be easy to find reviewers.

  • Make a list of people you want to ask (family, friends, colleagues), then ask them.
  • Post to Facebook or other social media asking for volunteers to review your book. If you get too many volunteers, decide how you are going to choose: on their background? Their interest in the subject matter?

Some people will say not because it’s too much of a commitment; that’s okay. Don’t pressure anyone to do this; you don’t want someone’s resentment coloring their feedback.

Decide how many reviews to hold, and how to manage them

Decide how you want to have your manuscript reviewed. Do you want to send it out

  • Once only, when you feel you have a good draft?
  • Two or more times, once after the first draft, and at least once more after you revise based on feedback?
  • Two or more times, with incomplete sets of chapters to start with (for example, asking reviewers to review the first five chapters after you’ve written them)

And decide whether you are going to ask all your reviewers all to review your book at each stage, or whether you’ll have one set of reviewers for the first draft, a different set for the second draft, and so on.

Your reviewers are all volunteers doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, so don’t ask too much of them.

My preference is to have my reviewers review the first draft, then ask the same people to review the revised draft.

On the practical side, decide how you want to distribute your book to your reviewers. For my forgiveness book, I placed a PDF version of my book into Dropbox, and reviewers downloaded it from there. You could also use Box, Google Drive, or another file-sharing service. Or you could print your book and mail it (or hand-deliver it). Although printing and mailing a manuscript is expensive, it saves your reviewers the step of printing it themselves. Some reviewers will be content with reading it in digital format.

Treasure every bit of feedback

When you read or hear your reviewers’ comments, listen to their feedback with an open mind. Do your best to not get defensive or hurt.

In my experience, the people who pay attention to feedback become better writers.

To an extent. Be sure the person giving you feedback isn’t trying to sabotage your confidence or your work by giving you bad advice.

Don’t be dismayed when only a handful of people give you feedback. Not everyone in your reviewer list will follow through, even if they make solemn promises to do so. When that happens, assure them that you understand you were asking a great favor of them, and that if their life circumstances didn’t allow them to keep their commitment, that’s okay.

I rewrote and revised my book on forgiveness five times before I felt it was ready for a first review. I asked twenty-two people to review it. Seven followed through. I revised my book based on their feedback, then again asked all twenty-two people to review it. The second time, only three people gave me feedback. Maybe the fact that I rewrote/revised it five times before I started the review contributed to the low level of feedback, or maybe the fact that the topic is daunting contributed. I could have followed up and asked why, but I didn’t want to pressure my reviewers.

If you don’t get any responses, or only get one or two, follow up and ask for more information. Maybe the story/book didn’t keep your reviewers’ attention. Maybe you didn’t give reviewers enough time. Maybe you gave them too much time, and so reviewing your book was never a priority. (Never underestimate the power of a good deadline.) Or maybe they were afraid to give you honest feedback because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings. If they were afraid to be honest, consider creating a survey for feedback.

Create a survey for more honest feedback

One way to get anonymous (and potentially more honest) feedback is to create a survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey (or some other survey tool).

But if you do use a survey tool, educate yourself on how to create good survey questions. SurveyMonkey has a nice set of guidelines, though there’s a lot more to it than they can cover. The basics for creating a good survey are to

  • Keep it short
  • Keep it focused on what you want to know
  • Ask open-ended, not leading, questions (“What did you think of the main character’s story arc?” is opened-ended; “Did you like how I made the main character turn out to be a bad guy?” is leading)
  • Include a variety of answer types, such as choosing from a list of options (where either your reviewers can only choose one answer, or can choose as many as apply), yes/no answers, ratings (for example, scoring from 1 to 5 or from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”), and (this is essential) a text field for general comments

Read the answers and pay the most attention to the negative feedback. If people say they love your book, that’s great, and useful in a way, but that kind of praise doesn’t help you make it better. The negative feedback, properly integrated, will.

Keep track of your reviewers

Keep a list of your reviewers and their contact information. Remember to (a) name everyone who helped you in your acknowledgments, including your reviewers, and (b) give each reviewer a signed copy of your book.

