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A Self-Printed Summer Week #2: Preparing Your Manuscript

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Self-Printed

Catherine Ryan Howard

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Welcome to Week 2 of a Self-Printed Summer here on Double-Spaced and Writing.ie. The idea is that over 8 weeks I’ll take you through the self-publishing process, telling you everything you need to know in the order you need to know it in to successfully produce a Print-On-Demand (POD) paperback and Kindle e-book.

Last week we talked about making the decision to self-publish, which breaks down into three key questions to as of yourself and your book:

1. Have you revised and rewritten your book to the point where you feel you can’t improve it any more?

2. Have you got positive feedback about your book from a professional source and therefore deemed it good enough to send out into the world?

3. Have you ascertained that now is the right time for you to self-publish, and that you’re ready to do it? (i.e. have you the time, resources, etc.?)

If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re ready to move onto Week 2: Preparing Your Manuscript.

You must get your book professionally edited before you self-publish and this step is not optional. I use the term “editing” as a general term for getting a professional editor to work with you and your book to:

– Improve the book (plotting, characterisation, etc.)

– Correct the spelling and grammar

– Proofread the finished manuscript.

Why does this matter? Because writing matters. Don’t stick any old crap out there just because you can. Make your mistakes in private. Don’t ask your readers to be the assessors and editors and spell-checkers of your work; they shouldn’t have to be. By the time their eyes hit your pages, all of that should’ve been done already.

You are not merely self-publishing a book – you are selling a product. As unromantic as this may sound, it’s the truth. And just like you couldn’t sell an apple pie that was in fact filled with thumb-tacks, you can’t sell a book that just isn’t up to scratch. You are taking people’s money and in exchange you must deliver the goods.

Whatever you decide to do, you need to get someone to have a look at your manuscript and you need to be paying that someone money. I say that because unless money is exchanging hands, you can’t rely on the feedback. So many writers turn to family, friends and other writers to “have a look” at their book, but this just isn’t enough.

First of all, these people may well read a book a day or be a stickler for spelling, but they are not qualifiedto edit or proofread your book. I thought Mousetrapped was in pretty good shape when I sent it to my editor but I was shocked at how many corrections had to be made. These ranged from oversights such as using both e-mail and email, to sentences that only made sense in my head, to grammar rules I didn’t even know existed. Sure, you might be able to find all your spelling mistakes and typos if you print out your manuscript ten times and go through it with a fine tooth comb, and then do it another few times after that, but how can you find errors you don’t know are there, and won’t recognise even if you do see them? You can’t and you won’t. And that’s just the cosmetic side of things. What if there are more serious problems with your book? What if the plot doesn’t make sense? What if the reader’s attention is led astray before the end of the first chapter? What if someone’s pregnant for eleven months?

Which brings me to the second reason you should get a professional to read your book. People are often pregnant for too long in first drafts because it is impossible to read your book like you haven’t written it. Not just difficult, but impossible. Don’t get me wrong: you can certainly put your book away for a long time, in a drawer or under the bed, and absolutely not look at it at all, not even once, and then come back to it and see things for the first time, but this still will not enable you to read it like you haven’t written it. You need someone to come in from the outside and read it, someone who is skilled in assessing written work and has the ability and knowledge to correct it. And that can’t be your mum or your best friend (even if all she reads are books like yours), or anyone at all that isn’t first, a professional publishing type and second, getting paid by you.

Because thirdly, only professional editors, i.e. ones you have to pay to read your book, will be able to read your work without bias and then give you an honest critique of it. I don’t care if your best friend is Joyce Carol Oates or the editorial director of Random House – she’s still your best friend. That means there’s that icky thing called feelings involved. She’s not going to be honest with you, unless she’s a sociopath who has managed to separate her personality from her conscience. And that’s unlikely, because sociopaths are, like, serial killers. So unless your best friend is an award-winning author, editorial director of a major publishing house and a serial killer, asking her what she thinks of your book is a waste of both your time. Oh, she said she’d be honest, did she? Claimed she wouldn’t hold back? Promised you the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even if she hated your book from start to finish and wished after reading it that she could go back in time and un-meet you, just so she wouldn’t have to eventually end up reading your book? Well, that’s nice, but she still can’t be the one to check your book because despite her promised honesty, she’s still biased. People you are related or married to – parents, partners, elderly grandparents – make even worse feedback targets than best friends who are also serial killing editorial directors, because they’ll be so in awe of the fact that you managed to type 100,000 words, let alone write them and then make them into a book, that they’ll think whatever you managed to crank out is just amazing. So don’t ask them either.

Freelance editors are easy to find, but I recommend finding one through a service or website so that if it doesn’t work out or you aren’t happy, there’s somewhere you can go to complain. The editor will also be more likely to do a good job if they know that not doing a good job might adversely affect future referrals from that service or website. And as luck would have it, there is a “Services” section on this very site.

