REKTOK’s book, Prodigal, had already been through a number of substantial developmental edits when I saw it. I did the copy edit, and I had some significant notes. Of course, though the author was tired and finished, was still willing to stay the course and make some considerable changes that made the story tighter, more believable, and ultimately, more marketable.
Susan Norris’s book, Rescuing Hope, was a mission from God. That’s how she tells it. She spent a lot of time on her knees before her maker, begging for an easier path. But in the end, she wrote it. About human sex trafficking. And Susan’s book is only a sliver of her work on that important issue. You can get more information and links from the post just below this one.
If you’re considering self-publishing, I encourage you to be as much like REKTOK and Susan as possible.
2. Listen to your professional editors. We usually have years of experience tweaking stories and have read more stories than most people. Susan and REKTOK were both incredibly easy to work with–and I’m sure they both had to beat their inner diva off with a stick from time to time. In REKTOK’s case, I think it helped that I added a lot of humor to my comments, REKTOK chuckled while reading them to me over the phone when we were talking through some things. But still. It is never ever exactly pleasant (though after a time, it becomes exciting and revelatory) to read comments, no matter how delicately worded, that ostensibly say “up your game, fool.”
3. Be a class act. Understand that professional editors are perfectly willing to negotiate their fees. Both Susan and REKTOK chose from a number of editing packages that I offered, and neither of them got my proposal and then ran away, never to be heard from again, which is the thing that happens more often. I suspect, if they’d opted to use someone else’s services, they would’ve let me know.
4. Pay when you say you will. As a freelance editor and writer, I am paid on all kinds of wonky schedules. I am always willing to work with clients to figure out something that works for them, but it is always a complete joy when a client says, “The check’s in the mail,” and I get it three, not thirty, days later.
5. You are paying for your editor’s time, so if you need a phone call or an extra email, or some clarification on some comment or another, ask for it. This editor is only too happy to oblige. And I would a million times prefer to clarify something than to have a client run off and weep or whine or, worse still, post nasty reviews or troll.
6. Thank your editor. I am talking about a polite phrase here, not gifts or flowers like the ones above for my birthday, which happened in the middle of the project with Susan. I appreciated those flowers. I never understood about getting flowers before because they always came from some kind of obligatory social convention–prom, valentine’s day, being in a show–but those flowers from Susan were wonderful. They represented a vote of confidence, a kindness, thoughtfulness. But your editor is not expecting flowers. I would be as thrilled to have worked with Susan with or without them. Your editor is not the enemy. She is can be your biggest cheerleader and greatest ally. She is probably a writer, too. She understands what you’re going through. This is not Us vs. Them. This is team work, sometimes friendship, and always giving the world better art.
Editors, what would you add to this list? Writers, what do you want from your editor?
I have been busy, and neglecting you, fair blog readers.
But I’m on a train after spending New Year’s Eve at a benefit for A13, an initiative by Resolution Hope to stop sex trafficking of minors by building awareness and to provide care and appropriate homes and healing resources for women and and children who are rescued from trafficking.
I was there because I worked on a novel by Susan Norris about the problem. The book is called Rescuing Hope. Working on it gave me nightmares and has turned me into a fanatic about keeping Child in sight. The book is being marketed as Young Adult Fiction, and though it is definitely PG-13, it is probably more like Creative Nonfiction–Susan’s agent calls it “Faction.”
So last night was a fundraiser/event/kickoff/book release party with a lot of very loud Christian Contemporary music, semi-preachy (like the intersection of fund-raising and a worship service) rhetoric, and no drunk people (until afterward, on the drive home, when a dude with hollow, booze-consumed eyes who didn’t know he was walking on the street instead of the sidewalk fell on the street, and the good Norris family stopped to help him). It was not my normal comfort zone, but owing to my upbringing, I squirmed less than I might’ve for sure. Besides I expect that the rhetoric would be more healing than damaging to victims of sex trafficking, and I can’t think of a better cause for which to endure some discomfort in my sometimes excessive broad-mindedness regarding religion.
