One question I get asked alot is - 'how do I edit my own book?'
If you are going to successfully self-edit your own novel then it is essential that you take one important step: stop thinking like a writer.
Or, to be more accurate: if you are going to self-edit your own novel with any level of success, then you need to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like an editor.
I am not suggesting this is easy (or even enjoyable) but it is the first important step in the process of becoming a self-editor.
OK, so how to move from 'how do I edit my own book?' to becoming a self-editor?
Well the best place to begin is with your manuscript. You need to stop seeing your Word doc as a magical spell that creates wonderful stories, but instead see it as a ‘technical’ document that can be formatted in a certain way that creates the maximum possible engagement with the writer.
Less romance, more reality.
The result of seeing your manuscript as a collection of formats, systems and ‘rules’ is that you can start to enforce some best practices and consistency to your writing.
In this article, you will discover the checklist that we use at BubbleCow to help prepare a manuscript for editing. It contains a number of repeatable steps that can be used to help lift your novel to a higher standard. If you follow these steps your book will not only read better and contain fewer errors, but will also be easier to convert to ebook format.
Why Listen To Me?
I run a busy professional editing company called BubbleCow which deals with hundreds of edits per year. We’ve been running since 2007 and over the years I have discovered that the key to consistent high quality editing is good training, good communication and clear systems.
One problem that we have identified is that not all manuscripts come to us at the same technical standard. This means that editing can be difficult since you need to start at a different point for each book.
I realised that we needed a way to make sure that all manuscripts were at the same editorial point when editing started. This way editors would not need to worry about missing vital steps.
The solution was to create a system (in this case a checklist) that allowed all of the essential-yet-routine parts of the pre-edit to be completed with the minimum amount of hassle. Before each edit begins in earnest, the editor follows the checklist and applies each step to the manuscript on which they are working.
The result is a consistent, high quality service.
What Does The List Look Like?
Our Pre-Edit Checklist (that’s what we call it) is nothing too exciting; it is just a list of tasks that must be completed before an edit can start.
However, don’t be fooled by the simplicity - this little list is more powerful than it seems.
The list has been designed to ensure that each manuscript receives the same careful attention and that nothing is missed.
There’s nothing more comforting for an editor to know that if they follow a simple list of tasks they will be able to start editing in the confidence that they have removed many of the simple problems.
Why This Helps You
In a recent conversation with a writer whose book I was editing, I talked about our Pre-Edit Checklist and explained that it helped prepare each manuscript for editing. I talked about how it had transformed the way we edit, making the process smoother and more accurate. They were excited to hear what I was saying but was surprised that we hadn’t published the list, allowing writers to benefit from our knowledge and expertise.
This seemed like a great idea and this article is the result.
The aim of the article is to give you a solid base from which you can self-edit their own writing.
The W Word
Before we get onto the list, there’s just a little word of warning.
I get that there’s a debate over the ‘best’ word processor for writers and, to be honest, I am not really for weighing in on this argument. What I do want to say is that, at BubbleCow, we use Word for all of the editing we carry out.
The reason is simple. We have found that Word is by far the best word processing software when it comes to editing tools. It tends to be fast and easy to use once you have a grasp of the tools. As a result, this list assumes that you are using Word. This said, all of the items in the checklist will still work with most word processing packages.
The Pre-Edit Checklist
1. Check you have a backup copy - Before you start editing, make sure that you have created a backup copy of your manuscript. This way you will end up with an unedited and edited version. As a side note, we use Dropbox to backup all of our edits. They not only have a free option, but they also have ‘version control’, which means you can often rescue text you’ve accidentally deleted.
2. Turn tracked changes off - This is a point aimed more at professional editors, but I know many writers that like to edit using tracked changes. However, even if you do intend to use tracked changes, it is important that you ensure that they are turned off at this point. The reason is that If you leave them, the next steps in this list will potentially produce thousands of changes you’ll have to manually accept or reject.
3. Turn nonprinting characters on - The ability to turn non-printing symbols on or off is still not common knowledge. If you click the ‘Home’ ribbon in Word you will see in the center the symbol for nonprinting characters. You need to ensure this is on. Once clicked you will be able to see loads of formatting symbols in your text that are there to help editors but that won’t show in the final manuscript. These include paragraph breaks, manual line breaks, spaces and page breaks.
4. Check line spacing - As a rule we find it is best to edit at 1.5 line spacing. This is more to do with ease of reading. The way that the spacing is changed is to highlight the whole manuscript (ctrl A) and then right click and press ‘paragraph’. In the spacing section hit the ‘line spacing’ box and set to 1.5 lines. Once the edit is complete, feel free to change back to the line spacing of your choice.
5. Check indentation - The correct way to indent a manuscript is for the first paragraph of each new chapter to be flush and the remaining paragraphs to be indented. The way that the indentation is changed is to highlight the whole manuscript (ctrl A) and then right click and press ‘paragraph’. In the indentation section hit the ‘special’ box and set to ‘first line’. You can alter the indentation size in the next box. Please note that this will indent ALL paragraphs. You may need to go back and remove the indentations from chapter headings and the first paragraph of each chapter.
6. Remove double paragraph breaks - Paragraph breaks are what appear in your manuscript when you press Enter or Return. They indicate that a paragraph is complete. It is not uncommon for writers to separate paragraphs with two paragraph breaks (hitting return/enter twice). There’s no need to do this. If you are looking for space between paragraphs this can be added at the conversion stage. More importantly, many ebook conversion processes will strip out the extra ‘white space’ and using two breaks can cause potential problems.
7. Remove double spaces - In the days of typewriters it was often considered that adding double spaces between sentences was the best practice, but this is no longer the case. Single spaces are enough. At some point down the line, someone (a typesetter or person doing ebook conversion) will need to remove the extra white space, so it is best that you solve this problem now.
8. Replace exclamation marks with periods (full stops) - The overuse of exclamation marks is considered a sign of weak writing. You should use the context of the surrounding paragraphs to show the reader any ‘shock.’ The problem you face is that most exclamation marks will be in speech and in most cases it will be ok to replace the with a full stop. However, in some cases other punctuation will be more appropriate (comma, question mark etc.). Therefore you have two options. The first step for both options is to use the find/replace tool to find all exclamation marks. You then have two choices. You can either do a manual ‘find next’ and replace each with the correct punctuation. The second option is to just replace all with a full stop and then pick up the mistakes when you edit the manuscript.
9. Check chapter breaks - One essential element of the ebook conversion process is the ability to identify the start and end of chapters. The best way to do this is to use page breaks. To do this, first find the end of a chapter. You must then place the cursor at the end of the last sentence of the chapter. Once you are happy the cursor is correctly placed, click the ‘insert’ ribbon. On the left hand side of the screen you will see a icon for ‘page break.’ Just hit this once.
10. Check ellipses - An ellipsis is the three dots that are used to indicate the omission of a word, or perhaps a pause. You need to make sure that these are three dots in length. The problem editors face is that the ‘correct’ way to present an ellipsis is . . . (dot space dot space dot). Now, the issue is that many ebook conversion tools will not recognise this format. The ebook language (html) already has its own symbol for an ellipsis and that’s … (dot dot dot - no spaces). Therefore, it is just better in the long run to make sure you are using the version with three dots and no spaces. To fix this run a find and replace that ‘finds’ . . . and ‘replaces’ with …
11. Turn tracked changes on - This is optional - naturally it is essential for our editors but less so for self-editing writers.
A Word Of Warning
It may not seem much, but these eleven items are deceptively powerful. They will give you a framework from which you can start each edit, as well as providing you with the confidence that you are starting from the best possible point.
This all said, it is not all unicorns and roses. I just want to say a little about the dangers of using checklists. You will find that, as you become familiar with the contents of the list, that it is easy to just assume you have followed all the steps. This is dangerous and here’s why...
When we first introduced this list at BubbleCow it was emailed to our editors and they were asked to use it for each edit. We are only a small team and we were all in agreement that the checklist was a good thing. It worked great for the first couple of months. There was a noticeable drop in little errors being missed and editors reported that the initial phases of the editing process were now much more enjoyable. However, this ‘honeymoon’ period didn’t last long and after a few months we started to see little inconsistencies creeping back into edits. These should have been picked up by the checklist.
I went back and chatted with our editors and it turned out that we were all making the same mistake. We were so aware of the list, and had become so familiar with its content, that we were just assuming we had followed all the steps. In our familiarity we’d been missing steps.
The solution was simple. We decided to print out the list for each edit and then physically tick off the steps as they were completed.
Overnight the errors disappeared.
The moral of the story is that complacency is the killer.
If you are interested in using lists, and want to find out more, I’d suggest you read Atul Gawande’s excellent book, The Checklist Manifesto.
When a book publisher offers a book deal to a new author, the contract will talk about ‘advances’ and ‘royalties’. These can be a little confusing to new authors, though a little bit of knowledge will go a long way to helping you fully understand what you are being offered.
In this article, you will learn about royalties and advances, you will discover what is usual for a book publisher to offer and you will find out how the publishing world is changing the way it provides advances and royalties.
This article has been written as a very basic guide and is designed to give new authors a feel for what they can expect. Royalties and advances are complex in nature and it is something that you should discuss with your agent or an independent publishing professional.
What Is a Royalty?
When working with big or independent publishers, the first step in the publishing journey will be for the publisher to offer you a contract. In this contract, they will stipulate the royalty that you will be paid.
This royalty is the amount of money you will get per book you sell. The figure in your contract will be quoted as a percentage.
For example, your contract may say that you will get 10% of each book sale.
Published Price or Price Received?
There are two types of royalty: published price and price received.
A royalty that is linked to the published price will be based on the price that the book is sold to the final customer, the reader. For example, if you are offered a 10% royalty and your book is sold in a book shop for $10, then you get $1 per book sold.
A royalty that is linked to the price received will be based on the price that the book is sold to the retailer, the bookseller. For example, if you are offered a 10% royalty and your book is sold to the book shop for $10, then you get $1 per book sold. If makes no difference what the price the book is sold to the reader, your royalty is based on the price to the bookseller.
The type of royalty you will be offered will depend on the genre but as a very rough rule of thumb, academic books tend to use price received, whilst books sold to the general public mostly use published price.
How Much Royalty?
The amount of royalty you will be offered depends on many factors, such as genre, your position as a writer, the size of the advance, your agent’s ability to negotiate, to name just a few factors.
As a super general rule a 10% royalty would be a good deal.
The royalty paid on hard back books tends to be a few percentage points higher than paperback books, and you may find you have a very low percent for books that are sold at extremely discounted prices. It is also not uncommon to see a sliding scale with your percentage cut increasing as the number of book sold increases, though this tends not to kick in until around the 10,000 book mark.
The royalty will define how much cash you get per book. However, some publishes will give authors an ‘advance’ on the amount of royalties they feel a book will sell. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the advance, the more confident the publisher will be of the book’s success.
A word of warning. You have probably heard talk of six figure (or more) deals being offered for books. These are very rare and tend to only be offered to authors that either have a huge track record (think Rowling) or massive public interest (think A list celebrity). The reality for most authors is that advances are significantly less.
So what can you expect?