Note: This is the third post in a series. The first post is an overview and, as I write each new post, I add links to each of the other posts to that first post.

How to self-publish step #1: write your book

The first thing, the very most essential thing, in publishing (self- or otherwise) is that you need to write a book. Oh, and by the way: once you publish a book, you are considered an expert on that topic. Yes, even if it’s a terrible book. So write it! All you need to do is make a plan, give yourself a writing schedule, and stick to both. Easy peasy.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the important bit:

Start writing your book, and keep writing until you’re done.

Some of the other aspects of writing are to

  • avoid making rookie mistakes,
  • consider whether you need a ghost writer, co-author, or developmental editor, and
  • keep yourself motivated.

Note: This post is the second in a series of posts on self-publishing. Although the focus of this series is on self-publishing, any writer can benefit from it.

Avoid making rookie mistakes

A “rookie mistake” is a mistake that someone new to a skill makes. If we learn from our rookie mistakes (or from the rookie mistakes other people make), we get better, and soon are no longer rookies. (Though even seasoned people make rookie mistakes, and writers are no exception.)

As an example of a non-writing-related rookie mistake, I built my own computer last fall. It was my first time, so I read all the instructions carefully, then consulted them again and again as I built my computer piece by piece. I had a manual for the motherboard and a manual for the case. However, there was one step that neither the motherboard manual nor the case manual mentioned: install a faceplate in the back slot where the motherboard’s connections are exposed to the back. Long story short, I didn’t install the faceplate, and didn’t even realize it needed installing until after everything was together. Then it was too late; I would have had to take the computer apart to install it. Definitely a rookie mistake that I will never make again.

I could list any number of rookie mistakes that writers make, but the most harmful ones are

  • procrastinating
  • editing what you’ve written before you finish writing
  • letting your ego dictate to you

Rookie mistake number 1: procrastinating

Rookie mistake number 1 is to procrastinate by telling yourself you’re not ready to write, and that you need to learn new skills or do a lot of groundwork before you can start writing. For example, you might think you need to read a lot of books on writing before you can start writing. Or you may think you need to research aspects of your story. But while you’re reading or researching, you aren’t writing.

The key to being a writer is to write. If you are paralyzed by self-doubt or by fear that what you write isn’t good enough, write anyway. Write in a journal, or use a writing prompt every day to get yourself writing on something.

A writing prompt is a brief scenario that you use as a jump-start for writing; for example, “While on a walk, you meet a crow. Write 100 words about what happens next.” Writing prompts are a light, fun way to get started writing with no stakes or consequences. Using a writing prompt breaks the “blank page” barrier. Once you’ve started writing, chances are you’ll continue writing. You can find thousands of writing prompts online—just Google “writing prompts.”

One sign of a professional is to want to improve your skills, so I sympathize with the desire to read more on the art of writing. But you can get carried away and find yourself obsessively reading book after book on writing, telling yourself that “this book will be the magic bullet I need to become a better writer.”

The hard truth is that you’re only going to become a better writer if you write. Books can help you learn how to tell better stories, or create better characters, or improve other parts of your craft, but if you don’t write, all that knowledge is useless.

Recommended reading

Here are a few worthwhile books to read (while you’re writing, not before). Reading these, and only these (at first, anyway), saves you a lot of time trying to decide which books to read, and, I hope, puts your feet on a good road.

And buy a good style book; you can’t go wrong with Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

Once you’ve established the habit of writing, you can then allow yourself to read more books, but keep writing.

Also, I highly recommend the Immersion screenwriting course, which, although focused on screenwriting, will teach you more about telling a good story than any number of books. I completed it in February 2017 and I already see a huge difference in my approach to writing fiction. (Though be warned: that course is an intensive, six-month commitment. And keep writing while you take the course.)