I will tell you more about Susan soon, when I write the blog post about how to be a terrific self-publishing author to work with. In the meantime, I present to you:
Oh, you wanna know what the front cover looks like, too? And where to buy it? All right.
I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening with the book. In the meantime, you can get involved in the petition to the White House to stop sex trafficking of minors here, donate here, and engage in awareness-building/networking here.
What is your profession? I’m dying to know. I will show up there and take over your clients. I will prescribe their pills or write their briefs or cobble their soles. I can slice and stitch with the best of them; after all, I took Home Ec.
Or maybe I should show up at your workplace and insist that you show me what you have learned to do over years, what you have paid to learn, and how to do it, free of charge? Or maybe I should laugh at you when you say that one must diagnose the disease before making the incision?
Here is how we writers become so: We spend years feeling tortured, true or not, and scribbling onto any scrap of paper that’s large enough for a word or two. We have journals. We have burned some of them. We have saved others. We have many half full, many overfull. Then we pursued writing-related tasks with vigor, fading into the background in school and work to observe, store up material, notice how people talk and act and are. We have been called odd snobs, different, dangerous, powerful. We have been taunted and less frequently heralded our “gifts” with the word. Our gift is obsession with the music of language, the ability to tune in.
We have read with quiet abandon. We have studied the written word, intentionally, osmotically, we find no greater joy than in the annals of another writer’s imagination. We have allowed others’ voices to inform, infuse our own. We have studied, studied, and continue to study the story, how it works, when it’s working, when it’s not. We have made our rookie mistakes in the privacy of our own rooms or in the semiprivacy of our educations, writing workshops, writers’ groups, families, friends, LiveJournals.
We do not insist that these mistakes be proffered publicly. We are not proud of them. We do not hear editors’ rejections or suggestions with scorn for gatekeepers. We thrive in rejection, we allow it to make us better, we recognize that we may never have success. We do not write for publication, we write for writing, for self, for art, for work, for pain, for pleasure, for sex. If we are published, of course we are pleased, but we do not begin with that in mind. We begin with the word in mind, the story, the sadness, the soul, the voices, the joy around us.
We do not begrudge you your desire to be heard. But we wish you would stop blabbing so loudly about how unfair the world that does not welcome your scribbling is. We wish you would remember how you toiled to learn your trade, the one that is not book writing. We wish you would stop believing that because you can speak you can write. We wish you would stop thinking of writing as a cash cow.
Please, write. Please do. There can never be enough writers. But before you fire up CreateSpace and start selling your print-on-demand for $24, read. And read again. And read until your eyes are dry and shrunken. Until you’ve read more books than anybody you know. Then write. And write long and hard. Until you’ve logged millions of words, tens of thousands of pages. And once you’ve done these things, you may be surprised how many of those pretentious, self-aggrandizing, gate keeping, nay saying, parade raining editors are willing to reconsider your work.
Listen, today is independence day. Independence is cool. Independent publishing is cool. But some people don’t find it to be liberating. Some people are ashamed.
In my work as a journalist, I have encountered some self-published authors who are so defensive about being self-published that their websites are full of lies.
So in honor of freedom of speech, press, and publishing, I have the following things to say to ANYBODY who’s considering self-publishing.
1. If you’re embarrassed about self-publishing, DON’T DO IT. Get traditionally published instead. If you’ve sent your manuscript out and nobody wants it, it probably sucks. Work on it some more and send it out again, okay? Don’t give up.
2. If you decide to self-publish, call yourself a self-published author, instead of a published author. Don’t lie about it. It’s not cool, and journalists and anybody who needs help being impressed will find out you’re lying.
4. But if you write on your resume that you were a manager when you were a clerk, and a potential employer calls for a reference, you will not get the job.
5. Ergo, if you write on your website that you’re a “published author” and it turns out that you’re self-published with no other publishing credits, well, that’s a problem. Or if you write on your website that you’ve written a dozen books, but these books can’t be found anywhere because they are nowhere linked with your name, that’s also a problem.
So focus on what you have.
