Friday, January 31, 2014

Adventures in Self-Publishing Part 2: The Fellowship of Self-Publishing

A wise man once said, "One does not simply walk into Mordor." He went crazy with lust for the One Ring and died full of arrows at the hands of orcs, but his general point more-or-less stands, especially when it comes to self-publishing. In this case, walking into Mordor is the process of getting your book from that really snappy manuscript you have to the even snappier hard copy or e-book, minus the hordes of orcs, the Dark Lord, and having the fate of the entire planet resting in your hobbity little hands.

With traditional publishing, the only person you have to contend with is the publisher's editor or an agent--the gatekeeper to get into the land of published authorship. You impress them with your work, and you're in, for certain values of "in". Traditional publishers have a whole horde of people whose job it is to make your book look awesome enough to be purchased, so that all you have to do is sign the contract, and then sit back and let them work this magic.

With self-publishing, however, you have to do a lot of this yourself, obviously. You need your own little fellowship of companions who take care of the various jobs involved in making your book look awesome enough to be purchased. Now, you might be able to take care of some of these jobs yourself--but that will be a hell of a lot of work. Let us look at your fellowship, shall we?


Developmental Editor

Developmental editing sounds like one of those things you can do yourself, and if you're patient it's possible that you'd be right. This part takes detachment, though, and the discipline to chainsaw out whole swaths of your manuscript and/or rewrite them if need be. If you want to take care of this yourself, you must be willing to let your manuscript hang out (in whatever format) until you have the proper detachment to perform some truly invasive surgery on the thing. This is someone who must show no mercy towards the manuscript. They must take out everything that doesn't contribute to the story. If you can't find the detachment to do that, you'll be better off hiring someone to edit for you.


Beta Reader 

The beta reader is the person you give your manuscript to once it's out of the crappy rough draft stage, the person whose job it is to give the thing a second eyeball check and a second brain check to make sure that everything fits together. You absolutely cannot do this one yourself. I can't emphasize this enough. The beta reader must be at least one step removed from the manuscript. They can be a friend whose opinion your trust, or a colleague who is interested in your writing career and wants to give you honest help. He should be able to tell you if something doesn't work, or if he finds a continuity error, or even if the story doesn't work at all. He will be your peek at your potential readerbase.



The proofreader needs to have sharp eyes, because not even Word's spelling and grammar checker will find errors like misused words, or words misspelled so they become other words. The proofreader needs to be a fresh pair of eyes who is able to go through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and look for all the tiny errors that even an experience writer might miss. My proofreader has picked up things like misused commas, wonky capitalization, continuity errors (yes, again), and vocabulary derps that my mind told me afterwards that I should have seen, but I didn't. Why? Because I knew the manuscript like the back of my hand. (Or thought I did.)


Cover Artist

 Unless you have Photoshop, a fair talent for graphic design, and hours to kill, you'll want to farm this one out. And honestly, if you had hours to kill, you be spending it writing. The cover artist's job is to make an eye-catching cover for your book that reflects what the story's about. I've seen some truly awful covers at the library where I work, and a lot of them came from professional publishing houses. Since you're doing this yourself, you have a bit more freedom to work alongside your artist to get the cover you want.



The formatter's job is to take your really awesome manuscript and make it play nicely with whatever template your self-publishing company uses so it doesn't look like ass in the finished product. CreateSpace (the company I'm using for Sheep's Clothing) offers a downloadable template for Word, so that you can just copy and paste your text in there and let it do the rest, but be prepared to actually look through the result to make sure everything looks right, or else you'll have more work later on.



Unless you have a publisher-grade printer and all the equipment you could possibly need to make a book (not likely), let someone else handle this. Seriously. Print-on-demand sites allow you to acquire as many books as you need--no more and no less--so this part shouldn't be all that hard. Let their army of professionals assemble your book.



This last role should on no account be neglected. Without proper marketing, your really awesome book will just fall by the wayside because nobody can freaking find it amongst all the big-name, big-publisher titles. This role also requires a lot of decisions: How will you get the word out? Who will you tell? What marketing materials do you want to offer? How will you reward readers that are willing to give you a shot. If you are self-publishing, you will also be self-marketing for the most part. If you're lucky you might be able to link up with a local marketing firm to take care of this for you, but this can be expensive. Telling people about your book is the best way to make sure it gets bought, and that often requires talking to complete strangers. (Dun-dun-DUNNNNN!) Just keep in mind that the more you get the word out, the better your chances of selling copies of your book.

