It’s hard enough to keep yourself on track to write and complete a book (though it’s a lot easier thanks to TheRightMargin). Once you have the manuscript finished, the question becomes “What do I do with it?” or “Is publishing my work the next step?”. In this two part guest-post, we’ll answer that and give you some best practice methods for launching your indie author career on the right foot.
Where do you start?
There are a lot of directions you can roam once your manuscript is complete, and one of the most popular is indie publishing. Going indie offers some advantages over traditional publishing in terms of keeping the rights to your work, and even making higher royalties per sale. But along with those perks comes the overhead of publishing—all the steps that would typically be handled by a publisher are now your responsibility.
That may sound a bit scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at a few best practices for indie publishing and see exactly what you may be in for.
You’ve put in the time and discipline to write your book, and in doing that you’ve topped most would-be writers. That’s worth celebrating! Now it’s time to cruise through that work and find any typos, grammar goofs, and omitted or misused words.
It’s fine to spend some time going through your manuscript yourself. Rereading and editing your book can not only help you eliminate some errors, it can also help you spot such foibles as characters who have gone MIA, unattributed dialogue, and confusing exposition. Reading through and editing your work is a good practice to get into.
However, your eyes should not be the last to pass over your work before it goes on to prime time.
Our first best practice: Hire an editor.
There are many types of editors in the publishing world, and each has a different range of responsibilities. Developmental editors, for example, can help you work out any kinks in your story, advising you on character and plot development, setting, even style.
When most authors refer to editors, however, they are almost always referring to a copy editor.
A copy editor’s primary job is to read and edit your manuscript for typos, spelling errors, grammar goofs, etc. This may sound familiar, as it’s exactly what we discussed you doing as the writer, a few paragraphs back. Where things become a bit different is in the psychology of writing versus editing.
As the writer, you’re awfully close to your work. You know your topic or your story, and you know exactly what you’re trying to say. Therein lies the problem. Because we writers know what we meant by what wrote, we often mentally fill in gaps and gloss over misplaced or misused words, typos, and spelling and grammar errors. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something to be aware of.
As a rule, writers make poor editors of their own work (they may be excellent at editing the work of others, however). So, it’s best to do your read and edit pass first, to catch any of the obvious goofs, and then find an editor to give it the final polish.
If you can’t afford to hire an editor, then you should look to friends and family, or maybe fellow members of a writing group, and ask if they can help with an edit. You may offer a trade of service, such as swapping edits with another author. There are many ways to do this, but the goal is to have someone else help you with the final polish of your book.
Layout is a tricky beast, because at first blush it seems easy. After all, most word processing programs are essentially layout tools themselves. You can bold, italicize, underline, and even strike through text with the click of a button (or with quick use of keyboard shortcuts). You can change the alignment—left, right, or center. You can increase space between lines and in line breaks, or decrease space between characters. Most word processing software gives you everything you need to create a masterful layout.
While you have the tools, however, it’s usually a good idea to let someone who has more experience take a crack at your book’s layout. Doing so will help you avoid tedious headaches when it comes to finding and fixing such living nightmares as widows and orphans (the layout kind … we’re not advocating A Modest Proposal here) or strange hyphenates and weird line breaks.
Our next best practice: Hire someone or use automated software to do your layout for both eBooks and print publishing.
Unlike editing, it’s usually best to let the professionals take on layout from the start. While you can certainly learn the ropes and figure out how to make a book’s layout nice and palatable for the reader, doing so takes time away from other, more important activities of your writing career (such as actually writing).
If you are bent on a DIY approach, there is software such as Vellum (Mac only) that can automate a beautiful eBook layout. The makers of Vellum are even branching into print layout, with a beta program that’s currently in progress (as of this writing). This software charges either a flat price per book (each time you use it) or you can buy the software outright for a few hundred dollars, and get unlimited uses.
Another alternative, of course, is the free conversion tool at Draft2Digital.com. Once you upload your manuscript (as a Word document) it will be converted to the common eBook formats (EPUB, MOBI, and PDF), and you can even get a print-ready PDF for use with print on demand services, such as CreateSpace. There’s no charge for the conversions, and they’ve been tested on every eBook reader on the market to make sure they always work.
Perhaps the most important feature of your book—maybe even more important than the contents of the book itself—is its cover. A good cover can make even a terrible book into a bestseller. A bad cover will almost always guarantee the book’s commercial failure, regardless of how well it’s written.
Good covers are more than pretty or eye-catching pictures. There is, in fact, a psychology to book cover design. There are multiple factors to consider, from shelf appeal to genre-specific imagery to market impact.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for determining whether you should design your own cover: No.
