Divas on Writing: It Takes a Village to Publish a Book
I read an article the other day that suggested that authors could publish a book without hiring an editor simply by asking their readers to catch their mistakes for them.
Interesting concept, if the only errors in the book are simple typos. But what if the story has issues with the plot, pacing, characterizations, flow, tone and voice? What if the grammar is less than average? Will readers offer the author usable advice on how to fix the story? Sadly, no. Most readers will simply leave a bad review and/or never buy one of that author’s books again. Why? It’s the author’s responsibility to present their best work to readers, especially when asking them to pay for the book.
Would you buy a dress that wasn’t hemmed because the company didn’t take the time to check the quality of their product? Would you pay money for a dress from a company that asks you to fix anything they forgot to do? This is like a company saying, “We’re not going to give you a quality product because we don’t want to make the investment. But we still want you to pay money for our product AND we want you to fix it.”
While the act of writing is a solitary one, it takes a team to publish a book. Once the first draft is completed, the author should take a break. Does that mean they should sit around eating bonbons and watching soap operas all day? Not at all. If the author hasn’t already started building their team, this is the time to do it and firm up who will help with what tasks.
So, who should an author have on his or her book team to help publish a book?
Critique Group / Beta Readers (Free)
A critique group and/or beta readers are a valuable part of the book team. They give the author feedback on the story, what they like, didn’t like and they can spot plot holes or character issues. And while this group can even offer some ideas for improvement, most in these groups are authors and should not be confused with editors, cover designers or any other member of the book team.
Critique groups and beta readers typically don’t charge for what they do, but what is expected in most cases is that the author will do the same for those who helped them. This may not be an investment of money, but it is an investment of time.
Related Write Divas Article: “Quick Tip: How to Find a Critique Group” by Janine Savage
Editor for Assessment & Main Edit ($)
If I could convince all authors to pay for an assessment of their manuscript during the revision phase of their writing process, I’d be one happy editor. Why? Because it makes my job easier and it saves the author money and time. It will also prevent major headaches down the road. An assessment is an unbiased look at the story. It addresses the strengths and weaknesses with plot, characterizations, flow, tone, pacing, etc. The assessment isn’t a line edit, copy edit, proofread or developmental edit. Its purpose is the help the author identify those areas that need revision. And I’m not talking “revise this sentence because it’s awkward” suggestions either. This is when the editor says “the protagonist lacks depth” or “there’s a plot hole” or “the climax comes too soon” and then offers suggestions for improvement.
An assessment gives the author a road map for the revision process so the author can fix the issues. Then, when the manuscript is the best the author, critique group and beta readers can make it, hopefully the major issues will have been fixed and the editor will recommend a copy edit or proofread for the main edit. And those are much cheaper than a content or developmental edit.
Related Write Divas Article: “Divas on Editing: Manuscript Assessment” by Janine Savage
Cover Designer ($)
I know everyone grew up hearing what a wonderful artist they were as their moms stuck their artwork on the refrigerator door. Sadly, that doesn’t always follow us to adulthood. I’m sure mine was on the refrigerator to help my mother lose her appetite and avoid snacking. But I digress.
As much as we want to think humanity has risen above the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we haven’t. If a book cover isn’t appealing to the eye, readers won’t buy it unless it hits the bestseller’s list. And by then, the cover has probably been redesigned. The cover is the first impression of your book. If a reader likes what they see, they’ll read the book synopsis or back jacket blurb. These two elements combined need to be compelling enough to make the reader want to buy that book more than anything else in the bookstore. Once people start buying and a buzz starts about the book, it will sell. But it has to catch the reader’s eye.
Hire someone who understands what is appealing is important. Don’t believe your own press and think you can design, draw, photograph or otherwise produce your own cover. Most of us need help in this arena, and that’s okay. But it will cost some money, so find a cover designer whose work you like and you can afford.
Related Write Divas Article: “Ask the Divas: Do Book Covers Matter?” by Lauren Schmelz
Public Relations / Marketing ($)
Let’s face it. If people don’t know about a book, they won’t buy it. Whether an author hires a PR guru, pays for blog tours or blitzes, pays for reviews, appeals to book blogs, issues a press release, contacts local media and book stores or organizes a street team, they will probably need to someone to help them with at least some of the public relations and marketing. Not everyone will do this out of the goodness of their hearts. It takes time, organization, know-how, media contacts, and a list of dependable bloggers. Those who have established themselves have done so after long hours of nurturing relationships with trusted contacts. Authors are paying for access to these inroads into the marketing engine.
Not all PR and marketing is a dollar for dollar return on investment. Some of it is building a respectable fan base and author brand. And while authors might not see the immediate benefits of this, they will down the road. If authors aren’t willing to do a lot of the work themselves, they should consider hiring a publicity assistant to do the things they can’t.
Related Write Divas Article: “Guest Blogger: Donna Huber – Do You Need A Publicity Assistant?” by Donna Huber
Book Formatting ($ / Free)
An author once told me that now that she’s learned how to format her book, she’ll never pay another book formatter again. That being said, I’m not sure that I’m ready to believe that statement. I consider myself a relatively smart woman when it comes to computers. If I don’t know how to do something, I have no problem educating myself. But book formatting is not necessarily something I have time to learn.
Whether it’s print or electronic, everyone seems to have their own set of guidelines when it comes to producing the end product. Hiring someone who already knows the guidelines and the quirks of each book reseller might be worth the money just to save the author the headache of deciphering the code of a rejected electronic submission or resolving wonky issues with typesetting.
Related Article: “Step 4: Format Your Story” by David Gaughran
Finally there’s the distribution of the book. Depending on the format of the book (print, electronic or both), the ultimate goal is the same: get the book in the hands of the readers. Authors who go through a book reseller can use the reseller for distribution. If your book is more popular in print than it is as an e-book and you’re selling them yourself, you’ll have to do the work yourself or hire someone to do it. The author is still responsible for ordering more books to be printed. Authors should keep in mind that if the sales increase drastically, they might have to convert their garage or basement into a book storage and shipping center.
Distribution will cost money. Period. If the book is printed, the printer will charge upfront. If the book is for sale with an online book reseller, the reseller is going to take a cut of the profits to list, sell and distribute the book. Don’t forget postage for shipping. With more and more states charging for internet sales, authors now need to deal with sales tax.
Related Article: “How and Why to Self Publish and Distribute Your Book” by Tynan
Leaving any one of these team members out is like telling a patient, just as he’s being wheeled into surgery, that the hospital decided to cut costs by firing the anesthesiologist, but not to worry. Phil from maintenance is filling in and said he’ll give it his best shot.
While it’s hard to compare creative products to tangible items, quality is something that levels the playing field. You know it when you see it. And someone who puts out poor quality while still expecting customers to pay for their product is hurting their image and long-term career as an author.
Who do you have on your book team to help you publish a book and what have you done to cut costs? We’d love to hear what has worked and what hasn’t worked for you, so please share in the comments below.
Now… go write something!