6. Self-publishing is hard work, and if you’re honest about it, people are going to be a lot happier to help you achieve sales goals, and help you to publicize. If you’ve done it, own it! Shout it! Be proud! It’s an accomplishment!
6a. But if your writing sucks because you didn’t spend any money on improving it or listen to any editors before you went to print or epub, don’t expect it to be easy to find people to be as proud of you as you are.
7a. And if you think I’m reliable and want to take my word for it, here are some other Self-publishing Help posts. Here, Here, Here, and Here.
8. Writing your web copy in the spirit of plausible deniability has a ripple effect. I take my responsibility to the truth as a journalist really seriously. I know a lot of journalists who do. We won’t, in good conscience, propagate half-truths. We will either not mention your invented credit, or explain it in language that is plainer than you would prefer it to be, plainer than you have explained it.
9. You lose 100% of your credibility if any look deeper than the surface of what you write on your website reveals half-truths or blatant lies, or things that can’t be fact-checked (which are always read as lies, even if they aren’t, so don’t tell them!).
10. Local press (where you are) and tons of print and web magazines welcome writing from freelancers. These publishing credits, when you get them, are often easily linked online (which is good for your web presence or online portfolio), and a totally transparent sample of your work. They also signal that you have the chutzpah to pursue work in writing, even if it isn’t what you believe you are cosmically destined to be doing, whether that’s writing fiction or poetry or lyric essays or memoir or whatever.
11. There are HUNDREDS of literary journals that accept work from unpublished people. Subscribe to Writer’s Market online, or go get the book, and submit, submit, submit.
12. None of this is sexy or easy, but nothing worth accomplishing, is sexy or easy. Most writers who make their living writing what they want to write instead of what they are being paid to write spend years in the trenches of copy editing, news jockeying, and doing work that is far outside their ideal writing life before they get to do what feeds their souls. But they do the stuff that feeds their souls anyway. They keep at it. Even though it’s hard and unsexy.
13. You should, too.
14. And always tell the fucking truth, even if you perceive some kind of stigma on your truth, okay? Lies are never worth it.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Writing is so complicatedly ego-driven. On one hand, we have to be somewhat narcissistic to love the writing life. All the time alone, in our own minds, reading and re-reading our own words, writing more of them, clamoring after friends, peers, editors, agents to read them, dealing with the rejection and keeping on…
But on the other hand, the ego battles us! We have to come up with strategies for silencing our inner editor. We have to figure out how to block the negative, self-hating thoughts that will keep us from finishing work.
And on a third hand (handy!), I know a lot of authors and writers who would be just as happy being invisible. I write because the stuff my brain does through my fingers is way more interesting than anything it does through my mouth. And because I’ve always done it. I don’t know how not to. I feel like it’s a calling of sorts, or at least a strong compulsion.
So when we work on our novels and stories and essays and memoirs, in the brave new self-publishing world, it’s incredibly tempting to just say, “I know I’m interesting. I’m just going to self publish. I don’t need an editor! I’ve been hard enough on myself along the way.”
Yes you do need an editor! If you’re looking for a good one, call this lady. If you want a manuscript review or critique, and some advice on what to do next, call this guy.
And any traditionally published author, or author who makes money writing books will tell you, revising is the hardest, most essential part of writing, and you simply can’t do it alone.
We can’t get enough space from our egos to get where we need to go. We need a person with a pair of first eyes who we trust, who gets our writing aesthetic, and who will not be afraid to tell us hard truths about our stories, characters, or plotting impulses. These people will help us, if we can figure out how to let them.
There are three main types of editors that someone who’s considering self-publishing should find. Start with a developmental editor. Much more on this below.
Then hire a copy editor, who reads for technical inconsistencies (name spelling change and hair color change, plot queerness, syntax, grammar, style, consistency throughout, etc).
Then hire a proofreader, typically a last set of eyes, focuses in on punctuation and spelling primarily, but may flag larger issues. Hopefully there will be few if you’ve chosen well for developmental editor and copy editor.
Why hire a developmental editor?
I’ve been in hundreds of hours of writing workshops and read tens of thousands of pages of student writing and writing that’s on its way to book form, and I’ve become acquainted with some of the common faux pas of early drafts, even from the most brilliant writers. We all do these things.
