Some people imagine that self-publishing means the author doing everything themselves, from the moment they write The End till the book starts flying off the (real or virtual) shelves. In truth an indie author is more like the manager of a micro-business, taking responsibility for each stage of publication, but knowing when and how to bring in the professionals.
So what are those professional services you are going to need?
To begin with, you need to recognise that your first draft is no more than a rough sketch. You’ll have to do a lot more work to make your vision clear to your readers. But once your MS (manuscript/book) is as good as you can possibly make it, you need to call in the EDITORS!
First off – a word or warning. Friends and family do NOT make good editors. Even if they are the best-read people you know. Even if they are writers themselves. They love you. They want you to succeed. With the best will in the world, they are going to read your work through rose-tinted spectacles.
You need to find someone whom you can trust to be ruthlessly honest. Who understands your genre. Who can pull apart the work you have just spent months bleeding over without making your feel as if you’re a waste of space. And who can help you build it up again so that it is still YOUR book, not theirs, but even better than you ever thought possible.
It may sound as if I am asking the impossible – but they do exist, these people. I know. I’ve found a few!
Broadly speaking, there are three types of editing. The lines between them can be a bit blurry, but it’s easier to think of them as three separate processes.
First, STRUCTURAL EDITING. This is taking a macro view of the book. If you have subplots going nowhere, scenes that advance nothing or characters that fail to come alive; if parts of your story are told in the wrong sequence, you’ve begun it too early or dragged on the ending too long: a structural editor will pick that up. At this stage, you want someone who can judge the MS as a whole, and who knows the rules and standards of your genre (I’m including lit fic as a genre here). Good beta-readers can be excellent at this (but bear in mind what I said about not using friends and family).
The next stage is COPY EDITING. When all those big, macro issues have been fixed, it’s time to take a finer grained look at your MS. A good copy editor will consider issues of pace. But their focus is on individual sentences and paragraphs. Are you using unnecessary verbiage? Is a scene underwritten? Have a character’s eyes changed colour part way through the book? They will also check (or at least question) factual detail. Was the model of car you describe available when your story was set? Is it really possible to shoot someone at that distance with the gun you’ve given your villain?
And finally there is PROOFREADING. This is editing as a lay person understands it: checking spelling, grammar, punctuation. In a manuscript being prepared for publication, it also includes checking that you are using things like em-dashes, en-dashes and hyphens in the correct professional way.
So now you have a wonderful story, edited to a professional standard. What next?
COVER DESIGN. Self-publishing packages like Kindle Direct Publishing make it very easy for you to select a few elements from a pool of images and fonts, put them together through a semi-automated process and come up with your own cover design. So why pay a professional designer?
Well, for one thing, there is a high risk that your cover is going to end up looking suspiciously like half a dozen others, as authors pick from the same limited stock of options.
Secondly, it’s amazing how tiny things about the way a cover is put together can change how professional it looks. Most of us do it at unconsciously, but put two covers together and we will instinctively prefer the one that obeys all those hidden ‘rules’ about visual impact. Designers understand that.
So find a good designer, one who can realise your unique vision for your book. And shop around. Designers can be expensive – but they don’t have to be. There are some outstanding ones out there who are very affordable.
The final stage is INTERIOR FORMATTING. This is not intrinsically difficult and there are plenty of programs and packages to help you. But you need to be aware of the rules about laying out the book as a whole (what goes in the ‘front matter’ before the main text, and in what order, what goes in the back matter…), and about laying out individual pages (first pages of chapters vs the rest, how page numbering works…). You need to balance the font used in the text with that used in headings. And finally you need to understand the differences between printed books and ebooks, and the subtle differences between different ebook formats.
If you are prepared to learn the rules, you can tackle this yourself. But a slip-up at this stage can make your book scream ‘amateur.’ So if you are not confident, it is worth employing someone experienced
Once the book is formatted, your MS is ready to upload for publication and distribution. And that really has been made very easy. So long as you are reasonably comfortable around computers, there is no reason why you shouldn’t do that for yourself.
And there you have it. You’ve launched your book. You have made all the decisions about how the book should be presented to the world. And you’ve assembled the team around you who can help you realise that vision. Congratulations, you are an independent professional!
So that’s in then? Job done? Umm, no. Now come the marketing. But that’s a whole different story.
(c) Catriona Troth
About Ghost Town
1981. Coventry, city of Two Tone and Ska, is riven with battles between skinheads and young Asians. Photographer Baz-‘too Paki to be white, too gora to be desi’-is capturing the conflict on film. Unemployed graduate Maia-serial champion of liberal causes-is pregnant with a mixed-race child. Neither can afford to let the racists win. They must take a stand. A stand that will cost lives.