Self-publishing: an explanation

I thought it would be useful to cover this topic because there are still misconceptions about what it is. First, it will probably help to explain about traditional publishing.

A traditional publishing company will only take on work that they consider commercially profitable. After all, they are a business. Generally, manuscripts are submitted to publishers by literary agents, and the decision to accept or reject them depends on the potential of the story, market trends, and production costs.

If you are fortunate enough to have your novel accepted by a publishing company, all of the hard work required in the production and selling of the book is done for you. That’s the editing, cover design and typesetting, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution. You will receive a payment in the form of an advance, which you pay back, over time, out of the royalties you earn from the sales of your book.

With true self-publishing, you publish your work independently and at your own expense. No literary agents or traditional publishing houses are involved. You manage the whole process from start to finish. However, the amount of work you can realistically do by yourself is dependent on a number of things, including: IT skills, time, and a reasonable understanding of the processes involved.

If you just want to see your work in print and don’t mind about quality control, you could complete the whole process at little or no cost. That’s an achievement in itself. But if you lack the resources required, or you care about how your work will be received, or you would like your novel to be produced to a professional standard, you will have to pay.

The ability to self-publish was made possible by the arrival of Internet companies such as CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords, back in the early 2000s. Prior to this, the only way to publish a book outside of the traditional route was to use a vanity publisher, where an author paid quite a lot of money up front to have their book ‘professionally’ produced. This was often regardless of potential or quality, with little or no editorial service, marketing, and distribution. As a result, vanity publishing earned a bad name.

These days, many independent publishers have sprung up to offer self-publishing services, but in essence, these are no different from vanity publishers. The author still has to pay up front. As I write this, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists over 100 such companies. Some are even offshoots of traditional publishers (where rejected manuscripts are passed to a ‘self-publishing’ department). Prices vary greatly, depending on the service offered. You could pay anything from £200 to £2000 to see your book in print. If you decide to take this route, shop around and find out what is offered for the money.

Regardless of the route taken, there is a lot of work involved in publishing a novel, whether it is produced as a printed copy or an e-book. It is not a quick process, either, taking months rather than weeks.

I hope this offers an adequate explanation as to what self-publishing is. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any questions, please feel free to ask. There’s one last thing I would like to mention: whatever your resources, try not to skimp on the production of your novel. If you do, the hard truth is that you are unlikely to sell many copies beyond your circle of friends and family, however good the story. After all your hard work in writing it, this would be a shame. It does not necessarily mean paying someone else to do the work, but just spending some time researching what is involved in the production process. 🙂

 

The Importance of Being Edited

If you had asked me ten years ago (when I first took up creative writing) what an editor did, I probably would have said, ‘Someone who helps to publish books’. Such was my ignorance at the time.

If you had asked me three years ago whether my self-published book of short stories had been copy-edited, or not, I probably would have said, ‘No, why should it?’. Such was my ignorance and arrogance at the time.

If you were to ask me today, when I say that I am about to self-publish my first novel (actually, I’m not quite there yet), had it gone through a proper editing process, I would reply, ‘Of course! Why wouldn’t it?’.

So, what changed? Well, four years of studying, courses, experience, observations, research…an accumulation of knowledge; that’s what.

Before the days of self-publication, the editing process was generally something that only happened within the confines of a publishing house. We weren’t quite sure what it was, or how it happened, but within their hallowed halls the transformation of raw manuscript to printed book took place.

With the ability to self-publish, all kinds of new terminology has surfaced. Some are still not quite sure what it all means: proofreading, copyediting, lineediting, developmental editing, structural editing, typesetting, formatting…except that having it done might make their work more sellable, so it must be a good thing.

It seems that self-publishing is here to stay, and I’m all for it. Not least because the modus operandi of conventional publishers means that many promising manuscripts never see the light of day as a printed book. Self-publishing allows those slush-pile stories to break free, but the downside is that the independent author is simply not able to prepare their own work for publication in the same way that a dedicated (read as both ‘devoted’ and ‘exclusively allocated’) editor would be. Why?  Not editorially qualified, and too close to their own work, means it is impossible for a writer to self-edit properly. Sadly, this means that a large proportion of self-published books do not meet professional standards, and invariably fall by the wayside. What a waste! What a shame!

It makes no logical sense for a writer to invest time and energy into producing their novel, but not invest time and money in having it professionally edited. They are doing themselves, and independent publishing, a great disservice. After all, nobody has to read a novel. So, if yours isn’t enjoyable, page-turning, fit for purpose, then you may just get 5-star reviews from friends and family who feel obliged to say that it’s wonderful, and then, ultimately, no more sales. Why would you want that? You deserve more!