Exceptions, of course, apply. If you happen to have a design background, have won awards for your work, have been paid to do it, and/or have studied design psychology, you’re a good candidate for doing it yourself. Having any one or all those pluses will make it easier for you to do this right.
If, however, the most graphics work you’ve done has been the design of a Facebook meme using Canva, please back away slowly. Leave the cover where it is. Pick up the phone and call a professional.
Best practice: Find a professional to design your cover
There are services such as 99Designs that can help you find designers by conducting competitions. Get hundreds of designers pitching concepts, choose the one you want, agree to a price, and go.
You can also find freelance designers on websites such as Upwork.com, which connects clients with contractors of all types. Or, often better, peruse designs on DeviantArt, where you can find amazing and incredible designers and approach them about commissioned work, or about licensing the rights to use an existing design. These designers are often willing to build out your cover for a reasonable fee.
One recommendation: You can find designers on Fiverr.com, and usually pay a lot less for a cover—but it’s probably best to avoid it.
While you may find a real gem of a designer, possibly a diamond in the rough who is willing to work for peanuts to establish themselves, there’s a better chance you’ll end up with a mediocre cover that’s being sold to dozens of other writers as well. Fiverr has a lot of useful offers that could be handy for will-be authors, such as people willing to make video trailers, do logo designs, or even do a bit of web design, and much more. But using someone from this service for cover design has just had a bad track record to date. Best to avoid it.
You sometimes hear this called a “book blurb,” though that term more accurately applies to a snippet of a review about your book. You may also hear this referred to as a product description, a back-cover description, or even a book synopsis (though this is problematic, and we’ll take a look at why in just a second). Whatever you choose to call it, though, a book description is a marketing tool that can help sell your book to the right reader.
Book descriptions appear in two primary places: On the back of the print version of your book and on the sales page for your book online. These words are the first a reader typically encounters, when it comes to your work, and that makes them very important.
Some things to remember about writing book descriptions when publishing your work:
- These are not meant to be a synopsis of your story. The job of a book description is to tell the reader what sort of experience they will have with your book. Your goal is not so much to give the reader a short form version of your book, but to entice them with the adventure they’ll take part in.
- You need to set up the book by describing the setting, the protagonist, the antagonist, the object of their desire, and what’s at stake if the bad guy wins. These are the primary elements for a fiction book description, and they should be used as part of selling the experience of the book. Don’t go into a lot of back story about your characters or setting, hint at troubled pasts or idyllic lives on the verge of disruption.
- In non-fiction, the job of the book description is to tell the reader what they’ll learn by reading this book, and how their lives will improve. It’s generally acceptable to include a sort of bullet list synopsis here, but keep it to no more than five bullets. Tell the reader the important things they’ll discover, and then tell them how those things will impact their lives.
Those are the basics, and they’re important.
The thing to keep in mind about writing book descriptions is it’s a specialized type of writing—a branch of marketing known as “copywriting.” Unlike writing fiction or even non-fiction books, writing copy (a fancy industry term for writing that helps to market and sell a product or service) takes a special knack.
Best practice: Hire a copywriter.
A copywriter is a professional writer who focuses on sales and marketing copy. They are trained to write persuasive text—the kind of writing that is highly targeted for the market you’re trying to reach, and which encourages that market to pick up, purchase, and read your book.
You can find skilled copywriters on Upwork.com, and also Fiverr.com. The latter, of course, is still as much of a gamble as it was for hiring cover designers. However, where Fiverr tends to get a bad rep for cover designers, it is often a place to find talented writers who are just trying to make an extra buck. Use common sense, and get multiple opinions from outside sources, and you should be fine.
The best advice, however, is to hire a writer at the top rate you can afford. Look specifically for writers who have book descriptions in their portfolios, and who have worked with clients you can actually contact for referrals. Just like any freelance business, copywriting has a spectrum of low-level performers to elite wordsmiths. The further you move to the right on that spectrum, the more you’ll have to spend. Find where you’re comfortable, and pay as much as you can possibly afford to get the best writer you’re capable of getting. It’s worth the cost.
Just like design, there’s a psychology to writing a good book description. You want someone who knows how to do the work effectively. It’s completely understandable if your budget won’t allow for an elite writer, so fall back on the best you can hire at your level, and enlist the help of friends, family, and fellow authors to improve on what your writer for hire produces.
That wraps up this first part of our two-part series. In the next post we’ll take a look at one of the most important parts of the indie publishing process: Distribution.