The answer is that it is hard to tell. As with royalties many factors come into play. Your track record is important, as is your agent’s ability to negotiate, genre also plays a part. However, advances between $5000 and $20,000 are not uncommon. An experience mid-list writer, with a track record of sales, may expect around the $50,000 mark, though it may be much less.
Over the past ten years the royalties paid to authors have reduce significantly. Authors that were seeing $50,000 advances ten years ago can now often expect much less.
It is also not uncommon to hear of deals with zero advances. These tends to be with independent publishers, rather than big publishers. If no advance is offered, the royalty paid tends to be higher. It is also not uncommon for some writers to negotiate a deal with zero advance but an increased royalty rate.
One term you may come across in regards to an advance is ‘earning out’. This is a phrase the publishing industry use for a book that has sold enough copies to earn back the original advance for the author. For example, if an author receives a $10,000 advance they would need to earn $10,000 in royalties before they paid off their advance.
So what happens if a book fails to pay off its advance?
In this situation, it is the publisher that has to cope with the loss. The author would not be expected to repay any of the advance. However, there is a knock on effect. Authors that received notable advances and then fail to earn out, will be considered a ‘risk’ for future books. A big advance might seem desirable for authors but this is not always the case. If an author is looking to make a career in writing, they are better to have advances that roughly equal the amount they will earn in the first year of sales from royalties.
One type of contract, which has become increasingly popular, is the profit share contract. These tend to differ from publisher-to-publisher, but they operate on the same basic principle.
When a book is published, it will require a certain amount of initial investment: editorial, printing, marketing etc. In a profit share deal, royalties are paid until the book’s sales have covered the cost of production. However, after this point, the profits are then split 50/50 between the publisher and author.
For books that sell a lot of copies (have a few large print runs), these deals can be very profitable for the author. However, for books that sell less copies and have many smaller print runs, the publishing costs can spiral out of control and it can be the case that even though a book is selling, the profit is small once the costs have been deducted.
In summary, we have seen that there are two types of royalties: Published Price or Price Received. Typically, an author will be getting about 10% of the price of the book sale. They may also get an advance on the royalties. These advances can be profitable for the author, but should reflect a realistic prediction of sales.
There’s a good chance that if you have spent any time looking at publishing options for your book, that’ll you have come across the term ‘hybrid publishing’. This is a relatively new term and worthy of some clarification.
In this article, you’ll discover what hybrid publishing means, you’ll uncover the pros and cons of hybrid publishing, and you’ll find out if hybrid publishing is right for you.
What is Hybrid Publishing?
The term hybrid publishing has started to be used more commonly in recent years. It is a term authors give to a publishing career that encompasses books that are both self-published and published by traditional publishing companies.
For example, let’s say you write your first novel. It’s a thriller about a maverick cop trying to catch a serial killer. You pitch your book to a handful of agents, but get no positive replies. After six months, you decide that self-publishing is the best option.
Your book sells well and it spurs you on to write a sequel. Your first thought is to self-publish the second book, but you decide to give agents one more try. This time you have some success and an agent agrees to represent your book. They find a small independent publisher that wants to publish your book and you secure a book deal. The book is published and sells OK. You enjoy the process.
You now have the writing bug and decide to write a collection of short stories. You talk to your agent and they feel that though they like your book, it is not ‘commercial’ enough for them. You both agree that self-publishing will be the best option.
This example is a great illustration of hybrid publishing. The author is picking the option that is best for their book at each step of the process. They end up with a career that sees books both self-published and published by traditional publishers.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hybrid Publishing?
The nature of hybrid publishing means that for many authors it is more of an evolution than a revolution. Writers tend to ease themselves into the process as they try to find the best options for their books. This said, there are a few elements that need to be considered.
One advantage of hybrid publishing is the flexibility it brings to an author. It means that, at no point, is an author tied into any one option. It gives authors a freedom from the demands of publishers. It also means that an author is never left in a situation where a book they have written has no publishing ‘home’.
The flip side of flexibility is instability. The fact that an author has no one clear path to publication means that each book is faced with a certain level of instability - Will the agent like it? Will they find a publisher? Should they self-publish? It also means that an author may struggle to build a long term relationship with both their agent and publisher, who may feel a little aggrieved that they choose to opt for self-publishing.
Is Hybrid Publishing Right for You?
The reality of hybrid publishing is that an author often drifts into it out of necessity, rather than choice. It tends to come about when an author is unable to secure a deal with an agent/publisher and turns to self-publishing. The other path is the opposite, where an author has been self-publishing and then finds an agent/publisher interested in their work. It is not uncommon for agents to ‘follow’ the Amazon charts and approach the bestselling self-publishing authors with potential traditional book deals.
Hybrid publishing is becoming increasingly common and this trend looks set to continue. The traditional publishing industry are looking to the self-publishing world for the ‘next big thing’, whilst authors are comfortable with switching between both traditional and self-publishing.
In summary, the choice to opt for the hybrid publishing path is probably one that you will take out of necessity rather than desire. The good news is that hybrid publishing is pushing the power back into the hands of authors. Traditionally published authors are painfully aware that self-publishing is now a very viable option for many writers. It is only a matter of time before we see big authors opting to bypass a big publisher and publish their own work.
In this article, you’ll discover the role of an agent, you’ll find out what an agent is looking for in an author and you’ll learn why agents are essential to pursuing a traditional publishing career.
The Role of an Agent
Most authors understand that agents are essential in the traditional publishing process, but not everyone understands what it is they will do for your career. Agents play a number of critical roles.
The first role that agents fulfill is to act as gatekeepers. It is their job to filter potential authors and present only the most suitable to publishers. It is worth mentioning that ‘quality’ of books presented to an agent is not the deciding factor on whether they feel they are worthy of representation. It is true that if your book is of poor quality; it will almost certainly be rejected but this is not always the case. Agents and publishers will not shy away from very heavy editing or even using a ghostwriter to turn a badly written book into something they can publish.
The key factor that decides if an agent is interested in a book is what they call ‘commerciality’. This is the book’s potential to sell thousands of copies. When an agent says a book is ‘commercial’ they mean it has a wide appeal to readers. This means that if you have a commercial idea, quality is less important. This is why you get ghostwriters writing celebrity biographies. The latest sport star might have a great story but no ability to write. No problem, the agent will find a ghostwriter.
However, for most authors a book must possess two qualities. It must be commercial and of a high enough standard that it will not require too much work to prepare it for publication.
Publishers don’t have the resources to screen out commercial novels from the slush pile and, therefore, rely on agents.
The second role of an agent is to understand what publishers want from new books. Publishers are constantly assessing the books they publish and making predictions on where the market will go. They are looking for trends and to build on the success of previous books. This means that publishers will often have a checklist of books they are seeking.
For example, let’s say that a publisher feels that supernatural romance is a developing genre. They’ve seen lots of books that focus on romance and vampires and even romance and werewolves. One publisher now feels that romance and mermaids will be the next trend. They will, therefore, be looking for a mermaid romance novel.
This is where agents come into play. Publishers and agents talk all the time. An agent is constantly listening to publishers and storing away the kinds of books they are seeking. In fact, this is one of an agent’s biggest strengths, they know what publishers want.
Let’s go back to our example.
Our publisher has decided they want a mermaid romance book. They go to lunch with an agent and they tell the agent about this trend. The agent comes away knowing what the publisher wants. This means that if the following week they see a submission from a writer who is pitching a mermaid romance, then a deal might just be waiting to happen.
The third key role of an agent is in negotiating deals. Assuming that you have written a book that is of interest to a publisher, the time will come to do a deal. This is where agents earn their money. They know what is a typical deal, they know what clauses you want in the contract and they will be able to push the publisher for the best deal. They will also be able to do this without harming your relationship with the publisher. Once the deal has been signed the agent will step to one side and you will work with the publisher directly. The last thing you want is this relationship to be soured by the previous negotiation.
The forth role of an agent is to act as a barrier between you and the publisher. Once the deal has been completed and the publishing process starts, there will be lots of little issues that will come up. One thing an agent will be able to do is to handle these problems on your behalf. They will be able to talk openly and honestly with the publisher and resolve any problems. They will also be able to tell you when things that are happening are normal and when things are going wrong. The result is that you will be able to focus on maintaining a healthy and positive relationship with your publisher.
The final key role of an agent is to make sure you get paid. An agent will ensure that a publisher is living up to their side of the contract. They will chase royalties and make sure they are correct (it is not unusual for publishers to make mistakes). They will also ensure that the less common clauses of the contract are being fulfilled. For example, it is not unusual for an advance to be split into at least two stages (if not more). This is normally half on signing and the rest of delivery. The agent will make sure you get the cash they have promised, when they have promised.
What Agents Want to See in an Author
Having the ‘right’ book is only part of the process and is not the complete picture. In order for a writer to be an attractive proposition for an agent they must tick a number of boxes.
In a recent article in The Bookseller (11 November 2016, page 7), UK agent Ed Victor outlined what it was he was looking for in a writer.
‘Victor has three criteria for taking on an author, he says: personality, the quality of the book and its money making potential. Any one of those three will swing it.
“If there is a person I really like and want to be close to, whose work is OK but doesn’t make very much money, I’ll do it. If there is another, one who has written an extraordinary book, [even if] it won’t make a lot of money I’ll do it, because I love books. And if there is a book by someone who is not wonderful, and the book is not particularly good, but it is going to make a lot of money, I owe it to my company to do it.”’
Why Agents Are Essential
If you are looking to make a living from publishing with traditional publishers, then an agent is an essential part of the process. However, if you are still undecided, here’s three points to consider:
An agent will know things about publishers you never will. Not only do they know what books they are looking to publish but they also know the staff and internal politics. Agents ‘get’ publishers and know how they tick, they know the up and coming editors and the editors that should be avoided. Agents are the only people that will be able to give you honest advice about how to navigate the publishing process.
The second point to ponder is that you can’t get near a big publisher without an agent. You will be able to build a reputation without an agent, by focusing on approaching smaller independent publishers, but if you want to speak to the big boys then you will require an agent.
The final point is that agents will stop you making mistakes and this is not just from a financial viewpoint. An agent will hold your hand during the publishing process. They will provide advice and give you guidance on how to progress your career. They are one of the few people in the publishing world that will have your best interests at heart. After all, the better you do the more cash they make.
I want to end this article with one word of warning and that is that not all agents are created equal. If you are looking for an agent the focus should be on long established agencies located in the ‘publishing’ city of your country (e.g. New York and London). There are many great ‘solo’ agents but if you are offered a deal from a solo agent then approach with caution. There is one great question you can ask that will help separate the wheat from the chaff and that is, ‘can you give me a list of your clients?’ A successful agent will be doing book deals for writers that are selling books. Do your research, check up on the agent and do some googling of their clients. You are looking for an active agent (one doing deals) that represents writers from your genre, who are selling books.
In summary, an agent is an essential part of the traditional publishing process. I started my writing career working as a researcher and editor in the popular Horrible Histories series. This opened a number of publishing doors and I was able to secure five or six book deals without an agent. However, it was not until I found an agent that my writing career really started to take off. I now have more than twenty books in print with more in the pipeline.
