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The Self-Publisher's FAQ

Should You Hire a Publishing Professional?

Traditional publishing, self-publishing and subsidy publishing are the three primary models for publishing in the 21st Century. Though these models have been around for a while, their relative advantages and disadvantages have changed over time with new opportunities afforded by production technologies, electronic publication and the Internet.

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Why should I hire outside help to publish my book?

The very real answer is, you don't have to.

If you are the type who likes to do everything yourself, and don't mind learning several new skills (typesetting, book design, marketing), then DIY (Do It Yourself) publishing is for you! But the first time around, you might want to hire a professional to show you the ropes.

If you try to do all these tasks yourself and discover it's pretty hard (or takes way more time than you have to invest), that's OK, too. In fact, someone who knows that typesetting or cover design is a non-trivial task is a better client for a book professional than someone who thinks there's some trickery involved and maybe they are getting ripped off.

There is no one way to publishing. The only thing I insist with my clients is that it has to be absolutely professional-looking—else why do it? Why hide your brilliant literary (or expertise) talent under a bushel basket of amateurish design/editing/execution? A publishing professional can help you get a jump-start on your book project.

Book Shepherds and Book Packagers

The argument for book shepherds and packagers is that these professionals provide a newcomer knowledge leverage. That is, you don't have to know everything there is to know about excellent typesetting and cover design if you hire the expertise. And it doesn't preclude learning as you work with a professional. Most professionals are happy to work with a new publisher to teach them how and why decisions are made and when tasks need to be completed.

What are Book Shepherds?

A Book Shepherd is a term coined by Dan Poynter (author of The Self-Publishing Manual) to consolidate terms such as "book coach," "publishing consultant," and many others. This professional oversees a client's entire project, from manuscript to printing (and possibly on to distribution). Most book shepherds use many different freelancers to perform the tasks needed —and those typesetters, cover designers, publicists, etc., often do not work directly for the shepherd. [Disclosure: I am a book shepherd.]

What Are Book Packagers?

Book Packagers focus more narrowly on producing the book itself: the editing, typesetting, interior design, cover creation and, in some cases, print brokering. These companies range from large scale "cookie cutter" production to high-end concierge services.

It's also possible to hire out some tasks—such as editing—from these people and do everything else yourself.

Why do I need to hire an outside editor?

Editing is one of those rare areas where I believe you must hire an outside professional. Even if your day-job is as an English teacher (and being a teacher does not make you a good book editor), you will make mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and assembly of the document in the course of writing a book. Really. If Stephanie Meyers, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Amy Tan have line/mechanical editors, so should you. A poorly-edited book is one of the single biggest faults cited when booksellers say they won't take self-published books. Why not prove them wrong?

What are the different kinds of editing?

There are two kinds of editing and then there's proofreading.

Developmental—sometimes called Content or Substantive—Editing takes place after the writer has done their early revisions but needs help in shaping the book in its final form. Most books require some help in this direction. Developmental editing is essential, especially for new writers. [Disclosure: I offer developmental editing services.]

Line—also called Mechanical or Copy—Editing prepares the manuscript for the typesetter. Typesetting (see explanation in Assembling the Manuscript) requires errata-free text. This is your last chance to remove spelling errors, omissions, incorrect facts and logic flaws.

Proofreading is an examination of a printer's proof, looking for any errata that might have crept in during typesetting.

I'm worried that an editor will destroy my book. That they'll make the work sound like them instead of me.

Many new (and even established) writers are not great self-editors. They may know that something isn't quite right with their manuscript, but they have trouble seeing any solutions. This is a common problem. Although you can train yourself to edit in a methodical, non-emotional way, for most writers, it's simply easier to find a developmental editor to help accomplish the task.

A developmental editor may be the crucial step to making your work succeed at getting picked by a publisher—or succeed as a self-published book.

How Does a Developmental Editor Help My Manuscript?

Once hired, the editor will first read the entire manuscript to understand how the current work flows, then evaluate what is needed and construct an over-all plan to achieve it. As with a mechanical editor, spelling, grammar and logical order are attended to. All alterations, suggestions and "fixes" are to better the story and voice—not an exercise in the editor's ego.

The developmental editor gives special attention to the informational flow (if it's a non-fiction) or clarifying the story arc and all the character elements (if it's a novel). The editor may do some light fact-checking, simply to make sure s/he understands where some elements are coming from. A full fact-check is not done unless by arrangement—so make sure of your data before turning the manuscript over to the editor.

Not all editors are right for all books. Some specialize in technical subjects, others in children's books. Ask if your book falls into an editor's area of specialty.

