Monday, June 29, 2009

Building your self-publishing team

Although it doesn’t “take a village” to publish a book, you will probably need more than just yourself to be a self-publisher. Here’s the cast of characters:

The writer is probably you, but not necessarily so. It’s possible that you have a great story to tell, or important information or a valuable new insight to deliver to the world, but you’re just not a good writer. Maybe you just don’t have the time to write. In these cases you need a ghostwriter, or maybe a co-author. The cost of hiring a ghostwriter will depend on the length of the book, the complexity of your topic, research and other preparation, and the ability and experience of the ghost. You could pay $5,000 or $50,000, or even more. You’ll probably have to pay this even if you sell just a few copies of your book, so consider hiring a ghostwriter very carefully. One source of ghostwriters is

The editor could be you, but shouldn’t be. Obviously it’s important that you read, re-read, and re-read some more to polish your text to near perfection. However, it’s a fundamental fact of writing that the creator of the words will never catch all of the errors. You will think you are reading words that are really in your mind and not on the screen or on the paper. You will fall in love with certain words or phrases that are really unlovable. Maybe some words, sentences, paragraphs or whole chapters should be shifted, chopped or even eliminated completely. These are choices best left to someone other than the creator.

There are several kinds of editing, that can be done by one or more people.

Copyediting (or “copy editing” or “copy-editing”) is looking for and fixing all of the tiny errors that infect every written work. A skilled copyeditor has good vision to spot typographical errors, is an excellent speller and a perfect grammarian. She should have an excellent memory to notice inconsistencies, such as “3 a.m.” on one page and “5PM” on the next.

Copyeditors generally follow specific semi-official “styles” for writing, promulgated in such books as the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The Chicago Manual of Style. The books dictate such things as capitalization, abbreviations and hyphens. Sometimes they agree with each other. Sometimes they don’t. And you may not agree with any of them.

As editor and publisher, you can set up your own style, and perhaps modify it with the help of your copyeditor who may have more sense than you do.

Don’t even dream on relying on your spell checker to do the work of a copyeditor.

Copyediting fees can be based on the size of the work, the time involved, or just a negotiated flat fee. If your book is technical and requires specialized knowledge or familiarity with the subject, expect to pay more.

A typical range is $250 to $1,000. This is not a job for a neighbor or a relative. If you need to save money, see if you can hire an editor from a local newspaper, including a good college paper, rather than a full-time professional copyeditor. Check references, and read some examples of her or his work.

Copy editors don’t need to be familiar with your subject and may not even need to understand what you are writing about. They work on the micro level, not macro.

A word of warning: no copyeditor is perfect. None will catch every error, and some may actually insert errors where there were none before. Read. Read. Read.

Hard editing is an effort to actually improve what you’ve written, not just correct little errors.

After working as a writer and editor for over 40 years, I don’t bother paying someone to hard edit my work. However, I do admit that after seeing my finished books I sometimes wish that I had someone looking over my shoulder to ask, “Are you sure you want to include that?” or “Is that what you really mean to say?”

A copyeditor can work on just a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, but a hard editor should get to know the entire book before actually editing.

While the hard editor probably won’t contribute more than a few words, and is not a co-author, she or he may suggest major changes in structure, particularly rearranging sequences, changing viewpoints (from first-person to third, for example), emphasizing or playing down characters or events, killing or adding material, etc.

A hard editor may be paid by the word, page, hour or project. Typical fees are $25 to $50 per hour, $1,000 per book, and two cents per word.

You may save money if your hard editor is also your copy editor, but be careful. The hard editing process may cause errors that copy editing should remove.

Technical editing is essentially fact checking, and is not necessary for all books. If your book deals with Renaissance art or the Cold War, you better hire someone who is intimately familiar with Michelangelo or the Warsaw Pact, and is familiar with reliable reference works.

Technical editors don’t work only on technical books. They might get involved in cookbooks or historical novels — any book that could be tainted by incorrect information. You can pay a few bucks per page, or hundreds or even thousands per book.

Proofreading is not the same as editing, but is related. At one time, a proofreader would simultaneously view the author’s original manuscript and a near final “proof” provided by the printer. He or she would constantly look from the original to the copy to try to spot and mark errors.

Today when there is little chance of a printer inducing an error, especially with independent self-publishing where the author produces a PDF file that is the source of the printed page. Therefore, modern proofreading is usually just a “final inspection” before the printer starts turning out books to be sold to readers.

The author should certainly proofread, but it’s a good idea to have at least one additional set of eyes to look over your proofs. Do your best, but don’t expect to catch every error. It’s extremely unusual for a published book to be error-free. If you strive for absolute perfection, your books will never reach the market. It took me a long time to accept this, and I’ll pass along some hard-learned and valuable advice: Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. At some point you have to let go.

Another tip: proofread in multiple formats: on screen in word-processing, on screen in PDF, in a printout from your PC, and in a bound book from your book printer. Different errors will show up in each format.

Good inexpensive proofreading can be had for $10 per hour if you get English majors or journalism majors from a local college.

The interior designer could be you, or a professional. Someone has to devise (or copy) a standard for the way your pages will look. This includes typefaces, type sizes, margins, indents, subheads, decorations, etc. — all of the little touches that makes a book look unique, or like another book.

Before you commit to a designer (or to your own design) look through a lot of books and try to understand what makes them appealing or unappealing.

Sometimes a stupid mistake can kill the reading experience. I own a book called Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning. I love reading about words and thought I would get a lot of pleasure out of it. Unfortunately my prime emotions are frustration and outrage.

Some unnamed book designer chose to use a smaller-than-normal page size, and in order to squeeze in all of author Sol Steinmetz’s text into a reasonable number of small pages, she or he chose a tiny type face that looks like what gets printed on the back of a credit card. When I was in advertising, this mini-printing was scorned as “FLY SHIT.” It has no place in a mass-market book.

Consider your market when your book is designed. There are special editions of large-type books for people with visual impairments, but the simple act of aging can make bigger letters more appealing. My first self-published book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, was aimed at my fellow baby-boomers. The oldest of us were born in 1946. I chose to use 13-point type instead of the smaller and more common 12-point size.

The cover designer determines what the exterior package of your books will look like. Book cover design is a very specific endeavor best left to those who have done it, and done it well, in the past. Expect to pay from $250 to $2,000, or even more. IMPORTANT WARNING: Don’t forget to have the copyeditor and proofreader closely examine the cover. Errors can hide anywhere. My website address was misspelled on an early proof of my first book.

A photographer could be you or another amateur, or a professional. She or he will provide any specific photos you need for the interior or front or rear cover. A pro will probably want from $250 to several thousand bucks. For the cover, it’s really important that photos are first-class.

An illustrator will provide any drawings, graphs, etc. needed to help you explain concepts in your text, or perhaps to provide the main graphic image for your front cover. You could pay anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars for original artwork.

Stock photos, sometimes called clip art, may be a good alternative to just-for-you photos and illustrations, and will cost much less. Be aware that they are not exclusively yours, so try to choose something that won’t likely appear on a competing book cover. BE AWARE that some clip art, particularly in big inexpensive collections online or on disk, is not supposed to be used for commercial purposes, like books. I’ve been very pleased with the stock photos I’ve obtained from I paid about $60 for one used for a book cover, but just four bucks for another cover shot. If I didn’t find it, I would have probably had to pay $1000 for a photographer and model.

The team up at the top was sponsored by the Bellingham Bay Brewery in the early 20th century. They have nothing to do with publishing, but I like the photo.

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