Though the choice to self-publish has become increasingly common, it still poses a huge leap for many authors.
In this article, you’ll discover what is involved in self-publishing your book, you’ll find out the pros and cons of self-publishing and you’ll see if self-publishing is right for you.
What Does Self-Publishing Involve?
Before you can make an informed choice as to whether self-publishing is the best option for your book, you first need to understand what is involved in the process. Unlike traditional publishing, be it via a big or independent publisher, you will be required to spend money, invest time and undergo a steep learning curve. Self-publishing is also not a one off investment, once you have your book out in the world, you will need to continually invest time (and perhaps money) into marketing your book.
In its most simple form self-publishing is the process of publishing your book, without the help of a traditional publisher. It consists of the following elements:
• Cover design.
• eBook design.
The writing element is self-explanatory. The editing will cover both structural editing, line editing, copy editing and proofreading. Cover design will involve a cover for the digital version of your book, as well as the paper version. Conversion to an eBook will involve converting the Word document into one or more digital formats. Publication will involve uploading to Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), but might also involve other services such as Apple Books. The marketing element is on-going but will include short term promotions and a long term marketing strategy.
Each of these elements is worthy of far deeper examination, but for the purpose of this article, all that is required is that you are aware of the investment of time and resources that will be required.
Broadly speaking, self-publishing can be split into two types:
This is the process of self-publishing in which you, the author, completes each of the elements. This may involve you physically doing what is required or paying a third party service company or freelancer to carry out a particular task.
DIY publishing will see you keeping full control of the process. You will be responsible for the completion of each step. Though this brings with it an insane level of control, it does mean that you will probably have to learn a number of new skills (or pay someone with those skills). For example, converting a Word document to a digital format CAN be a pretty simple process. However, if your manuscript has any level of complexity you will need to understand the finer elements of the ePub format, as well as CSS coding, to do a good job.
This is still the process of self-publishing, but one in which you pay one company to take on all elements of the process (note this is not the same as paying a freelancer to complete one element of the process).
There are a number of companies that will provide a full service, but they all tend to operate around the same model. This will involve them providing you with an upfront cost to turn your Word document into a digital and paper book. This price will likely be in access of $1500. In addition, they will probably also ask you to pay an ongoing fee to cover storage of your paper books. It is also common for them to charge you a price per book after the initial print run has been sold.
The main advantage of this approach is that you, the author, will not need to do anything beyond editorial input and saying yes or no to such elements as cover design. The main down side is the cost. It is more expensive to self-publish in this way.
Please note; it is my experience that these types of full service companies make money on creating paper books. They will, therefore, be looking to encourage you to print about 300+ copies of your book. Be aware that the chances of you getting your book into bookshops is very slim. Also be aware that advancement in Print On Demand technology means that companies such as CreateSpace can fulfil paper book orders with no up-front cost to the author. Think carefully before you print hundreds of your book.
What Are the Advantages of Self-Publishing?
Self-publishing is a choice that many authors come to after much contemplation. It may be that an author is excited about publishing their own book, or it might be that they don’t have the time or inclination to seek out a publisher/agent, or it might simply be that they have been unable to secure a traditional publishing deal.
Whatever the reason, I feel there are a number of clear advantages to self-publishing:
For many authors, retaining creative control is a critical element of the publishing process. If you wish to remain in full control of every element of your book, then self-publishing is your only option. It is not uncommon for authors following the traditional publishing path to have little or no creative control. If you decide to self-publish you will be making every decision about your book.
As with all industries it is all too easy to find the stories of multi-million selling self-published authors. Yes, they do exist but they are the rarity. The reality is that you should be looking to sell between 500 and 1000 books in your first year. This is very doable for a more mainstream title with good marketing. This means that you will probably recoup your upfront investment in the first year of sales and break into profit thereafter.
This might seem a little disheartening but this is the model that most independent publishers operate under. They look for a book to break even as quickly as possible and then go on to make profit over time.
If you have a good book, a good marketing strategy and are prepared to play the long game, you will make a profit.
Taking Advantage of a Small Market
Many books get rejected by agents and publishers simply because that they feel they are not ‘commercial’ enough. This is an industry term to describe a book they feel lacks the potential to sell a few thousand copies. Publishers tend to have an initial print run of between 1000 and 3000 books. They want these books to sell, if they fail to sell out the print run, they lose money. This means that books with smaller, niche, readerships never stand a chance.
If you’ve written a book with niche appeal (I’d class that as selling less than about 500 books per year), then self-publishing is just about your only option. This is not to say the process will not be profitable and exciting. It just means the book will never be attractive to a mainstream publisher. Their loss!
The traditional publishing industry is slooooow, really slow. It is not uncommon for a book to take two years from completion to being in a bookshop. You will find that publishers often talk in years, rather than months and weeks.
If you simply want your book published or you have a time sensitive topic, then self-publishing will be the best option. There is no real need for the process to be as slow as some publishers would lead you to believe. There are some elements that take time. It will probably take you two or three months to go through the editorial process. You can also add in a number of weeks for the cover design and eBook conversion. However, with a bit of crafty project management you can probably cut down the time for publication to about six months, if not less.
The final advantage of self-publishing is the sheer joy of the process. Publishing your own book should be an exciting experience. You’ll get to work with publishing professionals, learn new skills and get the joy of selling your own work. On top of this, you get to interact with readers and really feel like a writer.
What Are the Disadvantages of Self-Publishing?
Though self-publishing possesses many clear advantages, it would be unwise to not point out some of the clear disadvantages.
Before you decide to take the plunge and self-publish your book, here are a few points to consider:
If you opt for a DIY Self-publishing approach you will find that it is a time consuming process, which will test your resources. From a money viewpoint you will need a budget of around $1000 to successfully publish a book. The main outlays will come in the form of editing and proofreading, though eBook conversion and cover design may also be costly. It is possible to reduce some of these costs by ‘doing it yourself’ but this becomes a pay off against your time. You might decide to save $200 by doing your own eBook conversion. However, to do a good job you will need to be on a pretty steep learning curve. In the end, it will come down to a choice between money or time.
Please note; the figures above assume you are starting with a ‘digital first’ approach. This involves the initial creation and sale of an eBook. Once the book is selling you can then consider adding a Print on Demand option, which requires no upfront cost. If you intend to print real paper books, then costs will start to spiral.
The assisted self-publishing approach is a slightly simpler choice. Here, the company you engaging will have all the knowledge and this will save on your time. However, you will be paying more than you would have if you took the DIY approach.
Whether you opt to take the DIY or assisted approach, you will, at some point, need to take an active role in promoting and marketing your book. This is a time consuming process, which has a set of skills you will need to master.
A good marketing strategy will be a mixture of short term promotion and long term marketing. You will need an effective strategy that will get your book in front of potential readers. The reality is that this will take time and knowledge. If you wish your book to be a success your marketing strategy will become a fundamental part of your daily life.
Outside the Publishing Model
The final point to consider when self-publishing is that your book will fall outside the traditional publishing model. This may sound obvious but it brings with it unseen considerations.
There is a system set up to sell, promote and market books published via the traditional publishing path. You will not have access to this system. In reality, that means that you will not be getting additional income for the sale of rights (film, foreign language, audio etc.), you will not get your book submitted for prestigious prizes, you will not be able to get your book reviewed in national newspapers and you will not be getting your book stocked in nationwide bookshops.
Is Self-Publishing Right for Me?
Self-publishing can be an exciting and profitable option for many authors. However, before you opt to take the plunge, here’s a few things to consider.
The legitimacy of being published by a ‘traditional’ publisher still holds sway with both authors and readers. If you opt to be self-published, you will receive some negative feedback. I recently received the following email from a successfully self-published author:
I self-published my last book. It was a success, (4000+ sold) but it's still seen as ‘something less’ by everyone I know in publishing. Infuriating.
The second point to consider is that self-publishing is far from an easy option. It will require an investment of time, money and emotional energy. In my experience, many self-published books underperform simply because the author lacks either the resources or knowledge to make the book a success.
The final thing to consider is that self-publishing is an exciting thing to do. It sees you in full control of your book and the publishing process. You get to be involved in every step of the process, which brings with it all of the highs and lows. You get to see your book in ‘print’ but also experience the excitement of ‘making sales’ and ‘connecting with readers’. I would urge that of all the factors that you need to take into consideration, you never lose sight of this important point.
In summary, this is a golden age for authors. Never before have authors had so many options and so much power. It is now possible for a book to be written, published and read without a publisher ever being part of the process. It is a true democratisation of the writing and publishing world. These are exciting times for authors.
It is becoming increasingly common to hear of authors deciding to pick independent publishers as the best option for their books. This might not be the perfect option for some authors, but is it right for you and your book?
In this article, you’ll discover how independent publishers work, you’ll find out the pros and cons of using an independent publisher and you’ll learn if an independent publisher is the correct choice for you.
What is an Independent Publisher?
The term ‘independent publisher’ applies to any publisher that is not one of the big five (or one of their imprints). They tend to range in size from publishing tens to hundreds of books per year, they also range in size in regards to their publishing team and overall profitability.
However, there are a number of key factors that link all independent publishers:
• Small team.
• Genre specific.
• Limited budget.
• No agent.
Let’s look at each of these:
Independent publishers lack the resources of big publishers and will, therefore, have small and less specialized teams. Whilst a big publisher might have whole departments dedicated to such tasks as cover design and editing, an independent publisher might see these tasks falling to a single person or even an external freelancer.
This means that books may not receive the same thorough treatment you’d expect from a big publisher. You may also find that an author is expected to ‘pitch in’ to a much larger degree. This may be in the editorial process, but it will almost certainly be the case in the marketing strategy.
Independent publishers are often genre specific, publishing books for one small niche within the wider marketplace. This might be military history, picture books or just about any of the other genres.
The advantage of this approach is that the publisher will have an intimate knowledge of the genre and the readership. They will have genre specific knowledge that is missing in a bigger publisher. In fact, it is not unusual for a big publisher to ‘buy up’ a smaller publisher just to secure the genre expertise.
If you are writing in a defined genre, especially one away from the mainstream, you may find the expertise locked within an independent publisher will allow your book to flourish.
As you may expect, independent publishers will operate on a limited budget. This is not true for all independent publishers, since some of the larger companies make a healthy profit. However, at the smaller end of the scale independent publishers are often working on a very tight profit margin.
The impact of this will be seen throughout the process. Independent publishers will tend to publish less books and (on the whole) take less risks. You never see outrageous advances paid to authors and expensive marketing campaigns are out of the question.
There is a flip side to the limited budget and that is that independent publishers tend to be very good at selling the books they do publish. They often don’t focus on securing bestsellers (a process you see in big publishers) and, instead, tend to focus on making each book profitable in its own right. From an author’s viewpoint, this means the chances of a runaway success are rare (it happens but not often and tends to be linked in with a book winning a major literary prize), but it also means that you are unlikely to be ignored by your publisher if your book is not a hit in the opening weeks.
Many smaller publishers will accept submissions directly from an author. This means that authors without agents can submit. However, this may leave the author in a difficult position, since they will be left to negotiate the contract by themselves, but an agent is not essential. If you have struggle to find an agent, approaching smaller independent publishers may be a good way to get your foot on the traditional publishing ladder.
