Self (Publishing) Help: What is a Book Doctor? Do I need one?

From Flickr User takomabibelot

If you’ve been reading here, or if you grabbed one of my free eBooks, you probably know that I am 100% pro editor.

But if you’re thinking about self-publishing, or wondering if you should pitch an agent, and have done even a small amount of web research, you’ve probably also seen the term “book doctor.”

Maybe you’re wondering what, precisely, is the difference?

Sometimes, people call themselves book doctors and they are really developmental editors (meaning they are equipped to help you develop the plot of your story, your characters, the big meaty bits: they will help you with the big revisions).  But be careful!  Because sometimes, these are folks who’ve self-pubbed, who haven’t used editors, and who don’t know their hand from their face.  Sorry.  I don’t like to be a crass hater, but it’s true.  You don’t really have to be qualified to hang a shingle on the internet.  You just have to be able to figure out WordPress or Blogger, and trust me, both are doable with any modicum of tech savvy.

Sometimes, book doctors are reasonably successful genre authors who can help you with the kinds of books they write.  In my experience, traditionally published genre authors are well-informed on the demands of their particular market.  They’ve read everybody like them and can probably tell you if you’ve got something sale-able on your hands.

But book doctors take the temperature of your manuscript or your ideas and asses their marketability, saleability, and they’ll be your book or proposal doula, too–they’ll be on hand to talk you through block, or help you slash darlings.  They can give you tips on leveraging social media, blogging, author plarform.  They can help you pick software for accounting.  Maybe some of them would even make you a sandwich.

Book doctors–good ones–are the first stop before trying to publish or self-publish.  Sometimes, before even developing a full draft.  But make sure that the book doctor you hire is legit, and has experience with what you want to do.  Ask for references or testimonials or both (if there aren’t any on their website, and even if there are).  Ask for a copy of their resume or CV.  Legit people won’t balk at the request or feed you a line about confidentiality agreements.  They will comply happily with they information they may provide while satisfying the demands of heir confidentiality agreements.

I’ve read a bit lately about the success (or lack thereof) of self-published novels, and across discussions, blog posts, infographics, the more money a self-published author spends pre-publication, the better the book does in terms of sales.  Here’s an interesting piece about Fifty Shades of Grey, and here’s something from Jamie Chavez, a happening (and experienced) independent editor.

Do You Need One?

But here’s a little quiz to check.  Answer Yes or No, and tally each answer.

1.  Do I have experience with writing book proposals?

2.  Do I have experience with writing books?

3.  Do I have experience with hiring editors?

4.  Do I have a complete manuscript that I have already pitched to several agents or editors?

5.  Have agents been interested?

6.  Do I have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the  field of writing or in the field about which I hope to write?

7.  Have I networked with any editors or agents?

9.  Am I writing the book for work or to serve a specific, narrowly definable population to which I have access?

10.  Have I started building my author’s platform?

Assessing Results:

7-10 Yes – You are probably okay without a book doctor, but if pitching at least 30 agents and editors doesn’t yield any results, perhaps consider a consultation with a book doctor.

4-6 Yes – You would probably benefit from a book doctor.  You could probably muscle through  without, but your job would be easier with one.

0-3 Yes – By all means, get on the horn this instant.  Maybe even reconsider your authorial aspirations before you’ve done a little more work or research in that direction.  Check out a conference in your field or a writing workshop or both.

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Self (Publishing) Help: Show Me The Money!!!

This is from public-domain-image.com

Just because J.A. Konrath is standing up there on the rafters, shrieking down at all of us about the insane pile of cash he’s making as a “self-published” author does not mean that the gravy train is just waiting for you to step on board.

I would ask Mr. Konrath why the heck he’s still using a blogger site for his author platform if self-pubbing is making him so filthy stinking rich?

Like every other creative pursuit, if you are looking at it strictly as a way to get money, you should probably stop.  You should stop–not because you are not allowed to write, or because there’s 0% chance of success for you–because there are about a thousand easier ways to get money than by writing.

Take a sales job.  Car dealerships like newbies.  I would have made $70K my second year if I didn’t have this damn fool compulsion to write, write, write.  And of the sales jobs I’ve had (there’ve been four proper, career-type sales positions), selling cars was far and away the least invasive of my regular life.