Rookie mistake number 2: editing before you finish writing

Rookie mistake number 2 is to start editing your material before you finish writing your book. You usually do this because you start to doubt yourself, and it’s easier to revise something you’ve already written than it is to write something new. In truth, this is another form of procrastination, and procrastination is usually rooted in fear. In this case, the fear is that you don’t have what it takes to be a writer, so you won’t let yourself finish a writing project. That way you never have to expose your writing to possible criticism.

You must learn to ignore the voice of your inner critic as you write.

One way you can ignore that voice is to give yourself permission to write an imperfect draft. Tell yourself that nobody will see this first rough draft, and that you’ll be able to fix mistakes and make it better after you finish the draft. Which is the truth: you can (and will) revise it later, but, and this is key: you won’t have anything to revise if you don’t write something first.

Even with this advice, I can guarantee that you’ll find reasons why you have to go back and edit something: you’ll change your story’s direction or your book’s scope, and you’ll tell yourself you just need to go back and revise that one chapter before you continue writing. Don’t. Grit your teeth and resist that urge. Keep moving forward; keep writing new material. Revisions can come later.

A cautionary tale about rookie mistake number 2

Many years ago, I worked with a writer who showed great promise. She was writing a fictional account of love and betrayal. Her initial chapters were gripping—I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter. I could see her book becoming a best seller.

I advised her to keep writing and to not go back over her old material. But, second-guessing herself, she started revising her earlier chapters instead of writing new ones. Then she re-revised those chapters. The more she rewrote them, the more her revised chapters lost the sparkle and urgency of her originals, and I think she sensed this. Her production slowed, then stopped.

Many, many years later, I am sure that manuscript sits in a file folder on her computer somewhere, unfinished and a point of guilt for her.

Don’t fall into this trap. Be strong. If you don’t believe in yourself, pretend that you do. Read The Big Leap and Learning to Love Yourself.

Rookie mistake number 3: letting your ego dictate your writing

The other side of the coin of doubting yourself too much is doubting yourself too little. Confidence is an excellent thing, but overconfidence comes from letting your ego run the show. Some writers tell themselves that they are the shit, and that everything they write is perfect. Their egos are dictating to them.

You must learn to be objective about your writing.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “kill your darlings.” This does not mean kill off your characters, Game-of-Thrones fashion. Instead, it means you must be willing to delete anything, even (and especially) the parts you love the most. For example, say you’ve written something particularly well, but it doesn’t serve the story. You love a character you’ve created, or a passage or scene you’ve written, but neither character nor passage (or scene) is necessary to the story. To make your book better, you must delete that character or passage. (This goes for nonfiction as well.) The bottom line is that writers sometimes write something that’s interesting to them but that is just so much verbal baggage.

Emotionally, it’s super hard to remove an unneeded character or to delete unneeded material, but if you want to be a great writer, you have to be able to do so.

Your ego will argue that the character is needed, or that the passage or scene is needed. Your ego is always wrong. This is why you need to seek outside advice, then listen to and act on that advice. (Most of the time.) I cover more on this in my post on getting your material reviewed before you publish.

Consider whether you need a ghost writer, a co-author, or a developmental editor

Writing a book is difficult and requires a lot of different skills. Sometimes you have a story or a book idea, but you don’t have the skills to put it on paper. You might not be so good with the English, or you might not be able to organize your thoughts enough to create an outline, or any number of other things related to the skills needed to be a good writer. But none of those mean that you can’t create a good book.

Many people pay a ghost writer to write their book, or team up with a co-author. Either choice is perfectly legitimate. Many celebrities have used ghost writers to write their books, and many people have teamed up with co-authors whose strengths complemented their weaknesses.

A third option, for people who have the basics down, is to hire a developmental editor. A developmental editor gives you feedback and guidance while you write.

You’ll need to decide whether you need a ghost writer, a co-author, or a developmental editor. I go over each of these options in the following subsections. If you’re wondering which you need, ask someone you trust for advice.

Ghost writers cost money but don’t get credit

A good ghost writer will either take your very rough manuscript, which is possibly only partially written and/or is a disorganized mess, and they’ll whip it into shape. Or, if you can’t write your book at all for some reason (for example, because you don’t have the technical or verbal skills), a ghost writer will interview you and then write a coherent, well-written book based on your words.