When assessing the suitability of an independent publisher for your book, the deal they are offering is critical.
Independent publishers often mirror big publishers in their approach to contracts, but there is some variation.
When you sign a deal with a publisher you are giving them the right to publish your book. In return, they are agreeing to give you a cut of each sale. The publisher will provide all the cash needed for editorial support, printing, marketing and anything else that is required. In return, they’ll give you a cut of about 15% of the price that they sell each book. This is known as a royalty.
There’s two other things to consider in the money equation: advances and other rights.
An advance is the upfront payment the publisher will make for your book. This is not a free gift, but is, instead, an advance on the royalties that they feel they will be paying you in the coming years. Therefore, if you received an advance of $10,000, you’d need to earn $10,000 worth of royalties before you started getting any more cash. Advances are seen as a gamble by the publisher and the bigger the advance the more ‘skin’ they have in the game and the bigger their desire will be to make your book a success. If a book fails to sell enough copies to ‘earn back’ your royalty, you don’t have to pay anything back. However, the chances of getting another book deal are reduced.
There’s a few things to consider with independent publishers and book deals:
The first is the size of advance. A big publisher may be offering advances ranging from thousands to tens of thousands, this will not be the case with a smaller publisher. Advances tend to be in the thousands. It is also not uncommon for a smaller publisher to offer no advance at all. If this is the case, the author should be offered a bigger cut of the book sales, in excess of the 15% offered by big publishers. It is also not uncommon for publishers to offer ‘profit share’ contracts. This is where the profit for each book sale is split 50/50 between the author and publisher.
The second important element is that it is much more common for small publishers to allow authors to retain ‘rights’ for their book. Most publishers will want the digital right but beyond that they can be flexible. If you are being represented by an agent, the agent may wish you to retain these rights so they can attempt to sell them to a third party.
The Advantages of Going with an Independent Publisher
Deciding to take the plunge with an independent publisher is a difficult choice but here’s a few things that might help:
They Know Your Genre
Independent publishers operate on tighter profit margins and, therefore, tend to stick to one genre. This means that they have unique genre expertise, which might help you sell more books. If you write for a genre that is under-represented by big publishers, an independent publisher might just be the answer.
You Don’t Need an Agent
Finding an agent is a time consuming process with no guarantee of success. Many writers just don’t have the patience to wait for agents to ‘discover’ them in their slush pile. If you don’t want to play the agent game, but still fancy a traditional publisher, then an independent publisher might be the best choice.
You Retain Some Control
Creative control can be a deal breaker for some writers. If this is an important element of the publishing process for you, then a big publisher might not be the ideal choice. Since independent publishers have smaller teams, they tend to work more closely with authors and are keen for their creative input. If control is your thing, then an independent publisher might be worth a punt.
The Disadvantages of Going with an Independent Publisher
The main disadvantages to independent publishers come when they are compared to a big publisher. These may or may not be important to your thinking process.
You’ll Probably Make Less Cash
Independent publishers tend to produce books with predictable sales over time. Though bestsellers do, at times, emerge from independent publishers they are not part of the publisher’s business model. Instead, they focus on publishing books that will make smaller profits over time. This means that, as an author, you’ll probably sell less books than you would have at a big publisher. Well, in the short term anyway.
It’s Not a Big Boy
This might be stating the obvious but independent publishers are not big publishers. If legitimacy is a key driving force, then you may be uncomfortable being published by a smaller publisher.
You’ll Have to Do More
This is listed as an advantage as well as a disadvantage. An independent publisher’s smaller team mean that some of the publishing burden will fall on your shoulders. You will be expected to play a part in the editorial process, you might be asked to help pick covers and you will certainly be asked to play a significant part in the marketing strategy. If you don’t have the time or inclination to get involved, then an independent publisher might not be ideal for you and your book.
Is an Independent Publisher Right for Me?
There are so many factors to consider when deciding on a publishing route, and the choice is so personal, that only you can make that choice.
This said, I think there’s three things to consider.
The first comes down to your goals. If you seek the legitimacy of being traditionally published but have been unable to secure an agent and/or big publisher, then an independent publisher may be a good fit. You will discover that they are easier to access and may be more willing to publish your book. You will also find that you come away from the process with both digital and print copies of your book. There is even the chance your book will be stocked in bookshops.
The second reason why an independent publisher might be a good fit for you and your book comes down to your time commitment. If you are in a position when you don’t have the time or inclination to self-publish, then an independent publisher may well be a good option. They will provide all the resources you require, with you only having to invest a minimal amount of time into editorial and marketing duties.
The third reason for seeking an independent publisher is a little less obvious. If you have written a book that has a clearly defined niche market (e.g. military history, coding or fly fishing), and you feel that you lack the marketing expertise to sell the book via self-publishing, then an independent publisher may be the ideal option. An independent publisher will have a deep and proven understanding of your readership, they will know the books your potential readers buy (and read) and they will know how to access this market.
In conclusion, authors find themselves with independent publishers with many reasons. Personally, I have had books published by not only big publishers, but also good sized independent publishers and even tiny one man band micro-publishers. At the time of publication for each book, the choice of publisher felt correct. I’ve always tried to work with publishers that understood what I was trying to do, as well as provided the best chance of the book being a success.
Though these big publishers have a number of characteristics in common, there are a few important elements that you must consider when assessing if a big publisher is right for you and your book.
• They publish a large number of books.
• You will require an agent.
Let’s consider these in turn.
Large Numbers of Books
A big publisher will publish in excess of 100 books per year, often many more. These books will come from many genres and cover a vast variety of topics. On the surface, the fact that publishers are looking for so many books appears to be a good thing. It means they are constantly on the lookout for new talent to fill their publishing schedule. The problem this presents is that not every book they publish is created equally.
It turns out that publishers are very bad at predicting which books will sell well and which will flop. Therefore, they take an approach of publishing many books, aware that only a small percentage of these will go on to be bestsellers. The small proportion that sell very well, will cover the costs (and more) of the other books.
Though publishers are bad at spotting a bestseller, they are very good at predicting a potential bestseller from early sales data. This means that once a book starts to sell well in the opening weeks, they will push all their resources behind this book and leave the other books to wither. If you are the author of a potential bestseller, you’ll see the full power of the publishing machine. If your book is deemed to not be a potential bestseller, then you’ll be left to fend for yourself.
Big publishers work hard to find and train the best publishing professionals. They have large teams that focus on every aspect of the publishing process from editorial, to cover design to marketing. This means that books published by one of the big publishers will be the best they can possibly be.
All big publishers operate the same model, when it comes to structuring their companies. They will have a main ‘mother’ company and a number of smaller companies, called imprints. It is common to see the mother company publishing books of a more general nature and the imprints focussing on just one or two genres.
It is important that authors don’t assume that being published by an imprint is a lesser form of publishing, this is simply not the case. It is true that many big publishers will ‘move’ thier biggest selling authors into the mother company, but this should not be a consideration for new authors.
Authors tend to find themselves at imprints for one of two reasons. The first is that the book they are publishing is from a less mainstream genre. Imprints often have excellent genre specific knowledge and are, therefore, the natural home for books on the genre in which they specialise. The second is that imprints are sometimes seen as ‘breeding grounds’ for new talent. It is not unusual for a new and unproven writer to start their career at a smaller imprint and be moved ‘up the ladder’ as they grow and develop.
One common element that binds all big publishers, and their imprints, is that they only work with authors that are represented by agents. The main reason for this is that agents act as gatekeepers, screening potential authors and working to find the types of books publishers need to fulfil their publishing catalogue.
One common mistake new authors make is to assume that an agent’s main job is to say no to rubbish books. It is true that most books, that an agent sees, are simply not up to a standard they require. However, if you have been rejected by an agent, it is not automatically because your book is badly written. Agents are looking for books that publishers will find attractive (often called ‘commercial’). In short, these are books that agents and publishers feel have the potential to sell many thousands of copies. Many a well written book has been rejected simply because an agent feels that it is not ‘commercial’ enough.
The final piece of the jigsaw for writers considering a big publisher, is to follow the money. No big publisher will ever ask an author to pay anything towards the publication of their book. That’s just not the deal.
When you sign a deal with a publisher you are giving them the right to publish your book. In return, they are agreeing to give you a cut of each sale. The publisher will provide all the cash needed for editorial support, printing, marketing and anything else that is required. In return, they’ll give you a cut of about 15% of the price that they sell each book (of which you’ll give about 15% to your agent). This is known as a royalty.
There’s two other things to consider in the money equation: advances and other rights.
An advance is the upfront payment the publisher will make for your book. This is not a free gift, but is, instead, an advance on the royalties that they feel they will be paying you in the coming years. Therefore, if you received an advance of $10,000, you’d need to earn $10,000 worth of royalties before you started getting any more cash. Advances are seen as a gamble by the publisher and the bigger the advance the more ‘skin’ they have in the game and the bigger their desire will be to make your book a success. If a book fails to sell enough copies to ‘earn back’ your royalty you don’t have to pay anything back. However, the chances of getting another book deal are reduced.
The final thing to consider is ‘other rights’. When you sign a deal with your publisher, you’ll give them the rights to sell your book in your country (called territory). You’ll also give them the right to reproduce your story in book form (paper and digital). However, there are other rights associated with your book. These include the rights to publish in other countries, audio rights and film rights. If your book is a success, these rights can be ‘sold’ to interested parties. This will earn you additional income. Some rights, especially foreign rights, can be very lucrative for an author.
The Advantages of Going with a Big Publisher
There are many advantages of being published by a big publisher, many of which are personal. However, below are three key benefits:
Potential Rewards Huge
IF your book becomes a bestseller, and that’s a massive IF, then a big publisher is the best place to be. A big book publisher will ensure that your book gets everything that is needed to make it a success. They will work with you and your agent to really fulfil the potential for your book.
You Don’t Have to do Anything, Other Than Write
A big publisher will work hard to ensure that you have time to focus on the most important task, which is writing. During the editorial process you will be required to carry out work on your book, but once the book is published this stops. You will also be required to carry out some marketing activities, but these are often limited.
This is not an advantage to be under estimated. Many authors want to be published by a big publisher. They want the legitimacy this brings; they want to be a ‘published author’. This is fine, just be aware that if this is a driving motivation, then seeking a big publisher is probably the only way you’ll scratch that itch.
The Disadvantages of Going with a Big Publisher
A big publisher is not right for every author. Here’s a few of the key reasons you need to consider when making a choice.
Screwed If You Are Not a Bestseller
Big publishers work on a model of publishing many books and then focussing on the few that appear to be bestsellers. This is great if you are one of the 20% that are successful, however, if you are not then things are not so rosy. A big publisher will not push cash into marketing a book they don’t feel has potential. This means that many authors with big publishers, find their book being ignored after the first month of publication.
Mid-list Is Death
There was a time when mid-list authors could make a decent living at a big publisher. This is simply no longer the case. A mid-list author is one who sells enough books to keep getting new deals, but not enough to be a bestseller. A big publisher sees the potential but will not invest the time and money that may be needed to push this author into the bestseller category. The result is that the author is left with mediocre sales and a poor income from writing.
