THREE STEPS TO BETTER SELF-PUBLISHING
By Samuel Patrick Smith
In the past few years, self-publishing has boomed. Not only are new printing processes available which make possible the publication of smaller quantities of books than in years past, but the Internet has enabled authors to research topics in a few minutes or hours that previously would have taken months or years. This has especially benefited writers of books for niche markets, which are typically prime candidates for self-publishing.
My own experience in self-publishing has been positive, and it began long before the convenience of these new technologies. Over thirty years ago at age fifteen, I coauthored and published a book. We printed two thousand copies and eventually sold all of them. Later, I wrote a number of other books for a niche market, printed between a thousand and two thousand copies, and always came out ahead. In this case, and in many others I’ve seen, self-publishing was an ideal option. Today, it’s no longer necessary to print books by the thousands, but this hasn’t changed the need for careful planning and self-discipline.
Sometimes writers who want to maintain control over their work become enamored with the concept of self-publishing. After all, being your own publisher puts you in charge. That is a two-edged sword because some control must be relinquished if you want to publish a book that doesn’t look homemade and self-published. Your original manuscript will need to undergo several transformations during the publishing process. Here are three steps you can take to give your book a fighting chance as it struggles to see the light of day.
- Wield the red pen. Editing your book starts by making your own corrections and rewriting as needed. Most writers understand this and some are even willing to do it. Books such as Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White and The Handbook of Good English by Edward Johnson should be read and absorbed. Read and highlight a section on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Then use that knowledge—and the inspiration these books will give you—to improve your manuscript.
- Submit your manuscript to a professional editor. Ouch! This is where self-publishing writers flinch. Some even turn and run. Writers—and I’m one of ’em—tend to consider the arrangement of their words infallible. The fact is, everyone needs an editor, regardless of whether the book is being self-published or submitted to a major publisher. Writers are too close to their own work to be objective. It takes a qualified book editor to put the finishing touches on your manuscript. A good editor will not change your voice; he will strip away the extraneous words and distracting mannerisms that get in the way of your being heard. Please note that a book editor will not edit your manuscript according to AP style. Books are edited according to the Chicago Manual of Style. The only books edited in AP style are self-published. Your goal should be to prevent your book from appearing to be self-published, so choose an editor who will retain your voice while following the correct editing style unique to books.
- Allow professionals to design your book. Many writers feel they have the ability to design their own books and create their own covers. Instead of allowing a professional who has designed hundreds of covers to create an eye-catching, professional design, many writers insist on doing it themselves. Or they micromanage the graphic designers they’ve hired. Self-publishing doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. On the other hand, a competent graphic designer will listen to your ideas. A recent book by a Mount Dora businessman is a good example. The author suggested some cover ideas, and the designer used those concepts to create several mock-ups. The author selected one of the designs but mentioned that the colors were too artsy for the business market. The designer then changed the colors and made some other minor alterations. A beautiful and market-appropriate cover resulted from this collaborative effort.
Editing your own writing, submitting the manuscript to a professional book editor, and securing the services of a professional book designer may appear to slow down the process, but in the long run, these steps will prevent costly mistakes. When you look at your beautiful published book, you can say with pride, “I’m an author!” And you’ll know that it not only looks good—it is good.
Samuel Patrick Smith has written nine books and edited more than twenty others. He is president of SPS Publications, Inc. The company works with first-time authors who want to publish their books and with established authors looking for a better experience in self-publishing.