Self-publishing ain’t easy! Even though new authors (and established authors, for that matter) often find it difficult to get a traditional publisher to take interest in their work, self-publishing is not necessarily the easy option. But for some people it is the right option. Self-published author David McLean wrote a guest blog about his experiences last year (see Self-publishing Coaby), and now we have Simon Haynes visiting. Simon’s story is a little different, as he started out with the traditional publishing model and eventually exchanged it for self-publishing.
Simon is the author of the humorous science fiction novels about Hal Spacejock. These books were published by Fremantle Press and distributed by Penguin Australia. But now he’s turned his back on the traditional publishing model in order to self-publish his new series, Hal Junior. Simon has been kind enough to write a guest post with some advice for anyone considering the self-publishing path. Take it away, Simon…
Advice for self-publishing
by Simon Haynes
There are three common complaints about self-published books: amateurish covers, unedited or poorly written content, and typos. The good news is that you can fix the first two problems by hiring professionals, and you can avoid the other with a manuscript evaluation. Read on to find out how …
For one reason or another you’ve decided to self-publish. Maybe you’ve written a niche book, something which probably won’t sell enough copies to attract a trade publisher. Or maybe you’re writing the third novel in an ongoing series and the first two still haven’t found a home. Either way, you’ve decided to go it alone.
Before you pay for cover art or editing, can I suggest you seek a manuscript evaluation? This is very important, especially if you’ve never had anything published before. It can be crushing to get negative feedback on your precious work, but skipping this step could lead to a carefully-edited but ultimately flawed novel.
If funds are limited you can enlist help via online writing groups. There are many of these, including the Online Writing Workshop, Critters and the Share Your Work section on Absolute Write. The way it works is that you critique other writers’ work and they return the favour. Be honest with your critiques and ask others to do the same.
After ensuring you’ve written something people might pay to read, it’s time for structural editing. This is where you hire an editor to tear your work apart, questioning every decision, character motivation, plot twist and resolution. I’ve suffered through half a dozen of these, and by the time I’ve finished explaining (or apologising) to my editor, I’m ready to give up writing for the simple life of a space shuttle test pilot.
A good structural edit will shine a spotlight on every aspect of your book, from an effective beginning to a satisfying conclusion, and everything in between. Characters must behave consistently, and gaping plot holes have to be written out or papered over.
You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about grammar or spelling, which is what many people think ‘editing’ is all about. That’s the next stage.
Once the structural edit is done you’ll go through at least one more draft, fixing typos and rewording clunky sentences. (Did I say one more? I do ten to twelve drafts at this point … and I have the printouts to prove it.)
Now it’s time to share! Send your manuscript out to willing first readers and ask for feedback. Again, ask them to be honest. I write notes for my first readers, asking them to put a cross in the margin whenever they think the novel drags or gets boring. I also explain the kind of feedback I’m after, which is something more than ‘I liked it’ or ‘Have you considered another career?’
What you do with the feedback is up to you. I work on the following rule: two first readers equals one author. In other words, if two or more of them point out the same major issue I’ll consider rewriting that section. If one person flags a problem I’ll still look at it, but it could just be a matter of taste.
When the final edits are done it’s time for copy-editing and proofing. (There is a difference between these two, explained here.)
At last we turn the spotlight on creative spelling and dodgy grammar! But why right at the end of the process? Because there’s nothing worse than polishing a scene for weeks, only to drop it from a later draft when it no longer fits the rest of the novel. This is why I switch off background spell- and grammar- checking. It’s also why I polish the humour in the very last draft.
After all these revisions, your novel is finally ready. Before you publish, please consider hiring a professional cover artist and jacket designer. It’s hard to sell self-published fiction at the best of times, and you want to give your novel the very best chance of success. All that editing is wasted if you can’t get potential buyers to click on the cover.
I hope I’ve driven home the importance of editing. Trade published novels go through all these stages before hitting bookstore shelves, and that’s what you’re competing with. If you want to leave a great impression you have to follow the same steps.
To find out more about Simon and his writing, check out his website. Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, is the first in his new series for independent readers aged 9+.
Catch ya later, George
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