If you’ve got to this point and you’re still thinking, my book’s in pretty good shape; I think I’m good to go, then please, reconsider. Let me tell you that as a writer, there is no worse feeling in the world than reading a bad review. I don’t mean a negative review, because we don’t all like the same things and negative reviews are just par for the course, but a baaaaad review, one that rips your book (and your confidence) into tiny shreds. If you’ve had your book professionally edited, you can console yourself with the fact that you know your book is good, and that that reviewer must have a bee in their bonnet for some reason unrelated to you. If your book hasn’t been professionally edited, you don’t have this comfort.

Furthermore, the reviewer will undoubtedly point out any errors they’ve found in your book – and if you don’t have an outsider look at it, there will be at least a couple – which will lead other potential readers looking to your reviews to help them decide whether or not to buy it to believe that, since this is clearly a fact, everything else in the review must be true too. And then they’ll cease to be a potential reader of yours.

Some of you may think to yourselves, well, it’s self-publishing. No reader is going to be expecting a top quality book, are they? Once upon a time, I may have well agreed with you. I spent a traumatic six weeks a few years back working as a courier (read: general assistant) on a campsite in France and any time a customer dared complain about the cleanliness of their mobile home, we would just look at each, shrug and say, “What did they expect? It’s camping!” When I was first self-publishing, I wanted the outside of the book to look great (because I love physical books and their covers so much) but I wasn’t as concerned with the inside. I had read plenty of traditionally published books with a few typos here and there; why couldn’t I, as a self-publisher, have a couple too? In fact, the first edition of Mousetrapped did have about three small typos, despite my best efforts. I knew they were there, but I wasn’t overly concerned with them. About six months after I first released it I had to update some other things in the book, so I took the opportunity to fix them then.

But I should have done it immediately, as soon as I became aware of them, and here’s why.

One week last February I was at home when I got a call from a producer working with the most important person on TV and radio in Ireland, if you’re an author. He had read something about me in a newspaper and wanted me to send him a copy of my book with a view to them doing a feature on it at a later date. If I got on this show, I would be doing better than the vast majority of traditionally published authors in Ireland, whose publicists would kill, no doubt, for the same opportunity. It would be an amazing experience, and guarantee a few hundred sales at least.

But all I had to hand was a copy of the original edition. The one with the typos.

Now as it turned out I was able to stall and send the producer a new edition straight from the Print On Demand service, and nothing ever came of it anyway (because I appeared on another show on the same channel and the audience would have a crossover – but you have to seize the opportunities as they happen!) but the incident got me thinking: why was I having a panic attack about sending a copy of typo-Mousetrapped to this guy when I’d been more than happy to sell the same book to customers for the previous six months?

Because I knew the importance of the producer. I knew how high the stakes were. I knew that if he found something in my book that said “unprofessional” my chance at an amazing publicity opportunity would be gone.

But of course, you never know who is reading your book. The stakes are always that high. And so if you still don’t think you should get your book edited, imagine your Publicity Fairy Godperson – be they Ryan Tubridy, Richard & Judy or even the mighty Oprah – coming across your book somehow, and reading it in its current state. Are you still sure you want to self-publish without an editor?

If I still haven’t convinced you of the importance of a professional edit, here’s one last stab: initially I wasn’t going to get Mousetrapped looked at at all, mainly because I’d already written several drafts of it and was sick of the sight of it. But then I started reading a blog by Jane Smith called The Self-Publishing Review (SPR). Jane has worked as an editor for over twenty years and she also writes a hugely popular blog called How Publishing Really Works. On the SPR, she invites authors to send in their self-published books and then she reviews them, honestly and as she would a traditionally published book. If she likes a book, she’ll recommend it but if she doesn’t, she’ll explain why. It’s not only a fantastic blog and riveting reading, but it’s the best reality check for self-publishing authors I’ve ever come across. I recommend you read through as many entries as you can before you release your book, and read through them all if you still think you don’t need to get your book assessed and edited by a professional.

What state should your manuscript be in by now in terms of formatting? Don’t do anything special. We have to format it two very different ways for the paperback and the e-book, so don’t do anything to it for the moment. Just make sure it’s as good as it can be and we’ll worry about the rest later.

Next week: The #1 area in which self-publishers make mistakes: cover design.

This week I released three new 99c e-books called Self-Printed Shorts. The idea is that instead of paying $2.99 or more for the full e-book (or $15.95 for the paperback) and all the information I’ve shared about self-publishing, you can just pay 99c for the sections that are relevant to you. The Self-Printed Shorts are: Publishing a POD Paperback, Publishing an E-book and Sell Your Book With Social Media. You can find out more about them here.

  • www.designforwriters.com
  • allianceindependentauthors.org

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