So there you have it--the Fellowship of Self-Publishing. You can do a lot of these things yourself, but bear in mind that it will take time away from the real point of this whole exercise, your writing. With work and patience, however, you will be able to get your book out there where people (read: future fans) can read it without having to rely on a traditional publisher.

As a final note: I sincerely apologize to the J.R.R.Tolkien estate.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Overcoming Your Fear of the Sucky Rough Draft

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of a rough draft, must be in want of an editor.

This is true no matter who you are, or how long you've been writing. I've gone through the stage that it seems every writer does at some point, that the first draft must be absolutely perfect or else the story is a flaming failure. I've backtracked and edited and second-guessed myself before I even have the first draft done, and what has it gotten me? A whole lot of frustration and a lot more unfinished rough drafts.

More recently, I've reached a zen-like state of serenity in the acceptance that my rough draft might suck, but it will be done. I write that sucker as it comes and don't worry that this or that scene doesn't make sense or oh wait I need to set up this plot thread earlier on or this guy's dialogue doesn't fit his character or SHUT UP ALREADY.

Yes, I grab that yammering little Inner Critic by the collar and tell her to eff off. Why? Because the rough draft is where the Inner Writer spreads her (or his) wings. You have an idea. Awesome. You have a fully-formed idea that could be a pretty damn good story. Even more awesome. You might even have the time to write the silly thing. Beyond awesome. But if you spend all your writing time backtracking and fixing things, your Really Awesome Idea will never see the light of day.

So what if your first draft sucks? It's supposed to suck. The rough draft is where you vomit out your raw idea just to get it on the page (or screen, or whatever). When it's done, you'll be able to step back and look at how the whole story has turned out, which will give you a better idea of what things really need to be fixed.

Every professional writer (with fewer exceptions than you might think) has an editor whose job it is to get that rough draft on its way to public viewing. Even they might have sucky first drafts. There's no shame in it. Get that draft completely out of your head before you start editing and tweaking. You'll be tempted, believe me--the age of word processing programs has made this stupidly easy--but you'll feel a lot better once you get your rough draft out.

It's what you do with your sucky rough draft that will let your story really shine.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Part One - The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Hello readers! I apologize for not having updated my blog lately, but I have resolved to stay more on top of things this year.

Before getting to the meat of this blog post, I have a couple of updates. Since writing here last, I have finished my science fiction romance novel Heart of Steel and at the time of this post I am trying to publish it traditionally. More recently, I also finished a Weird West novella entitled Sheep's Clothing, and this year I will try to self-publish it, which will be the focus of the Adventures in Self-Publishing articles.

Why do I want to publish Sheep's Clothing myself? A couple of reasons:

First, I found a grand total of six publishers on Duotrope that publish Westerns. Not exactly encouraging, especially when you realize that out of these, only one or two accepted Weird Westerns. Bleh.

Second, I'm starting to become a bit discouraged with traditional publishing and want to try a different tack. I really want to get my book and my name Out There, and a lot of the trad-pubs seem to focus more on what they know will sell. (See my first point above.)

Third, I want to be able to see my book on the shelves of the library where I work. Yes, the Western section is tiny--like the Western section of any brick-and-mortar bookstore--but seeing my name on something I wrote available for checkout in the library would just be Really Really Cool.

Seems simple enough--but the truth is that I won't be able to bang out whatever and expect to just churn out a high-quality book on my own. Typos happen to everyone, even me. Editing services, cover designers, marketing plans--a lot of it will cost money, and I will have to get a good grasp of how much.

By this point I've been working alongside a marketing firm called Response! Targeted Marketing that I met via the St. Louis Writer's Guild (member since Nov 2013), and they're working on redoing my Author Website and working up a cover design for Sheep's Clothing, and I have a lead on a proofreader to give my manuscript one last pass for typo hunting. Based on my research, I've chosen CreateSpace for both print and e-books, as well as distribution through Amazon.

With this series, I will describe my journey through the Land of Self-Publishing as I work to get Sheep's Clothing to see the light of day. Wish me luck!