Myths of Publishing: Anyone Can Self-publish, Part 3

I’m continuing my series of why self-publishing isn’t for “everyone.”  If you’ve not seen the other two parts here are their links:

In today’s post, I’m going to discuss the various production tasks to help people determine if they think they can do them successfully. Let’s recap some of these roles from Part 2:

  • Author – well this one is covered, right? Whether you go self or traditional, the task of writing the book is the same and falls on your shoulders…or is it? The reason there is a question is this: When you are JUST the author, the only real concern is writing a book that you love.  If going traditional, there are “other people” who will be the gatekeepers to tell you whether you SHOULD have written that book in the first place.  But when you are the author AND the publisher, you have to weigh each project carefully. Yes, you may still write for the “love of the idea” (I do), but when wearing your “publisher” hat, you also have to concern yourself with whether there is a market or not. You may love your story about a time-traveling cat that solves murders via a telepathic link to its master, but if the market for such books is too small, then your time may be better served working on something that has greater potential. Going self-publishing means being able to think as both an “author” and “publisher.”

 

  • Structural Editor – To me, this is another area that may be a decision point between self and traditional. Let me try to explain a bit. I firmly believe that if you are the type of author that NEEDS a lot of structural editing, self is probably not the right choice for you. Unless, of course, you are able to get that help for free. While publishers may outsource copy or line editing…as well as proofreading, most structural work is done by in-house people. It is the experience and reputation of these people who is still one of the biggest advantage that a publishing house provides. These people aren’t allowed to freelance, so the only way you are going to get their services is to sign on the dotted line. When you are self-publishing, you rely on freelance help, and when it comes to freelance structural editors, they are going to fall into one of two categories. Those with a good track record, who will be VERY expensive, and those that without a track record. This second group will be more affordable, but they may do more harm than good. Structural editing is inherently subjective and that’s why it’s best left to professionals with a lot of experience in such matters. Now, it is possible to get structural editing through a network…which may include alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners. And I’ll discuss that in further detail in a future post. For this post, let’s leave it at this. If you need structural editing, and can’t get it for free, go the traditional route. Paying for bad structural editing is a big mistake, and the burden professional structural editing adds to a book’s ROI may be difficult to recoup.

 

  • Copy Editor  & Line Editor – I’m going to combine these two tasks as they are often done at the same time and by the same people. For a more detailed breakdown of editors and their roles, you can refer to my previous article: Pulling Back the Publishing Veil: Editors and Their Roles. For now, let’s define this group as those people who concern themselves with the mechanics of writing, fact-checking,  and consistency. They don’t care so much about the story itself, but, instead, focus on the mechanics of telling it clearly.  In the grammar camp, they look for noun/verb agreement, errors in punctuation, poor word choices, missing words, repetition, and overly wordy passages. Basically, all the stuff that grammar Nazis excel at. When it comes to fact checkers, they are needed in fiction and non-fiction alike. If your novel refers to the date of the moon launch, you best make sure they are correct.  And if you accidentally combine Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong into Buzz Armstrong (I did that once), a good fact checker can save you embarrassment. Lastly, the consistency aspect is going to ensure that your characters don’t magically shift ages, or that a person doesn’t stand and walk across a room twice because you later did some editing and didn’t notice the prior movement. Again, if traditionally published, these people will be part of your team, but these days, most big publishers hire freelancers for this work.  That’s good news for the self-published author because freelancers like the color of your money just as well as the publisher’s. As such, you can hire the exact same people they use.  That, of course, assumes you can pay for them…but that is another part of the equation, and something we’ll cover later.

 

  • Proofreader – This is the “last line of defense” and also ensures proper book layout.  Like copy editors and line editors, they are easy to find on the freelance market.

 

  • Cover Artist – The person who creates the photograph or illustration used to portray the cover. These people may or may not produce a final cover (with the typography for the title and author’s name). In many cases, they are more suited toward imagery and  leave it to someone else to take it to a final version.  Again, this is something you should pay for…few people can create a compelling cover on their own.  And like the editing people, we’ll discuss budgets for these people in a future post.

 

  • Cover Design – Generally these people either direct or make use of the cover artist, but they are responsible for the overall look of the book (and other books in the series). They chose fonts, effects added to the title or author’s name, determine placement of key elements and the various size of each of the components. Don’t underestimate the importance of good typography (the art of choosing fonts, sizes, and placements). Poor choices in fonts are probably the biggest indication that a book is self-published. It seems like it should be a simple thing, but it isn’t. The good news is for those who DO know how to do such things, they can generally work fast and for that reason it’s not overly expensive. Again this is fairly easy to outsource.

 

  • Layout Designer – These days the final product has to consider both print and ebook versions. Again, these are tasks that professionals can do fairly quickly and for this reason at a reasonable cost. But when professionally published, this is part of the service your partner will provide.  Again, we’ll discuss costs associated with these tasks in a future post, but for now, I want to point out that such services should be outsourced and are easy and relatively inexpensive for the self-publisher.

 

So, to wrap things up, the vast majority of these tasks can be hired out, and the skills required to find and vet these individuals was covered in Part 2.  But two of them, structural editing and writing a marketable book, will whittle down our “Everyone” pool by a few more qualifications.  So now we have:

  1. You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit – be a risk taker who would rather set off on their own than “work for the man.”
  2. You need to have exceptional project management experience, to determine what skills are needed, and how to find, vet, and hire people with those skills.
  3. The ability to analyze the market and determine the potential success of a given project.
  4. The ability to create a structurally sound book that is solid in the areas of character development & motivation, pacing, and overall plot.
Profile photo of Michael J. Sullivan
Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan is a speculative fiction writer who has written twenty-five novels and released nine. Eight of his fantasy books (The Riyria Revelations, and The Riyria Chronicles), were published by Hachette Book Group’s Orbit imprint. Hollow World, a science-fiction thriller was released by Tachyon Publications. The first four books of his new series, The First Empire, has sold to Random House’s Del Rey imprint, and the first book is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2016. He can be found on twitter, through his blog www.riyria.com, and on his facebook page and his publisher’s page for the series.

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