Here are just a few that are also reasons to hire a developmental editor:
Editorializing–where the character will think something clever, and while the implication is transparent, go on to explain the joke or thought in the next line or two. My favorite thing to say to writers, and the best thing I ever learned from a writing teacher is this: “Trust your readers!” Writers Digest has a great article with a segment on staying true to your IQ in the most recent issue. The thesis is basically this: people who read books are smart. Do NOT try to dumb yourself down. Do NOT explain something that’s obvious to you. If it needs explaining, your developmental editor will tell you.
Using flashbacks or dreams to cover up poor plotting–a lot of writers, unwilling to return to the story board after hundreds of hours of work, or much too married to their plot maps, decide to throw in a dream sequence or flashback to explain away their poor planning. Developmental editors have radar for this kind of thing. They’ll tell you, honestly, whether you’re employing some trick that a reader will see through, or whether you’re missing an opportunity to take your character someplace affecting or compelling or wonderful or story-propelling!
Replacing actual character depth with wardrobe ticks and social stereotypes–A lesbian is portrayed as a short-haired, aggressive, ugly girl with her septum pierced, camouflage cargo pants, and two pit bulls. Developmental editors will tell you if you do this, and they won’t re-write your characters for you, but they will have tricks up their sleeves to guide you to deeper characters.
Using verb tense and point of view changes without knowing why–suddenly switching verb tense or point of view from one chapter to the next with no reason that’s related to propelling the story or providing some other literary benefit. You can’t artlessly apply these techniques. Verb Tense and Point of View are two very intimate things about any story, and they are also promises to a reader that are made in the first pages, and that you need a MASSIVELY compelling reason to break. Developmental editors can tell you if you’re doing this successfully. Here’s a post from another time on this blog about my personal aversion to extraneous past perfect (or pluperfect) tense.
State of (Self) Publishing
The trouble with self-publishing is that–unless you have a bunch of besties with MFAs or who work in publishing, and sometimes even if you do–you have to pay people to help you make your good work great, and chances are, you’re not independently wealthy or some kind of writing idiot savant to whom none of this applies, so hiring the team that traditional publishing houses (still) have on hand gets pricey.
I was recently asked to review a self-published book. It was published through Create Space, which is Amazon’s self-publishing service that offers comprehensive copy editing and proofreading as well as book marketing for prices that range from $220 all the way up to $4,000. I think that the old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies here. It probably costs a publishing house in the neighborhood of $25,000 to see a book from manuscript to press-ready. That amount of money pays acquisitions and developmental editors, copy editors, proof readers, and book artists, cover designers, etc.
Getting yours to the mouth of the press for $4,000 seems like a dubious bargain, doesn’t it?
Copy Editors and proofreaders are not paid enough to do developmental editing for you, it is not in their job descriptions, plus it’s massively beneficial to use multiple sets of professional eyes.
Don’t be a Diva!
And don’t you want people to read your book? You have to figure out how to shut down your ego’s diva. Send her shopping for shoes or something.
Let the developmental editor help you. Chances are she’s been to school to study stories, writing, and grammar. She probably has an advanced degree or years of practice or both. She loves books and stories and has read thousands of them over the years.
And don’t stop there. Hire more help. The investment will return itself to you in the form of book sales. What good is a quickly published book if it’s so sloppy nobody will read it?
If you want to self-publish, TERRIFIC. It’s a good business decision. Being your own book’s puppeteer sets you up for maximum benefit. But it’s short-sighted and a poor business choice (and it diminishes your credibility as a writer) to unleash your novel or memoir or collection of short stories on the world without investing in yourself, your work, and your business to present the most polished product you can muster!
http://www.janefriedman.com: Jane Friedman collects and offers for free almost every day piles and piles of great information about the world of publishing, about the evolution of media, and about all kinds of concerns for all kinds of writers.
http://www.copyblogger.com: This is a great resource for thinking about your writing as a marketable product. It will give you invaluable tips, including when and how to write for free to make money writing.