A good ghost writer will keep your “voice,” so that the book sounds like you wrote it, but they’ll make it sound professionally written. The ghost writer is doing this as a work for hire, which means you pay them for their work and you keep the copyright on your book. You don’t put the ghost writer’s name on your book’s cover, and you keep all the glorious royalties to yourself.

A ghost writer can cost from $30 an hour and up, and you can expect the writing process to take anywhere from 600 to 1,000 hours or more. You pay the ghost writer before the book is in print, so a ghost writer is only an option if you have the money. (Personal plug: I’m an excellent ghostwriter, quite skilled at keeping your voice.)

Co-authors share the credit (and royalties)

On the other hand, a co-author teams up with you and helps you write the book. You plan the book together, you decide who is going to do what, you take the financial risks together, and you decide how to split the royalties. Depending on how much work the co-author does, your names on the book are “Your Name and Co-author’s name” or “Your Name with Co-author.” The primary author always goes first.

For example, if my friend Louise Nicholson approached me with a book idea, and we wrote the book 50-50, the title would be

A Fabulous Book

by

Louise Nicholson and Marina Michaels

On the other hand, if Louise had already written most of her book, and she only wanted me to write a chapter or two, or for some reason I ended up revising a lot of the book, the title would be

A Fabulous Book

by

Louise Nicholson with Marina Michaels

Editors come in several flavors; a developmental editor is one of them

Editors come in several flavors:

  • Proofreader. A proofreader reads through your manuscript looking for typos and punctuation errors. They pay no attention to how you word things or whether anything you’ve written makes sense or is accurate, but they are ferocious on typos and punctuation errors. You hire a proofreader when your manuscript is done.
  • Copyeditor. A copyeditor fixes typos, grammatical errors (including English as a Second Language errors), and unclear or awkwardly written sentences. Copyeditors use a style guide and make sure your writing matches that style. You hire a copyeditor when your manuscript is done.
  • Editor. An editor does everything a copyeditor does, but also digs deeper into your writing, and makes suggestions on reorganizing material. You hire an editor when your manuscript is done.
  • Developmental editor. A developmental editor helps you plan your manuscript from the start, gives you suggestions on organizing your material, gives guidance on storytelling (if you’re writing fiction), encourages you, and does her/his best to keep you motivated. A developmental editor might also do everything an editor does, but that varies. You hire a developmental editor at the start of your writing project, and, assuming it’s a good match, you keep working with them until your book is done.

I cover these flavors of editors in more depth in the post on getting your manuscript edited.

If you feel you need help putting your ideas together, consult with a developmental editor. Even a one-time consultation can save you a lot of time and trouble down the road. (And yes, you can hire me.)

Secret motivational tricks of successful writers

A book is hard work and will take longer than you expect to write. One secret to keeping yourself going is to write on a subject you passionately care about. If you don’t much care about the subject and you’re writing because you think it will make you rich, you’re going to find that it’s a lot of work for very little reward. But if you care passionately, that will push you through the hard parts of writing, re-writing, re-writing again, and again…

One of my jobs as a developmental editor is to keep my authors writing. I do what I can, but ultimately, it’s up to the individual author to decide whether he or she is going to finish that book. One of my authors told me that writing a book is like running a marathon. You start with lots of energy and enthusiasm and you make a lot of progress quickly. But if you don’t pace yourself, you run out of steam and slow down (or even drop out of the race). But even if you pace yourself, you reach a point where you are just putting one foot in front of the other. The end is too far away to even think about, and you just have to keep going. Toward the end, you see the goal looming, and your courage and enthusiasm re-spark. And then the golden moment arrives when you’ve finished the race and you hold a copy of your beautiful book.

Keep this race analogy in mind. Set yourself milestones and reward yourself for each one you meet. For example, set yourself a goal of writing 15 minutes a day, or of finishing one chapter a month. And keep your promises to yourself; if you promised yourself that you can buy a new book after you’ve written half your book, keep that promise. Buy that book. And keep writing.