Self Publishing Is Not Free

Self Publishing is more than just writing a book, putting it in a PDF, and posting it on Amazon for sale.

You need people to sell your book to.  You need a platform.  Building a platform is a full time job.  Writing a blog or tweeting or being consistent on any social media while writing, and doing whatever it is you’re currently doing to get money, equals two full time jobs.

Here is a short list of the main costs of self-publishing (if you want to be successful):

1.  Your Time: I spend at least 3 hours a day with my blog.  Writing a post, editing it, finding a public domain picture that works with it,  reading comments, replying to comments, and monitoring it on Facebook and Twitter and (less frequently) on LinkedIn and Google +, making notes about ideas for future posts, taking pictures of noteworthy life moments, etc.  I could spend more time because I love my blog, but I can’t because I have other stuff to do.

Self published authors must blog.  It is not optional.  They must also provide all the other marketing muscle: scheduling blog tours, soliciting reviews, scoring public speaking opportunities and preparing for these, researching and attending industry conferences (RWA for  Romance, SFWA for Sci Fi & Fantasy, AWP for literary authors, and many more) getting their writing and names in front of tons of people, plus all the numbers and stats grunt work of self-publishing (and self-employment in general).

Hazarding a guess, building enough of a platform to make the kind of bread J.A. Konrath likes to shriek about would take about a decade’s worth of full time work, and you couldn’t let up and coast.  Ask Konrath about that, would you?  Tell me what he says.

This is besides the hours upon weeks upon months upon years of toil that go into the writing and editing of a book.

2.  Your Ego: Ok, so you’ve written a book, and your lover, family, and handful of friends who like you enough to invest the time to read it have told you you’re brilliant, and you must get your book out there.  I’m willing to bet it’s not.  I’m sorry.  It’s just probably true.  The first draft of everything I’ve ever written has sucked, and my friends and family have told me what a damn genius I am.

You can’t believe what people who love you say about your writing.  How devastating would it be to write the book, put it up on Amazon, and after the first 20 copies your nearests and dearests buy, it just sits there, collecting proverbial dust?   This is why you have to get editors to look at your work before you take it public.

3.  Your Cash Money: Writer’s Market has a handy-dandy table called, “What Should I Charge?”  It amasses data from thousands of freelance respondents around North America.  Here’s a little run down on the minimum/maximum costs of the services you need to self publish:

Content (developmental) editing: High: $125/hour, Low: $54/hour

Copy Editing: 6 pages/hour x $46-100/hour OR: $1.00-$6.00/page (page is firm at 250 words, that’s double spaced, 1″ margins)

Proofreading:  $31-$75/hour, or $2-5/page (this normally happens in a single-spaced, publish-ready document).

Book Production: $67-100/hour, or $10-17.50/page (this could be a touch lower if you are not printing any copies, but it’s a safe estimate for all the steps between having a polished manuscript and having a book or eBook to send out into the world.  Print runs would cost separate money, and are widely available both online and probably in your town somewhere, and would probably start at $3,000 for 1,000 copies.)

Cover Design:  I’ve seen quotes as low a $300 for a digital cover design.  I’m sure you could pay as much above that as you wanted to.

Dues: All of the professional organizations and their conferences mentioned above cost money to join, and more money to attend the conference.  Self-published authors spend their own cash going to these events (I believe that most traditionally published authors do, too), and they are–again–not optional for self-published authors who want to be successful.  It would be easy to spend $3,000 a year paying dues and in the costs associated with attending conferences.

4.  Your Sanity:  You think I’m being melodramatic?  Penelope writes a lot about the startup life, the 100-hour work weeks, the blood, sweat, tears; the way your family will suffer.  Being a successful self-published author is like running a startup.  Buckle in and get busy.  It’s not a casual consideration.  I hear people say all the time, “I’m thinking of self publishing.”  Like they’re deliberating over the choices on a menu.  Yes, it’s true that the publishing world is changing, and this is a unique time for Authors.  But if Authors really want to take their successes into their own hands, they must realize that they are going to be holding a mountain of work.