Self-Publishing? Don’t Phone It In!

The mechanics of book publishing are (almost) as important as the story.

Ok. Working on getting posts back to regular in the new year. It’s gonna happen, I got stalled over the holidays on subject matter. I’ve got an entry sitting that’s been written & rewritten several times and I just can’t get happy with it. So I’m moving on for now.

Today, I want to talk about self-publishing. I don’t really intend this to be a how-to, or how to decide whether or not you should. But I’ve come up with a few things that people might want to keep in mind. Because I’ve seen the results of when they don’t keep those things in mind, and it’s not pretty.

I’m going to assume that you’ve got a pretty well finished manuscript, that it’s run through your beta-readers / friends a few times, and really it’s time for you to put it out there, and for whatever reason, traditional agents & publishers aren’t in the mix for you.

In no particular order:

Editing / Copy Editing / Proofreading.

Hire a professional. Please. No matter how attentive your friends are, no matter how many times you’ve read the thing. you’ve still got typos and repeated words and things lurking that will ding you and announce to the world that your book did not pass through a few professional filters. Your book deserves better. You took the time to write it, and revise it, perhaps several times. You love your manuscript enough that you want to share it with the world. Please love it enough to buy it some professional proofreading at a bare minimum. Different levels of editing exist, and some editors offer all of these levels, at different prices.

At one end, there’s “developmental / substantive editing,” which, as it sounds, involves more attention to your story overall, thinking about story structure, the flow of the plot, and generally would cost more, at least from the quotes I’ve acquired. Be honest with yourself, your manuscript may need this big-picture set of eyes to make sure your characters and concepts line up the best they can to tell your story.

Then you’ve got “stylistic / line editing,” which takes aim at your sentence and paragraph flow, and will help make sure your voice and meaning remain clear and consistent. Are you sure you need *all* those adjectives, adverbs, and big long impressive vocabulary words? How would your story flow if read aloud?

Copy-editing, or “sentence level” editing gets into things like grammar and keeping the details consistent.

Last and never least, there’s proofreading, which will sweep up your typos and make sure your spelling and punctuation don’t make anyone cringe or tear their hair out.

Which do *you* need? Think about it hard, think about what your manuscript looks like to someone who hasn’t read it, written it, lived and breathed it for however long it took to get to this point since you wrote that first sentence.

I personally can find typos in almost anything – Time Magazine articles, traditionally published books, all over the place – except in my own work, which I’ve gone over dozens or hundreds of times. Get another set of eyes on your book.

Also note that editors can specialize in what they edit – fiction, newspaper, journals, technical, whatever. Choose appropriately.

Formatting (interior).

Whether you’re releasing your book in print form, ebook, or both, you want to make sure it looks its best. As a designer, one thing I notice many a time on self-published books is   what they do to try to maximize their use of the page. interior formatting,

Some let text fall into the gutter – the zone between the pages needs a wider margin, as you can’t lay the book flat without busting the binding. To compensate, the “inside” margin needs to be wide enough, often wider than the “outside” margin.

I’ve also seen text get as close as a quarter of an inch to the edge of the page – even at the top & bottom. Some go with a smaller font. Some squish their leading – the space between lines.

People choose to do these things in the name of reducing page count, which generally reduces your cost of printing.

Let me assure you: You are not doing yourself, your book, or anyone else any favors. Messing with these things makes the pages harder to read, increases eye strain, all of which makes your book less enjoyable. The best I can do here is ask you to pick up a big-publisher-published book and open it up. Notice how much space the eye has to rest around the page, along the sides, at the top and bottom. Notice the gutter, and how the words *don’t* fall into it. Reading a book should be a pleasant experience, not just for love of words and story, but for the object itself, at least as much as you’re able to allow it. You don’t have to go with a super fancy paper stock or a leather bound and embossed cover. But make the page something that doesn’t hurt to look at. In some cases, some print-on-demand places have something in their system that does something decent with a word or text document.

Ebooks have their own sets of issues, you lose some control on how it looks, as ereaders give the reader the option to change fonts, font size and color, and page color. But they do need to be formatted properly for electronic use, and for that needs someone who knows what they’re doing. This may in fact be included with wherever you’re publishing, they may be able to generate ebook formats automatically from your word or text document.


People judge your book by its cover. Whether they’re standing there in the book store, or surfing Amazon’s suggestions, your cover will either make them stop and look at it, or make them move along. Don’t phone it in here. Spend some time browsing in your book’s genre, and take note of your gut reaction to covers both good and bad, never mind the titles or the authors just now.

You do not want to spend a lot of time and money on editing, formatting, and then go looking for a cheap or free cover. Please do not go to some site where you can post a “job” offering $XXX for a cover and ask interested artists to do all sorts of work and then you’ll only pay for the one you like.

Some younger or less experienced or less professional artists don’t realize or care just how exploitative this is. Most artists have other things to do that come from our own creative drives. Perhaps they have a day job or spouse or parents to support them, in which case they treat this stuff like a hobby. Professionals get paid for the work they do. Perhaps consider if someone asked you and a bunch of other writers to write a synopsis or back cover text for some other book, and would only pay for the one they liked. It’s not cool.

On a personal note, with 20 years of experience, I’ve designed hundreds of covers and illustrated a few dozen. I have options for a range of budgets. Many other artists will as well. I even helped an author run a Kickstarter to raise the funds to pay me. If you have friends and family or even some fans who are cheering you on, Kickstarter is a great way to ask them to invest a little in you. Get as many people as possible in your corner to help you make your book as professional as it can be… and give it a chance to succeed.

I very recently learned of a self-published author who paid thousands of dollars to several editors for several rounds of editing, and finagled a book cover for less than $100. And none of it – the excessive editing or the meager cover – served the book well. Would Apple package the iPhone in crumpled up foil? I think not.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to “put lipstick on a pig,” by blowing everything you’ve got on the cover when the story inside has typos, inconsistencies and warts of all sorts. A fancy package may get them to buy it, but an amateur interior won’t inspire them to tell their friends about it, and may cause them to say exactly what they think in a review on Amazon.

Each of these things are important, so weigh them all accordingly and in balance. Self-publishing is not a magical situation where an author rakes in all the profits without investing a dime in finishing the product properly. You might get a few sales, but chances are you won’t get far if any of these things are out of whack. So get the odds stacked in your favor as much as you’re able.

Your manuscript deserves the best, doesn’t it? So start saving those nickels or plotting that Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding adventure)!

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