It Takes Years
If you have written your book and want it to be in print within the next six months, then a big publisher is not the correct option for you. It can take months to secure an agent and then, even with an agent, you can be looking at up to a year for that agent to secure a publishing deal. Then, even with a publisher, they make be looking at a twelve month lead time until the book is published. It is not at all unusual for a book to take up to two years from the time the author completes to the book being on the shelf. The publishing industry is slow!
Is a Big Publisher Right for Me?
There are so many factors to consider when deciding on a publishing route, and the choice is so personal, that only you can make that choice.
This said, I think there’s three things to consider.
The first to is how you see your publishing career. If you are prepared to take your publishing journey one book at a time, then a big publisher might be a logical choice. It is common for authors to write a book that fits a big publisher perfectly, but for their next book to struggle to find a home. The key is to go into the process with just one book in mind.
The second is to consider just how ‘commercial’ you feel your book would be for publishers. They are looking for books that will sell at least a couple of thousand copies in the first year. It might be that your book is just too ‘niche’ for their ambitions. A good way to test the commercial potential for your book is to submit it to a few agents and see what they say. If they feel it has commercial potential, they will ask for the full manuscript.
The final aspect to consider whether you intend to leverage a potential book deal. Being published with a big publisher will open certain doors. If you plan to go into teaching creative writing, or a similar field, then being published will help you achieve these goals. Most writers, even those with big publishers, struggle to make a full time living. You might find that securing a big publisher book deal opens a few career doors that would have otherwise been closed.
In conclusion, being published by a big publisher can be an exciting journey. I have had more than twenty books published by a range of publishers, big and small. I also have a literary agent. At times, I was even able to earn a full time living as a writer. However, I started my journey about ten years ago and today the publishing landscape is very different. Big publishers still have an important role to play in a writer’s career but I’d urge you to consider the potential ups and downs before committing to that elusive book deal.
The current publishing landscape is both complex and dynamic. However, this complexity is providing a golden age for authors, who have more publishing options than ever before. In this snapshot of the book publishing landscape, you will discover the main options that are open to authors, how these interrelate and where self-publishing fits into the equation.
You can split the publishing landscape into six key elements:
These are book publishers that represent about 60% of the English language [source] books published in the US. They typically publish hundreds of books per year and have a large number of employees with a range of expertise. They will only accept submissions from agents.
Big publishers will often also have smaller ‘imprints’, that though they appear as separate publishing companies, still operate under the umbrella of the parent company.
These publishers are often referred to as the ‘big five’ and include: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan.
Here’s a list of English language book publishers.
An agent is a person or company who will represent an author’s interest. Since big publishers will not accept submissions directly from authors, the agent’s main role is to match authors with publishers. Agents also act in a screening process, in which they will find authors with ‘commercial’ potential for publishers.
Once a writer has secured a deal with a publisher, the agent will act as a link between the agent and publisher. Typically, agents receive about 15% of the money paid to an author by the publisher.
These types of publishers are simply defined as publishers separate from the ‘big five’. They are sometimes called ‘independent publishers’. They are smaller in nature than big publishers but can still publish in excess of 100 titles per year. Typically to be classed as a small press, the publisher will be publishing more than fifty titles per year.
They will have smaller, less specialized teams than big publishers. On average, they will sell less books than their bigger rivals. They will also have smaller profits and tighter operating budgets. A small press will often work with both agents and writers directly.
These are the smallest of the traditional publishers. They tend to be run by either a single person or a very small team. They will typically publish between ten and fifty titles per year. These tend to be ‘hobby’ publishers and often focus on niche topics. They run on a very small budget but can have a loyal readership.
Authors opting to self-publish have two main choices: either take a DIY approach and do everything themselves (or via service providers) or use a self-publishing company, who will typically charge an up-front fee and, perhaps, a fee per book sold.
The vast majority of books are sold via the Kindle Digital Publishing platform (KDP), with Apple as the second major source of sales. It is difficult to find accurate figures for self-published titles. However, it is widely understood that about 40% of eBooks sold are self-published [source].
It is becoming increasingly common for writers to take a ‘hybrid’ approach to book publishing. This will see writers opting to pick the publishing option that best fits their current project, be that traditional or self-publishing. Author Chuck Wendig wrote an article about this topic.
In summary, we can see that the publishing landscape has grown more complex with the development of self-publishing. Writers are more aware of the choices they face and have more control over their books than ever before. It seems logical that this empowerment of writers will continue in the coming years.
I have always been fascinated by what I call the ‘black box theory’. This is the idea that what makes a person exceptional at any given task is often not what an outsider would think.
For example, many non-writers would assume that the key element to a writer’s commercial success is the quality of their writing. However, this is not the case. Once a writer has passed a certain level of quality, other factors start to come into play. In the case of bestsellers, it is often the subject of the book, the marketing and sheer luck that play more important parts than a writer’s ability. That’s why you see great technical writers struggle to sell books and poor writers go on to sell millions (Think Fifty Shades of Grey, which breaks just about every writing rule in the book). However, this insight is not always obvious to non-writers.
Over the past ten years, I’ve dedicated my time to studying the art of editing (here’s a free book about what I’ve learned so far) and though this is still a life long journey I now want to turn my attention to the art of writing and try to delve a little deeper into what makes writers tick.
One Hundred Writers is a project in which I will be interviewing one hundred writers and publishing the interviews on this blog. The aim of the project is to uncover the trends, insights and habits of writers of all abilities and success levels. I am hoping that I can uncover wider patterns that we can than all apply to our own work.
The interviews will be carried out via email. The final post will be a summary of the interview, in which I pick out the key points. The post will contain the name of the writer, a link to their website, the cover image of their last published book and a link to the book’s Amazon page.
If you would like to get involved in this project the process is simple. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention the phrase ‘100 writers’ in the subject line. This way the email will be filtered to my inbox.
So you’ve had your book professionally edited, and you are faced with the task of turning the feedback into something that lifts your book to the next level. This article will help you do that.
The chances are, when you pop open that email from the book editor, you’ll be faced with two things. The first is a mass of detailed tracked changes within the manuscript itself, and the second is a separate report, listing suggestions on larger topics as to how to improve your book overall (pacing, plotting, etc.). Dealing with this second element means some level of rewriting.
You will discover here how to get the most from your professional book edit. You’ll learn a step-by-step process that addresses all the feedback, while also applying those tracked changes and even doing major rewrites. Note that this process works for nonfiction as well as fiction, but sometimes “your novel” will be the default form referenced herein.
Step 1: Take In The Book Edit
OK, … so you have your feedback from your professional book editor; you are excited and scared at the same time, but you are ready to move forward.
Your feedback will consist of two elements: a separate report and your manuscript with some embedded tracked changes. Please note I am assuming that you have had your book edited by BubbleCow. Feedback from other editors will be less detailed, but the principles of this article will still apply.
The report will consist of the editor’s thoughts and guidance, and the tracked changes will be smaller alterations embedded within the main manuscript.
The first step is to read through the editor’s report. One word of warning: it is human nature to react defensively to any corrective feedback. Your brain will see it as an attack, and you will revert to a fight-or-flight response. This means you’ll either want to scream and shout that the editor is wrong or just go and hide. However, this is an emotional reaction, and you need to use your rational brain instead. The single best way to switch from emotional to rational is to give it time. (If you are interested in this subject, Dr. Steve Peters has written an excellent book on the subject. It is called The Chimp Paradox.) Therefore, the first thing to do after reading your report is to stop, breathe and wait.
Authors often tell us that they’ll take a couple days to absorb the report. They’ll read it a few times, and, with each read, they’ll start to see the value in the comments and guidance.
Another thing we often get told by authors is that nothing is really a surprise in the report. They kind of knew the issues beforehand, but they just didn’t know what to do. They often say things like, “Ah, … I did worry that I was not adding enough description, but I was just unsure at what points to expand.”
Step 2: Tracked Changes and Comments in Your Novel
Having absorbed the report, and perhaps even made a few notes, the best place to go next is to the main manuscript.
You will find that a number of changes have been made to your book, using a track changes system. This is a tool built into all major word processing software that allows an editor to make a semi-permanent change. What happens is that the editor corrects the manuscript, and the software shows the reader the changes but remembers what has been altered. The result is a manuscript that contains lots of tiny tracked changes.
For example, let’s say the author has incorrectly punctuated a sentence of dialogue. They’ve used a period (a full stop) instead of a comma. The editor would change the period to a comma. This would show up in the manuscript as a tracked change.
A manuscript can contain a surprising number of these small changes. In fact, it is not unusual, even for a manuscript in ‘‘good shape” before editing, to have hundreds of changes.
Your first job will be to go through these changes and decide if you wish to keep them.
The software package you are using will allow you three optimal options for dealing with the suggested tracked changes:
Agree to individual changes: It is possible to look at each individual change and then press the accept button (in Microsoft Word, using its track changes program, which is our default herein) to keep the change.
Disagree to individual changes: It is possible to look at each individual change and then press the reject button to remove the change and revert back to the original text.
Agree to ALL changes: It is also possible to Accept All changes in the manuscript with a single press of a button. However, this is not recommended, since you may not wish to incorporate all the suggestions.
Working with the Comments
The next step is to consider the comments embedded in your manuscript. These are different from the tracked changes. They are not suggestions for small changes (like changing a period to a comma). They are, instead, comments directly from the editor to the author.
The content of the comments will vary greatly. They might be a question, an indication of a part that needs more work or some feedback that links with a wider issue from the editor’s report.
The best approach is to work through the comments in turn and do one of the following:
If the comment can be resolved quickly with a small rewrite or addition to the manuscript, then do it immediately. Once you have made the change, then delete the respective comment.
If the comment needs more work, perhaps it is part of a wider issue or indicates a section that needs rewriting, then do nothing. Just leave the comment as a reminder to work on that later and move on.
If the comment needs no action, or you disagree with the suggested change, then just delete that comment and move on.
Since you will have already resolved the tracked changes, once you have completed this initial process, which includes addressing the easier comments, all that will be left in your manuscript are the comments that require more work.
You are now ready to consider your first rewrite.
Step 3: Start Your Rewrite
By the time you reach the point of rewriting, you will have carried out a number of important steps. You’ll have decided on all the tracked changes edits; you’ll have acted on the comments that need either no, or a small amount, of work, and you’ll have read over your report and will have a feel for the editor’s feedback.
The best way to approach your rewrite process is in a stepwise manner.
Many authors make the mistake of trying to fix all the problems in a single rewrite. This is not a great idea. Whenever you alter a first draft, it is very easy to add in more mistakes than you are correcting. It is, therefore, essential that changes are done deliberately and with thought.
The best first step is to find the biggest issue within your book (reread the report and the remaining comments within the manuscript) and then come up with a strategy on how this one problem will be fixed. If needed, make a small plan with the steps you will take. Think carefully about each change and the potential impact on the story.
Once you have a plan, it is time to dive in and start rewriting. At this point, it is essential that you work methodically and at a steady pace. Don’t rush ahead; just keep making the changes as they are needed.
Once you are happy with the results, it is time to move on to the next problem. Return to the editor’s report (and remaining manuscript comments) and work out what you will tackle next. Once again, make a plan and work methodically.