What does it look like when the manuscript is edited?

Editors vary in how they manipulate the mss. Once upon a time, specific marks and arrows were scrawled on a paper copy of the manuscript. However, with electronic documents, track changes and other tools, manuscripts have color to show what the editor has done. In my own case, I stopped using track changes since it uses red to denote deletions/changes. I've found it gives writers more of a feeling of being punished for wrongdoing (after all, that's what your teachers did)—something that an editor does not want to imply. I use several colors to show various activities, plus comments.

From there, you review each edit and accept the changes, or make new ones. You may need to talk to the editor if you disagree with suggested changes.

You can see why developmental editing can take several passes before both client and editor are pleased with the results.

Do I need to Hire Different Editors for Developmental and Mechanical Editing?

Many people do. Many editors will tell you they can do it all. You should discuss your project with the editor, then contact people who have used the editor before to determine your choices.

How Much Should I Pay an Editor?

All of the above is a non-trivial task involving countless hours. Some editors charge by the hour, some by the project. You should expect to pay somewhere between $1000–$5000, or more. I know, that's a heck of a range—but then there's a huge range of projects, work needed and time to be used. Some editors prefer to charge by the hour; rates can start at $50 and up. Also, don't expect the work to be done in a week.

Most editors will want to see one to three chapters to make sure your manuscript is ready for editing (it may still need work before the editor can actually be of help), if the manuscript is something they want to work on, if you are compatible together, and how much work will be involved. The editor will then return three to five pages to you with their edits. If you feel s/he has improved your work, that's the editor for you! From there, the editor can tell you a price. I recommend you talk to the editor's former clients and ask if work was done on time, they were satisfied with the job and if they would recommend this person.

Book Design

Manuscripts don't just leap from Word into a book format. You need to perform some action on the words, how they are configured, how the book looks, and the cover—oh! The all important cover!

What's the Difference Between Interior Book Designers and Typesetters?

Printers don't just take a manuscript and dump it in to book form. There's a step needed. Considerations need to be made how the interior will look. This includes many factors regarding fonts, kerning, leading, chapter breaks, front matter, indexing, back matter and many other details—all of which are explained in the section about formatting the interior.

A Book Designer looks at all the considerations in creating a book and makes those decisions (whether chapters always start on the right, or right after the end of the last, font choices, page numbering, headers and sub-headers, etc). In other words, they are creating the look and feel of the book. This is a little less important with ebooks (see the section on ebooks).

A Typesetter flows the manuscript into a font, using the design parameters created, then manipulates the text to create the desired effect both aesthetically and professionally.

Often, a book designer is the typesetter. Sometimes, a book designer works with a typesetter. Many typesetters provide book design services.

Both professionals use programs like Quark or InDesign (mostly InDesign). If you have never attempted to use advanced computer programs, it's a good idea to hire a professional. If you plan to publish several books, it's time to take a class or do a tutorial on one of these programs. Some typesetters are willing to help you learn the ropes. This will usually cost a bit extra.

How Much Do Book Designers and Typesetters Cost?

Usually typesetters will quote a per page (that includes blank pages) charge. So $1.50 - $5 per page on an all text book. Expect that page charge to double or even triple for color and complex graphic books. Book designers often charge a fee plus per page. As with editors, I recommend you talk to the typesetter/book designer's former clients and ask if work was done on time, they were satisfied with the job and if they would recommend this person. Also, ask to see samples of their work.

How Do Cover Artists Differ from Cover Designers?

A Cover Artist usually concentrates on creating the front cover art—whether that is an illustration or a picture they manipulate. While you or I might like a picture and think it looks great as a cover, a cover artist can frame the picture, enhance details and make the cover fit the mood, style, and message of your book.

You cannot accomplish this with clip art.

Many cover artists are proficient in creating a whole cover design. Examine their work carefully, if this is what you want them to do. Not all graphic artists "get" text such as you'll have on the back of your book. By this, I mean they won't necessarily see misspelled words, poor grammar, or that the font is almost too small to read.

A Cover Designer takes the work of the cover designer and uses that to create the whole cover—front, spine and back. A unified design creates the most pleasing and useful package.

How much do Cover Designers and Artists cost?

I've seen prices as low as $150 and was entirely suspicious (examining their work proved that this was poor work). Expect to pay from $500 - $5000, depending on the expertise of the artist/designer, complexity of design and topic. For instance, a children's book with cut-outs and other fancy elements is going to be at the top of the price range.

Ask to see samples. Talk to their clients to see if they felt happy working with a book designer and/or typesetter.


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