Coda

What are you working on? Share it in the comments section!

Pro tip: the best way to get and retain people’s interest is to keep things short, crisp, and to the point. In your comment,

  • summarize your story in two or three sentences at most,
  • give a little background on why you wrote (or are writing) the book (again, just a few sentences), and
  • be polite.

How to self-publish: a guide and a few cautionary tales

You’ve written a book, or you want to write a book. You have two choices for publishing that book:

  1. You can query a publisher and hope they’ll accept your manuscript.
  2. You can self-publish.

This is the first post in a series. In this post, I give a high-level overview of your choices for getting your book into print (either through a publishing house or through self-publishing). The succeeding posts provide a guide to self-publishing.

Why I’m qualified to write this series:

  1. I’m a self-published author (and a technical writer with hundreds of technical books under my belt). I’ve also ghost-written a book, but of course can’t name it.
  2. I work as a Development Editor (basically, a book project manager) at a major computer book publisher.
  3. I’m a professional editor, interior book designer, typesetter, and indexer.

Option 1: get a publisher

Option 1 sounds great, doesn’t it? You submit your query letter and the publisher accepts it. You sign the contract. Boom! Done. All you have to do is write the book and send it off to the publisher, right?

Well, not quite. Read that contract carefully. Depending on the publisher, you may have rounds of editing with the publisher, or you may lose complete control over your manuscript once they have it. You almost certainly will have no control over the cover, and your book’s success (as measured in sales) is in your hands. The publisher expects you, not them, to market your book so that bookstores will carry it and people will buy it. Your royalties are based on sales, so if it doesn’t sell, you won’t make money on your book.

So why publish through a publisher? What do they have to offer in exchange for keeping the majority of the profits on your book? They take care of the costs of

  • editing
  • interior design
  • typesetting
  • cover design
  • printing and distributing

If your book needs indexing, typically you’ll need to do that yourself (but please don’t, unless you’re a professional indexer), or you’ll pay a professional indexer. If you’re lucky, the publisher will pay to have your book indexed, but that’s rare.

If you want to go this route, research the publishers you want to approach. Find out what they prefer (a proposal in the form of a query letter plus a sample of the book is typical). Then submit your proposal in the format and manner they require.

As with every part of this series on publishing and self-publishing, you’ll find a ton of books on the subject.

Cautionary note

This is super important: a legitimate publisher will never ask you to pay for any of the tasks I listed previously (editing, typesetting, and so on). If a company claims to be a publisher, but they want you to pay for any part of the publishing process, they are not a publisher. They are instead offering services to self-publishers. They are disguising themselves as traditional publishers because some people think there’s something wrong with self-publishing.

Option 2: self-publish

Option 2 requires a lot more work and investment from you. In a nutshell, to self-publish a book, you’ll need to

  1. Write a book.
  2. Get that book reviewed before you publish it.
  3. Get your book professionally edited.
  4. Hire a professional to create the cover.
  5. Hire a professional to design and typeset the interior. (And, if needed, to index your book.)
  6. Start marketing your book.
  7. Decide how you’re going to print and distribute your book.

(As I write each post, I’ll link to it in the list above. Note that most of these posts are long, but each is full of practical information, the kind I had to spend years in the industry learning, all distilled for you in one place.)

Note: Many people have written many books on each of these steps. So I only touch on the essentials in the succeeding posts. There’s no way around it: you’re going to need to research the topic in more depth. In the following posts, I

  • cover each step at a high level
  • give you a lot of practical information
  • offer you a few cautionary tales
  • refer you to good-quality books and resources

Best of luck! And hey, if you are self-publishing (or if a publishing house is publishing your book), feel free to link to your book in a comment to this post or any of the succeeding posts.

Pro tip: successful comments are short, crisp, and to the point.