As a creative writer, I can relate to why self-publishers may not want to have their work professionally edited, but believe me, if you are serious about trying to make money out of your writing, and you want recognition for all your hard work, be prepared to put it through a professional editing process. It is important, and what you learn from the experience should help you (and any subsequent editor) enormously, when you come to work on your next novel.

Happy writing! 🙂

 

Nobody’s Perfect

Previously, I suggested, with tongue in cheek, using the abbreviation ‘E. & O. E.’ as a disclaimer against any errors made in your self-published novel, to protect yourself from buyers’ bad reviews, but the truth is, nobody is perfect, and although we should perhaps aim to be perfect, making errors is a part of being human.

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a previously published author, who wanted her paperback novel prepared and self-published for the Kindle platform. Because she did not have an electronic version of the typescript, I painstakingly scanned – using my trusty ‘Deskjet’ printer and OCR software – every paper page of the novel, proofreading it as I went, to ensure it was as error-free as possible before publication.

Within the 426-page novel, I flagged up forty errors: an assortment of incorrect spellings, punctuation mistakes, inconsistencies, and an incorrect quotation. This book had been copy-edited, proofread and printed via a well-known publishing company who are still in business today. When I have mentioned, to friends and colleagues, the mistakes I have spotted in books printed by mainstream publishers, they have invariably come back with, ‘I agree; I’m always spotting them.’ It seems to be a fact of life.

Clearly, it is important to get things right when planning to self-publish, but it’s probably not enough to get things as right as possible. A publication has to be as perfect as it can be, particularly so with non-fiction. I’m not just talking about spelling, punctuation, and grammar, either, but getting the facts right, being consistent, and making sure the typography is correct. These things are equally important.

However, as rigorous as we might think we are, we all make mistakes: the writer, the copy-editor, the typographer, the proofreader…we all do it – and that includes me!

The fortunate thing about self-publishing, is that it is a simple enough procedure to update and re-publish a novel, but this may only happen when Joe Public has already bought the book and has kindly brought the error to the world’s attention in their review…as I once discovered, much to my embarrassment:

“There was no doubting whose father Edith was.”

Oops! Not my mistake, but one I did not spot the first time round.

So if you do find an error among these blog entries, remember ‘nobody’s perfect’, although I do try my best to be. Some days are just better than others.

E & O E

E. & O. E.

If you have ever worked in an accounts department, or received an invoice for goods or services, you may have noticed the abbreviation ‘E. & O. E.’ printed somewhere upon it. This stands for ‘errors and omissions excepted’.

It is essentially a disclaimer: a commercial ‘get-out’ clause used to reduce a company’s liability for potentially incorrect or incomplete information. It states that information cannot be relied upon, or may have changed by the time of use, or that the information is correct, but no responsibility will be held if an error has occurred.

If you self-publish without employing the services of an editor, and are just relying on your own checking abilities (however good they are), or on those of friends and family, then you may as well print ‘E. & O. E.’ on the pages of your novel, because there will be errors and there will be omissions, and probably more…

The problem is that Joe Public can be your harshest critic. One only has to read the 1-star reviews on, say, Amazon, and an author’s sensitive ego can be torn to shreds in a sentence (the writer’s ego is something to blog about, but later, perhaps).

So, what stops a prospective author from having their work copy-edited? Lack of finances? Fear of criticism? Naivety? Over-confidence? I suspect one, some, or all of these!

It is my belief that many self-publishers-to-be do not fully understand the role of a copy-editor. There is so much more to it than just simply checking through a document page by page, to ensure that spelling, punctuation, and grammar are correct. A copy-editor has to go through a typescript line by line, word by word, and character by character, making sure that a piece of work is suitable for publication by ensuring that the work is prepared to a standard that Joe Public will understand. It is not a five-minute job either, so there is little point in being impatient. Copy-editing takes time, it takes concentration, and it takes dedication.

To be fair, though, copy-editing is not cheap. It’s not cheap because it’s a skilled job. I am sure that there are writers who simply cannot afford to pay for the services of a copy-editor, and so take their chances, but sadly, it’s not enough, especially if they are thinking of submitting to a literary agent. In conventional publishing, the work has to be error-free and that goes for self-publishing too.

If you decide to self-publish without having your work copy-edited, you will need to make sure that your skin is thick enough to cope with those low star ratings. If you sell enough copies, there will always be one. Everyone’s a critic! Bad reviews will pull the book’s overall rating down, and risks putting off potential buyers. Even worse, if the sample shows errors, you may not sell any.

Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all, to print ‘E. & O. E.’ on the copyright page of your novel, or on the back cover, before going to print!