You should work through your report, focusing on changing one issue at a time, applying it to the whole of your manuscript, then repeating these steps until all the issues have been addressed.
This process can take time, anywhere from weeks to months, but don’t rush. This is probably the last chance to make significant changes to your book.
Step 4: Get Some Feedback
OK, … so you’ve sweated blood and applied the feedback from your professional book edit. You are probably feeling a little bruised and unsure of just where you stand with your manuscript. This is a classic situation of not seeing the wood for the trees.
What you need is some feedback at this point, and you may want your friends and family to come into play here.
While their feedback can be very useful, you must receive it at the correct time and know how to “decode” that feedback to add value to your book. The best time for friends and family feedback is after the rewriting stage (the book’s second draft). By that point the book has been seen by a professional editor, you have made rewrites, and the story is almost there. You are just looking to gain confidence and have someone pick up any errors you added in the rewrite.
The biggest issue with friends and family is that they are not editors, and, therefore, the feedback may be biased and generic reader’s feedback, where individual preferences for book-reading may cover various genres. In essence it means that you’ll get generalized feedback that will not have an immediate application. You’ll be dealing with comments, such as “I didn’t like this character” and “I wish there were more ninjas.” However, here’s how you can squeeze out actionable value:
The problem is that your mum/dad/husband/wife/friend all want your novel to be great; yet they also probably like you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. This means feedback from this inner circle is all but useless. For the best, most honest and most valuable feedback, you need to break out of this circle and into the big bad world.
Seek out the kind of people who would actually read your book in real life. It is these people, real readers, who will give you the kind of feedback that counts. You could try asking friends in your social media network or, perhaps, on forums you visit. The key here is to pick people who will be honest and have some knowledge of your genre.
There Are Two Types of Feedback
When you start looking for feedback, it is important to understand that you have two options:
General feedback is when you give the reader your book and just ask what he or she thinks. This type of feedback is good for getting a feel for the flow and what people will be saying about your book. It is also (potentially) good for building your confidence.
The problem with general feedback is that it is just that—general. It is unlikely it will bring up any specific questions or actionable criticism.
When collecting your general feedback, make sure that you listen more than you talk. Getting feedback via email or a Word doc is great, but actually speaking with your reader is the best possible solution. This gives you a chance to watch body language and prompt the reader for more insightful answers. However, when interacting with readers, you must resist the temptation to explain. Just listen.
Ask open-ended questions. These types of questions will give you the best results:
Typically who/what/when/where/why/how questions all work well.
Asking, “Did you like Chapter 2?” will produce a limited response; either they did or didn’t like the chapter. However, asking, “What did you like about Chapter 2?” or, even better, “What didn’t you like about Chapter 2?” will produce the best possible feedback. You could even go with the supercharged “What would you do to make Chapter 2 better?”
Specific feedback is potentially the most valuable type of feedback. This is when you ask a reader to look at one potential problem and provide their thoughts.
Let’s say that your editor found that your book lacked description. The editor’s feedback stated there was not a strong sense of place and that you needed to add more details as to settings. The editor’s report itself had given examples of how to do this, and the comments within the manuscript had suggested where it should be added. You have applied this feedback in the rewrite but are still a little worried if this issue was properly addressed.
This is where specific feedback comes into its own. You could give a reader the first chapter of the book and say something like, “Read this chapter and tell me if you can visualize the locations described,” or, better still, “What, if anything, should I do to improve the sense of place?”
The beauty with specific feedback is that you can get fast and accurate results. You can go back to readers multiple times with short sections of text, asking them a specific question.
Step 5: Filter the Feedback
Not all feedback is created equal, and not all readers are capable of giving you the kind of feedback you need. It is, therefore, essential that you filter the feedback, be it good or bad.
Resist the temptation to leap into action and apply the changes that readers suggest. Remember, their suggestions will be things that they think might help, but most readers know less than you do about writing. Instead of reacting instantly to their comments, take a step back and assess.
If you are unsure whether a suggestion is worthy of action, the first step is to get enough feedback. One reader may not be enough; you probably need at least three readers to assess your book, before you make major changes.
If you get enough feedback, then you can look for trends and patterns in the readers’ comments. If all the feedback says Chapter 1 is too short, then it’s time to revisit Chapter 1. However, if one of ten readers says Chapter 1 is too short, it’s probably best to ignore this single comment and make no changes.
Step 6: Read Your Book Out Loud
By this point you’ll have probably produced three drafts of your novel, and you are ready to move forward. The next stage is to read through your book and check for obvious mistakes.
The best way to do this is to print out the full manuscript and read the book out aloud. There’s something about seeing words on paper and visualizing the scenes that really helps you spot mistakes. The perfect scenario is that you print two copies. Then, while you read it out loud, your critique partner follows the text. This way you’ll pick up those errors that your brain is autocorrecting.
Step 7: A Final Read-Through
You are now almost there, and it is time for the final read-through. This is where friends and family can really help.
The best way forward at this step is to print out a number of copies and send them to friends and family. Ask them to read through it and mark on the copy any errors that they find. This will provide you with fixes to make to the master digital copy, as the visceral nature of this process is both effective and satisfying.
Step 8: Professional Proofread
The final stage is to pay a professional to proofread your work.
One word of warning here: please don’t skip this step. The temptation for many authors is to assume that all the typos have been removed. This is dangerous. A professional proofreader’s job is much more than fixing typos. One of the most important things that the proofreader does is apply consistency. This ensures that everything is not only right but you are doing the same things in the same way each time.
Preparing your book for publication is a complex and difficult process, not one to shortcut. No one will care about your book as much as you do, and the pre-publication stage is your last chance to ensure your book is both the best it can be and error-free.
The professional edit is just the start. The editor’s feedback will give you a road map to address issues in your book, but it will take at least two or three rewrites to navigate this map.
Friends and family will play an important role in lifting your book to the next level, but you must know when to ask for help and when to just plow ahead without any additional feedback.
Publishing your book is an exciting, fulfilling and hopefully profitable pursuit. However, if your book is to succeed, you must see the completion of your first draft as not the end but the start.
In this article I will set out to explain why so many famous authors (Stephen King being perhaps the most vocal) warn other authors against the use of adverbs. In fact King’s hatred of adverbs is so intense that he’s been quoted as saying, “Adverbs are evil.” You will discover the role of adverbs in fiction writing, and I’ll demonstrate why removing adverbs from your writing will make your book more enjoyable to read. In short, I’ll explain just why adverbs are evil.
What Is an Adverb?
The Wikipedia definition of an adverb (whether ending in LY or not) is paraphrased below:
An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, other adverb—or a noun phrase, clause, or sentence—and can also be used as a determiner (which are otherwise articles, quantifiers, and/or quantities that precede a noun). In general, adverbs express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering questions such as: How? In what way? When? Where? To what extent?
See the Wikipedia entry for the exact quote: [Source].
That could be a little confusing, so let’s look what the great Stephen King has to say about adverbs. This is taken from his masterpiece On Writing:
Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that … end in -ly. [Source].
So an adverb is a word that modifies a verb (an action word, e.g., jump, kick, drink). Common adverbs end in the suffix -ly (like “quickly”), and, as such, they’re pretty easy to spot in a block of text.
Why Are Adverbs Evil?
Stephen King wrote in On Writing that the “road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Why so much vitriol for such a simple way of writing?
Let’s take the following sentence:
He closed the door firmly.
The adverb in this sentence is “firmly,” and it describes the manner in which the door is being closed. Its job is to guide the reader toward an interpretation of the sentence controlled by the author, who is attempting to control the image in the reader’s mind. The result is that there’s no room for misunderstanding … right? The door was firmly shut. Isn’t that what an author is seeking? Good clean sentences with no room for misunderstanding?
Well, this innocent-sounding sentence is hiding a crippling problem that plagues many authors with great potential.
But, before we get to the problem, a little background …
Show, Don’t Tell
Show, don’t tell, is perhaps one of the most overused and misunderstood writing mantras. In fact I’ve written a whole book (it is free, by the way) that aims to help authors better understand the philosophy of show, don’t tell. However, I’ll outline the key points before moving on as to why adverbs are evil. It all links, I promise.
The principle of show, don’t tell, is that your job as an author is to paint a picture in the mind of your reader. You have a story in your mind, and you are using words to get it into the mind of the reader. There are two ways to do this:
You can SHOW the reader your vision.
You can TELL the reader your vision.
For example, imagine you were writing a scene in which a man had just learned of the death of his wife in a car crash. If you were TELLING, you might write:
John sat on the seat and cried loudly. He was clearly distraught at the news of the crash and honestly felt as though he would not be able to go on.
In the sentence above, the author is telling the reader that John is crying loudly, that he is clearly distraught, and that he can’t go on. The problem is that, by telling, the reader is removed from the equation. The author is leaving very little narrative space. The reader is being force-fed the story. In addition, this sentence fails to stimulate any level of emotion in the reader. As the reader, you are not being asked to “feel” the emotion; instead you are being asked to observe the action from a passive stance. You are not part of the story; you are an observer. The natural progression from this is that you will not care about the character and what is happening to John.
The second option is to show. If you were SHOWING, you might write:
John slumped back in the chair, his shoulders dipping as his hands came to his face. A muffled sob escaped. He leaned back, dropping his arms to his knees. He looked at the ceiling of the small room. Tears ran down his cheeks as another sob emerged from his lips.
In this sentence I have taken a very different approach. Rather than telling my readers that John is sad, I have described sadness. I have tried to write out the actions of a man who is “distraught.” The aim is to stimulate an emotion in the readers, to paint a picture that their brain will recognize as sadness. In turn, this forces them to become an active part of the process. The better the description, the better the results—and, by “better,” I mean, closer to the way a person would act in real life in this situation.
It is an established fact that every emotion carries an action. If you are able to describe the action, then your brain will be able to match this to an emotion which it has experienced. This is what Hemingway is referring to when he talks about “truthful” writing. He is not talking about writing down your darkest secrets but about writing in a way that reflects true human emotions and actions.
If done well, showing allows the author to suck the reader into the book and to become part of the story. If you have ever felt a genuine emotion when reading a book, it was because the author was showing.
Adverbs Are Dangerous Shortcuts
We can now turn our attention back to adverbs. In the sections above, we’ve talked about emotion (and we will come back to this, in terms of adverbs, in a little more detail), but adverbs also have another dark side.
Adverbs tend to do more harm than good, and here’s the reason why: they rob the readers of the opportunity to provide their own context to the story. You, as the author, are not showing the readers how something is done; you’re telling them about how it was done, and that is never the more compelling of the two choices for the reader.
This is still the principle of show, don’t tell, but below I’ve applied it to actions rather than emotions.
Here’s a simple example, just to further illustrate this point:
He turned on the light quickly.
That doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? He’s just turning on a light. Now let’s look at the sentence without the adverb:
He turned on the light.
Now that we’ve removed the description, you may be saying to yourself, “Well, that’s a lot worse, isn’t it? Now we know less than we knew before about how he turned on the light.”