Taking the big leap

We all have that friend. Let’s call her Joan. Joan always says she’ll do something, and then never does it. She says she’ll meet you for tea at a bookstore. You’re looking forward to it; you haven’t seen Joan in months. (And there’s a reason why you haven’t seen her. Just watch.) But when the day arrives, she calls and cancels. She’s sick and not feeling up to going out, she says.

“Sure, no problem,” you say. “Another day.” And you reschedule. But when that next time arrives, she calls again. She can’t make it. Something came up at home that has to be dealt with right now.

This continues, and you start to notice she’s doing this to other people. She promises she’ll attend her son’s third-grade play, but something comes up at work that positively, absolutely, has to be handled that evening. So she misses the play, breaking her son’s heart once again. She promises him that for sure she’ll attend the fourth-grade play, forgetting she said that last year when she missed the second-grade play. She doesn’t seem to realize that she will never have another chance to see her son in his third-grade play. And frankly, for the majority of us, nothing at work is so important that it has to be dealt with on a Friday night. It was just another excuse.

She’s even doing it to herself. For example, she’s passionately dedicated to improving her art skills, so she signs up for a pottery class. (Don’t laugh. Artists are producing some amazing pottery these days.) But she skips one class after another because something comes up each time. And she doesn’t do her homework because when she has time to do it, she does something else.

In short, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Something always comes up that interferes with Joan’s plans.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have things come up that interfere with our plans. I’m talking about people for whom something always comes up, not just now and then. It isn’t just procrastination, though procrastination plays its part with these people as another way to stop themselves. Joan is never going to make that tea date with you. She’s never going to see her son in any of his school plays. She’s never going to finish that pottery class.

Believing as I do that

  1. we are all in charge of ourselves,
  2. we all have free will, and
  3. nobody “makes” us do anything we don’t want to do,

I’ve never understood why people do this to themselves (and others). I’ve always assumed they just didn’t want to do whatever they committed to, and then they found reasons not to do it.

And I’ve been pretty close to the mark. In his book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level (awesome book—I highly recommend it), Gay Hendricks has a more complete answer.  In a nutshell, he says we put barriers in our own way when we get too close to a level of success that we’re not comfortable with. Which explains this phenomenon quite clearly.

I’m not far wrong when I say that people do this to themselves because they don’t want to do whatever. But it’s deeper and more complex than a matter of want to/don’t want to. It’s a matter of being afraid to. (The fear part is simple; why we’re afraid is more complex.)

If you want to understand the Joans in your life, or if you’re a Joan yourself, or even if you’re not a Joan but you feel you are often stymied in your efforts to get to the next step in your life, get this book. Read it. And learn to say “yes” to life.

(P.S. My apologies to the awesome Joans I know; I’m not picking on you!)

Fear and Love

For the past 30 years, A Course in Miracles (ACIM) has been a profound influence on how I live. ACIM’s most important teaching is that we each have only one thing to choose:

  • We can choose to spread fear.
  • Or we can choose to spread love.

And a second teaching: if we choose fear, we just need to choose love the next time.

Everything else follows from those choices.

People have been telling you your entire life that you should be afraid, that you are at risk in this world. To be afraid of people with different skin colors. Different cultures. Different religions. Different political leanings. Different ways of loving. And if you look at the world, you’ll see proof that those fears are real.

But the alternative is also true: love is stronger than fear; people of different colors, religions, cultures, beliefs, and genders are not to be feared, but are instead fellow human beings. If you look at the world, you’ll see proof of love being supreme.

Which is true? ACIM would say only the loving vision is real, and even then it’s only a dream we’ve created out of our beliefs. But if you believe in fear, it isn’t going to help you to tell you that fear isn’t real, at least not yet.

It’s a matter of focus and what you pay attention to. When given a choice of news items, rather than go for the ones that foster fear, instead notice the life-affirming ones, that ones that tell of human beings being kind and loving, generous and helpful. It can take a little while to change the habits of a lifetime, but stick with it.

Choose love this time, instead of fear. Choose to believe in love, and to see love, and to spread love.

The reward is heaven.