A few months ago, I got the opportunity to read and review Anchored by Rachel Haimowitz (see review here). I hadn’t had much success with M/M romances until this story. Awesome read! Today she’s joined us to give us a leg up on self-publishing. 🙂 Thank you, Rachel.
So You Want to Publish a Novel . . .
Anyone who’s surfed round the writing blogosphere this past year has no doubt heard quite a bit about self-publishing. Via Amazon.com’s digital text platform, B&N’s PubIt!, Smashwords, Createspace, and specialty stores like AllRomanceEbooks opening their doors to indie and self-pubbed authors, anyone with talent, marketing skills, and the right presentation has a shot at becoming the next Amanda Hocking . . . or at least at paying the cable bill each month with your royalties.
But what I haven’t seen in my online trawling were posts addressing the how of it. And I don’t mean how to write a novel, or how to use PubIt!, or how to leverage Smashwords for file conversion. I mean how to hire a good editor, a good cover artist, a good layout artist, a good proofreader, maybe even a good marketing consultant. And if you think you can get away without any one of these things (except the marketing consultant—you can self-educate pretty quickly to do that job if you’re willing to put in the time), then you’re kidding yourself. You might sell a dozen poorly edited or poorly presented copies, maybe even a hundred, but those customers won’t come back for your next book, or recommend the one they bought to friends. Packaging a book is a team effort. I’m here today to talk about how to find that team.
Working Both Sides of the Fence
This is the point at which I, as a reader, would be wondering, And just who the heck are you? So, a little bit about my experiences in this regard:
Though I’ve published with three houses, I also chose to self-publish some contemporary BDSM stories in a book called Sublime: Collected Shorts. I gave away a thousand free copies in its first week, then began selling it for $2.99 via Smashwords (where I did all my file conversions to multiple formats), Amazon, B&N, and AllRomanceebooks.com (ARe). Since its January release, I’ve sold a modest 250-or-so copies—nice pocket change for not having to split my income with a publishing house. I blame the vast majority of these sales on artist/author L.C. Chase’s excellent cover.
On the other side of the fence—that of a freelancer doing work, rather than an author seeking to hire—I have been copyediting, developmental editing, proofreading, and project managing for almost a decade. I’ve done substantive edits on two self-published projects that went on to land six-figure publishing contracts with major houses (Don’t Get Caught with Your Skirt Down by Jill Keto, and Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness by Ellen Dolgen). I’ve hired subcontractors (researchers, outliners, rough drafters, proofreaders, transcriptionists, etc.) with client permission when my own schedule was overloaded or the client needed fast turnaround. I know my way around the freelance marketplace as both an employer and an employee.
Who You Need
Developmental Editor: If you’re planning to self-publish, the first thing you need is a good editor. No, make that a great editor. And I don’t mean someone who will just find all your typos (although make sure you get a person to do that too, because nothing screams “AMATEUR!” to readers like a book full of misplaced commas and dangling modifiers). I mean a developmental editor: someone who will gut your story on a structural level, point out issues with character, plot, flow, pacing, tone, POV, word choice, authorial voice, authenticity, logic checks, the whole nine yards. This may involve you restructuring the whole story, reordering things, cutting whole chapters or even whole characters or plot points, etc. etc. Even the most seasoned authors need this kind of help; unless you are some rare unicorn of an Olympic-class talent who has worked and trained for this your whole life, don’t assume you’re somehow magically above it.
Copyeditor: Once that process is done—and don’t rush it, it can take weeks or even months to do right—the next step is line edits. The bones of your story are all nice and shiny, and now it’s time to smooth out the musculature atop those bones. A line (or copy) editor will go through with a metaphoric (or actual) red pen and address issues in your text sentence by sentence. The idea here is to fix issues without stepping on the author’s voice or style, so a good copyeditor will write a great many queries (for instance, “This is your eighth sentence fragment in as many paragraphs; is it a deliberate style choice or an oversight?”). They’ll also fix the obvious things without querying (for instance, changing “two” to “too”—a mistake that neither your spellchecker nor a proofreader would find). Whether the copyeditor queries or simply fixes issues in between (things like word choice, non-conventional punctuation or sentence structure, extra “that”s, head-hopping or other POV slips, etc.) will depend on the rules you’ve established and the level of trust between you.
Another essential function of the copyeditor is to enforce uniform style. This doesn’t necessarily mean CMS (Chicago Manual of Style)—though that’s the style guide of record for most fiction presses. What it does mean is that your manuscript must remain consistent to itself, whatever style you choose or adapt or even invent. Want to use “towards” instead of “toward” even though you’re American? Fine; a good copyeditor will make sure you spell it the same each time. Have your own made-up fantasy language or a habit of spelling out the number three instead of using a numeral? Again, fine; a good copyeditor will enforce that internal rule. Any copyeditor worth her salt will even make something called a style sheet—a list of every non-conventional usage in the document—to facilitate consistency.
Sound like a giant pain in the ass? Now you know why you need professional help.
Proofreader: The last editorial step is proofreading. A proofreader generally does nothing but ensure proper use of punctuation (not grammar—that’s for the copyeditor) and formatting. She’ll make sure your commas are inside the quotation marks (unless you’re in the UK, in which case she’ll make sure they’re outside), make sure all your scene breaks and chapter breaks are handled with the same number of blank lines or centered asterisks or whatever you’ve chosen to use, make sure your footnotes (if you have them) are formatted correctly, make sure the page numbers in your table of contents line up to the correct pages on which your chapters start, etc.
Sometimes, you’ll find an editor (like me) who can do all three of these jobs. More frequently, you’ll find it’s best to hire different individuals for different jobs. Sometimes it’s a matter of qualifications (the best developmental editor in the world might not be able to line edit or proofread to save their lives), and sometimes it’s a matter of cost (a qualified developmental editor will charge three to five times as much per hour as a qualified proofreader). Often, it’s a matter of both.
Tune in for Part 2 to learn about layout and cover artists, and how much you can expect to pay for artist and editor services. And if you have any questions about what I’ve discussed so far, or wish to add to (or argue with) my information, please leave a comment. I’d love to discuss!
Rachel is an M/M erotic romance author and a freelance writer and editor. She originally dipped her toes into cable news and book publishing, decided the water was cold and smelled kinda funny, and moved on to help would-be authors polish and publish, write for websites and magazines, and ghostwrite nonfiction.
Currently she has a contemporary BDSM collection (Sublime: Collected Shorts) and two M/M erotic romance novels (a high fantasy adventure titled Counterpoint: Book One of Song of the Fallen, and a modern-day slavery alternate universe story titled Anchored: Belonging Book One) in print. Her third novel, Crescendo: Book II of Song of the Fallen, will release in the fall of 2011 with Guiltless Pleasure Publishing; and her first novella, an M/M cyberpunk story co-written with Aleksandr Voinov titled Break and Enter, will release with Samhain Publishing around December of 2011.
You can find Rachel at RachelHaimowitz.com, tweeting as RachelHaimowitz, chatting in the Goodreads forums, and blogging at Rachel-Haimowitz.blogspot.com. She loves to hear from folks, so feel free to drop her a line anytime at metarachel (at) gmail (dot) com.