I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time for several reasons: because there can be a HUGE difference in quality between indie and traditional books; because writers who are truly trying to put out their best work feel frustrated by readers continually finding and complaining about typos and grammatical errors in their books even though they paid good money to an editor; because I’ve read some indie books that have the potential for being great books if only they’d been truly edited.
But mostly because there is a LOT of good information/posts/books out there about how to self-publish your book but it’s missing very essential information that most people don’t know unless they’ve either worked in publishing or have been published traditionally. And most indie authors haven’t done either of those. I’ve done both. That’s not to brag, it’s just to say that I know how traditional publishers make their books all polished and shiny…and I’m going to tell you so you can do it too.
Each step listed here is essential—none can be skipped if you’re wanting your books to turn out as professional as a traditionally published book.
- Initial revisions: After the first draft is written, you read it through yourself, taking out anything that doesn’t keep the story on track and filling in where you need more details, adding new scenes to make the story flow better. Do this several times until you’ve gotten the manuscript as good as you can get it on your own and you don’t know what else to do with it. Really and truly, believe me when I tell you this—your first draft is not good enough to publish. Nobody’s is.
- Beta readers: Enlist the help of readers and other writers who will be honest with you about your book. Have them read your manuscript and then tell you everything that’s wrong with it, everything that doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense, isn’t logical, is just plain ridiculous, etc. Try to get at least four or five beta readers because each person will look at it slightly differently and will point out different weaknesses. Their feedback is invaluable.
- Revise again: Believe your beta readers and revise based on their suggestions and comments. I’ve found that betas are spot on with their advice 99.9% of the time—even if my first reaction was to not agree with what they said. Will your ego be hurt by the feedback? Maybe. Probably. But if your goal is to put out a professional book, if your goal is to be a professional writer, then you’ve got to do what it takes to put out a problem-free book. If something seems like a problem to your betas, then it is. (It’s also worthwhile to go through a couple of beta rounds, if you have enough beta readers. Approach a different group to read it after you’ve made revisions. And then revise again based on their feedback.)
- Hire an editor: An editor will go through your book and look for story problems that still exist past the beta stage and will look at your book as a whole. She’ll also likely point out typos and grammar issues but that’s not actually her job as an editor. She’s not your copy editor and you cannot rely on her to find and fix every little error in your book. That’s your copy editor’s job (see below). If you stop at this point in the chain and go ahead and publish your book, it will still be riddled with errors. Trust me on that.
- Revise again: Based on your editor’s notes. Once you’ve gone through the book and made all the editorial changes you want to make, your book is going to be in good shape. It’s going to feel pretty polished at this point and you’ll be tempted to start formatting, but it’s still not ready to be published. You are now at the point where you need one more person to go over your manuscript. If you want a clean, professional book, do not skip the next step.
- Hire a copy editor: This MUST be someone who has not read your manuscript before because you need a fresh set of eyes to spot the errors. A copy editor looks for inconsistencies in the story, (ie. was the car blue at the beginning and then silver later in the story?), as well as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style (ie. that you use either the word magic or magick in your book and not both, that you always capitalize Internet or don’t capitalize internet and not both, etc.). Once your copy editor has cleaned up your manuscript do not make any more changes to it. It is now almost completely error-free (a few always slip through—it’s human error) and if you make any changes you are very likely to introduce new errors.
Congrats! Your book is now ready for publication!
I’m sure the steps above are going to feel overwhelming to some writers. It’s okay. Take it one step at a time. You can do it. :-)
How do you know if an editor or copy editor is any good? Ask around. Tweet to/email other indie writers whose books you’ve noticed are very well done and are indistinguishable from traditional books in quality. Ask who they used. The indie community is very generous and most authors are happy to share information.
How are you going to afford it? I know that’s tricky for some writers, but if you’re hoping to build a career as a writer then you really cannot afford NOT to. You will gain loyal readers if your book is a pleasure in EVERY way. If your book is amateurishly done, readers will not come back for more. (Would you?)
What’s next? Formatting—which you can either do yourself or hire someone to do for you. Guido Henkel wrote an amazingly helpful tutorial showing how to format your ebook that I followed with great success. I highly recommend following his advice if you want to do it yourself.
You’ve made the investment of time and care to write your book—it’s worth the financial investment to publish it well. Good luck with your books!