Here’s the trick—you don’t need to tell the reader everything. The readers can work things out for themselves. In fact the more “narrative space” you leave, the better it is for the reader. Adverbs are just a crutch. What matters, in terms of verbs, is what comes before and after them—the context. If someone is walking around a spooky dark mansion and looking for a light switch, the way they would go about that is different from someone who’s looking for a light switch after a night out at the bar. By describing your scene in sufficient detail before and after you apply your verbs, the reader will be able to fill in the gaps themselves via context. Don’t rob them of the opportunity to set their own version of your scene in their head—that’s where all the fun in reading lies!
This approach forces the reader to be an active part of the reading process. They are not just following along with the text. They are being forced to “lean into” the story and be an active part of the process. The story is happening in their head, not on the page.
You might think this is all a bit wishy-washy, but here’s a little experiment. Think of a time you saw a film adaptation of a book you loved. For me it was The Hobbit. If you read the book first, then saw the movie, did you feel just a little disappointed in the film version? Did the main character not look the way you imagined, or was the main location just wrong? That’s because you had created the image in your mind. I am even betting that, if you went back to the original text, you’ll find the descriptions of the character or location are just not as crisp and precise as you remember. That’s you, as a reader, filling the narrative space. The overuse of adverbs can deny the reader of this pleasure.
By allowing them the opportunity to do some world-building in their own heads, you allow your audience (your readership) to build an emotional connection to your work—you force them to care.
Adverbs and Emotions
When looking at the role of adverbs in context, it is clear how they can limit the impact of an author’s words. However, when dealing with emotions, those adverbs play a little different role.
First, we have the obvious application in which telling robs the reader of the context and leaves the reader as a passive observer. Take this sentence:
John sighed sadly.
What does that even mean? How do you “sigh sadly”? If you were to remove the adverb, it would improve this sentence in an instant. The reason being that the reader is forced to engage with the writing. The context of the surrounding paragraphs would direct the reader as to how and why the character was sighing. If the context is sad, then the reader will add in the type of sigh required.
As we have seen, the best way to stimulate emotion in readers is not to tell them the emotion the character is feeling but to show the reader with words and actions. However, this is not always an author’s first instinct and can, even with the best of intentions, slip into bad habits. This is where the second role of adverbs comes into play, and that’s adverbs as flags.
The principle here is not complex. If you are telling, not showing, then you can be almost 100 percent sure that you are using adverbs. That means, if you search your book for adverbs (just use Word’s Find feature, looking for LY), each time you find one, it’s an example of tell for the most part. This gives you a chance to rewrite and turn the tell into show.
Below is a link to a free online tool for finding adverbs in your projects. You just paste in your text, and it highlights those pesky adverbs in red—very useful. See:
Perhaps the most reviled example of adverbs (as far as Stephen King is concerned) is their use in dialogue.
One of the fastest ways to signal to a publisher or reader that you are a writing rookie (and maybe that the reader should spend time on another book) is to fill up your dialogue with adverbs. Let’s look at this example:
“Where is the briefcase?” she asked angrily.
“I’m sorry. He took it from me, boss,” he said sheepishly.
“Get out there and find it right now,” she said hastily.
Those adverbs above are superfluous to our needs. Let’s look at that same scene, now without all the adverbs:
“Where is the briefcase?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. He took it from me, boss,” he said.
“Get out there and find it right now,” she said.
There’s no difference here in terms of the information being conveyed. The one concern an author might consider is that the adverbs give the reader extra information about the state of the speaker. However, this goes back to telling. The context of the surrounding paragraphs will give the reader everything needed to work out how the words were said. More important, by removing the adverbs, you force the reader to lean into the story and become more engaged. The first example (with adverbs) produces a passive reader; the second (without adverbs) produces an active reader.
Adverbs are a writing crutch—ensure that your writing is strong enough to stand on its own two feet.
Use Beats to Add Context
Context is a key term when it comes to writing and the removal of adverbs. This is the environment you set and the story that unfolds. Within this framework, the reader is allowed to fill in the blanks that the lack of adverbs leave.
One way to add more context is through the use of beats. Beats are the sections between dialogue that describe action.
Look at this example. It is Denise’s birthday, and she’s just been presented with a surprise birthday cake:
“I love cake,” Denise said happily. “Would you like some?”
If we remove the pesky adverb, we get:
“I love cake,” Denise said. “Would you like some?”
The context of the surrounding paragraphs will supply the reader with enough information to show them that Denise is happy. However, we can go one step further and use a beat between dialogue. Here’s the example with a beat:
“I love cake,” Denise said. A smile formed on her face. “Would you like some?”
Here, “a smile formed on her face” is the beat, and it provides the reader with a little more context. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this example. All we have done is add a smile. However, you recognize a smile as the action of someone who is happy. You are, therefore, filling in the emotion.
For examples on the best way to use beats, you can steal a trick from screenwriters. I would recommend finding the script to your favorite action movie (there are tons of script databases on the Internet) and looking it over to see how the screenwriter worked action beats into the dialogue. One little note here, you will find lots of adverbs in screenplays. Don’t forget they are screenplays, not novels, so different rules apply.
Here’s a short section of the amazing film Chinatown (this link will give you a copy of the full screenplay):
GITTES: I don't want your last dime.
He throws an arm around Curly and flashes a dazzling smile.
GITTES: What kind of guy do you think I am?
CURLY: Thanks, Mr. Gittes.
GITTES: Call me Jake. Careful driving home, Curly.
He shuts the door on him, and the smile disappears. He shakes his head, starting to swear under his breath.
In this example, we see Gittes flashing and dropping a smile. The beats add context to the words. Even though screenplays are not like novels, reading just one screenplay will give you an insight into the best way to use beats in your novel.
A Little Goes a Long Way
In the long run, if you are reliant on adverbs, it will hold back your writing from being seen by the largest possible audience. Think of adverbs as sprinkles of rosemary on a great dish of lamb—a little bit goes a very long way. You should be looking to use, at most, a handful of adverbs. If you take care to consider each time you use an adverb, the ones you leave in will have added power. Some authors, Stephen King included, are religious about killing adverbs and will rake through their manuscript in search of adverbs to squash. If you look over your writing and see too many adverbs in a chunk of text, go back and remove them. Remember: show, don’t tell, always.
What Others Say About Adverbs
There is a long tradition of authors waging war on adverbs. Below is a list of articles that you might find of interest:
Are you considering self-publishing your own ebook? If yes, then ebook formats are important and this is article is all for you. If no, well this post is probably a waste of your time and it’s best you stop reading now...
Still with me? Good.
OK – let’s just define Self-Publish a little more clearly.
This article is for writers who intend to sell their book in ebook formats.
In short, this means via Amazon or Apple onto eReaders such as the Kindle or iPad. The goal of this article is to explain a little about the technical aspects of creating ebooks. It’s not a full-blown technical guide. It has been written to give you just enough information to be dangerous.
In other words, this article will help you decide on the next step forward.
By this I mean this article will give you enough information for you to make an informed choice about the best way to convert your Word/Pages/OpenOffice file into an ebook.
HINT – There’s more than one type of ebook format and not all eReaders will read each type.
Think VHS vs Betamax.
What Are The Key Concepts Behind Ebook Formats?
Let’s start at the start...
Ebooks are very different from documents created on word processors such as Office, Pages and OpenOffice. At the most basic level documents created by word processors have the text and style mixed together. This means that if you put a word in italics, it’s hardwired into the document as an italic word. This means that no matter which version of the word processor opens the file, the word in italics will remain in italics.
In a digital ebook file this is different!
When a word document is converted to a format that can be read on an eReader, two very important things happen:
The text is separated from the style.
A ‘styling’ is stored in a separate file.
Let me explain. Let’s say you write the following sentence in a Word document:
This sentence contains a word in italics.
If you then converted this to a format for an eReader you would get two things.
The first would be pure text that said:
This sentence contains a word in italics.
The second would be a separate file (called a CSS file), which tells the eReader that when rendering the word italics in this sentence, put it in an italic font.
When the eReader displayed the sentence it would initially render the text and then apply the CSS to make the word italics into italics.
The second thing to understand is that text is reflowable.
When using a word processor a page is a page. It contains a set number of words and when the page is full another is created.
This is NOT the case for eReaders.
To understand why you need to think of how ebooks are read. The problem is that we don’t know what device a reader is going to use to read your book. They could read it on a Kindle, but they could also read it on an iPhone, or any one of many different devices. Most devices have very different screen sizes.
If we created ebooks with one set page size in mind, they would not fit correctly on any device but the one we had in mind when developing the ebook.
The solution is reflowable text.
This means that the eReader will fill the screen with your text and then just flow what remains into the next screen. As far as an eReader is concerned there is no such thing as a page... Just a screen to fill with text. If the reader alters the screen size, no problem the text just flows to fit.
This means that as an ebook creator you have to stop thinking about pages and just think about text.
What Are The Major Ebook Formats?
I am hoping that the last section demonstrated that ebook formats are very different from word processor files (Word, Pages etc.).
This is a key point.
In short, a word processor file CAN’T work on an eReading device – it’s just not set up correctly (Word files are FIXED LAYOUT digital, while eReaders need REFLOWABLE text). It’s like putting a vinyl LP in a DVD player and expecting it to work. If you are going to make your book viewable on an eReader device you must convert it to a digital format.
There are a number of ebook formats out there. However, I want to just give you enough information to get started. Since the two most popular reading devices are the Kindle and the iPad, I want to focus on just two formats: Epub and Mobi.
All digital files (Epub and Mobi included) are, in fact, a collection of files. For those with a technical knowledge, they are just files zipped together, but instead of calling them .zip we call them .epub or .mobi. A digital file is more like a website than a Word file. In fact, a digital file has a close cousin to the website and shares many common structural features. As a side note, many people believe that, ultimately, ebooks will be read in web browser, but we digress.
If you were to open up an Epub or Mobi file you would find lots of smaller files. I don’t want to go into the technical side of things too much, but I do want you to understand the basics. So...
All .epub and .mobi files contain:
A file that contains JUST the plain, un-formatted text.
A file that tells the eReader how to display elements of the text (this is the CSS, remember the italics?).
Lots of other files that contain all sorts of other information, such as images, ISBN, your name etc..
So why is this important?
It’s important because some people will tell you that converting a word processor file to a ebook format (epub/mobi) is simple. IT IS NOT! If a digital file (Epub/Mobi) is not correctly prepared you will, potentially, face a huge problems when your book is read on a device you have not tested (think Kobo and Sony Reader). In fact, even using the tools provided by Amazon to convert your files is not guaranteed to produce a 'clean’ file.
What is Epub?
You should now understand that for a book to displayed correctly on multiple eReading devices you need a specific digital file. The standard format, as recommended by the posh-sounding International Digital Publishing Forum is the Epub. The Epub is an open format that means that is it not ‘owned’ by any one company or device. Since Epub is the standard format, MOST eReaders will display an epub. In fact, it is very easy to read an Epub with lots of free tools out there that will allow you to read an Epub on your computer. It is even possible to read an Epub in a web browser, such as Firefox.
However, what really counts is eReaders and there are number of important devices that will reader Epub:
Apple iPad and iPhone.
Barnes & Noble Nook.
You might notice that there is one, very important eReader missing from the list – the Kindle. The Kindle WILL NOT read epub files. That’s correct, the Kindle chooses NOT to allow Epub files to be read.
It’s unclear if this choice of Amazon not to display epubs files will alter in the future. Some believe that it will; others feel that while the Amazon store remains dominant, Amazon eReaders will continue to ignore Epub.
So What Is Mobi?
If Epub is the universal ebook format, what’s Mobi? The answer is that Mobi is Amazon’s version of Epub. In essence, Amazon have tweaked the Epub format to create Mobi files that can only be displayed as Mobi files.
That means that if you want to read a book on your Kindle you have no choice but to buy the book from the Amazon store. It also means that if you buy a book in Mobi format you can't read it on a device that is not able to read Mobi files.
This is called DRM.
So what does that mean for you as a self-publishing writer?
It means that you have no option but produce TWO digital ebook formats of you book – Epub and Mobi. The good news is that once you have an Epub file it’s a very simple process to convert it to Mobi. God bless Amazon!
What should I do about converting?
I’m betting the reason you are reading this article is more about conversion than interest in technical formats. By this point I am hoping that you now understand why you need to convert to a digital ebook format, and you have no option but to create an Epub AND Mobi file.
The question is how?
When it comes to converting from a word processor file (Word/Pages/OpenOffice) to Epub/Mobi you have three options:
1. The Meat Grinder
If you are going to upload to digital readers such as the Kindle and iPad, it is possible to use tools they provide to convert your book. Let's start with all key devices, other than the Kindle.
Apple only allows a select number of third-party companies to upload books to the iBook store. This means that you, as a self-publishing writer, can’t just upload your book to Apple. There are a number of companies out there that will help you upload to Apple, but I suggest you start by checking out Smashwords. This company will allow you to automatically upload your book to a number of devices. Though they don't charge for this service, they do take a small cut of each book that is sold. The big bonus with Smashwords is that they have developed a 'meat grinder'. This is an online system that allows you to enter your text and then convert to Epub.
At this point I would say that for some books this is the perfect option. I will say that again – for some books this is the perfect option.
It may be that using Smashword’s free meat grinder is the perfect solution for you and your book. However, for complex books, especially those with images, the meat grinder can produce variable results. In this case, you may be looking at a different answer.
I have spoken to a number of writers that feel the meat grinder is simply not good enough to produce consistently 'clean' conversion.
Smashwords solves the Epub problem but what about the Kindle? Kindle is the gorilla in the marketplace and is where you will make the most sales. This means that even if you do use Smashwords to upload to Apple iPad and a number of other eReaders, you still need to crack the Kindle nut.
The good news is that Kindle actually offer its own ‘meatgrinder’ solution in the form of a similar service at the Kindle Direct Publishing website.
Amazon provides free tools that you can use to convert your Word/Pages/OpenOffice document to a Mobi file. Once again the quality of the conversion can vary. If your book is a simple text document then KDP might be the perfect solution. However, if your book is complex you may be forced to look elsewhere.
One final option is Pressbooks.
This is a free online tool that allows you to create ebooks from scratch. It’s a Wordpress-powered free online application that allows you to simply create ebooks at the push of a button. I suggest you check them out if considering the ‘meatgrinder’ option.
So, what if you don't want to take the meat grinder approach? If this is the case then you are into Do It Yourself territory.
There are many software solutions to creating Epub files, some free and some paid. However, my advice here is to be cautious: it’s a very steep learning curve. It is NOT a simple case of downloading some free software and pressing a button. You will need a deeper understanding of the Epub design, as well as a passing knowledge of HTML and CSS. This said, if you are considering producing a lot of Ebooks, then DIY may be a very viable option.
The final option is to pay someone to convert your book for you. Like anything else this is buyer beware. As we have learned creating an ebook from scratch is not an easy process. My advice is to look for a professional who has come recommended and is prepared to show you a sample of their work. The cost varies greatly depending on size and complexity of the book, but a figure of $100 would be a good starting point for an average novel.
The final point worthy of mention is book covers. You will need a cover for your book. You will need this cover to be of the correct size and resolution. Once again we are in a situation where you will need to weigh up the cost of paying a professional and the cost in your time in learning to design a cover. Again the pricing can vary greatly but a figure of $200 would not be unusual.
There are many methodologies and techniques for writing a novel. Perhaps one of the most respected and potentially useful is Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method.
The founding concept behind Ingermanson’s thinking is that novels are designed. He suggests that if a writer recognises this fact and works to improve the design process, they will produce a better novel.
Ingermanson has constructed a 10 step process, which I have summarised below. This process is based around the idea that a writer begins with a simplistic Deep Theme and then, over time, develops and adds complexity. This makes the formation of the novel a conscious process, rather then a random creative exercise.
I am not saying that this is the 'best' method to write a novel. In fact, I feel many writers will be horrified at such detailed levels of planning. However, some writers will find an affinity with the Snowflake Method. If you are a writer that plans, this post might just change your writing life!
The Snowflake Method Ten Step Process
1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
2. Expand the sentence to a paragraph describing the story narrative, any major events and the ending.
3. Now consider the main character and write a one page summary for each, considering the following points:
* A one-sentence summary of the character's storyline.
* The character's motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?).
* The character's goal (what does he/she want concretely?).
* The character's conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?).
* The character's epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?.
* A one-paragraph summary of the character's storyline.
4. Go back to the summary you wrote in 2 and expand each sentence into a paragraph.
Randy’s advice here is:
Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends. Source
5. Write a one page description for each major character, which tells the story from their point of view.
6. Expand your one page plot synopsis into a four page plot synopsis.
7. Expand your character descriptions from 3 into full ‘character charts’.
8. Using the expanded synopsis, make a list of every scene you will need to write to complete the novel.
9. Using the scene list, write a multi-paragraph narrative description of each scene.
10. Write your first draft.
This post is a summary of Ingermanson’s thinking and ideas. I strongly suggest that if you wish to apply the Snowflake Method that you go to Randy Ingermanson’s website to find more details.
It appears that, of the people who buy at least one book at year, 8 out of 10 buy a fiction book.
Great, fiction must be the best book genre… but wait.
It is also the case that out of the same group of people, 8 out of 10 will also buy a non-fiction book. OK, good news I suppose, suggesting that fiction and non-fiction are equally popular in the fight for best book genre. I am a bit skeptical, but let’s plough on.
Best Fiction Book Genre
This is a bit more straight forward, of the people buying at least one fiction book a year, just under half (48%) buy what is classed as Mystery, Thriller and Crime.
This is a pretty broad spectrum but gives us some indication of buying trends. Yet, I suspect this will be no surprise. The figure did leave me wondering if mega-writers such as Dan Brown altered buying habits. For example, how many people bought Dan Brown because he is a best seller, but not because they are a fan of his book genre? The same goes for J.K. Rowling, I bet a lot of readers buy Harry Potter but no other fantasy.
The second most popular book genre was Science Fiction with 26% of readers buying Sci Fi books, ‘Literature’ was close on its heels with 24% and Romance is worthy of a mention with 21% of the market.
Best Non-Fiction Book Genre
So for Non-Fiction, of the people buying at least one fiction book a year, the biggest selling book genre was history, perhaps no surprise, with 31% of the market. A close second was Biographies with 29% of sales. In third place was Religious and Spirituality with 26%, though I suspect this percentage will be smaller outside the US. The remainder of the marketplace was split between Self-Help, Current Affairs, True Crime, Business and ‘Other non-fiction'.
For me, the surprises in Non-Fiction were the fact that Self-Help made up just 16% of sales and Business a measly 10%. My instinct prior to reading this survey was that these would both sell more. The survey also seems to not include text books and educational books.
My thoughts are that this report simply doesn’t give us enough data to make a definitive decision on which is the 'best book genre'.
Clearly for Fiction, writing ‘Mystery, Thriller and Crime’ will give you a bigger fan base and more potential book deals. The same is true for History in Non-Fiction.
Yet, this is a dangerous approach. So many factors go into securing a book deal that simply picking a book genre because it has the biggest market is a little bit silly. If nothing else passion for a particular book genre goes a long way. I can use myself as an example of an alternative approach. I write children’s history books, with a target audience aged 9-12, and a focus on reluctant readers. Yes, this pigeon holes me and yes it cuts down the readership, but it does allow me to work closely with my agent, whilst developing good relationships with publishers who are interested in this book genre.
Formatting dialogue correctly can trip up even the most talented writer. From the outside it can appear that formatting dialogue is a black box of contradictory rules. In this article, I want to dispel this myth and detail a set of easy-to-use guidelines that will allow you to grasp the basic building blocks of dialogue formatting.
If you need more detailed guidance you can sign up for our free five day email course called The Author's Guide to Dialogue Punctuation.
The best way to explain the rules of formatting dialogue is to use an example.
In this article we will follow the steps that are required to format the following section of dialogue:
Hi have you seen my cat Bob said. No Bill said I have no idea where your cat is. If you see my cat will you let me know Bob questioned looking sad. Of course Bill replied with a tone of concern.
Formatting Dialogue: New Speaker, New Line
This is a pretty easy rule to apply. Each time a new speaker speaks you place the line of dialogue on a new line. This line should also be indented. We can see how this applies to our example:
Hi have you seen my cat Bob said.
No Bill said I have no idea where your cat is.
If you see my cat will you let me know Bob questioned looking sad.
Of course Bill replied with a tone of concern.
Formatting Dialogue: Adding Speech Marks
Our next rule says that all speech should be placed in speech marks. These can be either single (') or double ("), it's your choice. However, keep in mind that if you use, say single ('), you need to be using the opposite, in this case double (") when you are reporting speech inside speech. I also like to use the opposite when a writer places thoughts within a text.
'Hi have you seen my cat' Bob said.
'No' Bill said 'I have no idea where your cat is.'
'If you see my cat will you let me know' Bob questioned looking sad.
'Of course' Bill replied with a tone of concern.
Formatting Dialogue: Punctuation
When writing dialogue you will often use 'tags'. These are verbs that link the spoken words with the remainder of the sentence. Commonly used tags includes said, asked, replied and many more. Without going into the technical detail, to correctly punctuate spoken words and tags you must link them using a comma. If you use a full stop the sentences are broken and it no longer makes sense. If we look at the second line of our example we see:
'No' Bill said
This is a single sentence and therefore must end with a full stop, giving us:
'No' Bill said.
The tag in this sentence is 'said' and this must be connected to the speech. If you added a full stop at the end of the spoken words, it would separate the tag and become incorrect:
'No.' Bill said. [WRONG]
Instead we must link the spoken word and the tag with a comma, this gives us:
'No,' Bill said. [CORRECT]
If we apply this to the full example we get:
'Hi, have you seen my cat?' Bob said.
'No,' Bill said. 'I have no idea where your cat is.'
'If you see my cat will you let me know?' Bob questioned, looking sad.
'Of course,' Bill replied, with a tone of concern.
Please note that in the first and third lines we have used a ? instead of a , since it is a question.
And that's about it... As I said this is a quick and dirty guide designed to get you out of most tight spots. If you are interested in really delving into the murky world of grammar and punctuation, I suggest you check out The Chicago Manual of Style.